Iceman, by Romeo Esparrago
(Click picture above to view a larger image.)
 

The Iceman
by Brian C. Petroziello

 

"Now, let me get this straight, the guy froze to death in his apartment in July?" Vince Minelli asked as they exited the elevator on the fourth floor, his brown eyes wide in amazement. The scar that ran diagonally down his right cheek danced back and forth as he spoke.

"I asked the dispatcher to repeat it three times," answered Brendan Mulhearn. Partway down the hallway, they could see a uniformed officer standing by an open door. Mulhearn's reddish hair was fading to gray at the temples. He wore his trademark black blazer.

"Why do they need us?" countered Minelli. "I guess if he was old and frail, and the air was up high enough...." He continued as they reached the open door.

They entered a fairly large apartment, well kept. They found themselves standing in the parlor. The kitchen was to the left. Straight ahead lay a bedroom. A camera flash sent a blue streak of light through the apartment. A short balding man stuck his head out of the bedroom and called to Minelli and Mulhearn. "In here," he yelled. "Boy, this is one for the books," Assistant Medical Examiner John Williams said.

Minelli entered first. "What's up, John?" He asked, as another flash streaked the bedroom. The photographer squeezed past Mulhearn.

"I asked for you two," the assistant ME said. His short arms were crossed, and what was left of his hair was definitely gray. "I don't know if this was a crime, but I've never seen anything like it before. If anyone can figure this out, I'm betting the two of you can."

Mulhearn gazed around the room, waiting for his instincts to tell him that something was out of place, or not where it should be. He unbuttoned his collar and loosened his Kelly-green tie. Beads of sweat appeared on his nose and forehead. "Hey, doc, maybe you should turn the air back on. It must be seventy-five in here!"

"Seventy-six," replied the Assistant ME. "There is no air in here, not even a window fan."

Minelli was near the bed, peering down. In the center of the bed was a middle-aged black man. The body was clad in a suit. The torso was twisted so that he faced the right side of the bed. His hands were drawn up in front of him, as if he were warding off someone or something. The dark-complected skin of his face was stretched tautly over the skull. It reminded Minelli of a mummy, or the ice man that was found in the Alps a few years before. The face was contorted in death. The eyes were wide open. There was something about them -- a look of recognition maybe, or uncontrollable fear. Minelli shook his head.

"How can this be, John?'

"Vince, I have been here for over an hour. Not only is the body frozen solid," he said as he rubbed his hand over his scalp, "look at the bed. Put your hand near the body." When they hesitated, he said, "It's OK, an evidence tech has been through here already."

Minelli and Mulhearn did as they were told, one on either side of the bed. They both looked blankly at the doctor.

"It's not wet. The body is not thawing," said the Assistant Me, obviously exasperated. "I thought maybe he was put in a freezer or a meat locker or something and then dumped here. The bed should be soaked in this heat. It's not. Not even a drop of water. I held a cigarette lighter near his hand. Still nothing. That's why I asked for the Special Crimes Section. The laws of physics have been suspended here."

Mulhearn continued his examination of the apartment while Minelli approached the uniformed officer at the door. "Have you talked to any of the people on the floor?' He asked. The officer shook his head up and down.

"No one saw anything. No one heard anything. It's a pretty good building. A lot of immigrants. They watch out for each other. No sign of anyone breaking in either. Hey, Vince. What's going on in there? The people from the building seem to be really spooked. They're making a lot of signs of the cross and stuff like that," he said, looking over his shoulder at a small crowd of people that had formed down the hall.

"I don't know. It's pretty weird in there, and the ME's office is stumped. I'm sure someone will get to the bottom of it." Just then two men from the ME's office turned the corner with a gurney.

Mulhearn came up behind him. "Vince, they are going to take the body to the morgue. The doc will call us with the autopsy results. I can check with the evidence guys later. I don't think there's anything else we can do here."

They rode back to the precinct in silence.

* * *

It was several hours later that an officer flipped a manila envelope onto Mulhearn's desk. It was a packet from the evidence technician who had gone through the apartment.

