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"Only a fan blowing in the right direction could flip the pages of this lightning-paced tale any faster." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
A patient woman can roast an ox with a lantern.
Norman Avenue and Jewel Street
Monday, October 23, 2000
From my position in the hallway—on my ass, head pressed against the door frame, legs drawn up with my gun held two-handed against my sternum—I try to recall the layout of the room: three sets of bunk beds, four corpses sprawled across bloodied sheets, my partner, shot three times, lying motionless next to the nearest bunk, and, somewhere in there, one lunatic, a screaming infant in one hand and a semiautomatic pistol in the other. The last time I sneaked a look around the open doorway, he fired at me, the bullet knocking a crater in the wall opposite. He followed up by threatening to shoot the baby and then himself.
I’ve been a cop for five months, one week, and nine and a half hours.
It was the crying baby that brought us to the apartment in the first place. Dispatch had gotten a call from the super of a three-story residential building on Norman Avenue of four shots fired inside one of the top-floor apartments. My partner, an older, more experienced Brooklyn cop named Ted O’Hanlon, and I were only minutes away.
The stairway was narrow up to the second floor, and several neighbors, mostly thick-waisted women and some small kids, were milling around, more curious than frightened. Ted had told everyone to clear the hallway, to stay inside their apartments, and we climbed cautiously to the third floor, hands on our service pistols.
We could hear the baby crying as soon as we reached the landing. It was a healthy, steady cry that made me think no one was holding it. The super had let us know that the place opposite the possible shooter’s apartment was empty, so no chance of a neighbor stumbling out at the wrong time.
Approaching the apartment, we saw that the door was open a small crack, and as we drew our weapons, Ted called out, “NYPD. Hello? Everybody okay?”
Ted had approached the door slowly, on point, and he palmed it open with his left hand.
“Jesus,” he’d said.
I was right behind him, and, being taller than him by several inches—at five eleven, I’m taller than a lot of the men in my squad—I got a good look inside. A pristine, almost sterile living room with the three bunk beds set against three separate walls. Written in orange spray paint above each top bunk and again in giant letters on the graying linoleum covering the floor was the word Uplifted. Crude, childlike drawings of winged stick figures were painted onto the struts of the beds. Pale sunlight, spilling in from the rear kitchen window, made everything in the room appear hazy and indistinct. There was no movement, no sound except for the baby wailing.
There were four people in the first two sets of bunks, two females and two male youths, all dressed alike in dark blue sweat suits, their arms neatly crossed over their chests, all shot in the head. There was a larger figure completely covered with a gory blanket on the lower bed of the third bunk. Next to the bulky shape was the baby, red-faced and squalling.
My partner motioned to me to stay in the doorway and instructed me to call Dispatch for backup and medical. Then Ted, a man who had once jumped into the icy waters of Newton Creek in a January snowstorm to save a stray dog, turned his attention to the baby.
And then I remembered the super had said he’d heard four shots, not five. My mouth opened to warn him when the bulky figure under the blanket reared up and fired three rounds at Ted, hitting him squarely in his torso.
Instinctively, I threw myself to the floor and scrabbled into the safety of the hallway as he fired in my direction. I waited for him to rush me, but instead he started pacing frantically, ranting in the kind of fiery, talking-in-tongues nonsense of manic televangelists—“Bara oona beresh peka, beresh ontaba oona”—interspersed with tuneless, agitated humming.
A few months of street patrol, giving out parking tickets and chasing kids pilfering oranges from a neighborhood fruit stand, did not prepare me for this. Backup was on its way, but much too slowly.
Benny, I think now. What do I do?
My uncle, a decorated homicide cop, mentor, and father figure who’d seen just about everything there was to see on the streets of Brooklyn, had never, to my knowledge, said anything about a gun-wielding, baby-slinging, murdering cult guy.
But just like that, I hear Benny’s voice in my head telling me, Betty, chaos in crazy people has its own pattern. You’ve got to break the pattern. Jam up the works.
Some of his wisdom, remembered through the thick fog of fear.
