“Homicide”, McCallum said answering the phone. He had a bad headache from the kids this morning. He was never an easy one to wake‑up and the beginning of the day started out bad when Jimmy, his littlest, fell down the basement stairs and sported a nasty cut on his upper lip. A cut that warranted three stitches, and a shared trip to the emergency room of Westchester Square Hospital, with a panicky kid and a hysterical wife. Some day it will be easier, he kept telling himself.
“Lieutenant Haroldson?” the voice acknowledged. Haroldson was a good cop, but getting a little too meaty, Mac thought.
“Yeah, what’s up?” he said irritably.
“Up to seeing a couple of stiffs?” Haroldson asked almost nonchalantly.
“What are you talking about Harry?” Mac said. He never could understand the sergeant’s parents’ sense of humor for naming him Harold Haroldson. I guess you’re stuck with the name you’re given, although some of the big movie star types changed theirs, he thought. He had kidded Harry in the past about it. Harry Haroldson, thought the lieutenant, should have been a news commentator.
“I’m at the El at Soundview Avenue”, continued the sergeant. “We’ve got a call to go to the scene by the T.A.. Seems there’s been an attempted gang bang of a nurse. and a little blood got spilled.
“Great,” Mac said dourly. This is just what I needed to end the day, he thought more to himself then saying it to Harry.
“Nurse got killed?” he asked, scribbling the address on a piece of paper and motioning to Jenkins across the desk to get their coats off the rack.
As Jenkins got up he was stopped short by the lieutenant’s puzzled look. “Say that again?”
“I said, she’s alive, but the three who jumped her were ripped to shreds,” Haroldson repeated over the phone. “It’s just like I said, lieutenant, but if you should like, why don’t ya drop by for a look‑see,” Haroldson said, mimicking a thick Yiddish accent.
“Be there shortly,” Mac said, cradling the phone. He looked up into the puzzled face of Jenkins. “Should be an interesting evening. Let’s go.”
It took them twenty minutes to get there. When they pulled up it seemed like everybody was there from the morgue people, to the newsmen.
As they climbed the stairs, Mac could see Harry at the top, chewing on his cigar and waiting for him.
“Harry,” Mac said in greeting.
“Lieutenant,” the sergeant acknowledged.
“What have you got?” Mac asked.
“Well, they just took the girl away. There are two on the platform under the sheets, and what’s left of the one scattered all up and down the tracks. They voted her the most likely to get their rocks off on, but apparently something went wrong.”
“Victim turns on assailant?” Jenkins quipped.
“No way,” Harry answered, lost in thought. “They were surprised by an all too willing passerby.”
“What do you make of it?” Mac prodded.
“Well, we got the engineer over there and he’s all shook up. Said something as big as a house signaled him by throwing one of the bodies onto the track in front of him. Apparently, it worked.” Harry continued, “When we got here we thought the nurse was dead, too, but as I bent over her, her eyes popped open and she let out a scream that made my hair curl. I gotta admit, she sure scared the shit out of me.”
“Go on,” probed Mac. He tried to suppress a sick grin as he pictured Harry’s slack jaw and the cigar dangling from his lips.
“Well, the motorman stopped. He and the conductor rushed out and there was this gorilla of a guy standing at the side, as if waiting for an inspection. The motorman said he didn’t even blink an eye. So as they peered around at what looked like World War III, the big guy pointed to where the girl was. They said that after they saw what he was pointing at, they were afraid to go over and look. I guess their inactivity angered the big fella, and when he went to make a move toward them, the conductor fainted.”
“Fainted,” said Jenkins.
“Out like a light bulb,” Harry said.
“What are you saying?” asked Mac.
“Well, they said a change came over the big goon and he made a face that could give wrinkles to an elephant,” Harry finished.
“How big was this guy?” McCallum quipped.
“This is no shit Lieutenant,” Harry said with a note of seriousness. “They figured at between seven-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half feet tall.”
