CHAPTER ONE

CHAPONESIX FLOORS ABOVE CENTRAL PARK MIGHT AS WELL BE AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT MANHATTAN.

That’s how it has always felt to him.   It is why he spent most of his days and nights in his penthouse overlooking the park. During the summer nights, the treetops acted like a sea of green washing away the detritus of a million souls and twice as many sins.   During the winter, it looked to him as if the trees were withered hands praying to an uncaring god for salvation for those same souls.

He would sit in the same leather chair his mother used to nurse him in nearly two hundred years ago.   He would sip his elixir from an ancient crystal goblet gifted to him by a grateful Patient Zero five years ago.

And he would listen to the live chamber music by the quartet who would play through the night, even as he slept.   Something by Schumann.

But there was going to be no sleep on this night.

He could feel it deep in the space that long ago housed his soul.

CHAPTER TWO

OFFICER GREER WAS ON THE JOB FOR LESS THAN A WEEK WHEN HE MADE A DISCOVERY THAT WOULD CHANGE THE FATE OF THE ENTIRE CITY.

Officer Evan Greer walked the main path in Central Park mostly elated but slightly confused.   Elated because he was already in love with his chosen vocation as a police officer in the Greatest City in the World. Confused because he couldn’t understand the dour faces of his fellow cops he’d see every night at roll call.

To his left was a married couple well into their eighties, she pretending she needed to rest a moment on the park bench so her husband wouldn’t feel bad about needing to catch his breath again.

A jogger passed, her natural beauty only accentuated by the sweat and singular determination of her nightly regimen. She smiled at him but was already gone before it occurred to him to smile back.   He checked his watch in an attempt to bump into her again tomorrow when he’d be sure to have his own smile prepared.

Suddenly, he heard a scream he would echo in his head every night for the rest of his life.

CHAPTER THREE

IT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN THE JOGGER.   SHE HAD BEEN RUNNING SOUTH AND THE PLAINTIVE WAIL CAME FROM THE NORTH.

“Officer responding to a 12-16 at Park Zoo,” Greer shouted into the radio microphone stitched into his jacket. “86th Street entrance. Requesting immediate backup!”

“Confirmed,” came the even voice of the dispatcher.   “All units in the vicinity of –” He turned down the speaker in hopes of hearing another scream. Any sound, really, that would assure him the victim was still alive.

He arrived at the entrance to the zoo, his gun drawn, leaping the low fence.   Listening.   Nothing.

He raced farther, past the information kiosk, the souvenir shop and the learning center.   He slowed when he got to the animal pens.   Each were emptied at night as the lions and bears and gorillas were put in their cages. Greer took out his flashlight and held it just above his gun. He stepped from pen to pen, hoping he would hear a whimper at least. Still nothing.

The snapping of a branch in the darkness sounded as loud as a cannon blast.

Greer turned and aimed his gun and the flashlight at once. Illuminated in the light was something that could only be described as a creature.

CHAPTER FOUR

ISLAND TWOTHE CREATURE STOOD UNNATURALLY ON TWO LEGS. THOUGH SIX FOOT TALL WERE IT TO STAND UP STRAIGHT, IT WAS HUNCHED LOW IN A PROTECTIVE STANCE. CONSIDERING ITS FANGS AND CLAWS AND THICK LEATHERY HIDE, IT DIDN’T LOOK IN NEED OF PROTECTION.

“Freeze!” shouted Officer Greer, immediately regretting the word before he finished spitting it out of his breath.   Here he was, trying to talk English to some kind of weird animal thing.

“Please, don’t!” replied the Creature, plaintively, its strangled voice barely above a whisper.   The fact it spoke at all startled the rookie. In a panic, he fired his gun without thinking about the act.

The kick from the gun hurled the flashlight beam into the air and an instant later Greer focused it on… the spot where the Creature had been a moment before.

Gone?   But how was that possible?

