The day that Lieutenant Hank Donaghue walked into the alley beside the Biltmore Arms Apartment Building on 121st Street in South Shore East was the day the alleged soul of Martin Liu departed its body and began the next segment of its journey from nothingness to eternity. It was a warm afternoon in early June four years ago and the wind was blowing in off the river. Summer had not yet completely settled in, but the heat was right behind the door, waiting to come through.
Uniformed police officers shifted from one foot to the other at each end of the alley, their presence preventing onlookers from ducking beneath the yellow crime scene tape for a closer look. Detective Joe Kalzowski stood off to one side, questioning the elderly African-American woman who had called 911. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the sixth floor of the Biltmore Arms and had spotted the body from her bathroom window. A second witness, the elderly woman’s 14-year-old grandson, waited with one of the responding officers, staring at the body on the ground with a mixture of shock and fascination. Dr. Jim Easton, the Assistant Medical Examiner, crouched beside the body, withdrawing the long thermometer with which he had measured the temperature of the corpse’s liver. Members of the crime scene unit had already claimed the victim’s wallet, containing his driver’s license, credit cards and sixty-five dollars in cash, and were now taking photographs and bagging scraps of trash to be brought along for further study.
Hank knelt beside Easton, who grimaced up at him over his glasses.
“Looks like cause of death is going to be exsanguination, roughly five hours ago,” Easton said, putting the thermometer away.
“Not much blood.”
“Right. Your primary scene is somewhere else. This is a dump site. Shot somewhere else, died here.”
Hank looked at the bullet wound in the body’s left leg, just above the kneecap on the inside of the thigh. “Sloppy work. Shot from the front?”
“Yeah. Through and through, very close range. He wasn’t running away.”
“Self-inflicted? Accidental discharge, maybe?”
Easton pursed his lips for a moment and then shook his head. “Awkward angle.” He shuffled around behind the body and held his own hand out so that his wrist was twisted back on itself. “Have to be something like this, but only if he were struggling with someone, and there are no contusions on his wrist that would suggest a struggle for a gun. We’ll test his hands for GSR, but I’ll tell you right now, someone else did this to him.”
Hank looked at the nose, which had been bloodied and broken, at the split upper lip and at the bruises on the forehead and both cheeks. He shook his head. “Worked him over first.”
“Felt like some broken ribs,” Easton agreed, smoothing his blond mustache. “Maybe internal injuries.”
Hank noticed that the young man’s clothing was nearly new. His hair was neatly groomed and his hands looked soft. The scattered packets of merchandise and paraphernalia suggested a drug deal gone bad. It was definitely the wrong part of town for a 24-year-old Asian with little street experience to be selling junk, as the neighborhood, from 118th Street all the way south to Kensington, was territory claimed by the African-American R Boyz gang.
Hank frowned. A CSI had already done a field test on one of the packets that indicated heroin, but it wasn’t a heroin kind of neighborhood. If the kid had been selling, he definitely didn’t have a clue as to how to go about it. Something didn’t add up. If the kid had been shot somewhere else, then he wouldn’t be here trying to sell—
Hank’s cell phone rang. He stood up and moved a few steps away from the body before taking the call, then he put the phone away and went over to Kalzowski, who was wrapping it up with the elderly woman.
“Joe, I gotta go.”
Kalzowski frowned. “What is it?”
“Jumper downtown. There’s no one else. You okay here?”
Kalzowski’s eyes flicked to the packets and syringes scattered on the ground near the body. “Yeah, pretty cut and dried, I’d say. Go ahead, I’ll handle it.”
“All right.” Hank ducked under the yellow tape and peeled off his latex gloves as he approached one of the uniformed officers, a sergeant named Booth.
“Can someone give me a ride downtown?”
Booth squinted at Hank. “The jumper?”
“No problem.” Booth snapped his fingers a couple of times. “Jamieson! Take Lieutenant Donaghue downtown, will you?”
As Hank waited for Jamieson to unlock the passenger door of the police cruiser, he glanced back at the alley. Another wasted life. Between the buildings the late afternoon sun flickered and cast its blinding light across his face. Hank closed his eyes for a moment, aware of the warmth on his flesh and the glowing redness behind his eyelids. Then he slipped on his sunglasses and got into the cruiser.
By the time they were flying across Harborfront Bridge into Midtown he had already forgotten Martin Liu’s name.
Four years later, on a Monday morning in the middle of May, Hank sat in front of his computer in the homicide detectives’ bullpen working on a report. He’d assisted in an arrest this morning and liked to get rid of administrative chores as soon as he could. He and Detective Jim Horvath had gone over to Chinatown to interview a witness in the fatal shooting of a grocery store owner. Horvath was in his early thirties, tall and slender with neatly combed straight black hair. He’d been with Homicide for two years now and was showing an aptitude for the job. His partner, Detective Amelda Peralta, was attending the autopsy of the victim and was unavailable, so Hank agreed to fill in.
Horvath parked the car in front of the four-plex on Fremont Street where the witness, John Li, lived. According to Horvath, Li was the victim’s son-in-law.
We proceeded around the north side of the building to the door at the rear serving as the entrance to Unit C, Hank typed. Detective Horvath knocked loudly on the door, identifying himself and asking Mr. Li to open the door.
