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Not too many brownstones like that left in Manhattan.

They were being demolished for glass and concrete high-rise coops or being purchased at horrendous prices in the process called "gentrification," and converted into something that would warrant a six-page, four-color spread in Architectural Digest.

Edward X. Delaney wasn't certain that was progress-but it sure as hell was change. And if you were against change, you had to mourn for the dear, departed days when all of Manhattan was a cow pasture. Still, he allowed himself a small pang of nostalgia, remembering his boyhood in a building much like the one across the street.

He saw immediately that the people who lived there were waging a valiant battle against the city's blight. No graffiti.

Washed windows and clean curtains. Potted ivy at the top of the stoop (the pots chained to the railing). The plastic garbage cans in the areaway were clean and had lids. All in all, a neat, snug building with an air of modest prosperity.

Delaney lumbered across the street, thinking it was an offbeat home for an Acting Chief of the NYPD. Most of the Department's brass lived in Queens, or maybe Staten Island.

The bell plate was polished and the intercom actually worked. When he pressed the 3-B button alongside the neatly typed name, M.R. suarez, a childish voice piped, "Who is it?"

Edward X. Delaney here," he said, leaning forward to speak into the little round grille.

There was static, the sound of thumps, then the inner door lock buzzed, and he pushed his way in. He tramped up to the third floor.

The man waiting for him at the opened apartment door was a Don Quixote figure: tall, thin, splintery, with an expression at once shy, deprecatory, rueful.

"Mr. Delaney?" he said, holding out a bony hand. "I am Michael Ramon Suarez."

"Chief," Delaney said. "Happy to make your acquaintance.

I appreciate your letting me stop by; I know how busy you must be."

"It is an honor to have you visit my home, sir," Suarez said with formal courtesy. "I hope it is no inconvenience for you. I would have come to you gladly."

Delaney knew that; in fact, Deputy Commissioner Thorsen had suggested it. But Delaney wanted to meet with the Acting Chief in his own home and get an idea of his life outside the Department: as good a way to judge a man as any.

The apartment seemed mobbed with children-five of them ranging in age from three to ten. Delaney was introduced to them alclass="underline" Michael, Jr Maria, Joseph, Carlo, and Vita. And when Mrs. Rosa Suarez entered, she was carrying a baby, Thomas, in her arms.

"Your own basketball team," Delaney said, smiling. "With one substitute."

"Rosa wishes to try for a football team," Suarez said dryly.

"But there I draw the line."

They made their guest sit in the best chair, and, despite his protests that he had just dined, brought coffee and a platter of crisp pastries dusted with powdered sugar. The entire family, baby included, had coffee laced with condensed milk. Delaney took his black.

"Delicious," he pronounced after his first cup. "Chicory, Mrs. Suarez?"

"A little," she said faintly, lowering her eyes and blushing at his praise.

"And these," he said, raising one of the sweetmeats aloft.


She nodded.

"I love them," he said. "You know, the Italians and French and Polish make things very similar."

"Just fried dough," Suarez said. "But Rosa makes the best."

"I concur," Delaney said, reaching for another.

He got the kids talking about their schools, and while they chattered away he had a chance to look around.

Not a luxurious apartment-but spotless. Walls a tenement green. A large crucifix. One hanging of black velvet painted with what appeared to be a view of Waikiki Beach. Patterned linoleum on the floor. Furniture of orange maple that had obviously been purchased as a five-piece set.

None of it to Delaney's taste, but that was neither here nor there. Any honest cop with six children wasn't about to buy Louis Quatorze chairs or Aubusson carpets. The important thing was that the home was warm and clean, the kids were well fed and well dressed. Delaney's initial impression was of a happy family with love enough to go around.

The kids begged to watch an hour of TV-a comedy special-and then promised to go to their rooms, the younger to sleep, the older to do their homework.

Suarez gave his permission, then led his visitor to the large kitchen at the rear of the apartment and closed the door.

"We shall have a little peace and quiet in here," he said.

"Kids don't bother me," Delaney said. "I have two of my own and two stepdaughters. I like kids."

"Yes," the Chief said, "I could see that. Please sit here."

The kitchen was large enough to accommodate a long trestle table that could seat the entire family. Delaney noted a big gas range and microwave oven, a food processor, and enough pots, pans, and utensils to handle a company of Marines. He figured good food ranked high on the Suarez family's priority list.

He sat on one of the sturdy wooden chairs. The Chief suddenly turned.

"I called you Mr. Delaney," he said. "Did I offend?"

"Of course not. That's what I am-a mister. No title."

"Well… you know," Suarez said with his wry smile, "some retired cops prefer to be addressed by their former rank -captain, chief, deputy… whatever."

"Mister will do me fine," Delaney said cheerfully. "I'm just another civilian."

"Not quite."

They sat across the table from each other. Delaney saw a long-faced man with coarse black hair combed back from a high forehead. A thick mustache drooped. Olive skin and eyes as dark and shiny as washed coal.

A mouthful of strong white teeth. – He also saw the sad, troubled smile and the signs of stress: an occasional tic at the left of the mouth, bagged shadows under the eyes, furrows etched in the brow. Suarez was a man under pressure-and beginning to show it. Delaney wondered how he was sleeping-or if he was sleeping.

"Chief," he said, "when I was on active duty, they used to call me Iron Balls. I never could figure out exactly what that meant, except maybe I was a hard-nosed, blunt-talking bastard. I insisted on doing things my way. I made a lot of enemies."

"So I have heard," Suarez said softly.

"But I always tried to be up-front in what 1. said and what I did. So now I want to tell you this: On the Ellerbee case, forget what Deputy Commissioner Thorsen told you. I don't know how heavily he's been leaning on you, but if you don't want me in, just say so right now. I won't be offended. I won't be insulted. Just tell me you want to work the case yourself, and I'll thank you for a pleasant evening and the chance to meet you and your beautiful family. Then I'll get out of your hair."

"Deputy Thorsen has been very kind to me," he said.

"Kinder than you can ever know."

"Bullshit!" Delaney said angrily. "Thorsen is trying to save his own ass and you know it."

"Yes," Suarez said earnestly, "that is true. But there is more to it than that. How long has it been since you turned in your tin, Mr.

Delaney-five years?"

"A little more than that."

"Then you cannot be completely aware of the changes that have taken place in the Department, and are taking place. A third of all the cops on duty have less than five years' experience. The old height requirement has been junked. Now we have short cops, black cops, female cops, Hispanic cops, Oriental cops, gay cops. At the same time we have more and more cops with a college education. And men and women who speak foreign languages. It is a revolution, and I am all for it."

Delaney was silent.

"These kids are motivated," Suarez went on. "They study law and take courses in sociology and psychology and human relations. It has to help the Department- don't you think?"

"It can't hurt," Delaney said. "The city is changing. If the Department doesn't change along with it, the Department will go down the tube."