Officer Greer raced to the spot the Creature was but saw absolutely nothing to indicate it had been there.   Slowly, he turned his attention to the direction the Creature had first come from.

He kept the flashlight directed far in front of him as he walked in the direction of the gorilla pen.   First, on the sign that said “Under Construction.   Opening soon!” featuring a cute cartoon drawing of a gorilla lugging a suitcase filled with bananas.   The adorable drawing only accentuated the horror that was the Creature he had seen only moments before.

Then he saw her.

More accurately, he saw the remains of a woman dead on the floor of the gorilla pen.   In the dark of night, she appeared like a lifeless island in an ocean of black.

Officer Greer fell to the ground, the only sound he could make out was the sound of his own body retching and expelling his food and bile.

He didn’t hear the other animals in the zoo screaming.

Or the birds in the park screaming.   The horses violently straining against their harnesses over twenty blocks away.   The dogs howling and cats hissing for a mile in every direction.

CHAPTER FIVE

THE MAN COULD HEAR THE CACOPHONY ABOVE THE SOUND OF THE CHAMBER MUSIC.

He stood on unsteady feet and made his way slowly to the window.

He could sense the disturbance in the animal kingdom.   He could feel its origin began several floors below him in the park.

As he reached out to touch the glass in front of him… it stopped.   The chamber music, the animals and birds, the confused agony of hundreds of animals suddenly went stone cold silent.

Without needing to race to the street below, the old man knew one of his children – his creations – died this night.

He also knew that in the only way that mattered, her death was his fault.

CHAPTER SIX

JOHN LINCOLN LEANED AGAINST HIS DOUBLE-PARKED UNMARKED POLICE CAR AND WATCHED HIS PARTNER THROUGH THE BAY WINDOWS OF HER APARTMENT.

He quietly seethed at the sight of this domestic bliss.

He knew he should wait for Gail to say her good-nights to her son and husband.

Instead, Lincoln tossed his cigarette onto the sidewalk and crossed the street.

Maybe if he walked slowly enough he’d find the strength to go back to the car and wait.

Nope.

CHAPTER SEVEN

MAX COOK WAS ALWAYS CONFLICTED WATCHING HIS WIFE LEAVE FOR WORK.   IT NEVER MATTERED IF IT WAS DURING THE DAY OR DEAD OF NIGHT.   IT WAS THE GUN AT HER HIP, THE DETECTIVE SHIELD CLIPPED TO HER BELT, THE KEVLAR VEST HE HAD BOUGHT HER FOR CHRISTMAS LAST YEAR – ALL IN STARK CONTRAST TO THE LOVE SHE DISPLAYED PICKING THEIR THREE-YEAR-OLD SON OFF THE FLOOR TO GIVE HIM A KISS GOOD-BYE.

He was so proud of her.   Frightened for her.

Max leaned against the door in the foyer, giving her and Hayes as much space as they needed.   He felt the doorknob turning and turned to look through the glass to find Lincoln trying to open the door without knocking.

“Your work husband is here,” called Max to Gail as he opened the door for her partner.   Her reply came in the form of a glare as if to say We’ve talked about this.

“Uncle John!” shouted Hayes, seeming to bound from her embrace directly into John Lincoln’s arms half a room away.   Lincoln happily scooped up the boy.

“Say good night to Uncle John, Hayes.   Mommy has to go to work,” said Gail as she approached.

“Yeah, we have to shoot some bad guys,” Lincoln whispered conspiratorially to the young boy he placed Hayes back on the crowd.

“We hate bad guys!” Hayes exclaimed.

Gail knelt beside her son.  “Mommy’s job is not to shoot anyone.   Cops are here to….?”

“…Make things better!” said Hayes to his mother, who lifted him into the air in a hug, a reward for the right answer!   Behind her back, Lincoln and Hayes exchanged finger blasts.

“Now don’t give your father a hard time,” she said as she handed her son off to her husband.   She did it with a gentle swing that had the desired effect of nudging Lincoln out the door without so much as a See ya!