What happened next happened quickly. As Horvath pounded again on the door, Hank took a few steps back to see if he could see anything through an upstairs window. He heard the door at the front of the building open and close. His angle of view being better than Horvath’s, he caught a glimpse of someone peeking around the corner at them. Before he could open his mouth to say anything, Hank saw a gun. He yelled and threw himself down as a shot punched into the vinyl siding of the house next door. The gun disappeared as Horvath bullrushed the shooter, chasing him around the corner and down the street. Hank caught up with them in time to see Horvath grab the kid around the shoulders and steer him into a row of garbage cans on the sidewalk. The kid fell among the cans as Horvath danced aside. By the time Hank reached them Horvath had secured the gun, cuffed the kid and was searching him for other weapons.
During the course of said search I saw Detective Horvath find a plain white envelope in the front right pocket of the suspect’s jeans, Hank typed. The unsealed envelope contained eight (8) small paper packets sealed in plastic. Consistent with the appearance of single-use bags of heroin, each packet bore the inscription “Flyer” stamped in red ink. I telephoned Detective James Schein in Narcotics and—
A clatter at the desk across from him pulled his eyes away from the monitor.
“Goddamned lawyers,” Detective Karen Stainer growled. She slammed her leather portfolio down on her desk and dropped into her chair.
Hank looked at her, saying nothing.
“Goddamned court.” She wore a crisp white blouse and a black skirt suit, and had removed her jacket to drape it over the back of her chair. She carried her weapon, a Browning Hi-Point C9 nine millimeter, in a leather holster on her right hip. Also clipped to the belt of her skirt were her departmental identification and her gold shield. “I don’t get why they don’t go straight from arrest to the fuckin’ gas chamber without all the bullshit in between.”
Her Texan drawl, which made “get” sound like “gee-yit” and “between” sound like “bit-wayuhn,” would be charming if it weren’t coming from a mouth that looked like it might bite a chain in half at any moment. Karen was 36 years old and a fifteen-year veteran of the police department. A Tai Kwon Do black belt with a mean streak, she was five feet, three inches tall, weighed one hundred and five pounds and had fists like a pair of shoemaker’s hammers, small and very hard. Her face was sharp-featured, her blond hair was carelessly chopped short, and her eyes, a lovely pale blue shade, tended to fix on people in a laser beam cop’s stare.
“Excuse me,” said a voice behind Hank, “I’m looking for Lieutenant Donaghue.”
Hank looked down at his hands, still poised over the keyboard. “Donaghue?”
“Uh, yeah. I thought his office was over there, but Lieutenant Jarvis said his desk is out here in the bullpen. Do you know where he sits?”
Hank turned around and looked at a young detective in his late twenties. His hair and beard were neatly trimmed and he wore jeans and a blue corduroy jacket over a yellow patterned shirt. His glasses had thin black frames and narrow lenses. His skin was the color of chestnuts. Hank looked at the departmental identification that hung on a lanyard around the man’s neck, he looked at the departmental accordion file in the man’s right hand with the white and red CCU label on it, and he looked down at the man’s shoes: three-hundred-dollar Reeboks. Now what would a twenty‑something up-and-comer from the Cold Case Unit want with him?
“He’s Donaghue,” Karen snapped. “I’m Stainer. What do you want?”
“Uh, Detective Waverman, CCU. Okay if I sit down?” Waverman sat in the visitor’s chair beside Hank’s desk. Next to his elbow was a nameplate with Hank’s name on it. He looked at it and hummed softly while opening his accordion file.
Patience is a virtue, Hank reminded himself. With a small movement of his hand he tapped the mouse button to minimize his half-finished report.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Lieutenant.” Waverman removed a manila file folder from the accordion file and set it down on the corner of Hank’s desk. “I just wanted to ask you a few questions about the Martin Liu homicide. It was a case that belonged to Detective Joseph Kalzowski four years ago. It was transferred to CCU a year later, I believe after the retirement of Detective Kalzowski, and recently assigned to me.”
Hank picked up the manila file folder and opened it. “Liu?”
He flipped through the documents inside the folder. They were copies of various items from the murder book kept by Kalzowski during the original investigation. If CCU had received the case they would have the actual murder book, which was the entire file covering the case, so this was just a “show and tell” excerpt Waverman had put together to carry around with him to interviews.
There wasn’t much there. He looked at a couple of crime scene photos and nodded as it came back to him as clearly as if it had been yesterday.
“Yeah, I remember. Kalzowski had the lead. I got called away a few minutes after we got there and Joe did all the leg work. We were pretty short-staffed back then.” He closed the folder and put it back down on the corner of his desk. “Not much I can tell you about it. Why?”
“Do you recall any connection between the vic and out-of-towners, maybe from a university or college somewhere?”
“Nope. Anything in the book about it?”
“What’s this all about?” Karen interjected.
Waverman shook his head, still looking at Hank. “No, there isn’t. I got something today, though.” He took a piece of paper from the accordion file and passed it over to Hank. “An incident report filed by a beat cop early this morning relating to an assault near end of shift yesterday afternoon. A guy by the name of Joshua Duncan, a student from Thomas Gaines University in Memphis, was found beaten up in an alley over in Chinatown. He told the cop he was investigating the death of Martin Liu, or words to that effect.”
