Dressed to Kill: Part II By Vincent Zandri

He depressed his index finger on the Enter key.

What appeared on the screen was a grainy shot that came from a security camera mounted to the building’s far corner, and not particularly close to the John Patrick Boutique storefront which was located pretty much in the center of the strip mall. There were people coming and going from the Italian restaurant which was situated closer to the camera, and one or two people going into the liquor store and another couple heading in and out of the bagel shop. No one, on the other hand, seemed to be heading into or out of the boutique.

But that’s when Blood stopped the video.

“Now,” he said, “watch this.”

“Watch what?” Bruce said.

“Just keep your eye out for the hooded sweatshirt,” Blood added.

He hit the Enter key once more, and using his long index finger, pointed at what appeared to be a figure walking towards the front door of the clothing store. The figure was so faint looking in the black and white grainy video that it almost looked like a ghost. But it was there all right, and just like Blood said, he appeared to be wearing a gray hoodie that was pulled up over his head. You couldn’t make out the face at all, but you could make out the hands, the skin of which seemed to be as dark as Blood’s. One of them reflected the exterior lighting. Like there was something in his hand. A knife maybe.

“You see him?” Blood asked, his finger still pointing to the figure.

“Yeah,” I said. “I see him.”

“Now you don’t,” Blood said.

Because that’s when the hoodie man disappeared.

7

Val took a step forward, leaned in closer to the laptop screen.

“Play that again, Blood,” she said.

He did it.

“Oh my God,” she said. “Somebody cut out a piece of video.”

“More like somebody cut the surveillance camera at a specific time that was pre-established,” I said. My eyes shifting to Bruce. “You know who was on duty that night watching the surveillance?”

He shook his head.

“We’re not that sophisticated,” he said. “No one watches it. It’s all automatic. The video only gets watched if it needs to get watched. Like right now.”

I turned to Val.

“What time did the store close that night, Val?” I asked.

“Nine,” she said.

“How long does it take you to lock the front doors and clean up?”

“No more than ten minutes,” she answered.

“And you and Anna always left by the front door.” A question.

She shook her head in the affirmative.

“Yes,” she said. “We always parked our cars in the lot in front of the store. Not out back where it’s dark and creepy.”

“You guys ever hang around the place afterwards? Maybe have a beer or something? Chat it up?”

“Never,” she said. “As it was, Anna and I were hardly speaking. The store wasn’t doing well and we were getting on one another’s nerves.”

“But you did keep large amounts of cash in the till?”

“Five to seven thousand or so every day. High end fashions demand high end change for women who liked to buy in cash so that their husbands wouldn’t see the credit card receipts and hit the roof.”

“You left that kind of cash on site?”

Val bit down on her lip.

“Well, not the best of decisions it turns out. We did always try and hit the bank as much as possible, but it was only the two of us running things, so we got lazy. And Anna was murdered the night before a day when the banks wouldn’t be open. Sunday.”

“I get it,” I said. Me, pacing the carpeted floor. “So it makes sense to me then, that anyone who wanted to rob the place could have scoped the joint out for a few evenings and made a determination on when the store would be empty.”

“But wouldn’t a person about to rob the store wait until the owner left the building first?” Bruce queried.

“Good question,” Blood said. “But as you can see on the video, the hoodie man came up on the boutique from along the sidewalk. He might not have waited to see if Anna had left. Could be he just assumed she was gone, especially when he saw that the lights were off, and the exterior signage extinguished.”

I said, “So if you and Anna used to leave the store within ten minutes of closing time, that means the dude who tried to rob the place would have had to wait until nine-fifteen or so, minimum.” My eyes back on Blood. “Blood man, what time does the CCTV vid show when the hoodie man appears?”

He backed the film up a bit. He looked up at me.

“Nine thirty,” he said.

“Bingo,” I said.

8

Blood stood up and naturally, soaked up every bit of oxygen in the room with his monstrous iron-pumped physique.