"OK, Vince. Our corpse is a Jacques Forchere. He is a Haitian immigrant. He owns a furniture store on 101st." He continued to scan the pages. "His employees were concerned when he didn't show for work two days in a row." He put extra emphasis on the word two. "There were no signs of forced entry. No strange prints, and he's got no record. Absolutely nothing remarkable here."

Vince listened intently as he sipped from his favorite coffee mug. It bore the legend "Kiss Me I'm Italian" on one side and had an offensive picture of a swarthy man mooning on the other. "Maybe we should go look at some furniture, Bren," Vince offered.

"What are we looking for? This is something more for Scientific American than for us," Mulhearn offered, his arms spread wide.

"Aren't you just a little bit curious?' The guy's a Popsicle for no apparent reason. It's got me hooked."

They pulled up in front of a small storefront in Little Haiti. The faded sign across the showroom windows proclaimed "Forchere's Fine Furniture." They made their way to the counter in the back of the store. A man was standing there looking through a sheaf of invoices. Minelli and Mulhearn showed their badges and identified themselves.

"What can I do for you?" the clerk asked in a thick island accent.

"We wanted to talk to you about your boss," Minelli replied. "You know of his death?

The clerk nodded.

"His death was a bit unusual."

At that the man's eyes widened. Mulhearn noticed that he held his right hand at his side and made a gesture that he was unfamiliar with, but he guessed the meaning.

Minelli walked around the store as Mulhearn continued, occasionally talking to the few customers. "Was there anyone who had a problem with Mr. Forchere?" he asked. "Any angry customers -- robberies that were unreported?"

The clerk shook his head no. "He was very well-liked. He helped a lot of people from the island who had just come here. He let his customers buy on credit to help them out. He knew how hard it was to leave your friends an' family an' get a new start. Even when people didn't pay, he understood. I don't know what will happen now."

Mulhearn continued to press him about the store, and Forchere's family and friends. As they talked, a young woman appeared from the doorway to a storeroom behind the counter area. "Did you tell him about the Dark One?" she asked the clerk in the same patois, her voice trembling.

The clerk scowled. "Go in the back!" he said forcefully. "It is nothing. There is nothing to say about him!"

"Who is the Dark One?" Mulhearn asked, the hair on the back of his neck bristling involuntarily.

"It is nothing," the clerk said. "He is a mon in the neighborhood. A crazy mon, but harmless," he stuttered, and sweat began pouring down his face. "Some say he is a mystic or a shaman from the old country. Most people ignore him and stay out of his way."

Mulhearn was sure he wasn't telling him everything. "Why do they call him the Dark One? Is he some kind of devil worshipper?" Mulhearn asked.

"No," the clerk said. "He wears dark clothes, and a large, dark knit hat pulled down low."

"Did he come in here often?" asked Mulhearn. "Was he one of the people from back home that he tried to help out?"

"He come in once in a while. He never bought anything here. I have not seen him in a while. I really have to get back to work. I have to get things in order, you know, to see what happens -- to see if we will still have jobs."

Mulhearn motioned to Minelli, and they left the store. "Did you find anything, Vince?" Mulhearn asked.

"They have a couch as ugly as that tie!" Vince pointed in the direction of Mulhearn's neck. Mulhearn snorted. As they approached their car, they heard a psssst from behind them. Peering from an alleyway between buildings was the young woman from the storeroom. She called to them in a loud whisper.

"C'mere, Vince," Mulhearn said. "I think she knows something the clerk didn't want us to."

"Beware of the Dark One!" she said. The concern, and the fear, in her voice were obvious. Her island accent was thick. "He is evil. He was here two days ago. He and the mister argued in the back room. I couldn't hear what they were saying with the door closed. The Dark One laughed when he came out. He turned to the mister, and pointed a finger at him. 'If you don't co-operate,' he said, 'you will be frozen out.' It sent shivers up my spine. From hell it was, I tell you. When he came out, the mister was shaking. He looked like he saw the devil himself."

"Who is this Dark One?" asked Minelli.

