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NYPD Red 6
By Marshall Karp
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Reality star Erin Easton's "Wedding of the Century" may have a cable crew documenting every extravagant bridal detail, but when "Airhead Easton" disappears from the reception, it's no diva turn. Her dressing room is empty but for a blood-spattered wedding gown and signs of a struggle.
Detective Kylie MacDonald of NYPD Red, already on-scene as a plus-one, loops in her partner, Detective Zach Jordan to activate Level One mobilization for this PR nightmare. But when Erin's "proof of life" video makes it to air—rather than to evidence—every A-lister on the guest list becomes a target of suspicion . . . or just a target.
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The Wedding of the Century
It took Bobby a week to decide where to park. It had to be close to the wedding, but not too close. And since he could be sitting in a stolen truck for two, even three hours, it had to be a stretch of real estate where the cops almost never patrolled.
It was a critical decision. Son of Sam had gotten tripped up by a thirty-five-dollar parking ticket.
Learn from the mistakes of others, his father used to tell him. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.
He finally decided on West Twenty-Ninth Street between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues. The entire block was lined with city sanitation trucks waiting for the next morning's run. The stench alone was enough to keep the street clear, but on the off chance that NYPD did drive by and ask what he was doing there, he'd explain that his alternator had crapped out, and he was waiting for a tow.
He arrived at 16:45. Two-plus hours later, not a single cop had passed by. He killed time reading the papers.
The Times didn't give the wedding much ink, just one piece on page 14 of the Sunday Styles section. But the Daily News and the Post understood that Erin was American royalty, and they gave her the kind of coverage she deserved. Front page, dozens of pictures, plus detailed diagrams of the Manhattan Center.
Of course, Bobby already had all that information. He'd made three recon runs to the venue in the past three weeks. The first time was strictly to get the lay of the land—two recording studios, a dozen offices, and two spectacular ballrooms, the Hammerstein and the Grand.
The second time, he spent the day working with a catering crew and managed to get what he came for—a master key to almost every lock in the building.
Two days ago he'd set up the live feed. Wearing a baseball cap and a shirt with a logo that said BD RENTALS, he entered the complex through the loading dock and headed upstairs. The Hammerstein was packed with the army of people it would take to get the twelve-thousand-square-foot space perfect for what the network had billed as "the Wedding of the Century." But the Grand was dark, and he made his way to a storage room under the massive stage. At 0100 hours, with the cleaning crew long gone and a lone watchman stationed in the lobby, he'd installed the four wireless pinhole cameras.
The rest of the world wouldn't get to see the wedding footage until ZTV fed it to them one episode at a time, but Bobby now had a live view on his iPad.
The ceremony, which had been scheduled for 1700 hours, did not come off as planned. Which, of course, was part of Erin's plan. She loved to keep the world waiting. And guessing.
By 17:05 the Twitterverse was crackling with rumors, speculation, and general fan mania. She got cold feet. She caught Jamie cheating. She's holding up the network for more money.
And then, at 17:43, a wedding guest posted the tweet Erin's fans were waiting for: Here comes the bride. #TheWeddingIsOn.
The ceremony itself was stomach-turning. Bobby wanted to pummel whoever wrote Erin's vows. Lifetime of growing. Falling more in love with you every day. Pure garbage. But he had to admit her last one was kind of funny. I vow never to keep score—even if I am totally winning. That was the Erin he loved.
It was now 18:55, and the reception was in full swing. He changed the configuration on the iPad so he could fill the screen with the single image from the ballroom camera. The resolution was excellent, and he watched her dancing with her new husband.
Jamie Gibbs was thirty-two, five years younger than Erin. He had a reputation for being something of a player, but Bobby wasn't impressed. How hard is it to be seen with a beautiful woman on your arm when your mother owns one of the top modeling agencies on the planet? Erin Easton, on the other hand, was completely out of Jamie's league.
"Dude," Bobby said to the smiling image of Gibbs moving around the iPad screen. "You're the heir to a gold mine. Did you think she married you because you're so great in the sack?"