“Maybe it time we go examine the crime scene,” he said. “Try and reconstruct the murder, like they do on CSI Miami.”

“You watch too much TV, Blood,” I said.

“Hey, when I got locked up in the joint, I didn’t get to watch nothin’. I’m catching up.”

I started for the conference room door.

“Hey wait a minute,” Bruce called out. “Isn’t the boutique a crime scene now? I mean, we can get in trouble if we go traipsing around there. Perhaps it will contaminate the scene.”

“Looks like Mr. Slick Hair here been watching too many crime shows also,” Blood said, his eyes locked on mine.

“Let the contamination begin,” I said. “Oh, and Blood?”

“Yes my brother.”

“Grab up that laptop,” I said. “Miller will be happy to know we got ourselves our first big clue.”

We began making our way out of the building when nature called.

Turning to Val and Blood. “I’ll catch up,” I said. “Gotta firehose some of the coffee I’ve been drinking since we finished up at the gym.”

“TMI,” Val said, shaking her head.

“See you on the other side,” Blood said.

Bruce just looked at me like I had two heads.

I made my way into the men’s room off the vestibule, and while Mother Nature was taking her course, I stared at the blank wall and thought about the hoodie man in the CCTV video. The flashing coming from his hand. I thought about breaking into the building using the front door where people coming and going from the other establishments might easily spot him. There was a back door on the boutique. Other than a few strategically placed exterior spotlights, it was quite dark out there at night. Why not break into the place that way?

I finished up, went to the sink, turned on the water, began washing my hands.

There was something else that bothered me about using the front door. Anyone who wanted to break in would have to jimmy the lock. That would take time, effort, and it would even make some noise. Certainly the camera would capture video of the hoodie man jimmying the door. But then, the camera was turned off. Maybe purposely turned off by someone who not only had access to the camera equipment, but who knew how to use it. And what if the hoodie man didn’t need to jimmy the front door? What if he had a key to the joint?

I looked up at myself in the mirror.

“Bruce,” was all I said.

9

Drying my hands, I exited the bathroom. But instead of making my way out the front door and heading to the boutique, I decided to make a quick diversion. I headed instead back into the Stephens real estate offices and made my way along the corridor until I found a wood door that said, “Bruce Feingold, CEO” on it, just like the sign outside on the reserved parking space.

My hand on the opener, I twisted it, stepped inside.

“Can I help you?” said the woman seated at a desk. Behind her was Bruce’s office, the door to which was wide open.

I put on my best Keeper Marconi irresistible smile, dug inside my pants pocket for a business card. I didn’t hand the auburn-haired middle-aged woman the card but just pretended she could read it from where she was seated.

“My name’s Jack Marconi,” I said through my smile. “I’m an old friend of Bruce’s. We used to row together down on the Hudson. Say, we’re looking at a property together, and he left his coat behind. He asked me to grab it for him out of his office after I used the men’s room.”

Before she had a chance to stop me, I put the card back in my pocket, went around the desk, and into his office.

“Excuse me,” she said, “what did you say your name was again?”

Then I heard her pick up the phone, and dial a few numbers, which told me two things. One, she was calling her boss, alerting him to the intrusion. And two, I had maybe one or two minutes to snoop before I’d have a security team breathing down my neck.

I pulled out my cell phone and stared down at his desk top.

First thing that caught my attention was a photo of the woman I took to be his wife. She was blonde and small and cute as a button. Judging from the blue ocean in the background and the sand dunes and the way her hair blew casually in the wind, I made a wild guess that the picture was snapped at their summer beach house in Nantucket. Or Martha’s Vineyard. Or the Hamptons. What difference did it make? It was all the same place.

All manner of paperwork was spread out on the desk.