“Sounds like they’ve been riding the rails too long,” Jenkins said with a poker face that left Mac not knowing if he was pulling Harry’s leg or not.
“Go ask them then” Harry said, turning away briskly. “I’m just reporting the facts.”
Mac looked quietly at Jenkins who returned a half hurt look.
“C’mon,” Mac said, “let’s hear the monster story from those two first, before we start laughing at Harry.”
Jenkins shrugged and resigned himself to follow Mac’s footsteps to the waiting train by the platform. Two uniformed patrolmen stood by the yawning doors. Mac could see their eyes constantly flickering over to where the bodies rested under the sheets.
“Spooked”, Mac thought as he eyed them.
Harry was already waiting inside and introduced a hell of a nervous motorman and conductor to Mac. The Lieutenant put on his calm and official air, but could not get them to focus their attention on him. They both stared over his shoulder to an exit stairway, with a look as if all the boogie men in hell were going to appear from it.
“Cigarette?”, Mac offered with a friendly smile.
Only the motorman flickered a worried look at him. Then riveted his eyes back to the stairs. The conductor didn’t even acknowledge him.
Harry motioned to the lieutenant. “So far the conductor bit clean through the two cigarettes we gave him, and when the motorman tried to light his own, I thought he was having an epileptic fit. I lit it for him and then removed it from his lips before he burned himself.”
Curiously, Mac looked over Harry’s shoulder at the two men sitting on the train’s bench, then out at the stairway and back over to the two cops eyeing the bodies.
“Thanks,” he said. Mac walked over to the engineer and bent down to look him square in the face. It took the man several seconds to realize he was no longer looking down the stairs, but at the lieutenant’s face.
With a nervous grin, the motorman said, “Hi.”
“Hi,” Mac returned with a warm smile. “Tell me,” he continued, “what happened after your friend here blacked out.” The two men sitting on the bench turned and gave each other sheepish looks.
“Well,” said the motorman nervously, “I ran to the emergency phone over there and called in.”
“Why didn’t you try to stop the guy?” Mac asked casually.
The two trainmen both gave him a look as if he just asked the world’s number one jackass question.
“You crazy?” said the motorman. “When I turned from the phone, he was looking back at me from a few steps down the stairs, and he was still over a head taller than I was. His shoulders filled that passageway. Shit, I only get paid for running the train…”
“Ok, Ok,” Mac said to quiet him. “I guess he kind of shook you up a bit, huh?”
“Shook me up?” said the engineer. “He damned well scared the piss out of me. And that grin of his!” he said with a shudder.
“His grin?” asked the lieutenant.
“Yeah, his grin,” retorted the motorman, regaining little of his pride. “He smiled slow like, but just with his mouth, not his eyes. Then he slowly raised his arm and pointed to the girl. Believe me mister, if he had wanted me to bark and sit up, I would have.”
“Anything else?” Mac asked.
“Yeah,” the motorman responded. “When he saw that I got the message, his face changed into what someone’s guardian angel would look like.”
“What do you mean?” Jenkins asked.
“His face kind of smoothed out, and he gave us a fatherly look,” the motorman said with thought.
“I’ll vouch for that,” the conductor chimed in at last. “I came to around then and I saw him looking over at me, and I tell you, lieutenant, it was a welcome sight from the mug I last saw on him.”
“Okay, fellas,” Mac finished up. “Thanks a lot, you’ve been a big help.”
The two men looked like they gained a little more self-respect with this.
“Sergeant Haroldson, see if you can get a full statement from them, and I’ll meet you back at the station,” Mac said.
Mac turned and wandered past the bodies with a side glance toward the stairs. He stopped and looked down. He could feel Jenkins standing next to him, eyeing them too.
Without a turn of the head, Mac said, “Billy, get me the coroner’s report as soon as it comes in.”
“Right,” Jenkins said.
“Something spooked those two pretty bad and I want to find out what it was,” Mac said.
Jenkins looked at him and nodded, then turned back to face the stairs.