She peered upwards into the ceiling of the closet, not sure what she was expecting to find, but peering nonetheless. Her partner, a blond, butch slab of a woman, stood a few feet behind her, staring at her back. “Stark?”
She didn’t answer. There wasn’t anything remarkable in this closet, she thought. But she kept staring up into it anyway. This entire neighborhood had been built by the Germans in the 1920s and the buildings were so weirdly made; they were almost nice brownstones like the one she’d grown up in, but often had uselessly shallow closets like this one, along with absurdly high ceilings, bay windows where bay windows didn’t quite belong, dumbwaiters, air shafts that connected the bathroom to the bathroom on the floor above it so that it was basically like sitting in the same room with your neighbor and listening to them piss, or cry, or do whatever else they did in the bathroom, and those inexplicably-placed little “troll doors.” She made a mental note to read a little more about what those were supposed to be for. She slipped a glove on, tugged at the chain hanging down. A bare bulb convulsed to life above her head.
“What are you looking for?” her partner persisted.
“I’m not sure,” she said, her lips pressed firmly together as she stared into its corners, her clear eyes searching every inch.
“Well, when you figure it out, let me know, so I can look at something besides your backside.”
She’d take that as flirtation from any one of the other dykes at the station house, but Bree didn’t act like any of them, although she did sometimes socialize with them. Stark had never seen Bree flirt with anyone, actually, and maybe that’s why they were a good team. Just the work. No distractions. “I’m married to my job,” Stark would say, when the inevitable questions came from friends, relatives, guys on the street who wouldn’t take no for an answer. People couldn’t accept that an attractive woman in her late twenties might not be interested in dating, marriage, or any of the rest of it.
“It’s just weird,” Stark went on, her serious eyes wandering along the floor of the closet, along the molding underneath the door. “The body’s in the tub, but the tub’s empty. She was on those antidepressants, but if it was suicide, who tries to kill themselves in an empty tub? I think I want forensics to spend a little time on that table by the kitchen window… it was kind of a mess, which doesn’t add up because the rest of the place is neat.”
“And that means you’re staring into the bedroom closet because…?”
They both dashed into the kitchen to find an unpleasantly familiar face. A guy in a tweed jacket and jeans, beady brown eyes, set in an otherwise good-looking face, much of it shadowed under the bill of a peat cap. In the “pre-war” kitchen (which war, exactly?) with its ancient appliances, taking pictures with his iPhone camera.
“Hunt, this is a closed crime scene, and you need to get out,” Bree said forcefully, striding over to him and placing a hand firmly, you could really say roughly, on his shoulder. She was a good head or two taller than he was, and probably could have crushed him with her bare hands if the situation demanded it.
Stark was right on her heels. Her eyes darted over to where he’d been standing and she saw his shoe print in the faint dusting of powder on the floor near the window. Forensics hadn’t been in yet but she had a feeling it might be coke, and this damned hack reporter from a local tabloid not fit to line a litter box was leaving a record of his Florsheims in it.
It wasn’t that Stark hated journalists. It was that she loved them. She’d been one herself, before things went south. And this guy seemed like he was out to singlehandedly make the entire profession look bad. The New York Post was famous for its lurid headlines, like the one after the Tonya Harding incident, which featured a picture of the figure skater with a too-wide grin, and the copy: "BODYGUARD FINGERS TONYA." The paper that Hunt wrote for, The Borough Record, made the Post look like the love child of Bill Moyers and Katherine Graham.
“Hey come on,” he protested, “freedom of the press! The Fourth Estate and all that jazz! Come on, Detective,” he shot a phony pleading look in Stark’s direction, “you of all people should appreciate that.” Stark had come to develop a sort of affection for the buzzsaw quality of the Queens accent after years of working this precinct, but from Hyle Hunt’s mouth, it just made her teeth itch.
Stark had only been a detective for a couple of years, but she already had a rep as being extremely meticulous about her crime scenes and reports. “I’ll tell you what I appreciate, Hunt. I appreciate a cold glass of white wine or better yet, a mimosa. I appreciate a few bars of Claude deBussy when I'm in the right mood, and I really appreciate those unloved Willem deKooning paintings of women. You know the ones with the big eyes and square heads? I love them. But I really, really appreciate, more than anything on earth, when morons don’t snoop around fresh crime scenes, tampering with my evidence and then trying to pass off their sensationalist half-information as reporting.” She pointed with cool fury at the shoeprint. “Do you know what that powder on the floor is, that you felt the need to leave your autograph on?”
