Table of Contents
Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35
? Epilogue SILENT WITNESSES Crime scene crowds are a strange lot. Since my death, I had learned just how strange they truly
were. For one thing, I always spotted familiar faces among the crowd—the very same faces, in
fact—at virtually every crime scene since my days tracking Maggie had begun. I called them The
Watchers. There was a blank-faced black man with tattoo stripes on his cheeks, a pale, blonde
lady wearing a light cotton dress and no shoes, two teenagers with greasy hair and even
greasier skin, and a rigid dark-haired man with military posture. They were always here,
scattered among the crowd, waiting, though I was not sure what they were waiting for. I’d seethem when I first searched the faces of the crowd, but when I looked again—they’d always begone.
If these were my colleagues in the afterlife, I was in sad shape indeed.
Praise For DESOLATE ANGEL
“I do not want Kevin Fahey to rest in peace. I want him to hang around until he’s solvedevery one of the cases he bungled when he was a live detective. Happily, there are enough ofthose to let me look forward to many more hours of reading pleasure.”
—Margaret Maron, author of Sand Sharks
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Chaz McGee
DESOLATE ANGEL ANGEL INTERRUPTED
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Copyright ? 2010 by Katy Munger.
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My death has given me hope. And though hope is all my
solitary existence offers me, I find I am luckier than many
of the living I pass each day. Not having hope is a terrible fate. Those who lack it are moredead than me.
A man with no past and no hope for the future walks through a playground. It is spring. He iscataloging all the things he does not have in his life: family, happiness, love, innocence. Ifhe ever had any of these things, he no longer remembers. His life has been one of fear andshame for as long as he can recall.
This knowledge fuels a rage in him so profound he is convinced that if he were to open hismouth wide enough, he could spew flames like a dragon, scorching the laughing children beforehim in a single, awe-inspiring fireball.
There are days when he longs for the power to annihilate the world, and this is one of them.
Who is he kidding? He cannot annihilate the world. He doesn’t even have the power to leave.But he could annihilate a family. Perhaps that would satisfy the anger that burns inside him,searing his heart with each peal of laughter he hears.
Besides, if he says no, he will be left with no one. He will be utterly alone in this world.He will have nowhere to go and no one to care for him.
He cannot bear the thought.
The playground air smells like green. The sounds of songbirds surround him. The sunshine iswarm on his cheeks and the air tastes of rain. A small boy squeals with delight as he swingsfrom one monkey bar to the next.
Yes, the man thinks. The boy is perfect. He will be the one.
Love is squandered by the human race. I have seen people kill in the name of love. I havewatched others torture themselves with it, bleeding every drop of joy from their hearts becausethey always hunger for more, no matter how much love they may have.
Love is different when you are dead.
It becomes less self-serving and less specific. It transcends the whims of the chemical for asimple desire to be near. My love for a stranger can be as profound as my love for the womanand children I left behind when I died. Love has become both more tangible and more important.Could it transform my fate? Love is, I tell myself, the answer.
I have come to know all these things and more in the months since my death. I try hard toremember these lessons, since I failed so miserably to learn any when I was alive. I was toobusy drinking my way through my days and running from the love I was given. Death is my secondchance to understand life. So far, I have learned that no one is as important or as alone asthey think, that kindness is the reason why people survive—and that evil is as real as lovewhen it comes to the human race.
I have learned these things while wandering the streets of my town, unseen and unmourned,contemplating the failures of my life and the mysteries of my death.
I could dwell on the mysteries of my death—god knows I still don’t understand it—but on afine spring morning I prefer instead to dwell on the mysteries of love. For example, why do wegive physical love such importance when it is, truly, the most fleeting love of all? Love comesin as many forms as there are people walking the earth. Just this week I have loved, amongothers, three children playing school in the park, especially the small boy wearing glasses whotook his pretend role as a student very seriously indeed; the waitress at the corner coffeeshop who smiles at her solitary customers out of happiness, not because she feels sorry forthem; the pimple-faced grocery boy who stopped to pet a stray dog outside his store and fed ithamburger when no one was looking; and, of course, my Maggie, my replacement on the squad.
All of my infatuations, with the exception of Maggie, tend to come and go. They are asdifferent as each day is new. Today I was in love with an old woman. It amused me to no end. Iwould never have noticed her when I was alive. I would have looked right through her, walkedright past her, relegated her to the ranks of all the other white-haired ladies that crowdedthe edges of my life. But now that I am dead, I find I cannot take my eyes from her. She isexquisite.
She doesn’t look like you would expect. If she had looked the part, she would have been talland elegant with slender hands and silver hair and a finely carved face of angular perfection.Instead, she is a plump dove of a woman, round faced and rosy cheeked, her eyes bright pools ofblue among crinkles of pink skin. Her hair is cropped short, often tucked behind her ears, asif she does not want anything to get in the way when she looks life in the eye.
And that, I think, is where my love for her is born. I have never met anyone quite like her,not in life and not in death. She is content to be exactly where she is. She feels every momentof her day with a willingness that takes my breath away. Life glints off her in bright flecks;she is sunlight sparkling from a spinning pinwheel. She sprinkles diamonds in her wake as shemoves through her house and sits in her garden. She is always alone, and yet she is alwayscontent.