"No one knows his real name. They say he is from the slums of Port Au Prince, and that he is very old. He is strong in the old faith. He is powerful -- and dangerous!" She made the same gesture that the clerk had made when they first entered the store. Mulhearn felt the hair on his neck stand on end again. He was understanding why Doc Williams had asked for the Special Crimes Section.

Just then the clerk stuck his head out of the front door. "Michelle!" he yelled. "Get back to work!"

"Watch out!" she said. "Stay away from this man!" She turned and ran for the store.

"Let's walk around a bit, Bren. You take that side of the street, and I've got this side." They spent the next hour talking to other store owners, and people on the street. Every time they mentioned the Dark One, the result was the same. Pleasant conversations ended abruptly. A lot of people made the same gesture, and walked away.

They approached the car from opposite sides. "That was worthless," Vince said as he pulled the driver's side door open.

"Same here," answered Brendan. "They are definitely afraid of this guy, but no one wants to talk about him."

The rest of their shift was uneventful.

* * *

The next morning, Vince approached his desk, coffee mug in hand. Mulhearn was at the facing desk, still wearing his kelly-green tie, phone in his hand. He was nodding. He held his hand over the hand set. "It's Doc Williams," he said. He continued nodding. "There's been no change in the body?" he asked, reaching down to put the doc on speakerphone.

"No," said the doctor's voice. We didn't bother putting the body in cold storage. It hasn't thawed one bit. We can't do an autopsy. Core samples maybe, but not an autopsy. We will probably try an MRI later today. We are calling people in from all over the country. Damnedest thing anybody's seen!"

"Damnedest may not be too far off," Mulhearn said as he switched off the phone.

Minelli and Mulhearn spent the morning sifting through evidence on other files. They were just starting lunch when Mulhearn's cell phone rang. He had a puzzled expression on his face as he listened. "More problems in Little Haiti," he said dryly as he put the phone back in his pocket.

They pulled up to a brownstone on 103rd. The ME's van was edged in to the sidewalk. At the top of the stone stairs was a uniformed officer. He gave them a strange look as they pushed past him. "The 'special guys' are here!" he yelled, sarcastically. Minelli and Mulhearn were getting used to that sort of treatment from the rank and file. All of the macabre cases came their way, and finding answers that one could actually put in a police report was not always easy.

They entered a large parlor. The camera flashes came from the upper floor this time. Unlike the spartan but neat apartment of Mr. Forchere, the brownstone was well-furnished. It was obvious that the owner did not need to shop at Forchere's Fine Furniture on easy credit.

Doc Williams was waiting for them at the top of the stairs. There was no escaping the look of exasperation on his face. The body was on the bed. It was barely recognizable as human. A charred mass was all that was left.

Mulhearn spoke first. "This just keeps getting weirder and weirder." He could see the reason for the Assistant ME's frustration. The charring ended with the body. None of the bed linens were burned, nor was any other part of the bedroom. In fact, the red plaid bathrobe that the victim had been wearing was still evident except where it lay under the body.

"Spontaneous human combustion," snorted Vince. "You should be calling the tabloids -- not us."

"His name is Pierre LeCroix. He was a very prominent leader of the Haitian immigrant community. And his death is every bit as strange as Forchere's," answered Williams.

"No forced entry. There were servants here who never heard a thing. It wasn't until they smelled the smoke that they knew anything was wrong."

"Did they see anything at all?" asked Mulhearn.

"No, by the time they got here the fire was already out, and LeCroix was dead. Oh, by the way, there is no change in Forchere's body. No one has a clue," finished the Assistant ME.

Mulhearn took a close look at the charred remains. While the bathrobe that was not under the body was not burnt, he did notice that a small triangle was cut out of the robe. It was probably nothing, but he filed the information away for later.

Vince and Brendan combed the house and walked the neighborhood. Although this section of Little Haiti was a little more affluent, the answers and reactions were the same. They were no closer to the identity of the Dark One than they were the day before.

"I think we need to stop in at the local precinct on the way back to the house," Minelli said, as they got in their unmarked car. "I nosed around and there is a beat cop there, Frankie Prudhomme. He's from the neighborhood. He may be able to get us some answers. We're just a little too obvious."