A contract with the word CANCEL stamped on it in bright red ink. A couple of bright red Stop Work notices that had obviously been pulled from two jobsites were placed under a Rotary Club cog wheel paperweight. There were several newspaper clippings of the Anna Kruise murder, plus bills. Lots of bills. Lots of overdue bills. Electrical, cable television, Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Macys…you name it. If it was paid for with plastic, they owed on it.

There was even a bank statement that hadn’t been opened yet. I shoved it in my jacket pocket along with the phone, came back around the desk. It was then that I noticed the mud on the carpeted floor. Not a whole lot of it. But mud stains. Days old mud stains very near the closet door.

Quickly, I made my way to the door, opened it. The old mud stains led directly into the closet, as though whoever had the mud on the bottom of his shoes, stepped right into the closet. But it was not the stains that rattled me. What had me rattled was the gray hoodie sweatshirt that hung on a hook on the back of the closet door.

A large gray hoodie with blood stains on it.

Pulling the cell phone back out of my pocket, I snapped three or four pictures of it, and another three or four of the mud stains. Pocketing the phone once more, I made my way back out into the front office.  

“I couldn’t find Mr. Feingold’s coat,” I said. “I gotta say though, the place is a mess. Like it hasn’t been cleaned in a while.”

“Mr. Feingold is a very private man,” she said, her eyes wide, alarmed. “He doesn’t like anyone disturbing his office. Not even the cleaning crew.”

Well that explains the old mud stains…

The secretary crossed her arms over her chest as she stood up. “And I don’t ever recall Mr. Feingold ever mentioning your name, Mr…”

“Marconi…We’re the best of friends, me and Bruce,” I lied. “And believe me. After today, you’re going to be hearing my name quite often.”

I opened the door and stepped out, knowing that the digital photos and the bank statement that were now shoved inside my pocket were yet more evidence that would help me and the police solve the cold blooded murder of Val Antonelli’s business partner, Anna Kruise.  

10

Like a speeding bullet, or a middle-aged man in half-way decent shape anyway, I exited the Stephens Real Estate office and back out into the parking lot. Rather than head to the John Patrick Boutique, I listened to my gut, which was telling me to visit the patch of woods located behind the strip mall to the direct north of the maintenance building.

Mud, the voice inside me said. Woods…Murder weapon tossed into the woods by an amateur killer who doesn’t have a clue about what he’s doing…   

I didn’t waste any time. Logic ruled the day when it came to detecting. If I’d just cut somebody’s throat from ear to ear and wanted to ditch the murder weapon ASAP, how would I do it?

The quickest and easiest way possible. That’s how.

Making my way to the back door of the John Patrick Boutique, I then made an about-face, crossed over the asphalt access road and made my way into the woods.

The second growth wood wasn’t all that thick or big, but it provided enough cover to conceal something as small as a knife. I stared at the leave covered floor, my eyes shifting from right to left and back again. It might seem a little like looking for a needle in a haystack, but when you knew exactly what you were looking for, and you combined your search with a little logic, it wasn’t all that crazy to believe I might come upon the weapon sooner than later.

When I noticed the glint of sun beam shining off an object set on the leaf-strewn floor about ten feet in front of me, I knew I’d found what I was looking for. I might not have found the knife so easily had it not been for the bare branches on the winter trees and the way the afternoon sunlight was able shine down through them.

Pulling the phone from my pocket, I snapped another picture.

Now I had more than enough evidence to share with Miller that would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Anna Kruise’s killer was also her landlord.

11

When I made my way back around to the front of the John Patrick Boutique, I could see that the yellow plastic crime scene ribbon had been removed from the door. Peering through the big picture display window, I could make out Blood and Val standing at the register counter while Bruce stood in the middle of the floor, his cell phone pressed against his ear. Again, listening to my gut, I had no doubt that he was talking with his secretary.

I stepped inside, a big smile on my face. I glanced at Val and at Blood. Then I glanced at Bruce. He was biting down so hard on his bottom lip, I thought his teeth might go right through the flesh. On the painted cement floor was the white spray-painted outline of a dead woman. The floor was still stained with her blood.