When the dance was over, Jamie and Erin took the stage and made their surprise announcement: Erin was going to change, and then she was coming back to put on a show.
Bobby had watched the dress rehearsal on his iPad last night. Erin didn't have the world's greatest voice, but the network had hired a twelve-piece band, three backup singers, and four dancers. Besides, she was beautiful to watch. All in all, it was a pretty good show. Too bad nobody would ever get to see it.
The crowd applauded, and Jamie stood there looking like he'd died and gone to heaven as Erin walked off the stage to a standing ovation.
"Go time," Bobby said, tossing the iPad onto the passenger seat.
He reached inside his shirt and pulled out the .357 Magnum bullet that was hanging on a chain around his neck. The powder had been replaced by one cubic inch of his father's ashes.
He rubbed his finger gently over the words the old man had had etched into the steel casing: Succeed, or die trying. Semper Fi.
Yeah, he thought as he started the truck and tucked the bullet back inside his shirt. That was the plan.
Standing in front of the door to Erin Easton's dressing room, Lenny Ringel felt like one of those guards with the red jackets and the big black furry hats crammed into the sentry box outside Buckingham Palace. Nothing to do, no one to talk to.
It was the ass end of the security detail for the wedding, and Ringel had asked McMaster flat out why he had to protect an empty room for five hours while the other four guards were working the ballroom, listening to the music, ogling the women, and sneaking off to the kitchen to stuff their faces.
"The room's not empty," McMaster informed him. "It's got Erin's wardrobe, her jewelry, and her personal belongings, which, trust me, people would be happy to steal. It has to be secured at all times."
"So why can't we whack it up between us?" Ringel said. "Five guys, we could each take an hour instead of me parked out here like—"
"Ringel," McMaster said, "the place is crawling with important people, and you don't have what I'd call important-people skills. If you don't want the job, just say so, and I'll book another rent-a-cop."
Of course Ringel wanted the job. And not just for the money. When he first told his girlfriend he was working security at the Wedding of the Century, she went batshit, she was so happy.
"Lenny," she said, "you gotta mingle like crazy and come back with as much juicy gossip as you can."
He had to explain that his job was to protect the guests, not stalk them, but at least he'd come back with some cool stories she could tell her friends, and if she wanted to make them sound even cooler, that was fine by him. But now all he could tell her was that McMaster had put him in charge of watching a giant closet full of clothes.
And then, halfway through the gig, Erin showed up, knockers practically popping out of her wedding gown. She gave Ringel a drop-dead-gorgeous smile and said, "Wardrobe change, sweetie. Got a show to do. Don't let anyone in."
He couldn't believe it. Nobody told him about any wardrobe change. "Don't worry, Miss Easton," he said. "Nobody gets past me. Just one thing—my girlfriend, Darcy, is a big fan. She'd kill me if I didn't tell you. I'm Lenny, by the way."
"Well, Lenny, you tell Darcy—hell, don't tell her anything," Erin said. "Let's blow her mind. Where's your camera?"
Five seconds later, Lenny Ringel, the man with no important-people skills, was taking selfies with the most important person at the whole damn wedding. Suck on that, McMaster.
"Remember, Lenny," Erin said after he'd clicked off a burst of shots with his cell phone, "don't let anyone in, especially that pain in the ass Brockway, the guy with the camera crew. A girl needs her privacy."
She slipped into the dressing room, snapped the lock, and left Ringel to dream what it would be like to be on the other side of the door watching Erin Easton change out of her wedding gown.
Forty minutes later Ringel was still reveling in the fact that one of the biggest stars in the world had called him by name. How cool was that?
And then the pain in the ass with the camera crew showed up.
"I'm sorry, sir," Ringel said, every inch the professional. "Miss Easton said no visitors."
"I'm not a visitor," Brockway said. "I'm the guy whose network put up a million dollars to shoot this fiasco, which means I'm paying your salary and hers. She's got a show to put on, and she's late."
