Madison Square Murders
Memento Mori: Book One
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Date: September 28, 2021
Cover art: Reese Dante
Genre: Police procedural mystery, romance
It was Monday, March 30, 8:22 a.m., and there was a body in a crate.
Correction: a skeleton in a crate.
Detective Everett Larkin raised his free hand and glanced at his watch.
And it was actually 8:23.
“I looked, and behold a pale horse,” called Detective Ray O’Halloran over the silver-and-slate-colored rain drowning Madison Square Park and the uniformed officers unlucky enough to be tasked with cordoning off the lawn north of Shake Shack. “And his name that sat on him was Death.”
Larkin released a breath, the wispy plume of air immediately lost to the same wind and rain that had uprooted the crabapple tree he stood beside, its gnarled roots reaching in vain toward the sky and thousands of pink blossoms carpeting the sodden ground like a flower girl at a wedding had gone buck wild. A makeshift tent had been erected over the hole and unearthed wooden box tangled in the tree’s remaining embedded roots. A lone detective with the Crime Scene Unit, his white PPE bodysuit soaking wet and muddy, was taking photographs.
“Hear that, Grim?” O’Halloran asked as he stepped up beside Larkin.
“I drive a black Audi,” Larkin answered in a modulated tone. It was an old joke. He wasn’t flustered by it anymore. He hadn’t taken his gaze off the unusual crime scene before him.
O’Halloran snorted and slapped Larkin on the back like a frat boy with something to prove.
Larkin stumbled forward. The current of rain pouring off his umbrella went down the back of his suit jacket, and one wingtip oxford in a two-tone green skidded along the grass before he stepped into a puddle past his ankle.
O’Halloran, the Irish fuck, started laughing.
Larkin raised his soaking wet foot. He glanced at O’Halloran—big in all the ways that lent bullies the self-assurance of it being perfectly fine to pick fights with someone shorter, more slender in build, even if Larkin was a thirty-five-year-old man with ten years on the force, and O’Halloran with even more. Some boys never grow up, Larkin thought as he briefly studied the older man’s ruddy complexion, mussed strawberry-blond hair, and shit-eating grin.
“Why am I here,” Larkin asked, his voice still calm, flat, and lacking the upward inflection found in English when asking a question.
Cupping a meaty hand around his mouth, O’Halloran barked over the storm, “Millett!”
The CSU detective turned, and Larkin involuntarily began cataloguing details. He was tall—six feet at least—though his shapeless PPE offered little else by way of physical details. His brown hair—honey, caramel—why were subcategories of hair color always the names of foods? Larkin wondered—was plastered across his forehead. He was classically handsome, sort of like a hardboiled PI brought to life from the pages of an old pulp novel. And like those gritty investigators, this CSU detective was about as disgruntled and didn’t bother hiding it.
Millett put his camera in a case, secured the lid, yanked off his glove with a quick snap, and approached the edge of the tent. He offered a hand to Larkin and said, “Neil Millett, CSU.”
O’Halloran spoke before Larkin could open his mouth. “Millett, this is the Grim Reaper.”
Millett flashed O’Halloran an irritated expression.
Larkin squared his shoulders, shook Millett’s hand, and corrected, “Everett Larkin.”
“Isn’t that what I said?” O’Halloran interjected with feigned innocence.
“Cold Case Squad,” Larkin added.
“Cold Case?” Millett echoed. “They let you guys outside?”
“I believe the department is ethically obligated to allow us to see the sun once a quarter,” Larkin said, although the joke was delivered so dryly, it came across as gravely serious.
But a smile crossed Millett’s face as he gestured to the washed-out park. “You picked a good day.”
A sudden clap of thunder sounded overhead, so powerful that it seemed to reverberate in Larkin’s chest like a rhythm, a beat, stuck on repeat in the back of his mind like the irritating melody of a child’s windup toy. He tightened his grip on the handle of his umbrella. “Why am I here,” he asked, once again directing the question to O’Halloran.
“Isn’t this what you do, Grim?” O’Halloran countered. “Knock down the door to Homicide, treat us like a bunch of rookies holding our dicks in both hands, steal our cases, then take credit for closing them?”