The guy is chanting again. “Ready for uplift, ready for uplift…” His voice rising to a hysterical pitch. “The angel says be ready for uplift…”
I try to think about all the clues in the room. The drawings, the word Uplifted scrawled on the walls, what the victims are wearing. They’re in sweat suits, but the shooter’s got on a Mets jersey.
At the top of my lungs, I scream out, “Fuck the Yankees.”
There is a pause in the squeaking of his shoes.
“That’s right,” I yell. “You heard me. Fuck the Yankees.”
Even over the baby’s shrill crying, I can sense him listening, straining to hear what I’ll say next.
“That guy Clemens,” I say. “Can you believe what he did? Slinging the bat like that at Mike? Did you see that game three months ago when he beaned Mike in the head?”
I’m soaking every word with as much disdain and outrage as I can summon, hoping to God, or whatever power is watching over the subway series the entire country is watching, that it’s enough to distract this lunatic. I hear sirens approaching Norman Avenue. There’ll be more officers here within four minutes, but that may be three minutes too late.
“He shouldn’t have done that,” the guy says sadly, like he’s just lost his childhood pet.
“Right?” I say. “Hey, did you watch the whole game yesterday?”
It sounds like he’s repositioning the baby, shushing it gently, as though he hasn’t just been threatening to shoot it in the head. “Yeah,” he says. “They oughtta do something about that guy Clemens.”
“What did you say?” I call out. “I can’t hear you so well over the baby crying.”
I ease myself to a standing position, sliding up the door frame, taking deep breaths to quiet my shaking hands. The sirens are louder now, and I’m afraid the piercing sounds will only hasten the impending violence.
He yells, “They oughtta do something about Clemens! He’s dangerous.”
“He’s a thug!” I yell back. And then, softly, “Too bad the Mets lost that one. The Mets can be such losers.”
“What?” the guy calls out. “What’d you say?”
“Hey,” I say, my cheek pressed hard against the door frame. “I really want to talk to you about the game. But, honestly, I can’t hear what you’re saying over the baby crying. You think you could set the baby down, just for a sec, so we can have a conversation?”
The guy’s humming dangerously again, and it sounds like the responding officers, and probably the medical units, have arrived at the front of the building.
“Come on,” I plead. “Just for a minute. Christ, all this crying’s giving me a headache. Did you ever meet any of the Mets in person?”
There’s a long pause and then he says, “I shook Piazza’s hand once.”
“No shit,” I say, closing my eyes. “You shook Mike’s hand?”
I can hear voices coming up the stairwell. My palms are sweating so bad that I’m afraid I’ll drop the gun.
“Okay,” the guy says. The tone of his voice is flat, all enthusiasm for baseball gone. “I’m going to set the baby down. She’s tired. I need to put her to sleep first.”
I risk a glance into the room. He’s bending over the squirming infant, who he’s placed on the bare floor. The gun is pointed at the baby.
He’s saying, “And then we can talk about the Me—”
I fire six times, a tight cluster of body shots. He crashes heavily against one of the bunk beds and falls into a sitting position, legs spread wide. He jerks a few times and then slumps forward.
I melt onto the floor across from him, my legs too weak to hold me up anymore, and watch the guy’s Mets shirt turn dark with the blood leaking from his chest. I’m afraid to look at Ted, not sure I want to see him not breathing. I can’t even pick up the screaming baby for fear my rubbery arms will drop her.
The hallway floods with responding officers, guns drawn, who crash into the room swearing, incredulous at the scene in the apartment.
A young cop with acne on his neck mutters at me, “Holy shit, Rhyzyk, what’d you do?”
Then the medics are hovering over me, lifting me up and out into the hallway. They put Ted onto a stretcher—miraculously, he’s still alive—and take him down to a waiting ambulance. Someone picks up the baby and she mercifully stops crying.
I’m questioned by the senior officer on the scene, who passes my Mets-Yankees story down the hallway. It reaches the cops on the street before I even exit the building.
Examined once again by the medics, this time in the second ambulance waiting at the curb, I’m quizzed by a ring of disbelieving, envious policemen who missed out on all the excitement.
The EMTs assure me that the doctors will do everything they can for Ted. He regained consciousness while in transit and was asking to see his wife, they tell me.