They found Officer Prudhomme at his desk, forms in his typewriter. They introduced themselves. "Ah, the spook squad!" was Prudhomme's response.

Minelli ignored the remark, Mulhearn swore under his breath.

"Well, the spooks seem to be loose in your neighborhood, Prudhomme. We were hoping you could help us." They proceeded to relate the events of the last several days to Prudhomme.

"So it's true, then. Both Forchere and LeCroix were pillars of the community. Forchere owned the furniture store. LeCroix ran several grocery stores in Little Haiti. They were both influential. I don't know of anyone who would be out to get them. Powerful people tend to make enemies. But that type of thing gets well-known. Gossip is the national pastime in ethnic neighborhoods."

"What about the Dark One?" asked Mulhearn.

"I've heard rumors. He's the local boogeyman. I think he's just some old crackpot. I don't think anyone takes him seriously."

"I disagree," interrupted Minelli.

"Every time we mention him, people panic and make some strange gesture." He demonstrated it to Prudhomme, who nodded in recognition. "They walk away from us as fast as possible. Some were positively trembling at the mention of this guy," added Mulhearn.

"We're strangers," said Minelli. "No one is going to open up to us. We need you to find out what you can about this guy. We're sure he's mixed up in this somehow. He was arguing with Forchere two days before his body was found. LeCroix's employees were sure they saw him in one of LeCroix's grocery stores the day before he died," said Minelli.

"Do you think they were murdered?' asked Officer Prudhomme.

"We don't know what to think. The ME's office can't even begin to tell us what happened," said Mulhearn. "But, my gut says murder."

* * *

The next morning, Minelli grabbed a cup of coffee and proceeded to his desk. Mulhearn was on the phone again. Minelli knew the scowl on his partner's face. It was more bad news, of that he was sure. Presently, Mulhearn slammed down the phone. He covered his face with his hands, and then sat back in his chair. "That was Doc Williams, and he's back in Little Haiti."

"Now what?" asked Vince, a puzzled look on his face.

"It's another body. He wouldn't say what. But I am willing to bet it's just as strange," answered Mulhearn.

"What could be left?" countered Minelli.

They pulled up at the address given to them by the Assistant ME. It was a bakery, about three blocks from Forchere's store. At the side of the front of the building was a door and stairs leading to the apartment over the bakery. Doc Williams was waiting for them at the top of the stairs.

"This way," he motioned to them. They followed him into the apartment. This time the body was laying on the floor of the front room. The corpse was dismembered. The arms and legs had been cut off with surgical precision, and had been placed about six inches from the torso. Like Forchere, the face was contorted in fear and agony.

"Damn!" Minelli said as he examined the body. "Bren, do you see this?"

"Yeah," Mulhearn muttered.

They had expected to see blood everywhere, but there wasn't any -- anywhere.

"Cauterized instantly," said the Assistant ME. "Not a drop anywhere. And there's more. No serrations. No cut marks. It was like someone drew a hot knife through butter. There were no defensive wounds. If he knew what was happening, he couldn't do anything to stop it. The shock killed him, certainly not the loss of blood. I would say the time of death was around midnight."

"Doc, we're not taking any more of your calls," said Mulhearn. He took a closer look at the body. The victim was dressed in slacks, a white shirt and an old, gray button-down sweater. All sliced as neatly as the body. Right at the bottom of the sweater, Mulhearn noticed that a triangle of material was missing. He called Vince over. "Look at the sweater. Do you see that piece cut out? There was a piece like that missing from LeCroix's robe."

"Yeah, I remember seeing that, but didn't think anything of it at the time," said Minelli. "We need to have John check Forchere's clothes also."

"He is still refusing to thaw by the way. The MRI didn't show anything," said Mulhearn.

Again, they combed the apartment for signs of a forced entry, or a struggle. But nothing seemed out of the ordinary except the body and the method of death.

Minelli and Mulhearn were standing in front of the store comparing notes when Officer Prudhomme walked up. "I just heard that there's been another death," he said.