“We’re on the same team,” Larkin said.
“The fuck we are.” O’Halloran was smiling, but his mouth was a razor’s edge. “That’s why your squad gets the funding, the press conferences. Hell, I bet your lieutenant got a chub just seeing my number on the caller ID this morning.”
“Chill out, O’Halloran—” Millett began.
“Shut the fuck up and go bag and tag some goddamn dirt, faggot.”
Larkin’s vision blurred, like an optometrist switching lenses on a phoropter.
He snapped his umbrella shut, held it in both hands as he spun so as to be face-to-face with O’Halloran, and slammed the length of the impromptu weapon against O’Halloran’s sternum. The older detective dropped his own umbrella out of reflex, stumbled backward into the rain, and landed flat on his ass in a puddle the size of a small lake.
Larkin stepped under the tent and turned to stare at O’Halloran as he adjusted the cuff link on his shirt.
“What the fuck?” O’Halloran roared.
“He must have slipped,” Larkin concluded in his same even tone. And when thunder boomed a second time, he clenched his jaw so hard that he thought, briefly, he might crack a molar.
Millett was humming in agreement as the rumbles died down. They both watched O’Halloran climb to his feet, now soaking wet and plastered with pink blossoms. “You trip or something, O’Halloran?” Millett called over the rain.
“Fuck you!” O’Halloran snapped.
With no inflection in his tone, Larkin asked, “Is this case mine now.”
O’Halloran picked up his umbrella. “A hundred-year-old fucking skeleton in a fucking box buried in the fucking park? Yeah, it’s yours, Grim. With blessings from all of us in Homicide. Fuck both you homos.”
“Drive safe,” Larkin said before O’Halloran stomped across the park, making for the yellow crime scene tape. He glanced up at Millett, whose cheekbones were still bright with color. “I’d like to be updated on the situation,” he prompted.
Millett met Larkin’s unblinking gaze, and then the flush on his face deepened. He quickly about-faced and returned to the hole, saying over his shoulder, “O’Halloran’s blowing smoke up your ass about the hundred-year-old thing. No way of knowing that with just a cursory once-over.”
Larkin had stopped fiddling with his cuff link at some point and realized he had begun worrying the silver band on his finger. He dropped his hand. Released a breath. “John or Jane.”
Millett had retrieved his camera before looking back. “I’m not the ME.”
“Bear with me,” Larkin said. “I’m used to having the pertinent details already established by the time I take over.”
That made Millett—well, he didn’t smile, but his shoulders relaxed a bit. “Between us?”
“Assuming the pelvis belongs to the skull—John Doe.”
“Narrow pubic arch, then.”
“That’s right,” Millett answered. “I’d even venture a step further and guess he was at least in his twenties at time of death, but the ME will have the final say on that.”
“Wisdom teeth were erupted.” Millett motioned Larkin forward, and when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, looking down at the partially visible skeleton through the wooden crate’s broken lid, Millett said, “I’ve seen a lot of bizarre deaths in this city… but a body in a box, cracked open like a time capsule, is a first. What about you?”
“What about me.”
“Seen anything like this in your workload?”
“There is nothing comparable in Cold Cases, no.” Larkin felt Millett staring and looked up at the other detective.
“That’s some seriously resounding absolution.”
Millett narrowed his eyes. “An ex of mine liked to remind me: New York is nearly four hundred years old. That’s a lot of murder.”
9,022 cases, Larkin wanted to correct. He was only concerned with the recorded murders that had gone unsolved. The everyday victims. The ones whose names never made the newsprint. The ones people didn’t want to know about. And that number was 9,022. Their dreams, their fears, first loves and first heartbreaks—everything that had once made them human, all now consolidated into a tidy pile of DD5 forms with the same notation made year after year until the lead Homicide detective officially deemed the case a loser: No progress to report.
That’s when the lost cause was punted to Larkin’s desk. And in a city of nine million, Everett Larkin stood alone, unmoored. The only one who hadn’t forgotten—couldn’t forget—those 9,022 lost souls. Their case numbers were a memento mori by which he mourned. Each day was an anniversary of another victim awaiting justice, and yes, Detective Millett, Larkin wanted to say, I know every single one.