Sergeant Stanek shows up and looks me over in an embarrassingly concerned manner.
“So,” he says, wagging a finger in my face, “I hear you took the Yankees’ name in vain. I ought to suspend you without pay for that one.”
He offers me a ride to the hospital where Ted’s been taken. And I gratefully accept.
Someone hands me a phone and I call my uncle Benny at the Ninety-Fourth Precinct.
“Poor bastard,” he says about the shooter after I finish filling him in on what happened. “He got stuck in the abyss of his own morass.” There’s a pause while he listens to my breathing. “You okay?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I answer, but I’m not so sure I am.
“That’s the thing about cults,” Benny says. “They not only dig the ditch, they lie in it, cover themselves over with dirt, and then cry about how dark the world has gotten.”
I can hear someone in Benny’s office trying to get his attention.
“Listen,” he says. “I gotta go. What you need is a good meal, a hot bath, and a few Jamesons, right?”
I smile and agree with him.
“Now, tell me, is there any place in the world you’d rather be than Brooklyn? Tell me true.”
And I assure him that, no, there’s no place in the world I’d rather be. “Especially now that the Yankees are winning,” I say. “Clemens may be a thug, but he’s our thug.”
He laughs gleefully. “And, Betty,” he says, “you can call me anytime. I’ll be here.”
Fuel City Car Wash and Taco Stand
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I think that the Mexican waiter behind the breakfast counter is kidding about Fuel City. I tell him I’ve been in the Lone Star State for only forty-eight hours and he says that if I want to see the real Dallas—la verdadera ciudad, the Dallas of truck drivers, Mexican laborers, lawyers, parolees, and cops mixed elbow to elbow with white privileged gringas driving expensive SUVs—I need to drive farther south, past the city jail, the bail bondsmen, and the highway construction sites, to Riverfront Street. There I’ll find the beating heart of the city.
It’s eleven o’clock when I walk back to my car, and already the elevated temperature is a monster wrapped around my head, all bristling mirrored scales, sliding tongues of sweat into my ears and down my neck. I go fishing in my pocket for my car keys, thinking how foolish it was to take a to-go cup of scalding coffee.
Driving the car down the Tollway toward Stemmons Freeway, I think of summers with my folks on the Jersey Shore, Bradley Beach or Ocean Grove, where the water was always a few degrees from stroke-inducing cold, a frigid slap against sunburned skin that made me and my brother scream in outraged delight. Buoyed in the murky waves for hours, we swam, our untamed auburn hair floating out from our heads like scarlet seaweed in the strong ocean currents. At noon we’d eat the sandwiches my mother had made—beach picnics being the only time lunch for us kids wasn’t five dollars and a note—and then run back into the waves, my mother screaming, “You’ll give yourself a heart attack.”
Jackie and I moved into our place only yesterday, a ground-floor, two-bedroom apartment with an outer breezeway, gated and locked at both ends. The thermostat by afternoon read 112 degrees. One of the movers, an off-duty fireman used to Fahrenheit 451 temps in a Kevlar suit, passed out just outside our door. The air-conditioning unit in our bedroom gave up the Freon ghost by four o’clock, and Jackie and I floated in our own sweat the entire night, despite the electric fans we had placed on each side of our bed.
Texas, we were cheerfully informed by the apartment manager—himself a transplant from New Orleans—was evidently the only place in the known universe, including Louisiana, that actually got hotter after the sun went down.
“Holds the sun’s rays like a giant warming plate,” the manager warned.
Jackie, ever sunny-side up, responded, “It beats shoveling snow.”
The manager looked at her, then at me, and smiled knowingly. “She’s cute,” he said, and walked away laughing.
As I drive toward Fuel City, the glass skyscrapers of downtown are to my left, the sun just above the tallest buildings. Reunion Tower, looking like a giant puffball on steroids, flares the sun like a supernova. Instinctively, I slow down near Dealey Plaza and wonder what it must be like growing up in a place where every visiting outsider, upon seeing the book depository for the first time, asks, “What’s it like living in the city that killed JFK?”