"Yes, Samuel Simone. He owned the bakery," answered Mulhearn.

"I knew Samuel," said Prudhomme. "We always shopped here when I was growing up. I still stop in every now and then. He had the best donuts."

Minelli proceeded to bring him up to date.

When he had finished, Prudhomme said, "I have some information on the Dark One for you. Surprisingly, I had the same problems that you did. There are an awful lot of people in the neighborhood terrified of this man. When I mentioned his name they gave the gesture against the evil eye. What I have is mostly barbershop rumors and family stories."

"What have you got?" asked Minelli, growing impatient.

"Well, no one seems to know his real name. They say he is very old. If the stories are to be believed, well over a hundred. From the area around Port Au Prince in Haiti. They say he is a voodoo priest, and well-versed in the black arts. They say that if he is not the devil, then he knows him personally. Again, I don't believe all this, but a lot of the people in the neighborhood do."

"Anything else?" queried Mulhearn.

"He got here about two years ago," Prudhomme continued. "I have sent a description to the Haitian authorities, and have asked for their help and any information they might have. I understand he upset some very powerful people in the Haitian government and he entered the country illegally. He has been doing a big business in spells and telling the future. I have also heard he will get even with an enemy for a price."

"Well, Bren, I think we need to have a talk with the Dark One," said Minelli. "Do you know where we can find him?"

Officer Prudhomme handed him a slip of paper. "It's a walkup in an alley between 101st and 102nd, near Adams."

* * *

They pulled up about a half block from the address, and made their way down the alley. They went slowly up the stairs, weapons drawn. Mulhearn reached the door first. He pounded on the door with his fist. "NYPD!" he yelled as loudly as he could. There was no response. He pounded on the door again, this time harder. The door swung inward. Mulhearn could see a figure rushing to the back of the apartment. He exploded through the door and ran to the back. A man, dressed in dark clothing -- a black, knit slouch hat pulled close over his face -- was trying to get through the window to the fire escape. Mulhearn lunged at the figure, and grabbed at his sleeve. The dark figure pushed him in the chest, ripping off the pocket from his black blazer. His badge and holder clattered to the floor as Mulhearn fell backward. Minelli jumped over Mulhearn to get to the window, but the dark figure was already on the ground and heading down the alleyway. Vince leveled his service revolver, but didn't squeeze the trigger.

Mulhearn had gotten up and was dusting himself off. He picked up his shield and put it in the inside pocket of his blazer. "Damn it!" he said. "This was my favorite jacket. Nothing else goes so well with my tie."

"Trust me, Bren. Nothing goes well with that tie!" laughed Minelli.

"I take it he got away?" asked Mulhearn.

"Yeah. I didn't want take a chance on hitting someone else. I suppose I would have a lot of explaining to do if I did."

They had their first chance to look at the flat. On one wall was an altar. There was a brazier. A bowl of what appeared to be blood, and several severed chicken feet on a copper plate.

"I'll be..." muttered Mulhearn. On the edge of the altar lay a small figurine. Pinned to the front of the figure was a small, gray, triangular piece of cloth. The arms and legs were neatly cut and placed next to the torso of the figurine. A large knife sat next to it. "Vince, take a look at this. Does this look familiar?"

"Yeah, check this out." He pointed to the brazier. In the center was a mass of melted wax. In the center of that was a charred piece of red plaid fabric.

I got an idea, Vince." Mulhearn looked around the apartment. There was a tiny kitchen. Mulhearn walked deliberately over to the refrigerator. He pulled open the door to the freezer. There in front of a series of plastic bags was another wax figurine. This one had another small triangle of fabric pinned to the chest. He pulled the figurine out and tossed it to Minelli. "I am willing to bet that the cloth matches the clothes that Forchere was wearing." Minelli placed the tiny figurine on the kitchen table. "We need to get uniformed officers to secure this place. I think we have enough to get a warrant."

Minelli snickered. "You think a judge is going to believe this?"

"It's all in how you ask, Vince. We might just leave out the voodoo part.