Hank scanned the document. An incident report was an electronic file sent through the department’s computer network. This one stated that the semi-conscious victim had been found by city sanitation workers who called 911. The responding officer questioned the victim, who said, quote, “I’m investigating Martin Liu, who was killed here four years ago.”
The victim’s wallet was stolen from his pocket, netting his assailants two credit cards and a couple hundred dollars in cash and travelers checks. The victim’s knapsack was found at the entrance of the alley. Missing were a notebook, an iPod, a hardcover book on early childhood development and a return airline ticket to Memphis. The victim told the officer he was a graduate student studying child psychiatry. He described his assailants as two Asian males, one wearing a dark blue sports jacket and red sneakers, the other wearing a black leather jacket and cowboy boots.
Hank leaned forward and fired the document across his desk at Karen, who snatched it up and looked it over.
“The officer ran the Liu name,” Waverman explained, “saw it was flagged in the system as a cold case file and made a mental note to send a report to me first thing this morning. I’m on my way to the hospital now to see Duncan before he leaves but I thought I’d look you up first to see if you had any idea why a college student would be looking into a four-year-old homicide.”
“We appreciate you bringing this to our attention,” Karen said. “Just have the paperwork done to transfer the case back to us.”
Hank looked at her, amused.
“Hey, I’d be happy to,” Waverman said, standing up and quickly returning the manila folder to the safety of his accordion file. “I’ve got a full plate, believe me, but it’s not that easy, Detective. The CCU doesn’t hand back files that have been turned over to it. Politics and funding, you should know that.” He leaned forward and took the incident report from Karen’s hand. “I have to get over to the hospital before he takes off. He’s already been discharged. Thanks anyway.”
“We’ll both go,” Karen said, standing up and pulling her jacket off the back of her chair.
Hank saved his work, logged off the network and stood up. “We’ll all go.”
Waverman looked from Karen to Hank and shrugged. “All right. I’ll drive.”
They trooped down to the elevator and Waverman pressed the button for the lower level where his car was parked. When the elevator arrived Hank stood at the back and looked at their reflections in the mirror-paneled interior of the elevator car. Waverman was short, about five feet nine inches, and weighed about a hundred and fifty pounds. He stared at the buttons on the control panel and quietly hummed something under his breath. Standing next to Hank, Karen caught his eye in the mirror panel and winked. Stay tuned, Little Ms. Mischief is in a mood.
Hank towered behind Waverman at six feet, three inches. He weighed a pound under two hundred and was a little round-shouldered. He had long arms with long, slender fingers, size thirteen feet, and a size 34 waist. He had frizzy brown hair that was starting to show some grey, he was clean-shaven with a dimpled chin and fleshy lips, and his heavy brow gave his brown eyes a brooding look. He was 44 years old and beginning to feel every last day of it. He remembered Liu clearly now, remembered staring into those sightless green eyes and thinking that something was wrong with the set-up. He remembered being a little surprised at the color of the victim’s irises. He remembered moving out into bright sunshine, aware of being alive while Martin Liu lay dead in the alley behind him. He remembered putting the sight out of his mind during the ride over the bridge back into Midtown.
He rode in the back of Waverman’s Subaru Outback while Karen sat up front in the passenger seat. As soon as they were out of the parking garage and into traffic she glanced over at Waverman.
“How long you been on the force?”
“Three years,” Waverman replied, eyes on the traffic ahead of him. “Graduated from the academy, finished probation, rode patrol for a while and then passed the detective exam.”
“Where’d you go?”
“Anti-Terrorism. Then an opening came up in CCU, I applied and got in. The Martin Liu file is part of my case load. This is the first time anything new has broken on it.”
Karen was not going to be diverted into discussing the case until her other priorities were satisfied. “Elspeth Williams is your captain there, right? What’s she like?”
Waverman shrugged. “Not bad. A little distant. Spends most of her time in meetings.”
“I hear she’s a bitch. Can’t turn your back on her. The only six she cares about is her own.”
Hank watched in the rear-view mirror as Waverman’s eyes widened a little behind his glasses.
“I don’t know,” Waverman said cautiously. “She seems okay to me.”
“Y’all got five detectives in the unit, right?” Karen shifted in her seat to look at him. “Bill Ireland still there? He’s the only one I know of.”
“No, there’s Amy Chin, Edgar Roberts, Sami Verdan, Maureen Truly and myself. Sami’s been there the longest.”
“Must be boring,” Karen opined, “sitting around all day waitin’ on something to happen to cases that are deader than a fuckin’ doornail. I just came over to Homicide last fall from Family-Related. Christ, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve done a stint in Family-Related Crime. Can’t catch your breath.”
Hank listened to them swap a few more names until Waverman stopped at a red light. He leaned forward and asked: “What hospital is the Duncan kid in?”
Waverman glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. “Angel of Mercy.”
The light changed to green and Waverman accelerated smoothly through the intersection.
