CRIME Reggie Nadelson Disturbed Earth

ISBN 13: 9780099465485

Disturbed Earth

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9780099465485: Disturbed Earth

The first novel in an exciting crime trilogy starring Russian-Jewish cop Artie Cohen (“the detective every women would like to find in her bed.” —Guardian)

Reggie Nadelson’s new Artie Cohen mystery begins when a jogger finds a kid’s clothes drenched in blood and buried in the half frozen earth near Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. The action in the story takes place in south Manhattan where Artie lives, an area still traumatized by the loss of the Twin Towers, and coastal Brooklyn — Brighton Beach, all boardwalk, beach and Russians; Coney Island with its wrecked amusement park; and Sheepshead Bay with its inlets and fishing boats.

The plot revolves around the killing of one child and the abduction of another, and the subsequent outbreak of fear. Fear is the real story here. The fear that explodes when two children are involved and still others seem to go missing. The way the city is still locked in the terror that’s never gone away since 9/11. The constant presence of barricades and barriers and soldiers with AKs is part of the New York domestic landscape. It’s also about Artie’s relationship with the Russian community in Brooklyn; the way the story reels him back over and over, the way he can never really escape.
From the Hardcover edition.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Reggie Nadelson is a New Yorker who also makes her home in London. She is a journalist and documentary film-maker and the author of the critically-acclaimed series featuring Artie Cohen, Moscow-born New Yorker and the first great post-Cold War cop. Her non-fiction book Comrade Rockstar, the story of the American who became the biggest rock star in Soviet history, is to be made into a film by Tom Hanks.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Part One

1

A woman in a red fox coat walked down the boardwalk that was bleached white from snow and salt, a pair of large black poodles at the end of the leash in her hand. The wind whipped her backwards so the dogs seemed to pull her along as if on a sled. Above her the Parachute Drop, broken down, shut up, loomed against the winter sky, the Coney Island amusement park haunted by relics of its old dreamscape.

Inside Nathan's, as I passed, a trio of workers on the early shift, in their red Nathan's jackets, huddled together watching the cops outside. In the fluorescent light of the restaurant, I could see the faces of the three workers clearly; they had flat brown Indian faces, as if they'd come direct from some Andean village to the coast of America to serve up hot dogs dripping with yellow mustard. Like everyone in Brooklyn, they clung to their tribe; no matter how fragile or tiny it was, there was some kind of protection in it, or that's what I still thought that morning. One of them laughed suddenly. He flashed white teeth.

I'd been eating breakfast, key lime pie and coffee, in the city twenty minutes earlier when my phone rang and it was my boss, Sonny Lippert, at the other end.

"I need you."

"Tell me."

"It's a little girl," he said. "A child. They found some stuff a few hours ago."

Coney Island, he mumbled. You could see the old Parachute Drop from where they dumped it, you could see Nathan's, he said. Some slob probably eating hot dogs could have stopped it, but no one admitted seeing anything. They were all fucking blind, he yelled into the phone, they never see, they never tell, fucking monkeys, he added. They're piling on the sauerkraut and mustard and they don't fucking look out the window, you know, man? There's an empty stretch of ground out by the Keyspan Park where they play baseball now. Some jogger stumbled on it this morning. You with me? The stream of fury had poured into my ear, and I said, "OK, I'm coming, I'm there. OK?"

"Art?"

"Yeah, Sonny."

His voice cracked like, I was going to say cracked like a cold sore, but it didn't. It was never like that. In real life there were no metaphors; just dead people. His voice broke up; he was crying.

"I know she's dead. I can feel it."

"Feel what? Where's the body?"

But the line was bad and all I heard him say after that was, "Her shoes." Then the line broke.

All the time, while I drove from Manhattan out to Brooklyn, what lay just ahead, what Lippert had found out at Coney Island, was in my mind. I knew it was a child; I figured the kid was dead. Abused. Mutilated. It was everywhere, this thing with kids, the porn rings, the child abuse; babies were used, too, and you thought, who does this kind of thing? I thought of the killer in Boston who dug an underground tunnel and kept little girls in a row of cages. His sex slaves, he said. Some of them he kept for years. They clawed at the bars while they had energy then, broken, just sat and waited for him.

You never got used to it, you got drunk, you got ulcers, you smoke yourself into a fog, you went crazy from stuff you saw. Any cop who gets used to it should quit.

I parked the car just beyond Nathan's and climbed up on the boardwalk and looked at the beach that stretched for miles along the Brooklyn coast. Beyond it was the ocean, the color of steel and out on the horizon was a ship that looked like a toy. Wind blew off the water.

I walked a couple of hundred yards. Away from the ocean and the beach, on the other side of the boardwalk, was a stretch of waste ground; a couple of blue and whites, their lights flashing, were parked nearby. I ran down the steps from the boardwalk. The half-frozen ground was littered with junk, soda cans, used condoms, cigarette butts, syringes-the detritus of a Friday night. As I got closer I could see there was a hole in the ground, like an empty grave, cordoned off by yellow tape. Dead weeds were scattered on the mounds of earth beside it. While I watched, a black body bag was loaded onto a waiting EMS truck.

