Corrupted - Chapter 1

By Lisa Scottoline

Bennie Rosato hadn't taken a murder case in years, but she'd have to take this one. She'd been working late when the call came in, from a time she didn't want to remember and a place she didn't want to revisit. Still, she'd said yes. She couldn't assign the case to an associate, either. Nobody paid her debts but her. And she wanted redemption.

She lowered her head, hoisted her bags higher on her shoulder, and powered her way to Philadelphia police headquarters, near the tangled ramps to I-95 and the Schuylkill Expressway. It was almost midnight in the dead of January, with the sky frozen black except for a full moon, round as a bullethole. There was no one else on the street except a homeless man, rattling a can of coins at the cars stopped at a red light.

Bennie beelined for the building, called the Roundhouse owing to its shape, which was two massive circular sections stuck together like an old-school barbell. The design was no longer innovative, nor was the building, and cracks lined its precast-concrete façade. Its three stories of smoked windows were set lengthwise, and fluorescent lighting from within showed that blinds were broken or missing in every pane. PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT, read dark metal letters on the wall next to a mailbox, an overflowing trash can, and a Port-a-John.

Bennie opened the smoked glass door and let herself into an entrance with a wooden shield of the PPD next to a window of bulletproof glass. A young officer came to the window to meet her, wearing a blue shirt and a white UnderArmor turtleneck that revealed the telltale thickness of a Kevlar vest.

"Can I help you, miss?" he asked.

"Yes." Bennie liked him immediately, as she was in her forties and couldn't remember the last time anybody called her miss. "I have a client in Homicide. His name is Jason Lefkavick."

"Hold on a sec." The officer consulted an old computer for a moment. "Detective Gallagher will meet you upstairs at the Unit. Go to the door on your left. I'll need to see ID, inside."

"Sure, thanks." Bennie entered the massive round lobby, produced her ID, went through the metal detector, then took a grimy elevator to the fourth floor, where the ceiling lights flickered and the floor tile was gray with filth. She passed a bathroom with an open door and a leaking faucet. Running overhead were exposed wires and plumbing wrapped with duct tape.

HOMICIDE, read an old plaque ahead, and the hallway ended in a closed wooden door with a keypad and a dark window of reinforced glass. She knocked, facing her own reflection. Her hair was a tangle of long blond curls twisted into a topknot by a ponytail holder, and she tried to smooth it in place. She wore only light makeup, now worn off, so her wide-set blue eyes were un­lined. She was fully six feet tall, which came in handy in a courtroom, if less so on a date. She hadn't seen anybody since she and Grady broke up. She'd have thought she was dead below the waist, but for the fact that her legs were so dry they itched all winter.

"You must be Bennie Rosato." The door was opened by a bald detective with brown eyes and a ruddy complexion. He had on a white shirt with a dark green sweater, khaki slacks, and loafers and looked about her age, but was shorter. He flashed a professional smile and extended a large hand. "I'm Mike Gallagher, good to meet you."

"You too, Detective." Bennie shook his hand, stepping inside a cramped waiting area with rubbery black benches and two large bulletin boards labeled WANTED FOR MURDER, with thirty-odd photographs of men, and one woman.

"Call me Mike. I've heard a lot about you. I know you were a buddy of Azzic's and he spoke well of you."

"Thanks." Bennie managed a smile but felt too antsy for small talk. "So do you think I can see my client?"

"Sure, no problem. Follow me." Detective Gallagher led her past the memorial wall, then into the squad room, which was mostly empty. The only remotely modern appliance was a medium-sized flat-screen television playing football highlights on mute; the walls were a scuffed light blue and the dropped ceiling a grimy white, with more bundled wiring. The gray tile floor was dirty, and crammed everywhere were mismatched file cabinets covered with taped notices about Courtroom Numbers, Phillies tickets, Computer Training for the Forensics Lab, and a bumper sticker that read, YOU BOOKIN'?

"The squad room's the same, I see." Bennie followed him past the cabinets.

"Still a dump, right? They're talking about moving us uptown, God knows when." Detective Gallagher stopped in front of the closed door to Interview Room A and slid aside a large barrel lock.

"Did you videotape your interview with him?"

"No, the machine's broken. You'll see it dangling in the corner."

"How about the audio?"

"We gave up on audio recordings. It sounded like everybody was underwater. The D.A. told us he couldn't use them. Take as long as you like, then come find me. My desk is the first one on the right." Detective Gallagher gestured to a connecting room behind him. "A word of warning. It's not pretty in there."

"The room? Why am I not surprised?"

"No, your client. And don't blame us, we didn't do it."

"What do you mean?" Bennie asked, concerned.

She opened the door, and got her answer.