“I see you carry the Glock 22,” Karen said, nodding at the holstered firearm that Waverman had unclipped from his belt and put in the well of the center console within easy reach of his right hand. “How’s that work for you?”
“All right,” Waverman shrugged. “I’m not much for guns.”
Departmental policy gave officers the ability to choose their service weapon from an approved list that included the Glock 22 and a number of other alternatives.
Waverman hesitated and then understood her question. “Oh, I only have this one.” He glanced over at her, knowing he was expected to reciprocate. “What about you?”
Karen shrugged blandly. “My court gun is this Browning High Point nine mil with burl wood grips I’m carrying right now, since that’s where I was at this morning. My normal duty weapon is the SIG Sauer P226, more expensive but a lot more gun for your money. I fire the forty S and W with that, and it’s a very nice piece. My oh-shit backup is a Kel-Tec P11 nine mil, the little 10-plus-one shot, my off-duty is a Beretta Px4 Storm and my barbecue gun is an ass-kicking Smith and Wesson M66 .357 magnum revolver with ivory grips. Mean-assed sweetie.”
Waverman frowned. “Barbecue gun?”
A smile flitted around the corners of Karen’s mouth as she rolled her eyes and looked out the side window. This was too easy.
Hank leaned forward again. “A barbecue gun is a gun that you carry to barbecues in order to show it off. She’s from Texas. Barbecue guns are big in Texas.”
“Okay,” Waverman said perfunctorily.
He was obviously not very interested in the subject, so Karen pressed it.
“What’d you score on the academy course?” she asked, referring to the shooting course that all academy participants were required to pass with a minimum score of 280 out of 400 in order to graduate.
“Three thirty-six,” Waverman replied. This score was middle rung but good enough to qualify him for the minimal marksmanship bonus on his bi-weekly paycheck.
“Did you shoot the bonus course?” It was possible for departmental officers to shoot an additional course after graduation in order to improve on their academy score and qualify for a higher paycheck bonus. Very few of the newer officers bothered with the bonus course these days, though, as the department had instituted an annual requalification system a few years ago despite vigorous resistance from the union. The requalification test was a “no miss” pass or fail course that almost everyone found either very stressful or a nuisance, and since it took priority over the academy bonus course, very few officers now bothered with the latter.
“No,” Waverman shook his head. “Did you?”
Karen scoffed. “Hell, yeah. I shot a 396 academy, but I was hung over that morning and felt like shit. Shot a perfect 400 next time.”
Waverman raised his eyebrows. “Wow, Four Hundred Club.”
“Yeah, membership currently at five.” Karen nodded at Hank in the back seat. “The Lou back there shot a 397 academy but never shot the bonus. I’ve watched him practice with that boring Glock 17 he carries and he’s definitely Four Hundred material. Won’t shoot the bonus, though.”
“I don’t like to play with guns,” Hank said.
Karen laughed and looked out the window.
The car remained silent until they turned into the hospital parking lot. Karen had had her fun, and was now probably brooding about the case from her previous assignment that had dragged her off to court this week. It was a child molestation case that had taken an ugly turn, and despite her hard-boiled exterior Karen was upset. Just the same, Hank was grateful for a little peace and quiet.
They went into the hospital and up to Josh Duncan’s room. As they approached the door, Hank glanced at the glass of an emergency fire hose cabinet. It was a habit developed over a lifetime, finding and using reflective surfaces. He caught a glimpse of Waverman’s left hand and saw that it was clenching and unclenching, betraying his nervous tension.
They found Duncan sitting on the edge of his bed, already dressed, zipping up his knapsack.
Waverman went through the door first. “Joshua Duncan?”
He looked up apprehensively. “Yes?”
“I’m Detective Waverman; this is Detective Stainer and Lieutenant Donaghue.” Waverman held up his badge. Karen pushed in behind.
Hank, bringing up the rear, slipped off to the side and up along the bed to the wall so that he was positioned on Josh’s left. He put his hands on his hips, moving his jacket aside so that the young man could see the ID and badge clipped to his belt. He saw Josh glance at his sidearm and then look down at his feet.
“We’d like to ask you a couple of questions about the assault yesterday,” Waverman said. “I understand you suffered a mild concussion. Are you feeling okay this morning?”
Josh nodded. “Yeah, I guess. My head still hurts, though. They gave me something to take for it. I feel pretty woolly.”
“I’d imagine,” Waverman said, looking at the bruise on Josh’s cheek and the cut on his eyebrow which had taken four stitches to close. “What were you doing down in that part of town?”
According to the report, Josh was 24 years old, which made him only two years younger than Waverman. He was African-American, about two inches shorter than Hank, maybe ten pounds lighter, and had a build like a basketball point guard. There was a definite athleticism to him that could not be missed beneath the shoulder-length dreadlocks and casual clothing, but Hank was a little surprised by the nervousness, betrayed by a difficulty in making eye contact and the way he held his knapsack close to his chest.
Josh hesitated before answering Waverman’s question, and that was all Karen needed.
“Got a problem with authority, kid? Don’t feel like answering questions today?”
“No, no, not at all. Please, ask anything.” Josh touched the side of his head. “I just feel a little woozy.”
