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9:30 A.M. East Twelfth Street

Death approaches from the left, a medic once told me. Its cold form moves up beside you from the left, touches you and takes you. In desperate situations, medics park themselves on a patient's left side to get in death's way.

I badged the patrolman on guard and parked in the commandeered lot at Casa Rosa Apartments, a two-story modem complex with a wrought-iron outside staircase and puke pink stucco. Fire Department, EMS and APD uniforms crowded the scene, crossing each other's paths like they were all chief surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. Ambulance lights flashed uselessly while techs blocked the street and held reporters and gawkers back with yellow crime-scene tape so they could measure the space between skid marks, chunks of broken headlight and detached extremities. Low-end lawyers who heard about the accident on the police band, scampered up to sniff for manslaughter charges or a juicy wrongful-death lawsuit. A ghostly white patrolman cornered me with a paper coffee cup.

"Sergeant Reles? I'm Flenniken, sir." Looking past Flenniken, I thought I saw Joey in the crowd and I blinked hard. It was a husky dark guy, but a decade younger and alive. Joey's body got pulled from his car, autopsied and buried six months ago, I reminded myself. But I never got to say goodbye and I still kept half-expecting him to sneak up, slap me on the back and yell, "Dañel! Let's get 'em!"

I gulped half the lukewarm coffee. "How'd ya know it was me?" "Dispatch told me to look for someone who ... who looked like he might want a cup of coffee, " Flenniken said.

"Nice. What'd she really say?" A fire truck headed off to find a fire. I looked at the sky.

He coughed. "She said you were muscled and handsome in a busted-up boxer sort of way. You'd look like you got your clothes off the floor. And you'd need coffee. Sir."

"Jesus, nine-thirty A.M. and it's baking already. What month is it?"


The coffee kicked in. I swallowed the dregs and handed him the empty cup. "Good. Only five months left of summer. What happened here?"

According to Flenniken, Rick Schate left his girlfriend's house, paid for a breakfast taco at a stand on the south side of East twelfth and shot across the street—the driver and four passengers confirmed this—to catch the number 6 westbound bus just as the number 6 eastbound bus slammed into him, threw him twenty feet, then hit him again and rolled over him as its brakes squealed, catching his rib cage on its axle and dragging him another fifty feet before it came to a full stop on the overpass above the creek, a bloody stripe of Schate mapping its path. The Fire Department, first on the scene, backed up the bus and dislodged his crushed torso from the axle. They respirated and CPR'd him, bunched up on his left, then watched his face turn a cyanotic blue and felt a cool presence move through them as his last heartbeat blipped across the tiny screen.

Flenniken led me to the area in front of the bus where the medics had already slipped what was left of Schate into a clear bodybag—head, crushed torso, left leg, detached right leg, left arm, separated section of left hand. "Where's his right arm?" I asked. Flenniken and the medics looked around like they forgot their homework. "Christ, Flenniken, go back to the point of impact. One of you go with him."

I climbed down the sandy slope into the ravine, muttering about sniffing for lost arms on a bullshit case that came down to protecting the city from a legitimate lawsuit. A tiny creek trickled south under East Twelfth Street. A paved footpath ran parallel to the creek, through the underpass. Someone thought to tape off the pass north and south, to keep the area clear of morning joggers and kids getting high before school. I scanned the underpass: gang graffiti splattered its walls alongside hieroglyphics of overturned champagne glasses and the declaration I LOVE BROOKLYN spray-painted in block letters, probably by an exile like me. Mosquitoes swarmed in the vapor. In the shadow against one wall, I saw something that made me blink. It looked like a woman lying near the wall but the head and arms were barely formed, as if they were melting, real but not real. I got closer and blinked again, tried to focus my eyes in the sudden shade. I saw it was a sculpture, a sloppy sculpture of a woman made of sand and dirt, the head a big formless clod of gravel, the arms spread, one leg straight, another pile of dirt that was probably supposed to be the other leg bent at the knee. Something about it felt wrong. I stepped closer and bent over her. She was fake, sand and gravel fake, not even a good job of it, in the head, arms, and legs. But the rest of her, from the collar down—breasts, midsection and pelvis—was real, human, naked and very dead.

I stumbled toward the sunlight, wide awake now, and yelled at the first tech I saw. "Send Flenniken down here with a print kit and get the medical examiner. We have a homicide!"

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