Black blood.

Bruce pulled the phone away from his ear, shoved the phone back into his pocket.

“I need to leave,” he said, tone tight and agitated. “Something’s come up.”

“Blood,” I said, “the door.”

Blood didn’t hesitate. He made his way back around the counter, and stood in front of the front door, his huge body blocking it entirely.

Bruce charged the door anyway, but stopped just short of ramming into Blood’s chest.

“Please step out of the way, Mr. Blood,” he sniped. “I just happened to own the doorway you are presently blocking.”

“Mr. Marconi tells me to stop you from leaving,” Blood said. “I stop you from leaving. At all costs.”

Bruce about-faced, bolted across the shop floor, not bothering with stepping around the blood stain, and nearly collided with me. I didn’t have Blood’s height, but I was more than stocky enough to stop him. More than strong enough to put him down with my bare hands if I had to. Just in case, I pulled out my gun, aimed it at his chest.

Bruce immediately put his hands up in surrender.

“This is outrageous,” he said. “You’re a common thug. You are all common thugs….Knuckle dragging animals. I want my lawyer.”

“How come he’s not asking for the police, Blood?” I said, my eyes going from Bruce to Blood and back again.

“That because he guilty as sin. Or so I’m surmising, Keep. Plus he call us knuckle draggers. That not politically correct.”

“Political correctness is dead, Blood. We gotta let that one slide.” Then, eyeing the real estate mogul alone. “Step on over to the computer, Bruce baby. I want to share a theory with you.”

He slowly, if not dejectedly, made his way to the register counter, took his place beside Val. Blood came back around the counter, stood next to him. Rather, he didn’t stand next to Bruce so much as he pressed his hard body up against him. Did it just to remind Bruce that should he try something stupid, he would end up in a world of hurt.

“Play it again, Blood,” I said, like Bogie saying, Play it again Sam.

He hit the Enter key on the computer and the CCTV video played once more. When the hoodie man entered into the picture, I told Blood to pause the video right there.

I pulled out my phone, went to the photo gallery. I chose the picture of the gray hoodie sweatshirt. Showed it to Bruce. Val and Blood could also see it.

“That sweatshirt belong to you, Bruce baby?” I posed. “Please don’t answer in the negative, because you and I both know I just found it in your office closet and I wouldn’t want to have to call you a liar.”

He nodded, his pallor turning pale. A grayish pale, to be more precise.

Switching to the picture of the old mud stains on the office carpeting floor.

“These mud stains near your closet,” I went on. “They got me to thinking, Bruce. Where would I dispose of a murder weapon if I wanted to do so in a hurry? And then I answered myself by saying, the woods. Or, in this case, the woods behind the strip mall.” Switching to the photo of the blood-stained knife lying on the leafy floor of the woods out back. “And sure enough, will you look at that?”

Now Bruce’s pallor became so pale and gray I thought he might vomit all over the computer. But then, it was technically his computer, so puking on it was his prerogative after all. But I bet he was regretting being so cooperative with Blood in the first place. But then, Blood isn’t exactly someone you can say no to. Especially when he’s staring you down, one on one.

Val’s eyes grew wet and angry. She turned to Bruce, slapped him across the face. Hard.

“You son of a bitch,” she said. “You killed my partner.”

Bruce raised his hand, touched his face where Val slapped it.

“I…did not…kill…your partner,” he said.

I nodded.

“He’s talking gospel, Val,” I said.

“What you saying, Keep?” Blood pressed.

Using my index finger, I pointed at the computer screen.

“You see how the light reflects off the object on the left hand?” I said. “That’s not a knife. And by the way, that hand is not black, but as white as Wonder Bread. I believe that object attached to one of the fingers is a diamond. Like the kind of diamond you would find on a woman’s engagement ring. Especially one that’s fairly large and very expensive.”