“We understand,” Hank said, “but Detective Stainer’s right, Josh. The answer to Detective Waverman’s question is pretty important to us. What were you doing in Chinatown asking questions about Martin Liu?”
“It’s part of my responsibilities. I’m investigating a report of a previous life.”
“A previous life?” Waverman repeated. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, I know. Most people think it’s a lot of bunk.”
“You’re a student, Josh?” Hank asked. “From Memphis?”
Josh nodded. “Thomas Gaines University. I’m a Ph.D. student specializing in child psychiatry. I’m an assistant researcher with the Division of Supplementary Studies.”
“Who’s your research advisor there?”
“Dr. Maddy Walsh.” Josh made eye contact with him for the first time. “She’s the Director of the Family and Child Psychiatry Clinic at the university.”
“Uh huh. And you do research for her, is that it? Research that brought you up here to Glendale?”
“Yeah. Dr. Walsh and I were here last month to interview the family of a child whose case we’ve accepted. Now I’m here to investigate the previous personality.”
“Uh huh,” Josh nodded. “Martin Liu.”
Karen cleared her throat. “You sure the doctors said you were okay to leave?”
“We don’t understand the connection between you and Martin Liu,” Waverman said.
Josh shook his head. “The connection’s between Martin and the child whose case we’re investigating. The child who said he was Martin Liu in his previous life.”
“What child are we talking about here?” Karen asked.
“I’m not sure if I can say right now,” Josh replied uncertainly.
Karen looked at Hank. “Well, this isn’t making a hell of a lot of sense.”
“Detective Stainer has a point, I’m afraid.” Waverman removed his BlackBerry and glanced at it. “I have to get back for a one o’clock meeting. Can you come by the station a little later and give a complete statement?”
“I guess so,” Josh said. “Sure.”
“Where are you going now?” Hank asked. “Back to your hotel?”
“Not exactly walking distance. How about if I spring for a taxi and you let me ride with you. You can tell me a little more about your work at Thomas Gaines.”
“Okay, thanks,” Josh said, managing a small grin. “They took all my money.”
“I know. Karen, can you come up and get me in about an hour?”
She sighed as though it were the end of the world. “Yeah, sure.”
“Give me a call when you get back, okay?” Waverman asked Hank with a meaningful look that said, It’s my case and I want any information you get from this person.
“Sure, no problem,” Hank replied.
As they watched Waverman and Karen file out of the room, Josh turned to Hank. “I didn’t know cops attended meetings and stuff. I thought it was all just riding around in cars and arresting people.”
Hank smiled. “Actually, police departments can be just as bureaucratic as any other organization. You’d be surprised at all the time-wasting nonsense we have to put up with.”
“I had no idea.”
“Got everything?” Hank watched Josh ease down from the side of the bed and pick up his knapsack. He was obviously sore from the beating he had taken.
“Yeah.” Josh held up his knapsack. “Not that they left me much.”
“Mind if I take a look?” Hank held out his hand. Josh gave him the knapsack without hesitation. It felt empty. Hank unzipped the top and looked inside. Couple of pens, a pencil, a Sharpie marker, a wad of yellow Post-It notes, a small metal pencil sharpener and a few wood shavings from the pencil. Hank held the bag up close to his face, as though trying to see into the bottom, and inhaled slowly. Nothing. He lowered the bag and quickly unzipped the side pouches. Empty.
“Cleaned it out, didn’t they?” He handed the knapsack back and decided that he wasn’t being protective of the bag; he was being protective of himself.
They left the room and slowly walked down the corridor to the nurses’ station.
“This patient has been discharged and is ready to leave,” Hank said to the nurse on duty.
“Oh, you can’t just walk out,” she said to Josh, standing up. “What’s your name?”
“Joshua Duncan,” he answered politely.
She consulted a sheaf of papers on a clipboard and nodded. “Yes, I have your signature, but you have to be taken down in a wheelchair.”
“A wheelchair?” Josh looked embarrassed.
“Hospital policy. Wait here a moment.” The nurse disappeared through a doorway into a back room and a moment later a volunteer came out with her, a white-haired African-American in jeans and a plaid shirt with a name tag that said Bob. He grinned at Josh as he brought a wheelchair around into the corridor.
“Ready to go, are you? Have a seat.”
“Yes, sir.” Josh sat down in the wheelchair.
Hank followed Bob and Josh into the elevator and they rode down to the ground floor.
“Here you go,” Bob said, stopping just short of the sliding front doors.
“Thanks very much.” Josh got out of the wheelchair with a wince.
“No problem. You take care of yourself now, son.”
There was a bank of pay phones along the wall inside the front doors. The one at the end connected directly to the largest taxi company in town. Hank called for a taxi and then strolled back over to join Josh at the door. The kid didn’t have a problem with authority, he decided, because he had been deferential to the nurse and the volunteer. He seemed polite, well-mannered and respectful. Not a problem with authority; more likely a problem with police.
“Have you dealt with the police before in any of the other cases you’ve researched, Josh?”
“No.” He shook his head. “This is only my second case. In the other one, the previous personality was in his fifties and died of a heart attack. Which is unusual, actually, because the age of previous personalities at death tends to average about 34 to 38 years old.”
