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"Two sets of prints," Delaney repeated thoughtfully. "How do you figure that?"

"I do not. Do you?"

"No. "Well," Suarez said, "that's all the information that has not yet been released. Now let us discuss how we are going to manage your assistance in this investigation. You tell me what you would like and I will make every effort to provide what I can.

They talked for another half-hour. They agreed it would be counterproductive to run two separate investigations of the same crime.

"We'd be walking up each other's heels," Delaney said.

So they would try to coordinate their efforts, with Suarez in command and Delaney offering suggestions and consulting with Suarez as frequently as developments warranted.

"Here's what I'll need," Delaney said. "First of all, a Department car, unmarked. Then I want Sergeant Abner Boone as an assistant to serve as liaison officer with you and your crew. Right now he's heading a Major Crime Unit in Manhattan North. I want him."

"No problem," Suarez said. "I know Boone. Good man.

But he…"

His voice trailed away. Delaney looked at him steadily.

"Yes," he said, "Boone was on the sauce. But he straightened himself out. Getting married helped. He hasn't had a drink in more than two years. My wife and I see him and his wife two or three times a month, and believe me, I know: the man is clean."

"If you say so," Suarez said apologetically. "Then by all means let us have Sergeant Boone."

"And Jason Two," Delaney said. "I want to give that guy a chance; he deserves it."

"In uniform?"

Delaney thought a moment. "No. Plainclothes. I need Boone and Jason because they've got shields. They can flash their potzies and get me in places I couldn't go as a civilian.

Also, I'll want to see copies of everything you've got on the case-reports, memos, photos, the PM, fake confessions, tips, the whole schmear."

"It can be done," Suarez said, nodding. "But you realize of course I will have to clear all this with Deputy Thorsen."

"Sure. Keep him in the picture. That'll keep him off my back."

"Yes," Suarez said sadly, "and on mine."

Delaney laughed. "It comes with the territory," he said.

They sat back and relaxed.

"Tell me, Chief, what have you done so far?"

"At first," Suarez said, "we thought it was a junkie looking to score.

So we leaned on all our snitches. No results. We searched every garbage can and sewer basin in a ten-block area for the murder weapon. Nothing.

We canvassed every house on the street, and then spread out to the whole area.

No one had seen anything-they said. We checked out the license plates of all parked cars near the scene of the crime and contacted the owners.

Again, nothing. We have more or less eliminated the wife and Dr.

Samuelson; their alibis hold up. Now we are attempting to question every one of his patients.

And former patients. Almost a hundred of them. It is a long, hard job."

"It's got to be done," Delaney said grimly. "And his friends and professional associates?"

"Yes, them also. So far we have drawn a blank. You will see all this from the reports. Sometimes I think it is hopeless."

"No," Delaney said, "it's never hopeless. Occasionally you get a break when you least expect it. I remember a case I worked when I was a dick two. This young woman got offed in Central Park. The crazy thing was that she was almost bald.

We couldn't figure it until we talked to her friends and found out she had cancer and was on chemotherapy. The friends said she usually wore a blond wig. We were nowhere on this case, but three weeks later the One-oh Precinct raided an after-hours joint and picked up a transvestite wearing a blond wig. One of the arresting cops remembered the Central Park killing and called up. Same wig. It had the maker's name on a tiny label inside. So we leaned on the transvestite. He hadn't chilled the woman, but he told us who he had bought the wig from, and eventually we got the perp. It was luck-just dumb luck. All I'm saying is that the same thing could happen on this Ellerbee kill."

"Let us pray," Michael Ramon Suarez said mournfully.

After a while Delaney rose to leave. The two men shook hands. Suarez said he would check everything with Deputy Thorsen immediately and call Delaney the following morning.

"I thank you," he said solemnly. "For your honesty and for your kindness. I believe we can work well together."

"Sure we can," Delaney said heartily. "We may scream at one another now and then, but we both want the same thing."

In the living room, Mrs. Rosa Suarez was seated before the darkened television set, placidly knitting. Delaney thanked her for her hospitality, and suggested that she and her husband might like to visit his home.

"That would be nice," she said, smiling shyly. "But with the children and the baby… Well, perhaps we can arrange it."

"Try," he urged. "I have a feeling you and my wife would hit it off."

She looked at her husband. If a signal passed between them, Delaney didn't catch it.

At the door, she put a hand on his arm. "Thank you for helping," she said in a low voice. "You are a good man."

"I'm not so sure about that," he said.

"I am," she said softly.

They were having a breakfast of eggs scrambled with onions and lox.

Delaney was chomping a buttered bagel.

"What are your plans for today?" he asked idly.

"Shopping," Monica said promptly. "With Rebecca. All day. We'll have lunch somewhere. I'll buy the Christmas cards and gifts for the children." :"Good."

"What would you like for Christmas?"

"Me? I'm the man who's got everything."

"That's what you think, buster. How about a nice cigar case from Dunhill?"

He considered that. "Not bad," he admitted. "That old one I've got is falling apart. A dark morocco would be nice. What would you like?"

"Please," she said, "no more drugstore perfume. Surprise me. Are you going shopping?"

"No, I'll hang around awhile. Suarez said he'd call, and I want to be here."

"What would you like for dinner?"

"You know what we haven't had for a long time? Creamed chicken on buttermilk biscuits with--2' "With mashed potatoes and peas," she finished, laughing.

"A real goyish meal. A good Jew wouldn't be caught dead eating that stuff."

"Force yourself," he told her. "I just suffered through a Jewish breakfast, didn't IT' "Some suffering," she jeered. "You gobbled that-"

But then the phone rang, and he rose to answer it.

"Edward X. Delaney here," he said. "Yes, Chief… Good morning… You did? And what was his reaction? Fine. Fine.

I thought he'd go for it. Yes, I'll wait for them. Thank you, Chief* I'll be in touch."

He hung up and turned to Monica.

"Thorsen okayed everything. I'm getting the car, and Boone and Jason T.

Jason will be delegated to me, through Suarez, on temporary assignment.

They're copying the files now and will probably be here before noon."

"Can I tell Rebecca about Abner?"

"Sure. He's probably told her already."

"Are you happy about this, Edward?"

"Happy?" he said, surprised at the word. "Well, I'm satisfied. Yes, I guess I'm happy. It's nice to be asked to do a job."

"They need you," she said stoutly.

"No guarantees. I warned Thorsen and I warned Suarez."

"But the challenge really excites you."

He shrugged.

"You'll crack it," she assured him.

"Crack it?" he said, smiling. "You're showing your age, dear. Cops don't crack cases anymore, and reporters don't get scoops. That was all long ago."

"Goodbye then," she said, "if I'm so dated. You clean up.

I'm going shopping."

"Spend money," he said. "Enjoy."

He did clean up, scraps and dishes and coffeemaker. He shouted a farewell to Monica when she departed, then went into the study to read the morning Times and smoke a cigar.

But then he put the paper aside a moment to reflect.

You just couldn't call it a challenge -as Monica had; there was more to it than that.