Hunt smiled and shook his head.
“Yeah, and neither do we. Forensics hasn’t even been here yet. There’s police tape over the door.”
“That means stay the fuck out,” Bree interjected helpfully.
“You want information, call someone at the precinct.” She waved irritably at him. “Bree, show him out.”
“Can I call you for information, Detective? Your hair looks really pretty when you wear it up like that,” he badgered as Bree dragged him toward the door of the third-floor walkup. “Maybe you could help me with my story and I could help you with-“
“Hunt-“ Bree warned him. “Don’t.”
He grinned. “Come on, Detective, I’m just a humble journalist trying to make his way in the world,” he went on cheerfully, even as his feet were only sort of touching the floor.
Stark decided she’d had about all she could take. She marched over, shoved him loose of Bree’s grip, grabbed his collar, and socked him in the jaw, sending him staggering backward through the police tape which snapped as if he’d crossed a finish line, and leaving him sprawled out on the linoleum in the hallway, groaning, probably more in surprise than in pain.
Bree shook her head and put both her hands up to her face. “Sansa, what the hell? Selmy is going to fucking suspend you.”
Sansa’s breath had quickened only a bit, and she opened and closed her hands a couple of times to make sure she hadn’t messed anything up when she landed her blow. “Screw it. I could use a vacation.”
It was true. She and her partner had busted up a local sex trafficking ring a few months back, in an investigation that had mostly flown under the radar of their captain, not to mention the older, more experienced detectives who had trained them. There'd been a heartbreaking number of minors among them, mostly girls but a few boys too. It was the kind of bust that got a couple of young detectives a lot of new attention, and not always the kind they wanted. Sure, they got commendations, they got their faces on the local news, they got a phone call from the new mayor, who’d just been sworn in. But they also had older detectives suddenly feeling threatened and hostile, and they started attracting cheapo tabloid vulture “reporters” like flies. She was not sorry for one second that they’d made the bust, but the fallout was sometimes a lot to deal with, and her normally diplomatic, even temperament had decided to stay in bed today while Detective Stark was out saving the city. By the time she was sitting in Captain Selmy’s office, she was practically praying for a suspension. A nice long one. Punching someone in the face, even someone as obnoxious as Hyle Hunt, who was pretty much asking for it, wasn't really her M.O.
Selmy's office was dark and messy, and Stark guessed that it probably hadn't changed in thirty years and half a dozen captains. If someone had told her that they'd shot episodes of Cagney & Lacey in here, she'd believe it. It was all green and grey steel office furniture and squeaky desk chairs, with stacks of folders on either side of the desk. He basically had to do a "Moses parting the waters" thing with the wall of paper and folders in order to clear a channel down the middle so that they could look at each other while they spoke.
She'd walked past the bull pen to a round of applause (nobody in that room liked Hyle Hunt) and was now sitting uneasily in front of him, wondering how things were going to unfold. He was trying to be stern, looking at Sansa Stark with the closest thing she’d ever seen to a twinkle in his eye. He scratched his beard, then scratched it some more, looking at her for a long minute before saying anything.
“I have to admit, Stark, I didn’t know you had it in you,” he finally remarked dryly.
“Er, thank you, sir?”
“You’re a damn good detective, but you’ve never been the aggressive type. It’s nice to see you can let one fly once in a while.” He sighed wearily. “Now I got Detective Tarth’s report, but why don’t you fill in the blanks for me.”
“Very simple, sir. He was tampering with my crime scene.”
“He also tried to hit on me. Badly.”
“That’s not the worst part, sir.”
“He called himself a journalist, sir,” she deadpanned.
Selmy sat back and allowed himself a chuckle. “Is that all?”
Selmy was clearly amused. She hadn’t done it to raise her stock with him, but it seemed to be having that side effect. “Well, look, Stark. That little shit deserved it. I’m sure it’s not the first time someone’s punched him in his weasel face and probably won’t be the last. But, he’s going to file a complaint if he hasn’t already, and if we’re going to keep this and you out of court on brutality charges, I have to make like I give a shit. So, you’re suspended, with pay, for two weeks.”
“You’re not going to reassign Bree while I’m out, right?”
He smiled knowingly. “Don’t worry, Stark. Your partner will still be your partner when you get back. I wouldn’t want to tear you two apart.”
She gave him a puzzled look, which elicited more weird, knowing smiles from him. “We’re not a couple, sir, if that’s what you mean,” she said.
“Okay, Stark.” Smirking, and more smirking. “That’s fine. You’re dismissed.”