“I see. You seem nervous around police.”
“No, I’m okay.”
“Have you ever been arrested?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Okay, that’s fine. I’m not trying to hassle you.”
“I understand that.”
“You seem a little nervous.”
“Some kind of problem before?”
Josh hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah, I suppose.”
“When was that?”
“Last summer, outside a bus station in a town not far from Rayville, Louisiana. I was visiting a friend in Shreveport and was waiting for a connection back home.”
“Sheriff saw me leaning against the wall of the bus station while he was waiting for a stoplight. I saw him look over, then come around the corner into the parking lot and right up in front of me. Got out and asked me what I thought I was doing in his parish.”
Josh looked at him. “He had a problem with my hair and the color of my skin. Said he didn’t need my kind of trash coming up from New Orleans into his parish. I tried to tell him I was in transit, but he wasn’t interested in listening. Said if I was going to hang around the streets of his parish with dreadlocks or whatever you call that druggie hairstyle I could expect a visit from one of his deputies. Said if I wasn’t gone in half an hour his deputy would be back to arrest me.”
“Bothered you, did it?”
Josh frowned. “Of course it did, it scared me. I’ve never had any trouble before in my life. I grew up in Knoxville and I’ve lived in Memphis for a while now and never had any trouble with the police. But that was definitely a wake-up call. It reminded me of how much intolerance there is out there and how powerless we are when the police decide they want to make our lives hell.”
“The guy sounds like a pretty big asshole to me,” Hank said.
Hank stared until Josh made eye contact with him. “Lot of assholes out there.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
The taxi arrived and they got in. The hospital was located in Granger Park and Josh’s hotel was at the north end of the city in Bering Heights, so the taxi ride was going to be somewhat long. The city of Glendale was divided into districts in a hub-and-spoke configuration with the river dividing it diagonally from northeast to southwest. The ocean was five miles downstream from the city limits. Midtown was the hub and Bering Heights, Granger Park and Springhill were the spokes on the west side of the river, with the heavily industrialized districts of Strathton and Wilmingford on the east side. Glendale’s international seaport was located in Wilmingford. The districts of South Shore East and South Shore West straddled the river at the south end of the city. Bering Heights, in the north, contained a college and an international airport that serviced the national headquarters of a number of large corporations. Granger Park, where Hank had been born and raised, housed the upper class on large estates on the edge of the municipality and morphed into suburban sprawl farther south. Springhill, having once been a separate municipality that amalgamated with Glendale forty years ago, was a mixture of residential, commercial and municipal properties that included State University and the stadium of a Class A baseball team currently affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
As the taxi ground its way north through heavy traffic Hank asked Josh a few questions about his studies. Josh explained that he liked to work with children. As an undergraduate he took courses in early childhood education and worked part-time in the day care center on campus. In his senior year he attended lectures delivered by Dr. Walsh and learned about the research being conducted by the Division of Supplementary Studies into reports by children of past life memories, but he shifted first into child psychiatry before seeking admission into the Division.
Hank noticed that as Josh talked about himself and his career interests his body language became less tight and self-protective, and his face showed more expression.
At the hotel he badged the clerk, explaining that Josh had been mugged downtown and had lost his room keycard along with his wallet. The clerk expressed his concern but explained that there would be a nominal charge to replace the keycard which would be added to the final bill. Josh nodded and the clerk produced a duplicate. They went up to Josh’s room on the eighth floor, where Josh found his laptop, Personal Digital Assistant and other belongings undisturbed. Breathing a sigh of relief, he slipped his PDA into his pocket and thanked Hank for the taxi ride.
“I’ll arrange for replacement travelers checks and pay you back for the cab fare,” he said.
“No, don’t bother,” Hank said. “Come on, let’s go downstairs and I’ll buy you lunch in the restaurant. I want to hear more about this case you’re researching.”
“All right,” Josh said, gratefully. “I guess I am a little hungry.”
They rode the elevator back down to the main floor and went into the restaurant just off the front lobby. They were seated at a table along a wall of tinted windows that gave them a clear view of the lobby and elevators without being seen by anyone in the lobby while they ate. Josh ordered a chicken Caesar salad and unsweetened iced tea while Hank asked for a club sandwich with extra mayo and a large Coke.
Josh glanced at the time on his PDA and took another of the painkillers given to him by the doctor at the hospital. Hank asked him about his movements after arriving in town.
“I flew in on Friday afternoon,” Josh explained. “On Saturday I interviewed the mother of the previous personality, Meredith Liu. She’s actually Caucasian, despite her last name. She’s the only surviving parent. She goes by the name Meredith Collier now. Her maiden name, I guess.” He took a mouthful of salad and swallowed before continuing. “On Sunday I went to the apartment building where the previous personality lived.”
“By previous personality you’re referring to Martin Liu, I take it?”
“Mm hmm,” Josh nodded. “Sorry. Dr. Walsh insists that we be very precise in our terminology. Actually, no one that I talked to apparently lived there when Martin Liu did. So it was kind of a dead end.”
Hank was thinking that any tenants who’d lived in the building when Martin Liu was murdered probably lied to Josh to blow him off. Few people were interested in talking to a complete stranger about a four-year-old violent crime.