Near the hole in the ground stood two cops, like gravediggers, one male, one female, holding shovels, seeming to wait for an order. Move on. Dig some other place. Keep at it. But no one said it. It was like a play, no one moving, people looking down with the expressions frozen on their faces. Somewhere a siren wailed.

Suddenly, Sonny Lippert materialized from behind the EMS van.

"Art? Artie?"

As soon as he saw me, he started in my direction at about a hundred miles a minute, a human cannonball, compact, fast on his feet, pulling his little camel's hair coat close to him. Fast and tightly wrapped, Sonny was a small man.

"It's a serial," he said. "I knew it would happen, sooner or fucking later, I so goddamn knew."

"Who is she?"

He shook his head.

"I don't know. No one's claimed her. No one's reported a child missing anywhere in the area. What kind of people don't know their kid is missing, man?"

Lippert was probably sixty; he looked ten years younger. He used "man" every second word; when I first knew him, he thought of himself as a fifties hipster; he gave it up a while back, the clothes, the walk, except for the verbal tic. It made him sound weirdly young, now that "man" and "cool" fell out of the mouths of every wannabe hipster kid in every bar on the Lower East Side and Williamsburg.

"How old is she?" I said.

"They don't know."

"So make a guess."

Sonny said, "Ever since I started running this unit, I feel like I stepped in a sewer that has no bottom, just dropped down and all there is, is shit."

Lippert was at the head of a special unit that prosecuted cases involving kids: kidnapping; pedophiles; kiddie porn; priests-the country was littered with lousy priests. The whole miserable business had exploded in the last few years.

Kids were big business; they were cheap. You could get a kid for less than an adult, and it was global. And not just in Asia or some remote part of Africa where they stole children for soldiers or slaves. In Eastern Europe you could buy a kid for sex for less than you could rent a car. You went to Teplice and other border towns-in the Czech Republic, not India, not Africa, in Europe-and people stood at the side of the highway and handed their own children down to men in cars. Little kids. Their own parents luring them with candy. Take the candy, darling, go with the nice man. I'd been there. I'd seen it.

In California last summer, two little girls were killed so brutally they never told the public the details. Couldn't. I heard from some friends over there. I didn't think about it if I could help it. There had been so many kids abducted the last couple of years, so many high profile cases. Thousands of kids just disappeared. Tens of thousands. You saw the flyers on lamp-posts, you saw the milk cartons. Like dust scattering; like garbage; like insects. Just gone. Where did they go?

Lippert took on as much as he could and it was a lousy job. He had to keep everyone happy, the families, the local precincts, the local kidnap detectives, and some from homicide squads and the people at Police Plaza who also worked on child cases. He had been a cop and a federal prosecutor; he was a born politician and I didn't completely trust him, but I owed him and I'd made my peace with it.

He got me my first job as a cop after I graduated the academy. Said he talent spotted me, that's what he said when we were out together and a little bit drunk. I spoke a few languages; he said it was handy to have someone around who knew Russian, Hebrew, a little French, a little Arabic. Since his divorce he sometimes invited me to eat with him, at Peter Luger in Brooklyn because he loved the steak and hash browns, or at Rao's in Harlem; I went because he was the only person I knew who could get a table at Rao's, and because he liked me.

A beefy detective, a local who looked like he ate steroids with his Wheaties, glanced at me and I knew he was pissed off that Lippert was here and had called me out from the city. They were territorial in this part of Brooklyn and I already had a reputation for interfering in cases involving Russians in Brighton Beach, a mile or so west along the coast. Lippert ignored him and pulled me towards the boardwalk, then leaned against the railing and for a second pressed his hand against his temple as if he had a migraine that nothing could fix.

"Christ," he said, and the horror he seemed to feel transmitted itself like disease; it wrapped itself around me and I hoped Lippert didn't ask me to look at the body.

Don't ask, I thought. Please don't ask. I can't do it. This got to me in a way few things did; this thing with kids. I thought about Billy Farone, my cousin's boy.

"I want you to look," Sonny said. "I want you to see."

Like a tugboat at my side, he ferried me to the van. He signaled to the EMS guy to remove the black rubber bag and place it on the ground. I waited, listening to the bang of the door, the snap of the latex gloves as the EMS guy pulled them on, the zipper. For me the sound of death wasn't a gun or the hot howl of fire at a crematorium or the thud of a coffin lowered into the earth; it was the sound of the zipper on a body bag.

"Look." He tossed me a pair of latex gloves and I put them on and bent over the clothes.

Inside the bag was a pair of green sneakers. So soaked in blood were the All Star high tops that only a scrap of green canvas showed. There was a kid's T-shirt that had been white and was smeared with blood. I picked it up by its edge and saw there were cuts across the front and back, as if it had been sliced from the kid's body with a razor. There were faded jeans. A blue baseball jacket, Yankees logo, also bloody. Saturated with blood, the blue of both garments looked dark, almost black. The left sleeve of the jacket was ripped.