“So what you’re saying,” Blood said, “is that, despite the evidence, Bruce didn’t actually run the knife across Anna’s neck.”

“Well if he didn’t,” Val said, “who did?”

“A cute little lady,” I said. “A little lady no bigger than you, Val.”

12

 

The phone still in hand, I went to text messages, selected Miller from the contacts list

I typed in, John Patrick. Be here now. Bring backup.

I slipped the phone back in my jacket pocket.

“Val,” I said, “you must keep a running list of clients with bad credit.”

She cocked her head.

“Sure, there’s a list under the cash drawer. Women mostly, whose cards are almost always declined, or who renege on their layaways. There’s one or two who have written some very bouncy checks.”

“Does one of those bouncy check women in particular happen to come to mind?”

Val’s eyes went wide. Bruce took a quick step back, as if he was about to bolt. But Blood grabbed hold of his arm, squeezed. Bruce’s already agonized face assumed a mask of pain so profound, even I could feel it.

Opening up the drawer under the resister, Val pulled out a metal tray that contained a whole bunch of cashed and apparently uncashed checks. Or, what I should say is, a stack of checks that bore the marking, “Declined.” She set a stack of maybe six or seven paper-clipped checks onto the computer keyboard. The name and address located in the upper right-hand corner of the checks reads, “Monica and Bruce Feingold.” The address was the wealthy Loudonville. Of course it was.

“Happy?” came the voice of the small woman standing in the middle of the floor.

“Monica,” Bruce said. “When did you come in?”

The woman who stood before us directly on top of Anna Kruise’s blood stain, was Monica Feingold. Her blonde hair looked like it had just been groomed and colored, and her pink painted fingernails appeared to have been manicured only moments ago. She was wearing an expensive pink pantsuit and black high heels. For jewelry, she had diamonds in her ears that matched the diamond rock on her wedding finger. Dangling off her neck, a strand of pearls. She’d also had a Chanel bag strapped to her shoulder.

In a word, she’d dressed to kill.

Case and point? In her hands, she held a .38 caliber revolver.

“Where did you get a gun, Monica?” Bruce said. “You hate guns.”

“After what happened here,” she said, “I knew I needed protection. So did a little shopping in the North Albany projects.”

“Protection from whom, my love?” Bruce pressed.

“From assholes like your friends here.”

Blood turned to me.

“She don’t know me. Why she calling me an asshole?”

“She doesn’t really mean it, Blood,” I said. “She’s just having a bad day. Maybe she just needs a little time in a safe space somewhere.”

Monica took a step or two forward, pointing the gun directly at Val.

“You,” she said, her eyes shifting to me. “Drop the gun. Do it now or–”

“—yeah, yeah,” I said, setting the .45 onto the counter. “I’ve seen this movie before. Or the lady gets it, right?”

“Something like that,” she said. She took the gun, dropped it into her black Chanel purse. The two pound Colt gave the bag some noticeable weight. While she refocused on Val, I felt myself slowly reaching for it.

“Hands up, mister!” she barked. “I know what your game is.”

“Keep,” Blood said, while he too slowly raised up his hands, “you get the feeling Ms. Feingold watch a lot of old crime movies in her spare time?”

“She does have the lingo down, doesn’t she?” I said.

“Bruce,” Monica said sharply, “get the damn door.”

Coming from out of the distance, the sound of cop cruiser sirens. They were faint enough that I’m not sure anyone other than Blood and I noticed them. He looked at me out the corner of his eye, and I looked at him.

Bruce went around the door, reached into his pocket for what I could only assume was a master key. He used it to lock the glass door.

“Monica, I thought we were friends,” Val said, empathy in her tone. Fake empathy “You were always one of my best customers. The outfit you’re wearing right now…every stitch if it…comes from the store.”