Brockway rapped hard on the dressing-room door. "Come on, Erin. Your public is waiting. Time for you to knock 'em dead."
He turned to Ringel. "You sure she's in there?"
"Positive, sir, but she said she needed her privacy."
"I'm not paying her to stay private," Brockway said, grabbing the doorknob and rattling it.
"It's locked, sir," Ringel said.
"Not for long," he said, storming off.
Thirty seconds later he was back, this time with McMaster and two of the other guards.
"Ringel, what's going on?" McMaster said. Only it didn't sound like he was asking. It was more like he was blaming Lenny for the fact that Erin apparently didn't want to come out. McMaster banged on the door. "Erin, it's Declan. Are you okay?"
No answer. Within seconds he produced a key, unlocked the door, and swung it open.
"Sweet Jesus," Ringel said. "What the hell happened?"
McMaster didn't know, but after thirty-five years with the NYPD, he knew enough to block the doorway to keep Ringel from charging in and contaminating what was clearly a crime scene.
The chair in front of Erin's dressing table was overturned. A wineglass lay unbroken on the carpet, its contents spilled. On the floor next to it was Erin's wedding gown, the beaded bodice stained a dark red. The wine was white.
McMaster's eyes went to the far end of the dressing room. The clothing racks that had been flush to the rear wall had been pushed aside, revealing a back door. It was closed, but he'd be willing to bet a year's salary that it was no longer locked.
"Stay where you are," he ordered Ringel. Taking the silk square from his breast pocket, he crossed the room; he put the fabric on the doorknob, opened the door, and peered down the hallway that led to the loading dock. "She's gone," he said, storming back. "Lock this place down. I don't care how important these people are. Nobody gets out."
"What about the cops?" Ringel said. "Should we call them?"
"Right behind you," a voice said.
McMaster looked up. The speaker was blond with sparkling green eyes, decked out in a blue cocktail dress and flashing a gold shield. He recognized her even before she identified herself.
"Detective Kylie MacDonald," she said. "NYPD Red."
Crazy About Erin
I reached across the table and handed Cheryl the envelope.
"What's this?" She smiled. Perfect white teeth against flawless caramel skin. "Are you putting me on notice?"
"Hardly," I said. "It's been a year since you seduced me with Chinese food, Italian opera, and your hot Latina body. Happy anniversary."
"Today is June ninth," she said. "Our first date was the twenty-third. Aren't you jumping the gun here, Detective?"
"Open the gift before you judge the giver," I said.
She opened the envelope and took out the reservation confirmation from Bentley's by the Sea, a bed-and-breakfast in Montauk.
"June twenty-first to the twenty-third," she said. "Nicely done, Zach."
"And it's paper, which, according to Wikipedia, is the traditional first-anniversary gift," I said.
"I don't have anything for you," she said.
"We'll be alone for two days and two nights," I said. "I'm sure you'll think of something."
She leaned across the table and kissed me. "Behave yourself, here comes our host."
Cheryl's cousin Shane Talbot made his way from the kitchen to the far end of the restaurant where we were sitting. At six foot two, with a thick crop of red hair, he was easy to track as he zigzagged from table to table, shaking hands, bussing cheeks, and smiling graciously at the bloggers, reviewers, and foodies-with-a-following he'd invited to the opening-night party of his new restaurant.
"They love you," Cheryl said when he finally made it to our booth.
"Of course they love me tonight. I just bought them all a free dinner," Shane said, sliding in next to her. "The question is, will they still love Farm to Fork in the morning when they sit down to blog, Yelp, and tweet about it?"
"This is a tough New York crowd," Cheryl said. "They didn't send those plates back to the kitchen scraped clean because they're polite. You're going to get raves."
"Thank you for your totally unbiased opinion, but let me ask someone who's not a blood relative. How about you, Zach? What'd you think?"
"Fantastic," I said. "Best damn brussels sprouts I ever ate in my life."
He laughed. "Cops are not notorious for their love of leafy green vegetables, so I'm guessing they were also the first damn brussels sprouts you ever ate in your life."