"That's all?"

"It's enough," he said.

"What about the body?"

"There's no body, man," he said. "Habeas corpus. Not. You understand me?"

"What do you mean there's no body?"

He got agitated and kept repeating there was no body and it didn't matter.

"Calm down," I said. I had only seen Lippert like this a few times, but it happened. He got overloaded, he felt personally involved, he lost it.

"You don't even know she's dead," I said. "You don't even know who she is. You don't even know it's a girl. You're getting crazy, and about what?"

"Fuck you, man," he said. "Don't patronize me with that 'calm down' shit." He pushed me away from the others, pushed me with the flat of his hand against my chest. "I know is how I know I know. Twice before already this kind of thing happened, once about five years back when they found a kid's clothes first and then the body on Long Island, then around eighteen months ago, twenty, yeah, it was the summer before last, July maybe, I got a call, middle of the night, there were clothes, you understand me, there were kids' clothes and they were drenched in blood, just like this, in a hole in the ground out by Rockaway," he said and gestured towards the beach as it stretched west. "Then we found the body, a piece at a time. They had cut off her feet. They took off her sneakers and then her feet, and the feet floated up in the canal over by Sheepshead Bay. Somebody went fishing off a party boat and caught one. Enough? OK? You want more?" He stopped and caught his breath. "She was eight, and some piece of shit cut off her feet. Other parts. You want me to draw you a picture? It was, what, a couple miles from here? We found her eventually. I remember, there were sneakers then, the same kind of sneakers. Green high tops."

"I don't remember."

"You were in Bosnia or some other fucking place. Working private," he said and I knew he blamed me for leaving the job. When Lippert felt vindictive, he made it a moral thing; you worked just for money, you were a lousy human being. You had failed.

"You ever see parents ID their child, Art? You want to do that? You want to say to the mother, is this your kid with her feet missing? Her hands? Her face?"

The blood vessels in his face constricted; he turned a strange dark red, the color of pastrami.

"I knew it wasn't over. I knew he'd surface. They always do. They can't stop and I said, don't let it go cold, not this one, but they did and nobody worked cold cases over 9/11. The son of a bitch has started up again. I knew he was a serial."

"Or it's a copycat."

"The other cases have been out of the papers for too long for a copycat. Both cases. The one on Long Island, the one I worked out in Rockaway. But I know it's the same fucking bastard, and I'm going to get him fried this time. Fried and fried. If they let me stick the needle in myself, I'll do it and then I'll celebrate."

"Sonny?"

"Yeah?"

"Never mind."

"You were going to ask if they cut off her feet before or after?"

I didn't answer.

He said, "I don't know. I don't know when they did it." I could feel his breath.

"When they called me with this earlier," he said gesturing to the scene, "I figured we'd hear a little girl was missing, you know? Give me a cigarette, Art, OK?"

I fumbled in my jacket pocket and got a squashed pack of Marlboros and handed it to him. Sonny, who doesn't smoke, stuck one in his mouth and I lit it for him. The wind from the ocean blew out the match and I lit another one.

"I can't stand the smell," he said.

All I could smell was the fresh bright air and a faint taste of salt.

"What smell?"

"I don't know. I got something in my mind that stinks and I can't get it out and ever since I got here I keep smelling it. Never mind." He pulled on the cigarette then tossed it as far as he could.

A camera van from a local station rolled into view and Sonny yelled, "Get those fuckers out of there." He turned back to me, and then looked down at the blood-soaked clothes on the black rubber bag.

"Nobody called, you know, man? Nobody cares enough to make a call." He gestured to the van with the body bag. "Who does this, Artie? Who does this shit to a child? I stay up all night reading big books so I can find out who's evil enough to do things like this, man, and I still don't know anything. I thought it gave you wisdom. It doesn't give you shit."

"What about the age?" I said. "You made a guess by the size of the clothes?"

"Yeah, maybe eleven. But we're guessing."

"By her jacket?"

"Yeah."

"What else?"

"The T-shirt, it was a girl's T-shirt for an eleven-year-old, we checked with the store already. Also, the feet," he said. "The size of the sneakers."

It hung there. We stood, two helpless guys, looking at the way the words seemed to hang frozen on the late morning air, and neither of us wanting to touch them.

"What else?" I said.

"Skin," he said. "Skin in the bottoms of the sneakers. Skin and blood, like somebody ripped them off her."

"What about socks?"

"No socks."

"Isn't that weird? It's freezing. What kid goes out without socks in this weather?"

"Yeah, I don't know, there were no fucking socks, anyhow. Or maybe the socks are some other place. That's why they're digging all those holes." His voice was flat, affectless.

I threw my half smoked cigarette on the ground and looked down at the black bag again, at the zipper that threw silver sparks in the bright sunlight. Sonny held onto my arm like a dog caught in my sleeve and I followed him away from the van and back towards the site.

A construction guy-someone must have called him in-was using...

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Reggie Nadelson
Published by Arrow (2005)
ISBN 10: 0099465485 ISBN 13: 9780099465485
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