The pretty young redhead stepped into the circle of light before the entrance to the subway, a scowl on her lips, and hands on her hips.
“Whadya mean I can't go down?”
The young police officer who was blocking the way smiled at the scarlet dame.
“Look, lady, you go down eight blocks, and you can use the 8th street station. This one's CLOSED. Got it?”
She looked at him, still scowling. It was obvious to the flatfoot that she didn't get it, but he didn't care. The commish said no one could go down except the mortician, the detectives and the crime reporter from The Times. Feisty little red-haired tarts who were up too late for their own good weren't part of that list, and he wasn't going to let her down.
“You got some nerve, Lucky”, she whispered, a crooked smirk stealing across her face. “How long you been in the 10th Precinct?”
He let his own smirk cross his lips as he looked down on her, taking her all in. Bright red hair, pale skin, curves like every man likes, and an attitude that no self-respecting Irish would ever take home to his mother. It was obvious she was a working girl, a high-class floozy trying to get to her next meal-ticket. He had heard all about them from the older cops who walked the beat.
Leaning forward, he whispered, “How's about you find a booth, give your sugar-daddy a call, and let him know you got caught between trains. Or else I'll have one of the boys run you in.”
The girl arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow, leaned far to left and looked around him. “You hear that, Jimmie? The way this fine young officer described me?”
From behind the cop, a couple of steps down the entrance to the station, a thick Irish brogue let out a huffing chortle. It was the sound of amusement, exasperation, and defense, all rolled into one gruff sound. Chief of Detectives James MacDonnell stepped onto the street, shaking his head.
“I did, Rose. And a damned fine mess he'd be if I didn't get up here when he said it, I'd bet.”
She nodded her head once.
“Son”, he continued, sighing deeply,”this would be Rose Saint Peirce. As in R. St. Peirce of The Times. A fine sweet lass who's seen more crime than you may ever hope to, and who was about a moment from peeling you like a grape. And she could do it, too. I've seen it myself. Now apologize, and let the lady on down so she can feed her share of blood to the masses in the morning.”
Rose stepped around the towering officer, her pert little heels clicking on the stone steps. Four down, she turned, looked back at the cop.
“You may be big, kid, but you're dumb as a stump and twice as useless. A good cop never assumes he's looking at something he's never seen before. Got it?”
The young officer nodded, embarrassed. “Yes, ma''am.”
But Rose and the Chief were already heading down.
The old black station master was sitting on a bench, shaking his head, and speaking with a detective. At the center of the platform, setting up his camera was Billy Fische, the coroners assistant, and old, thin Doc Bloch, wringing his hands and staring down at a great big wash of gore with a messy suit in the center of it.
The detective who had been interviewing the station master ran to meet them as they entered the gray-green light of the platform. “The negro says the vic just started doin' a Saint Vitus Dance, and just turned to jelly right here, but I find that hard to believe. Looks more like he got hit by the train.”
Rose laughed, and MacDonnell shook his head.
“Mullins, you're a pea-brain”, she said, in that high sweet voice. “He got hit by the train and thrown back up on the platform as a spray of blood and a hand-down suit? That's ridiculous.”
Mullins frowned deeply, turning an already jowly countenance into a bulldog's grimace.
“Well, that's the only thing that makes sense, lady.” He turned to the chief. “You gonna let this skirt talk to me like that, Chief?”
“I will, Mullins, until you get your thumb outta your rear and start paying attention. You have a witness, with nothing to hide, who says the guy came apart, and yet you won't listen.”
Mullins jowls wobbled in anger as he turned and stalked away.
Shaking her head, Rose stepped forward, careful not to step in the grue. She watched the the city coroner bend down and poke at the suit, his hand coming away bloody. He looked up at her with an open mouth and surprised gesture that was a little like a baby bird when it's mother comes back to feed it.
“Why, Miss Peirce! I had no idea you would be here this evening.” He reached his hand out to her, and she looked at the smear on his fingers.
“Oh, my, that's embarrassing.” He went to wipe his hand on his pants, and then thought better of it, but began rubbing his fingers and thumb together. His face took on a confused look.
“This blood is gritty, like fine sand.”
Rose moved around to Billy, leaving the doctor to contemplate the slime.
Billy nodded, fighting as he was to get the heavy tripod set up so that he could get the whole of the smear in the picture.
“You're gonna have to move it further back, Billy.”
The young Texan looked at her, acknowledged her for the first time. “Howdy, Miss Rose. I thought of that, but the pillars on the platform keep getting in the way.”
Rose looked around, surveying the layout, and then pointed at the edge of the platform beside the tracks. “How about there, Billy? You can set up right at the edge and get a full-on shot.”
Billy shivered. “Don't much care for being close to the edge, ma''am.”
Rose smiled, and touched the young mans arm affectionately. “Why, Billy Fische, are you telling me you're afraid of the tracks?”
He shrugged sheepishly, lifting and collapsing the tripod as he began moving towards the edge.
“It ain't the tracks that get me, it's the trains speeding through.”
Rose remembered the first time she had seen Billy, three months earlier, taking pictures of a young woman who had hurled herself into the path of an oncoming subway. He had been pale as a ghost, and yet still had the nerve and the guts to get perfect, in-focus pictures of the suicide.
She walked with him to the edge, turned her back on the cavern of the subway, and put her hands on her hips. “They turned the trains from the station, Billy, nothing bad's going to happen to you.”
Smiling, he began setting up the tripod. “If you say so, Miss Rose.”
At that moment, a machine gun let rip from out of the stairwell, tearing into Billy Fische, shredding away half of his head, and flinging him backwards into her, knocking Rose onto the dark, electrified tracks of the subway.