“Then on Monday, uh, yesterday, I went down to the Golden Dragon, the place where Ms. Liu said her son liked to spend time. I wanted to see if I could talk to any of his friends there, and also I was hoping to run into Martin’s cousin Peter. Mrs. Liu mentioned that Martin used to meet his cousin there quite often.”
“But it didn’t go too smoothly, I gather.”
“It was kind of a strange place,” Josh admitted. “I was very uncomfortable. It was like some kind of gaming room, downstairs under a hairdressing salon. I went down and saw a sign that said ‘Members Only’ but there was no one at the door so I went in to find someone to talk to. There were a few men sitting around playing a game with dominoes and dice in a cup.”
“Pai gow,” Hank said.
“The game’s called pai gow,” Hank said. “Go on.”
Josh explained that as he approached one of the tables he was intercepted by a middle-aged Asian man in a rumpled white suit who took him by the elbow and steered him back toward the entrance.
“Sorry, pal, didn’t you see the sign? Members only.”
“I’m a student from Memphis,” Josh said to the man, who was apparently a waiter. They passed a small bar at which two men were drinking tea and looking at newspapers. “I’m doing research on a person named Martin Liu who used to come here four years ago. Was he a member?”
At the mention of Martin Liu’s name the two men slid off their barstools and came over to where Josh and the waiter stood in the doorway. One of the men wore a blue suit jacket over a pale green shirt, blue jeans and red sneakers. The other, who was heavier and looked older, wore a black leather jacket and sunglasses despite the low lighting inside the club.
“We don’t talk about members here,” the waiter said, lightly pushing Josh’s elbow in the direction of the stairs.
“I understand,” Josh said. “That’s okay. Let me give you this.” He reached into his jacket pocket and took out a business card, realizing belatedly that the sudden movement had caused the man in the leather jacket to reach into his own pocket, possibly for a weapon. It began to dawn on him that it was not such a good idea to have come here.
He held up the card for everyone to see, then handed it to the waiter. “I’m also looking for Martin Liu’s cousin, Peter. Maybe you could give him this and he can get in touch with me. I’m staying at the Airport Inn, or he can call me at the cell phone number on the card. I just want to talk to him about Martin.”
The waiter took the card without looking at it. “Good idea if you leave now. Now.”
“All right, no problem.” Josh realized that the clicking of dice and the clacking of dominoes had ceased in the room. Everyone was watching him with expressionless faces: old men, young men, and the two tough-looking individuals who now stood on either side of him.
“Martin’s mother mentioned that he liked to come down here,” Josh said lamely. “I just wanted to talk to some of his friends.”
“Out, gangsta,” the man in the blue jacket said. “Now.”
Josh nodded and began to leave. Behind him, Blue Jacket snatched Josh’s card from the waiter and followed Josh up the stairs. Leather Jacket brought up the rear. They went outside and the two men walked on either side of Josh along the sidewalk.
“Pretty stupid for one of the Boyz to think he can just walk into a 14K club and start bothering people,” Blue Jacket said.
Josh frowned, wondering if they thought he belonged to a local gang or if it was just a racial slur. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I’m not in any gang. I’m a student from Thomas Gaines University in Memphis. I’m doing research.”
“Yeah, well, research this.” Blue Jacket pushed Josh into an alley. He grabbed the strap of Josh’s knapsack and swung him against the corner of a dumpster. Josh staggered and Leather Jacket stepped up and punched him in the face. He fell to the ground and was kicked repeatedly in the chest, buttocks and thighs. Through half-closed eyes he could see a pair of grey cowboy boots swinging back and forth, striking him with shocking force. A kick in the face drove his head back against the brick wall of the alley and he momentarily blacked out. When he regained awareness he felt his knapsack being pulled away and heard one of them conducting a brisk inventory of its contents. Then he was hazily aware that Blue Jacket was leaning down to peer into his eyes.
“Go home, stupid. Don’t come back here no more.”
The cowboy boot kicked him in the stomach and Josh curled up, retching. After an eternity he realized that he was alone. He closed his eyes and slid down into a black well of unconsciousness.
“I was stupid to go there,” Josh admitted, staring at his fork. “I didn’t realize it was a gang hangout of some kind until it was too late.”
“You have to understand that when someone’s murdered, people stay upset about it for a long time afterwards. It’s not something you can just show up and start asking questions about.”
“Yeah, I get it. With my other case it was just a matter of talking to family and friends to develop a profile to compare to what the child was saying about his previous personality. No crime was committed, and no one belonged to a gang, that’s for sure.”
Hank finished his club sandwich and wiped his mouth with his napkin. “Maybe you can explain to me a little more about what you and Dr. Walsh are researching.”
“All right.” Josh pushed his half-finished meal aside.
“Yeah. My stomach isn’t ready for too much food yet.” Josh folded his hands. “The Division of Supplementary Studies is the name of the area I’m in. It was created at TGU to study the phenomenon of reports by children of memories of past lives. You’d be surprised how many cases have been investigated in the last forty years, starting with the first program at the University of Virginia. Over two thousand from all over the world, and those are just the ones that have been documented. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are hundreds of other cases that have never been researched.”