My thoughts keep returning to my uncle Benny, once robust and capable, spending his last days in hospice care. The man had been burly—there could be no better word to describe him. My father’s younger brother, a cop with the Ninety-Fourth Precinct his whole life, never bothered by so much as a hangnail, now desiccated and diminished by lung cancer. The last surviving member of my immediate family.
My intention had been to visit him sooner, before the last stretch of his illness rendered him semiconscious. But the move from Brooklyn—selling the old house in Greenpoint, processing all the papers for my new job with the Dallas Police Department—took longer than expected, and by the time I arrived at the hospital in Florida, his place of retirement, he had begun losing the thread of awareness due to all the pain meds.
He had been sleeping when I entered the room. Someone had covered him with a thin sheet up to his chin; his face glistened with the dew of a morphine sweat. One arm lay on top of the sheet, and the IV, threaded into a prominent vein on his hand, had backed up with blood. The bag hanging overhead was flaccid, empty of fluid. Before ringing for the nurse, though, I traced one finger gently over his knuckles. He stirred and opened his eyes.
He smiled. “Betty.”
I leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Benny. How’re you doing?”
“As you see.” He inhaled raggedly and grimaced.
I reached for the call button. “Are you in pain?”
He stopped me. “Not too bad yet. Talk to me awhile. Once they dose me, I won’t know you from Eve.”
He began to shiver and I found a blanket and tucked in the edges, like he was a child. I pulled up a chair at the bedside and took his hand in mine.
“You got the paperwork taken care of?” he asked.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “I leave for Dallas tomorrow.”
He smiled. “You gonna get a horse?”
I laughed. “The only horse I ever plan to ride is the coin-operated pony outside of Neergaard’s.”
“You still running?” he asked.
“Every day. Seven miles yesterday. Six this morning.”
Benny stared at me for a long while. “You look good, Betty. Grown into those long legs and wild red curls of yours. Just don’t expect things to be any different in Texas. You end up with the same shit on the bottom of your shoes you’d pick up on Franklin or any other street.”
“I know, Ben.”
“And don’t take any crap from the yahoos.”
My uncle privately called any cop outside of New York or Jersey a yahoo. But I hadn’t been too worried about the Texas cops. That is to say, I knew I was going to get crap. My biggest challenges had come from my own family members, many of them cops, who could dish out crap with the best of them.
I bobbed my head once. “Right.”
“Okay.” He nodded back, done with his lecture. “How’s Jackie?”
I smiled gratefully at him. He was the only one in my family who had ever mentioned her name. “She’s good. We have an apartment lined up.” I rolled my eyes. “But she’s already house-hunting.”
He wagged a finger at me. “Take my word for it, she’ll be wanting rug rats next.” His gaze drifted to the Saint Michael medallion hanging at my neck. “Your mom would be so happy to know you wear it. You’re the third Rhyzyk woman to have that medal.”
I made a face. “Yeah, but probably the first to wear tactical boots.”
“Don’t you believe it,” he says. “In World War Two, the Germans on the eastern front used to carry cyanide pellets in case they fell into the hands of the female Polish Resistance fighters. You come from a long line of fierce kobiety.”
Grimacing, he pressed his free hand over his chest and breathed rapidly, as though he were racing the devil.
“Christ,” he said. His breathing slowed after a moment and he turned his head to me. “Look me in the eye and tell me you’re happy.”
“I’m happy, Benny.”
“Good,” he said. “That’s good. You know, your dad at one time was a great cop—”
I began to nod my head in agreement, but he held up the finger again.
“But that’s what helped make him such a miserable human being. No, now listen. He was my brother and I loved him more than anyone. But he was devoid of certain feelings that would have made him a better family man. Having his work be the most important thing in his life did that to him. You have a chance to find some balance.”
He dropped his hand onto the bed. “Balance. Christ, listen to me. I sound like some New Age nut job.”
I placed my palm on his cheek. “You are a nut job, Ben. ‘Stuck in the abyss of your own morass.’ Isn’t that what you always used to say to me?”
He gripped my fingers tightly. His eyes were fever bright, shards of glass in a stretched, pain-filled mask, but he smiled. Soon the nurse came to administer more pain meds, and he fell asleep. I sat with him through the night.