After the officers arrived and the crime scene tape was in place, and officers posted, Minelli and Mulhearn tracked down Officer Prudhomme.

They relayed the information on what they found in the walkup apartment. "He got away from us," Minelli said. "We need to find him quickly. We think other community leaders are in trouble."

"This is a little far-fetched," said Prudhomme. "Now I know why they call you the spook squad."

"Look, we can't explain this," said Mulhearn. "We can't prove anything in court, but we need to talk to him. You have to get into the grapevine and find out anything you can."

With that, Prudhomme picked up the phone and started dialing.

Next, Minelli called Assistant ME Williams, and related their findings to him.

"There's a certain logic in this, Vince. Forchere started defrosting about four hours ago. Do you think this is just a coincidence?" asked Williams.

"You're a man of science, John. Are you telling me you buy into this voodoo stuff?"

"We can't ignore what's in front of us."

"I want to see you on the witness stand in this one."

"We'll cross that bridge, Vince. For now you need to get him off the streets," said the Assistant ME as he hung up the phone.

* * *

"It's another day, Bren," said Minelli, as he sipped his morning coffee, offensive mug in hand. He always made sure that the swarthy figure was facing in Mulhearn's direction. "And you are not on the phone with the assistant ME. Looks like a great day to me."

Mulhearn looked up from the stack of papers on his desk. He had been forced to wear a gray blazer with his favorite green tie. "This is the information from the Haitian bureau of police. They say our suspect is, get this, Lucifer Deschamps. He was born in a little Haitian village in 1890. He dropped out of sight after threatening several prominent leaders and government officials. It seems like it was some sort of protection racquet. That matches up pretty good with the grapevine in Little Haiti."

"He sure moved pretty good for 112 years old," said Minelli.

"There's more. A lot of it about local superstitions, voodoo - zombies -- things like that. The official government stance is that these things are just rumors and they don't exist."

As he handed the packet to Minelli, the phone rang. "Do you really want to answer that, Bren?" Minelli said. "The morning was going so good."

Mulhearn shot his partner a withering look and picked up the receiver. It was Officer Prudhomme. "Did you get the info I sent over? Good. It took a lot of threats and calling in favors, but I think I got something. This Lucifer Deschamps was seen yesterday in a small restaurant on 104th. The owner lives upstairs. When I talked to him, he was terrified. When I reminded him about Forchere and the others, he opened up. Deschamps was shaking him down for protection money. He threatened him with spells if he didn't cooperate. The owner agreed to pay him. Lucifer is supposed to pick up the money today at 2:00 pm. I think you should be able to talk to him then."

"Thanks," said Mulhearn. "We owe you one."

"If you manage to stay out of my neighborhood in the future, that'll be payback enough," replied Prudhomme.

"Prudhomme thinks he found our man." They proceeded to work out the details.

* * *

At 1:30 they met Officer Prudhomme a few blocks from the restaurant. They went in the back of the building through the screen door that was left open to vent the heat from the ovens. Prudhomme introduced them to the owner. He was shaking as they told him what they wanted him to do.

At 2:00 pm, Minelli was seated in a booth, a paper hiding his face. Mulhearn was waiting outside of the kitchen. He didn't want Deschamps to recognize him. The door of the restaurant flew open. There was a rush of cold air that chilled Minelli to the bone. He held up the paper with one hand while he fingered the weapon in his shoulder holster with the other one.

The owner was behind the counter. He was trembling as he motioned for Lucifer to come behind the counter. He practically ran through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Lucifer Deschamps strode in behind him. He did not notice Minelli getting out of his seat, drawing his gun as he did.

The owner went in to a small office and produced a white envelope. "Here it is," he said, his voice quavering. "It's all here." His hand shook uncontrollably as he handed it to Deschamps.

"Smart mon," said Lucifer. He grabbed at the envelope greedily and gave the owner a horrific grin from under the slouch hat. As he turned to go out of the kitchen to the front of the restaurant, Vince Minelli blocked his path.

"Police," he said. "Put your hands up -- slowly -- and lean on the counter."