I have searched the hidden corners of her life and seen the photos of younger times. I havefollowed her, unseen, through her tidy house, certain I would spot signs of regret. But thoughshe lives alone—the man in the photographs has obviously passed over, and I see no evidence ofchildren to comfort her in advancing age—I do not feel sadness in her, not even at those timeswhen she slows to examine the images of her past life. Happiness flows from her like silver
ribbons and entwines her memories. She pauses, she feels, she moves on. I envy her certainty.
This morning, she was sitting on a small metal bench in a corner of her garden. Her tranquilitywas so great that rabbits hopped along the garden path without fear and chewed clover at herfeet. Birds bathed in their concrete bath inches from where she sat. A sparrow lit on the armof the bench, inches from her, rustling itself back into order. The old lady saw it all withbright eyes, soaking in the life surrounding her.
I could not tear myself away from her. I had followed her for days now, absorbed in learningthe secrets of her serenity. To be near her was to live life in infinitesimal glory. She wasthe opposite of what I had been.
A breeze blew past, ruffling her hair. She closed her eyes to enjoy the sensation. I was solost in watching her that I failed to notice I was not her only observer.
“Excuse me,” a timid voice said.
The old woman opened her eyes.
A man stood on the edge of her garden, waiting permission to speak. He was a weighed-down manin both body and spirit. His flesh sagged with years of bad food, though he could not have beenolder than his early forties. He reeked of cigarettes. His face, though perhaps once almostdelicate, had become doughy and lackluster. His spirit, too, was heavy. I could feel itclearly. All the things he had not said in his life—love left unspoken, anger swallowed,regrets not voiced, apologies that stuck in his throat—they all encumbered him. His bodyslumped under the weight of these unvoiced emotions and I knew he would grow old before histime.
“Please, come into my garden,” my white-haired muse said calmly, unsurprised to see him ather gate. “I believe we are neighbors, are we not?”
“We are,” the man said, shuffling into her tiny paradise with an awkward politeness. He stoodnear the birdbath and did not seem to notice the flash of wings or the frantic thumping ascreatures fled from his presence.
He smelled of stale beer and fried food, an odor I had lived with perpetually while alive buthad since come to think of as the stench of self-neglect and disappointment.
“I live six doors down,” he explained. “With my mother. Or, I did live with my mother. Shedied last fall.”
“I see.” The woman’s voice was kind. She recognized the loneliness in him and, though shedid not feel it herself, she understood how it could cripple others. “I’m so sorry to hearthat. I had not seen her for a long time. I wondered where she had gone.”
“She was bedridden for several years before she passed,” the man explained.
“And you?” the woman asked. “What are you doing with your life now that she’s gone? Here,please—sit.” She waved her hand at a metal chair by a flower bed blooming in a riot of bluesand purples around a miniature pond. But the man chose only to stand behind it, his handsgripping the curve of its back.
“I work,” he explained. “I’m a chef at the Italian restaurant on Sturgis Street. And Ivolunteer. Actually, that’s why I’m here.”
“I hope you aren’t here about me.” The old woman laughed. “I am quite fine. I have no needfor meals, on wheels or otherwise.”
He smiled with an effort that told me it was an expression he seldom wore. “No, not that.”His fingers twitched as mine used to when I needed a cigarette. “I keep watch, you see, in thepark. I watch over the children.”
The lady waited, her face betraying nothing.
“I’m part of an organization,” he added quickly, as if her silence meant she thought himpeculiar or, worse, suspected him of being the evil he purported to prevent. “It’s not a bigdeal. I just keep tabs on the people who come and go. Jot down license plate numbers sometimes.
Keep an eye on the children. I mostly work nights, preparing food for the next day, so I liketo walk in the mornings when they play.”
.”The Catcher in the Rye“I see,” the old lady said. “You are Holden Caulfield in
A spark lit inside him. This time, the smile came easily. “That’s my favorite book,” headmitted. “How did you know?”
“Many years of teaching school, my young friend.”
He nodded and wiped his hands across the tops of his pants, leaving streaks of flour on thedenim. “I have a favor to ask. But you’ll think it’s strange.”
“I’m too old to think anything’s strange,” she assured him.
“There’s a man in the park. Sitting on a bench.”
“Perhaps he is enjoying the weather?” She lifted her face to the sun. “It is the finest ofspring days. I have been sitting here for an hour myself.”
“I don’t think so,” the man said reluctantly, as if hating to spoil her pleasure. “I’veseen him now for several days in a row, sitting on the same bench for hours, watching thechildren play. Sometimes he sleeps or pretends to read the newspaper, but he is secretlywatching the children. I’m sure of it. Once you suspect, it’s easy to tell.”
A cloud of sadness passed over the old lady’s face. She knew too much about the world toquestion the possibilities of what he implied.
“I wonder if you might go with me?” the man asked. “To the park? To take a look at him tosee.”
“To see what?” she asked.
“To see if you think he is a danger or if, maybe, well . . .” His voice trailed off.
She looked at him and waited, unhurried, willing to let him take his time.
He glanced about him as he searched for the right words. “I need you to tell me if you thinkhe is a danger to the children or if he’s just someone like me who lives alone and likes thecompany of the park. His life could be ruined if I made an accusation. But a child’s lifemight be ruined if I don’t.”
“Well, then,” the old lady said, rising to her feet as she made up her mind to trust him.“Let’s just have a look, shall we?”