"They were the second, but they shot straight to the top. A month from now, this place will be booked solid, and I'll be calling you begging for a table just so I can get more sprouts."
Shane turned to Cheryl. "This guy's a keeper. My mom will love him. She's coming into town next month once we've got the kinks out of this place. The two of you have to have dinner with us."
"I chatted with your mom last night," Cheryl said. "She already invited us."
"Of course she did. Mom leaves nothing to chance." Shane stood up, gave Cheryl a peck on the cheek, shook my hand, and began working his way back through the crowd.
"He's right," Cheryl said as soon as he was out of earshot. "His mom leaves nothing to chance."
"Meaning I didn't just chat with Aunt Janet last night. I had to listen to her whine about Shane for half an hour."
"Listening to people whine is what you do for a living. Aunt Janet was probably just trolling for some free therapy. What's her beef with Shane?"
She squinched up her nose. "'He's thirty-five, Cheryl,'" she said, her voice endearingly whiny. "'The man is not married, and he's too busy with his damn restaurant to give me any grandchildren.'"
"I'm just an amateur shrink," I said, "but if I were you, I'd tell Aunt Janet that she's suffering from a case of meddling motheritis and that her son's marital status is none of her business. He'll get around to having kids in due time."
"Due time? Did you hear what Shane said? The woman leaves nothing to chance. She didn't come to me because I'm a therapist, Zach. She played the blood-is-thicker-than-water card, and she recruited me to fix him up with someone who will knock his socks off."
"If she really wants grandchildren, you're going to have to find someone who can get him to take off more than his socks."
"You're not helping, Zach. Most of my friends are married. I need to find someone who is single, smart, and Shane-worthy. Any thoughts?"
My only thoughts were that guys like Shane Talbot didn't need help getting dates and that Cheryl would be wise not to get caught up in the family drama. I was debating whether to say that out loud when my cell vibrated.
Cheryl has a no-phones-at-the-dinner-table rule, but I'm allowed to make sure it's not a work emergency, so I took a quick peek at my caller ID. It was my partner.
"Kylie," I said, explaining why I had to take the call, but that's not how Cheryl took it.
Her eyes sparked. "Kylie," she said. "Interesting. Shane has always been attracted to strong women. Classic mommy complex."
She'd read me wrong. I needed to clear up the misconception, but first I had to answer the phone and let Kylie know that unless it was an emergency, I was too busy to talk to her. "Hey," I said, putting the phone to my ear. "Can I call you back in five?"
"No," she said. "I'm at Erin Easton's wedding, and we've got a shit-storm on our hands, Zach."
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, but the bride is missing. It looks like she's been taken. I'm at the Manhattan Center. How soon can you get here?"
"Ten minutes," I said, ending the call and getting out of my seat. "Kidnapping," I said to Cheryl. "I've got to go meet Kylie."
Cheryl was used to my sudden departures. She stood and gave me a quick kiss. "Ask Kylie if she'd be interested in dating a tall, good-looking guy who can cook."
"Sure," I said. But I already knew the answer. Of course she would. Kylie had had a torrid affair with one eleven years ago. Me.
A cab had just dropped people off in front of the restaurant. I jumped in and gave the driver the address.
I was in a hurry, and since not every cabby knows the fastest way between two points, I checked the hack license mounted on the partition. The first two digits were 39. I was in luck. That meant this man had been ferrying people around New York City for at least forty years. He wouldn't be needing a back-seat driver.
"You're late," the cabby said, pulling out.
"Late for what?" I said.
"The Wedding of the Century. Erin and Jamie are getting married in the Hammerstein Ballroom, but it started about three hours ago."
He reached over the front seat and held up a copy of the New York Post. A picture of Erin Easton, her plastic boobs and sculpted ass straining the integrity of a string bikini, took up most of the front page. There was a two-inch inset of the other half of the happy couple—the one most people didn't care about—Jamie Gibbs.
"Read all about it," he said.
"Thanks," I said, "but I've got to make a call."
