John Tallow stood while the medics scraped up and lifted and bagged and took away his partner of four years, and then he sat on the stairs silently so that they had to lift Rosato’s killer over him to get him down and out of the building.
People said things to him. Gunfire in close quarters had temporarily dulled his hearing, and he wasn’t that interested anyway. Someone told him that the lieutenant was driving out to tell Rosato’s wife the bad news. She liked to do that, the lieutenant, to take that weight off her people. He’d known her to do it three or four times in the past few years.
After a while, he became aware that someone was trying to get his attention. A uniformed police. Behind him, the Crime Scene Unit techs were moving around like beetles.
“This one apartment,” the uniform said.
“We checked all the apartments, to make sure everyone was okay. But this apartment here, there’s a shotgun hole in the wall and no one’s answering the door. Did you check this one apartment?”
“No. Wait, what? That hole’s kind of low. I don’t think it can have hit anyone.”
“Well, maybe the occupant’s out at work. Though that’d make him kind of unique in this building so far.”
Tallow shrugged. “Force the door, then.”
“The door’s tight. Can’t imagine what kind of lock’s behind it, but it don’t want to give.”
Tallow got up. He knew buildings like these weren’t Fort Knox. But if the uniform said the door wasn’t giving, it was pointless to repeat the effort. The door wasn’t the thing. The hole was. He got down on one knee by the hole. The internal walls in these places weren’t worth the name. Plasterboard partitions, for the most part. When this building was crammed with people, way back when, it must’ve been like living in a hive.
The hole was a foot across. Tallow peered through it. No light in there. Tallow shifted his position to let in ambient light from the hallway. The uniform watched him frown.
“Give me your flashlight,” Tallow said.
Tallow twisted it on and played it through the hole. Things glinted in the dark, as if he were shining the flashlight into the teeth of an animal deep in a cave.
“Get a ram,” Tallow said.
The uniform went downstairs while Tallow sat on the floor with his back to the wall, dismissing the CSU complaints with a finger. That’d come back to bite him later, he knew. CSUs loved to complain, and if he didn’t listen, they’d find someone who would.
Then again, maybe he’d earned a pass today.
Tallow sat and thought about his partner for a while. Thought about never having met his wife. Having actively avoided it, if he were honest. Remembered feeling relieved that Jim and his wife had gotten married on vacation, so he couldn’t and therefore didn’t have to attend the ceremony. Tallow had decided, after the one time he’d had to crush a stranger with the news that her husband had died on duty with three big bullets in his gut, that he couldn’t be married. He didn’t want to stand at a wedding and think about being married. He didn’t want to sit at Jim Rosato’s table and think about being married.
The uniform had found another uniform, and together they had unhappily carried the ram upstairs, blistered black paint over blue metal.
Tallow stayed on the floor and hitched his thumb at the door.
The uniforms put the ram to the door. It bent and held. They looked at each other, swung back harder, and drove the ram in again. Wood splintered, but the door stood.
Tallow got up. “Take out the wall.”
“Yeah. It’s on me. Take it out.”
The ram crushed the wall in. A few dull thumps sounded from within. The CSUs cursed their mothers for the dust the strike kicked out. Three more short swings made a hole big enough for Tallow to step through. Two more dull thumps. He twisted on the borrowed flashlight and passed it around slowly.
The room was full of guns.
Guns were mounted on all the walls. There were half a dozen guns at his feet. Turning around, flashlight at shoulder level, he saw that guns were mounted on the wall he had come in through. Some guns were mounted in rows, but the right-hand wall had them in complex swirls. Some were laid on the floor on the far side of the room, forming a shape he couldn’t quite fathom. There was paint daubed on those.
There were scents he couldn’t place. Incense, perhaps. Musks. Fur or hide.
Rippling patterns of gunmetal, from floor to ceiling. In the stale, faintly perfumed air of the room, Tallow felt almost like he could be in a church.
Nobody was in the apartment but him. He pointed the flashlight at the door. The door was reinforced with sliding metal bars and heavy locks. There was the red flicker of an LED on one of the locking devices. Tallow couldn’t figure out how anyone could get into this apartment by way of the door, but he could see that a ram wasn’t going to do it.
Tallow carefully stepped through the apartment, checking all the rooms without touching anything.
There were guns in all the rooms.
In the back room, there was a gap between the heavy curtains covering the sole window. A single shaft of light fell through the gap into the small gun-encrusted room. Dust motes hung in the still beam. Tallow stood for a moment without breathing. Left the room slowly and silently.
Tallow almost smiled as he put his head back out through the hole, pointed at a CSU, and said, “Got something for you.”
Excerpted with permission from Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company