“Drop it already,” Monica said. “You know goddamned well I stole this outfit, and that every one of the checks I’ve written to you over the past year and a half has bounced, thanks to my lovely breadwinner husband.” She turned, stared him down not like she was looking at her beloved betrothed. But more like she was looking at a steaming pile of fresh dog shit. “You wanna know how all this happened? How poor Anna came to be dead? Did he tell you already? Of course he didn’t tell you. He was probably too busy looking at his hair in the mirror.”

While she had her eyes concentrated on her husband, I took a chance, and quickly dug my left hand in my jacket pocket, pulled out the cell, hit the Record app, slipped the phone onto the shelf under the register counter. From that position, it might not pick up everything that was said, but it was worth the shot.

“I only wanted what you wanted, Monica,” Bruce said.

Monica laughed, then shifted her aim from Val to her husband.

“Monica,” he cried, once again lifting his hands, “what are you doing? We love one another. Support one another. We’re bridge partners at the club. We row together. We…make…love.”

“Stop your nonsense,” Monica snapped. “You haven’t fucked me in years. Who exactly are you trying to kid?”

“I’ve tried, my love.”

“The only thing you’ve tried and failed at was making your daddy’s business into an empire worthy of Trump Towers. But instead, you drove it into the ground and now we’re bankrupt.”

The bank statement I’d shoved into my pocket earlier came immediately to mind. I could bet it was painted in red balances. Maybe Bruce’s face had gone pale and ashen with fear before. But now it flushed red in shame and embarrassment. Bruce had himself one hell of an ego.

The sirens were growing louder, more noticeable. Not that Monica cared at this point.

She glanced over her shoulder at the three of us standing behind the register counter.

“Let me ask you all something,” she said. “You look like educated people. People who read a lot. Maybe even read the classics. Like this one short story I read back in prep school by John Cheever. You remember him? He appealed to all rich silver spoon-fed preppies like Bruce here. Anyway, Cheever wrote a story about a broke preppy blue blood snob who lives in a wealthy suburb just like Loudonville. Only, he can’t afford the place because he’s flat broke. Even his wife isn’t aware how broke he is. So what’s he decide to do? He decides to break into all the houses on the street, and steel the rich lady’s jewelry. It’s called The Housebreaker of Shady Hill. You should check it out sometime.”

“Read it,” Blood whispered to me.

“Makes two of us,” I said.

“So you see, lady and gentlemen,” Monica went on, “Bruce thought it would be a good idea if we paid a visit to all the stores in his lovely little mall on a night before a day when the banks would be closed. That way, we stood the chance of encountering tills that were still full of cold hard cash. It was my idea for the hoodie and the black shoe polish, which was a bitch to get off let me tell you. But we don’t even get as far as the first store…this store, John Patrick…when we discover not cash, but one of the owners still occupying the place.”

“What was she doing?” Val asked.

“She was on her way out the front door when Bruce encountered her after sneaking in through the back door. She screamed and he took hold of her, wrapped his hand around her mouth. He reached out, unlocked the door for me. I stepped inside, and I’ll never forget the look on her face when she saw my face underneath that hoodie. Raising up her right foot, she came down hard onto Bruce’s foot with her high heel. He screamed, dropped the knife he was holding onto the floor, and released her. She immediately pulled out her cell and started to dial 911. She’d already dialed in the number 9, when I bent over, picked up the knife, and ran it across her throat.” Exhaling, her tone growing softer, more regretful. “The knife was so sharp, it seemed to go through her neck like it was make of warm butter. She fell to the floor, her eyes locked on mine. Mine was the last face she saw before going over to the other side.” Now taking a step closer to Bruce, pressing the barrel of the gun against his chest. “And what’s my brave husband do? He just screams. Screams bloody murder. Screams like a little fucking girl.”

“So you left Anna like that,” I said. “Bleeding out on the floor.”

She nodded.

“What the hell else could we do? We committed murder one, and we would pay one way or another. I would pay anyway.”