“You’re talking about reincarnation?” Hank said. “That a person’s soul or whatever moves into another body after death to start all over again, and then the child starts talking about his previous life as that other person?”
Josh nodded. “I know it sounds sketchy and New Age, but bottom line, yeah. There are many possible explanations for past life statements by young children. Paranormal causes have to be considered among them.”
Hank raised his eyebrows. “And your university actually gets funded for this kind of work?”
“You’d be surprised. Over the years we’ve received a number of huge endowments from very wealthy people with an interest in reincarnation. It’s a lot more important to people than you might think.” Josh tapped the table with his finger. “Studies have shown that at least twenty-five per cent of Americans believe in reincarnation.”
“Hindus and Buddhists?”
Josh shook his head. “The same studies have shown that over twenty per cent of American Christians believe in reincarnation.”
“That’s a surprise,” Hank admitted.
Josh spread his hands. “There you go. Once you get past the initial barriers of skepticism and cynicism, there’s some very interesting ground to explore. These children tend to be precocious and begin to talk at an early age. They start speaking about past life memories between the ages of two to five and stop talking about them between the ages of five to eight. In some cases they eventually forget these early memories, which is not unusual since five to eight is the age span when children begin to forget most of their early childhood memories anyway. During the period when they do recall these memories of a previous life, seventy-five per cent of these children recall the manner in which they died when they were the previous personality, and in seventy per cent of these cases the death was violent and unpleasant.”
“A con job,” Hank said. “They’re fed their lines by parents who want little Johnny to be something special.”
Josh nodded. “Our investigations are designed to root out this kind of fraud, and it does happen. We have a lengthy checklist that we go through with a whole scoring system to analyze the case. We consider the accuracy of the information, unusual behavior in the child such as specific phobias or preferences, birthmarks or birth defects that somehow connect to the previous life, the intensity or spontaneity of statements, exaggerated claims by the parents, and all that.”
“But you’re telling me that in some cases you’ve proven these kids were reincarnated?”
“No, you have to remember we’re not trying to prove that reincarnation actually happens. That’s not our objective. We’re not True Believers or anything. We’re conducting objective, rational research into a surprisingly recurrent phenomenon among children and letting the evidence suggest possible causes. Reincarnation just happens to be one of those possibilities.”
“Nicely put. Sounds like a direct quote from somebody’s dissertation.”
Josh grinned. “Okay, busted. But like I said, Dr. Walsh insists that we be very precise in how we say things. We’re scientists.”
“So that’s what brought you to town,” Hank said casually, taking out his notebook and pen. “Somebody’s kid started remembering stuff he couldn’t possibly know, and you came up here to check it out.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“You understand, don’t you, that when you start poking into an open homicide case the police are going to want to know why you’re interested, right?”
“Yeah, I get it. I didn’t before, but believe me, I do now.”
“I’m going to need to know the identity of this kid, so we can look into it. If somebody has information about a homicide, even a three‑year‑old kid, we’re going to need to check it out.”
“So who’s the kid?”
“His name’s Taylor Chan. He’s actually three and a half.”
Hank jotted down the name on a fresh page of his notebook. “Parents?”
“His father’s Dr. Michael Chan, an assistant professor of economics at State University. His mother’s Grace Chan. She’s a real estate agent in Springhill. They live at 46 Parkland Crescent. I think that’s the right address.” He looked down and grimaced. “Oh yeah, my notebook was stolen. Wait, it’s in my PDA.” Josh took out his PDA. His thumbs rocked back and forth and he nodded. “Yeah, 46 Parkland.”
“Thanks.” Hank wrote it down. “How’d they come to get in touch with you about their son?”
“After Taylor started making all these unusual statements about having been someone named Martin Liu, Dr. Chan spoke to a friend of his in the Psych Department at State. His friend referred Dr. Chan to Dr. Walsh, and that’s how we got involved.”
“Mrs. Chan captured some of the statements on videotape, the day of Taylor’s third birthday. He said his name had been Martin, that his mother’s name was Merry and that he’d had green eyes. Mrs. Chan showed the tape to her cousin Peter, and he also seemed to think the statements were significant. Then apparently Taylor told Peter that two men named Shawn and Gary had hurt him.”
“So what happened next?” Hank asked.
When Josh didn’t answer, Hank looked up from his notebook.
Josh was staring through the tinted glass into the lobby, his eyes wide.
“What?” Hank asked. “What is it?”
“It’s them,” Josh whispered, face rigid.
“Who?” Hank slipped his notebook and pen into his jacket pocket.
“Walking to the elevators. See them? The Chinese guy in the leather jacket and the other guy. He was wearing a blue jacket yesterday.”
Hank looked through the glass and saw two Asians sauntering casually through the lobby toward the bank of elevators. One wore a black leather jacket and cowboy boots and the other wore a plum-colored sports jacket, a pale green shirt, faded blue jeans and red sneakers. The guy in the plum jacket was younger, thin, and stylish in a brainless sort of way. The guy in the leather jacket was stocky and tough-looking, like someone accustomed to making a living with his fists.
“The guys that attacked you?”
“Yeah,” Josh whispered. “My God, they’ve come back for me.”