 “Loveyoubye.” She said as she delivered a kiss to the brows of Hayes and Max.

“Loveyoubye,” they echoed as she pulled the door closed behind her.

CHAPTER EIGHT

SHE BRUSHED PAST LINCOLN ON THE STEPS.   HE STEPPED QUICKLY TO CATCH UP TO HER AS THEY CROSSED THE STREET.

“Hayes looks happy,” he said, placing his hand casually on the small of her back to guide her across the – but she slapped it away, hard.

“So help me God,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

Lincoln turned to see if Max had been watching.   But, no.

They got into his car and he radioed in. They were heading to the crime scene at Central Park.   He started the car and pulled into traffic.   There wasn’t a word until they caught a red light three blocks later.

“I’m just a little confused, Gail.   What happened to ‘we can still be friends’?”

She punched him hard on the arm.   Again and again.

“Don’t you ever.   Ever” she shouted, punctuating each ever with another shot to his arm. “Ever come into my house again, John.   Ever!”

“Wha — ?” he began.   “I was just picking you –”

“I know exactly what you were ‘just’ doing and it’s bullshit.” she said.   The light changed and she stopped hitting him and they drove on.   “Look, I’m sorry you left Nina, and I’m sorry I backed out.   No, I’m not sorry.

“I’m not sorry for me.   For my family.   But ‘Us’ is over.   This thing between us is over.

“If you can’t deal with that, then we both need to find another partner.”

They didn’t speak again until they arrived at the park some seventeen minutes later.

CHAPTER NINE

THOUGH HE WAS A LARGE MAN, SHE WAS NEVER FULLY AWARE OF THE WEIGHT THAT BORE DOWN ON HER.   HIS PANTING AND MOANING AND EXCLAMATIONS WENT UNHEARD BY HER.   SIMILARLY, HE NEVER ACKNOWLEDGED  THE FARAWAY LOOK IN HER EYES.

The loft was all steel and glass, as cold and lifeless as the sex they would have whenever he summoned her. He was about to come just as she was about to fall asleep just as –

The phone on his nightstand rang.   The particular ringtone demanded his full and immediate attention.

Anton rolled his balding girth off his partner and reached for the phone. She took the opportunity to slink out of the bed and head into the bathroom.panel

“Yes, Sir.” He said.   “I’ll be right there.”

He hung up and punched another number on his cell as he moved to his closet to dress.

She watched from the doorway, a little bit happy he had completely forgotten her as he attended to their master’s wishes.

CHAPTER TEN

A DOZEN COP CARS, SEVERAL AMBULANCES, POLICE BARRICADES, THE PRESS AND A CURIOUS PUBLIC WERE ALREADY THERE AS DETECTIVES LINCOLN AND COOK ARRIVED AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE CENTRAL PARK ZOO.

“Who the Hell died – The Mayor?” asked Lincoln, as he stepped from the car.   Gail winced, hoping nobody heard him.   Maybe she alone understood his dry sense of humor was not a barometer of his skill set as a homicide detective. Though sometimes she’d admit she would prefer it if he toned it down a little when other people were around.

In that moment, three deep into the crowd of onlookers trying to get a glimpse beyond the park entrance, one tall svelte and well-dressed man stood unnoticed. Going unnoticed was one of Wohl’s most valuable attributes in his chosen vocation.

As Lincoln and Cook approached the burly uniformed Sergeant Budianski, they both quietly noticed he was a little pale. Spooked.

“What have we got, Sarge?” asked Lincoln.

“A woman, apparently,” replied Budianski, taking a deep breath. “Early twenties? She was… I’m sorry.”   The large older man leaned back against his squad car and took a moment to compose himself. Lincoln and Cook quietly shared a look: what could possibly have happened that left this old war horse so rattled?

“Rookie named Greer found the body,” the sergeant finally managed. “You need to talk to him.”

As the detectives slipped past the barricade, Wohl anonymously moved in the other direction. He had work to do.