In between his narcotic drifting, we revisited his more memorable cases, some of which were solved (a naked dead guy in clown makeup) and some of which were never solved (a dead guy who was found in pieces scattered throughout Greenpoint and Williamsburg and Park Slope and Bed-Stuy).
We cast into the ether familiar tales of other cops and families of cops, spinning out stories that I knew would never be told again unless I decided at some point to recount them to strangers, people who were not family. There was no more family, except for Jackie. Mother, father, brother, all gone.
He asked me to promise him one last thing: That upon arriving in the wilds of Texas, I would drive somewhere that was purely Dallas, a place that was immersed in the land’s history, floating in the warp of its successes, stewed in the woof of its failures, and confront the beast. Hoist up both middle fingers, he had said, and tell the sidewinding, belly-crawling, sand-blown Fates of the West that the Polish cavalry had arrived.
When I left him in the early-morning hours, he was sleeping fitfully. That was two days ago.
I turn off onto Riverfront Street and see two large, white cylindrical tanks with red and blue lettering announcing FUEL CITY WASH. The parking lot’s already full, so I drive around until I find a space next to a life-size bronze statue of a buffalo that’s planted in the shadow of a rusted oil derrick, before which stands a pay phone. The first pay phone I’ve seen since leaving New York.
The Dallas skyline behind the buffalo swells like a contained mountain range, and I can make out the red Pegasus sign, the old Mobil Oil logo, a tiny, wavering mirage on top of one of the office buildings.
The taco stand is a large convenience store and kitchen, with lines forming at several outdoor food windows as well, but I’m drawn to the back of the lot, where, standing behind some metal fences, are half a dozen longhorn steers. Beyond the steers is a concrete wall on which brightly colored balloons and beach balls have been painted around an inscription: WHERE DREAMS COME TRUE.
Next to the pen is the car wash humming like a North Korean nuclear plant; dozens of cars and trucks queue up for a rapid wash and rim polish. Most of the SUVs in line are white, the pickups red. The men and women scrubbing down the vehicles are all brown.
Leaning against the metal fence rail, I contemplate the nearest steer, wondering at the strength that keeps his head up under the weight of his sweeping horns.
My mind wanders to Jackie, who’s in our new apartment, unpacking. I told her this morning that I needed to do something for Uncle Benny. I had gotten the call from the hospice nurse that he had passed away during the night, transitioning peacefully out of his narcotic slumbers and into death. But I had cried angry, guilty tears that he had gone alone, without family, after so much suffering. Thinking on it now, I’m amazed that he lasted the forty-eight hours.
I stare at the huge, spotted red-and-white beast in front of me, expecting to feel derision, but instead I find dignity in his stillness—in his utter disregard for the chaos of the car wash, the determined picture takers, the shouts from the kids at the nearby picnic tables. The rheumy eyes gaze in my direction, shoulder hide twitching, the bony outgrowths as long as an elephant’s tusks. He has outlasted all comers, the upward-tilting ends of his horns already a dismissal to the taco stand, the oil derrick, the vans overflowing with overfed gawkers and underweight poseurs. Even to the life-size bronze buffalo hulking in the background.
“You magnificent old bastard,” I tell him.
So I turn and, in solidarity with him, hold up my two middle fingers toward the skyline.
“The Polish cavalry has arrived,” I whisper.
Then I take out my phone and send one final text to Benny’s old number: Message delivered. Love you always. Betty.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
The setup is perfect. It should all be working, except for the woman who’s just crossed into our surveillanfce zone, a Good Samaritan with more free time than common sense. The kind of woman who wears full makeup and a diamond tennis bracelet to walk her dog. The well-intentioned, moneyed type who would lean over the homeless guy lying on the sidewalk to feed the hungry dog next to him.