Nearly faster than the eye could follow, Deschamps erupted. Before Minelli could react, he had grabbed the owner's arm and swung him in Minelli's direction. The force of the collision threw Minelli back into the swinging doors. Deschamps bounded into the office as Mulhearn leapt through the screen door and into the kitchen. In the far corner of the office were steps leading to storage and the roof.

Mulhearn reached the office and heard the sound of Deschamps' footfalls on the stairs. Without hesitating he raced after him. Minelli reached the bottom of the stairs just as Mulhearn reached the top. Mulhearn heard a door slam to his left. It was the entrance to the roof. He approached it cautiously, giving time for Minelli to join him. They nodded to each other, and Mulhearn burst through the door. He found himself on a small roof that faced the street. It was covered with gravel, and looked as if it might not hold them. Surrounding the roof was a small ledge with a decaying cornice.

"Stop! Come no further!" echoed a booming voice. It was unmistakably an island accent. Lucifer was standing on the ledge. Minelli and Mulhearn slowly walked farther out onto the roof. Mulhearn drifting to the right, and Minelli to the left, weapons trained on Deschamps.

"You're trapped," said Mulhearn. "There's nowhere to go. Let's go for a little ride. Right now it's just a little shakedown. I am sure we can get you a deal. Let's not be stupid."

"I think not. I have been in prison before. I will not go back," boomed Deschamps.

Mulhearn tried to hold his attention while Minelli inched ever closer. "Our prisons should seem like heaven."

Suddenly, Deschamps turned to him. "No further, I said." His voice echoed off the rooftop. He reached inside his shirt and held up a wax figurine. Pinned to the chest was the piece of pocket ripped from Mulhearn's favorite blazer. "You have seen what my pets can do." He held the doll over the edge of the building.

"I don't believe," said Mulhearn resolutely.

"You don't have to," laughed Lucifer. "It makes it easier when you do, but it doesn't stop the power of the dark arts. And I have been doing this for a very, very long time."

By this time Minelli was only seven or eight feet away. Mulhearn raised his gun, and held it in both hands. "Let's see what's faster -- a bullet or gravity."

At that moment Minelli lunged for Deschamps. He managed to catch him by the sleeve. The aging cornice crumbled under the weight. Deschamps slipped over the edge, still gripping the wax figure.

"Bren, I can't hold him!" Minelli screamed. Mulhearn tried to reach him, but the sleeve that Minelli was holding ripped at the shoulder. Lucifer fell to the pavement below with a sickening thud. Both Minelli and Mulhearn looked over the edge. Deschamps lay on his back. A pool of dark liquid was beginning to spread out under the body. His left hand was crossed over his chest, still clutching the wax doll. Mulhearn let out a sigh of relief.

They hurried down the stairs and reached the body. A small crowd was beginning to form. Mulhearn checked for a pulse and found none. While he was leaning over the body, he deftly pried the figurine from Deschamps' fingers, and put it safely inside his jacket.

It was John Williams who showed up to take custody of the body. He came over to where Minelli and Mulhearn were standing. "I hope that this will be my last trip to Little Haiti for a while. Oh, and I really would like to see your report on this one."

Neither one acknowledged the comment. They walked the two blocks to their car. As they drove back to the station, Mulhearn pulled the small figurine out of his blazer pocket.

"I wondered where that got to," said Minelli.

"Safe keeping," replied Mulhearn. He reached under the seat of the cruiser and pulled out a Styrofoam box, like the ones used for takeout food. He gently placed the figurine in the box and closed the lid. He started turning blue and clutching at his throat. Minelli saw his distress. He slammed on the brakes, and turned the wheel toward the curb. He threw the car into park. He grabbed the box from Mulhearn and opened it. Immediately, Mulhearn started breathing easier. Color returned to his cheeks.

"Prudhomme gave me the name of a good voodoo priestess," Mulhearn said. "What are you doing after supper?"

 

Story © 2004 by Brian C. Petroziello bpetroz@aol.com


Illustration © 2004 by Romeo Esparrago




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