The sirens filled the boutique space now as the cruisers pulled up to the curb, the cops filing out, service weapons in hand. Leading the pack was Nick Miller, his semi-automatic gripped in his shooting hand.

“And now this,” Monica said, with a strange sort of smile on her face. “Not exactly the life we planned when we bought the big house in Loudonville, is it, Bruce? Not what I planned when I married you, hoping to cash in on a multi-million dollar real estate development company. In the end, all we’re left with is bad memories and ashes. We’re goddamned sinners, you and me Bruce. An evil bastard and an evil bitch.”

“Monica,” Bruce whispered through a trembling voice. “But I love you.”

“Oh crap,” Blood whispered, “she’s gonna do it.”

“Val don’t look,” I said, maybe a split second before Monica pulled the trigger.

13

The pointblank blast tore a good portion of Bruce’s spine out before his body collapsed to the concrete floor like a sack of rags and bones. The police rushed the door as Monica turned to the counter, smiled shyly.

“I always liked you, Val,” she said, her manner genuine and sincere. “You have the best taste in clothing and accessories ever. Too bad I couldn’t afford them.”

And then she pressed the revolver barrel against her temple, and blew her brains out.

14

Blood took Val next door to the Italian restaurant where they would calm their nerves over a couple of stiff drinks. Martinis, no doubt. I could have used one by then myself. Or a beer anyhow. But, per department SOP, Detective Miller had no choice but to question me.

Dutifully, I stood alongside him at the crime scene and gave him the rundown, from the moment we left his office this morning until now, including the stuff he missed on the CCTV video, the evidence I captured in Bruce Feingold’s office, the murder weapon that was still out there in the woods behind the mall, and for the coup de grace, Monica’s confession which I managed to capture on my cell phone. All in all, a job well done. Or so Miller confided in me.

“Oh, plus there’s this,” I said, reaching into my pocket, pulling out the now crumpled bank statement. “I’m guessing that one statement tells a hell of a financial story. A motivational story.”

He smiled.

“Too bad you don’t work for me. I would give you a raise.” Then, his eyes shifting from the two stiffs lying in their own blood while the blue bootie wearing APD forensics team took pictures and collected evidence, to the laptop computer. “You know, I lied when I said we didn’t have a suspect. Naturally, the hoodie man was our suspect, but we couldn’t possibly match him up with anyone. And every time we tried, all we’d get is resistance.” He ran his hands over his short hair, then stored them in the pockets on his gray trench coat. “The suspect in the film was wearing a hoodie and the experts swore he was black judging by the color of the exposed skin.”

“She made herself out to be a black man,” I said. “A young black man. Not a bad plan when you think about it. For two amateurs anyway.”

He bit down on his lip, nodded. As usual, I was waiting for the But.

“But,” he said, “it makes the cop’s job all the harder. The black community automatically assumes you’re profiling them when you start asking the hard questions…When you start scouring the projects, and rounding up some of the usual suspects. The local Al Sharpton race-baiting tax evaders start screaming in your face.”

“Strange times we’re living in,” I said. “It will all get better…one day.”

“Let’s hope so,” he said. “The state of crime and punishment depends upon it.”

Turning, he went for the door. But before he got there, he spun back around, and smiled sadly.

“Monica Feingold,” he said. “I guess you could say she was dressed to kill.”

I had to laugh, because he took the exact words right out of my mouth. Or out of my brain anyway. He turned once more and walked out. I made my way to Monica’s purse, excused myself in front of the CSI professionals, grabbed my .45, shoved it back into my holster, and made my way for the door.

I was looking forward to a nice, tall, cold beer. God knows I’d earned it.

*

Vincent Zandri is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling winner of the 2016 ITW Thriller Award and PWA Shamus Award for Moonlight Weeps. Suspense Magazine recently selected his novel, When Shadows Come, as the Best Thriller of 2016. He lives in New York. His newly released Jack Marconi PI novel is The Corruptions, based on a true story.

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