- One of the Best Books of the Year - Dallas Observer, BookRiot
- "One of the most breathless, inventive, and be forewarned, violent suspense plots I've read in a long time."—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
- "Exciting [and] moving . . . Grisly but likable"—Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
- "Terrific . . . Kent's own ability to avoid predictable outcomes and keep the reader on edge bodes well for future installments in this series."—Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Tribune
- "The plot revolves around the Asian sex- and drug-trafficking trade run by the cutest little old lady you ever did see, but the broader appeal is Kent's offbeat humor, which pulls up reins just before it takes the story over a cliff."—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
- "Kathleen Kent finds the noir side of Dallas. . . . Betty Ryhzyk [is] a beguiling protagonist. . . . [She] brings freshness and new energy to the role. . . . There's no shortage of Pine Curtain gothic in this landscape of mangy dogs, religious nuts and violent meth-heads."—Doug J. Swanson, Dallas Morning News
"Gritty and gripping, explosive and emotional, Kathleen Kent's The Dime grabs you from its opening scene and never lets go. Kent tears off the glossy facade of Dallas to show us a dark underbelly of crime. A great start from an exciting new series."
—Jeff Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of The First Order
- "As hard-to-forget as Kent's main character is, the breakout star [is] the city of Dallas."—Rachel Williams, Dallas Observer
- "Kent knows her craft. The Dime's tight plotting and masterful suspense is no surprise."—Ginni Beam, D Magazine
- "[Kent] explodes into the crime genre with a detective who has all the qualities that'll make her stand out from the crowd. . . . Betty is [a] kick-butt detective. . . . Kent's brilliant, sometimes-gentle and humorous observations humanize and set this book apart."—Barbara Clark, BookPage
- "Outstanding . . . Kent never sacrifices robust characters, or biting humor, during scenes of brutal violence, which, though disturbing, are essential to the rich plot."—Publishers Weekly (starred boxed review)
- "Violent, sexy, and completely absorbing. Kent's detective is Sam Spade reincarnated-as a brilliant, modern woman. . . . The mystery succeeds as both whodunit and as a deeper character-driven novel. Kent neatly balances the tough talk and high body count of a traditional hard-boiled detective novel, reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, with the modern strength of this complex, flawed, and interesting woman. . . . Every layer of this novel strikes the right note."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
- "Kent is an effective storyteller and an acute social observer, with a sharp eye for Texas-sized absurdities."—The Los Angeles Review of Books
- "Perfect for the current time"—Flavorwire
- "Betty is a terrific character . . . A worthy addition to the ranks of strong female detectives."—Booklist
"I loved The Dime. Betty is my hero. Smart, determined, and so unique. The writing is as smooth as Texas spring water and the story grabs you by the throat and drags you happily through a briar patch of surprise and excitement and leaves you exhausted under the Dallas skyline. More please!"
—Joe R. Lansdale, author of Honky Tonk Samurai
- "[A] gritty series debut . . . This fast-paced, adrenaline-producing suspense novel will appeal to Karin Slaughter fans."—Library Journal
"In The Dime Kathleen Kent introduces an exciting new force in the crime thriller world: Detective Betty Rhyzk. You probably can't pronounce her last name but she doesn't give a shit; she'd more likely roundhouse kick you in the ear for your stupidity. Betty comes from a long line of battle-hardened NYC cops but when she dives into the criminal world of Dallas, Texas, Betty quickly realizes that she ain't in Brooklyn anymore. The tension escalates to a shattering, shocking conclusion that will take Betty to the very edge of what she can endure, physically and psychologically. Kent masterfully draws upon the rich tapestry of neo-noir Dallas, a city of grit, glitter, and guns, that hasn't had its proper treatment in contemporary crime fiction. Until now."
—Matthew Bondurant, author of The Wettest Country in the World
- "Smart, gritty, and populated by a rogue's gallery of unforgettable characters, The Dime is relentless. As it races full-bore its way toward a climax that's truly creepy, the best you can do is hang on--and it's a hell of a ride."—Kelly Braffet, author of Save Yourself
- "Kent has written a brilliant detective with hard-edges and heart while striking the perfect balance of humor, violence, action, and procedural."—Jamie Canaves, BookRiot
- "Only a fan blowing in the right direction could flip the pages of this lightning-paced tale any faster. It may be her crime fiction debut, but Kathleen Kent writes with the hard-boiled confidence of a veteran....Betty is buff, brave, and believable. She is a terrific, fully-realized addition to her genre."—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
- On Sale
- Dec 3, 2019
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Mulholland Books