I hit Kylie's number on my speed-dial, and she picked up on the first ring.
"I'm up to my eyeballs in crazy people," she said. "What's your ETA?"
"I was at a restaurant on Bank Street. We're just turning onto Eighth Avenue. I'll be there in less than ten. When did you get the call?"
"I didn't. I was at the wedding. Shelley Trager and the rest of the big guns at Silvercup Studios were invited. Shelley's wife got hit with the stomach flu, so he called me around noon and asked if I'd be his plus-one. I don't have much of a social life these days, so I said what the hell. I was the first one on the scene. I called Captain Cates. She activated a level-one mobilization."
There was a time when cops would hear a level 1 come over the air, and it would be a holy-shit moment. These days it's so overused that the sense of urgency is gone. Cops want the details before they drop everything and go. Is it a shooting on a busy street corner? Or did the parents of some Upper East Side high-school kid panic and call 911 because Junior was three hours late coming home from school?
But this was the real deal. When one of the most recognizable people on the planet gets abducted, that's level 1 on steroids. Knowing Cates, she'd have called for an army of cops to search the venue, canvass the area, and wrangle the crowd and at least two detectives from every precinct to ID and question the A-list guests, most of whom would probably think they were too damn important to be detained.
I figured by the time I got to the Manhattan Center, it would be a sea of flashing lights and wailing sirens with cops pouring in, guests wanting out, and media trucks clogging the road for blocks.
I told Kylie I'd be there as soon as possible and hung up. "You're not going to be able to get me all the way to Thirty-Fourth," I told the cabby. "Just keep driving till you hit a wall, and I'll jog the rest of the way."
"What's going on?" he said.
"I can't give you the details," I told him, "but let's just say that the Wedding of the Century is now the Clusterfuck of the Century."
You're a cop in a big hurry, right?" my cabby said.
"Detective," I said. "Affirmative on the big hurry."
"You won't have to jog," he said as he maneuvered around a city bus. "There's always white hats outside of Penn Station keeping traffic moving. I'll drive, you flash your tin, they'll wave us through."
He did, I did, and they did.
I'd clipped my shield to my jacket, and as soon as I got out of the taxi, a uniformed officer spotted me, moved the barrier, and escorted me to the Manhattan Center.
Built as an opera house by Oscar Hammerstein I over a hundred years ago, it is now a state-of-the-art production facility catering to film companies, TV networks, and record labels, but much of the old-world elegance and grandeur still lives on in the form of two sprawling event spaces: the Grand Ballroom and the Hammerstein, site of the Easton-Gibbs nuptials.
And now the majestic old building would add a new entry to its star-studded history: crime scene.
The officer led me to the nether regions of the huge complex, navigating through cinder-block corridors never seen or even imagined by anyone but service people. Kylie and a man in a charcoal-gray suit were waiting for me.
When Kylie dresses for work, she wears pants, a shirt, a jacket, sensible shoes, and minimal makeup. It's the unofficial uniform of the hardworking female detective. It does a fairly adequate job of making her look more like a no-nonsense cop than an incredibly desirable woman. But her outfit today—a sleeveless V-neck blue number that hugged her in all the right places—would jump-start any man's imagination.
"Zach Jordan," she said, introducing me to the man next to her, "this is the head of Erin Easton's security, Declan McMaster. We worked together back when I was assigned to the UN General Assembly."
I knew the name. And the pedigree. McMaster had put in thirty-five years with the department, retiring as a full bird out of Intel. He was a solid block of a man with a salt-and-pepper buzz cut, a square jaw, and a troubled look in his dark eyes. He extended a hand.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Inspector," I said.
"I'm a card-carrying civilian, Zach, so please call me Declan. I wish it were under better circumstances. I've been running security for Erin for three years. Sorry you caught me on the day my post-retirement career officially went in the toilet."
He wasn't looking for sympathy. He was simply stating a cold, hard fact. Only lost one asset in three years does not look good on a bodyguard's résumé.
- On Sale
- Dec 15, 2020
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing