It is a cold and cloudy afternoon, the first Friday in
The wind chill factor races across the rooftop.
Joe Campo turns away from Detectives Vota and Samson
and the small body lying on the tar surface behind them.
Campo gazes down at the street corner, directly across the
avenue, where his wife stands at the door of their family-
owned and operated food market. A pair of teenage boys take
turns slapping a rubber ball against the west brick wall of the
Campo’s Food Market is the only grocery, delicatessen,
newsstand and produce shop remaining in the neighborhood
that is not owned and operated twenty-four hours a day by
Korean immigrants or owned by Boston or Canadian
entrepreneurs and operated by Indian or Pakistani clerks. Not
necessarily a bad thing. Just not the way things used to be.
Little was as it used to be in Gravesend.
Lieutenant Samson stares at Joe Campo’s back and waits
Only Detective Vota looks down at the body, and then
only for a moment before looking away again. He nervously
works at the buttons of his coat.
“I could use my jacket,” Vota says, “to cover the body. He
looks so cold laying there.”
“We’ll wait for the medical examiner,” Samson says softly,
“and Landis will be back with a blanket.”
Lou Vota moves over to the northwest corner of the roof
and looks down to the street entrance of the building. The
small crowd they had encountered at their arrival is steadily
Officer Mendez is down in the street, energetically trying
to keep people back.
Joe Campo remains at the ledge, silently.
“Mr. Campo,” says Samson, just above a whisper.
“When we were his age,” Campo says, referring to the boy
on the roof, “we would sneak up here to fly a kite; my friends
Eddie and Carlo and me. The kite set us back ten cents at old
man Baker’s Candy Store across the avenue. We would pick
up a bag of penny candies while we were there, when penny
candies actually cost a penny, or two for a penny. Tiny wax
Coca-Cola bottles filled with brown-colored sugar water.
Giant fireballs. Pink and white sugar tabs stuck on strips of
waxed paper. Chocolate-covered marshmallow twists. And
then we’d pick up hero sandwiches at Nick’s salumeria,
before it was Angelo’s and then Vito’s and then ours. Ham,
hard salami, Swiss cheese and gobs of yellow mustard on half
a loaf of seeded Italian bread still warm from Sabatino’s
Bakery on Avenue S. Twenty-five cents each.”
Vota is about to interrupt; Samson stops him with a hand
Joe Campo looks out toward Coney Island, at the 250-foot
tall steel framed Parachute Jump ride that had been moved
from the 1939 World’s Fair to Steeplechase Park in the
forties. The landmark attraction has not carried a passenger
for more than thirty years.
“This apartment house was one of the tallest buildings in
the neighborhood. Still is at that,” Campo goes on. “We
thought if we started up here we’d be closer to the sky. One of
us would have to run down to Baker’s every ten minutes or so
for another ball of string, 250 more feet for a nickel. We
would watch the paper kite sail toward the ocean, followed
by a long tail we had made out of strips torn from one my
father’s old handkerchiefs. We were sure we could fly the
thing all the way to Europe, wherever we thought that was.
When the long pieced-together string inevitably snapped we
were positive that the kite would eventually come down to
land somewhere in France or Germany.”
Detective Vota catches sight of Officer Landis waving him
“The street is getting very crowded. Mendez is having a
time keeping everyone out,” Landis says as Vota reaches him.
Landis hands Lou Vota a blanket.
Landis stands just inside the metal door that gives access to
the roof from the stairwell. The four-story apartment building
has no elevator.
“Get down and give Mendez a hand,” says Vota. “When
help arrives, move everyone back at least fifty feet from the
entrance. No one comes up until after Dr. Wayne gets here.”
Landis heads back down the stairs and Vota carries the
blanket back to where Samson is silently letting Campo say
whatever the man needs to say. Vota glances out toward the
Narrows, looks up further to where the Statue of Liberty sits
in the harbor and over to where the Twin Towers once stood.
“I grew up in the last tall stucco house,” Campo says,
pointing up West 10th Street across Avenue S. “My uncle and
aunt still live there. My uncle is ninety-five and walks two
miles every day. It was the last house on that side of the street
for a number of years after my grandfather had it built. It was
all farmlands from there on. Across the road there was a large
lumber mill. Eddie lived next door. He plowed his Chevrolet
Impala into a telephone pole on Stillwell Avenue on the night
we graduated from Lafayette High School. Died instantly they
said. Carlo lived across the street; he was an All-City sprinting
champion. He came back from Vietnam with no feeling from
his waist down and now spends most of his time in some
tribal casino up in Connecticut.”
Campo pulls a package of Camel nonfiltered cigarettes
from his coat pocket and holds it out to Detectives Samson
Vota is looking for somewhere to place the blanket, not
ready to use it for its intended purpose. He strays back to the
west ledge and looks down. Reinforcements have arrived to
assist in keeping the curious neighbors at a distance.
Campo lights a cigarette. He takes a deep pull and finally
comes back to the matter at hand.
“When I was this boy’s age, the Brooklyn Dodgers finally
beat the Yankees in the World Series and this whole
neighborhood was like a carnival.”
Campo stops and at last looks back to the small body lying
near Samson’s feet on the roof.
Samson takes it as a cue to begin work.
“How did you discover the boy’s body, Mr. Campo?”
Detective Lieutenant Samson asks.
Thirty minutes earlier, a woman, who Campo could only
identify as Irina since her last name was unpronounceable to
him, had rushed out of the apartment building and had
miraculously negotiated her way across Avenue S with merely
one close call. That being with a Pontiac Firebird shouting rap
music so loudly into the street that the driver would have
never heard the contact had he knocked the woman all the
way to West 13th Street.
She ran into the grocery store crying out in Russian, the
only language she knew. Joe Campo was no linguist, but
changes in demographics over the past ten years had
necessitated the recognition of basic words relating to food
and credit. In this instance, the woman’s body language alone
was enough to convince Campo he was being urged to follow
her back to the apartment building across the avenue.
Campo had left his wife behind the counter and rushed off
to follow the Russian woman.
She had led him up to the roof.
Vota pulls out his cellular phone and calls Detective
Murphy at the Precinct.
“Anything on a missing eight-year-old boy, Tommy?” asks
Vota, after the desk sergeant transfers the call to Murphy up
“Not yet. Missing Persons is going through their log,” says
Murphy. “Batman just called in. He was at a meeting in
Manhattan and he got stuck crawling in traffic on the
Gowanus. He’s just now coming off the Belt at Bay Parkway.
He should be over to you in five minutes.”
“Do we have anyone handy who speaks and understands
Russian?” Vota asks.
“I’ll check around. Need me down there?”
“No, we need you where you are.”
“I’ll be here,” says Murphy and rings off.
Detective Vota looks down again to the street. The
uniforms seem to have the crowd under control. An
ambulance has pulled up in front of the building; Officer Rey
Mendez is exchanging words with the driver. The attendants
will sit tight until the medical examiner arrives and then they
will wait until he releases the body.
Vota calls down to Landis and signals for him and Mendez
to come up.
Campo has fallen silent again. Lieutenant Samson waits a
few moments before gently nudging him on.
“And?” Samson says as Detective Vota joins them again.
“And after seeing the body, I followed Irina back down to
her apartment and called it in. Your men were out here in less
than ten minutes.”
“You obviously didn’t call 911,” says Vota.
Campo nearly allows himself a smile.
“I called Stan,” he says.
Vota and Samson exchange looks.
“Stan?” says Samson.
“Stan Trenton, your chief. Stan and I played football
together at Lafayette High. Stan dropped what would have
been a game-winning touchdown toss in the final seconds of a
contest against Erasmus and decided on a change in career
plans. Stan went to Queens College and eventually into the
law school there. I broke my ankle in the season closer at
Lincoln, took a job working for Vito in the grocery after
graduation, and ten years later, I had enough saved to buy the
place from his wife when these things killed him.”
Campo takes out his package of Camel straights and lights
“Recognize the boy?” Samson asks.
“No. Irina said he didn’t live in the building. At least that’s
what I think she was saying. My son lives in the house where I
grew up,” Joe Campo says, gazing back up West 10th Street.
“My grandson is the same age as this boy was. If he was from
the neighborhood, I’d have known him.”
Officers Landis and Mendez have come onto the roof.
Detective Vota walks over to meet them.
“Dr. Wayne just pulled up,” says Landis.
“Canvass the apartments,” says Vota, “top to bottom.
Maybe we’ll get lucky for a change. Skip 3-B, that’s the
woman who found the boy. Sam and I will see her. Murphy is
scouting out a Russian translator. Make note of where else we
may need one.”
“Might need someone who knows Mandarin or Hindi,”
“We can only hope,” says Vota. “Dr. Wayne have anyone
“He’s alone,” says Landis. “The city still has him waiting
for a new assistant.”
“Okay, go,” says Vota.
Officers Mendez and Landis head down, squeezing past
the medical examiner, Dr. Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman, as the
doctor walks up the narrow stairway.
Wayne moves briskly over to where Samson and Campo
stand near the body, Vota tagging along.
“Sam,” says Wayne.
“Bruce,” says Samson.
“Why don’t you guys give me ten minutes alone up here,
go do what you guys do,” says Batman.
Wayne immediately directs his attention to the boy on the
ground. Vota places the blanket down near the body.
“Can I go back to my wife?” asks Joe Campo.
“Sure,” says Samson, leading the man away from the
examiner. “I may want to talk with you again, later on.
Thanks for your help.”
“I’ll be at the store until seven. I’ll buy you a Coca-Cola,”
“Ten minutes, Sam,” Wayne calls as Campo and the two
detectives reach the doorway to the stairs, “then send up the
Samson and Vota follow Campo down, catching sight of
Landis and Mendez rapping on doors on the third floor.
Campo goes on. Vota and Samson stop for a quick report
from the uniforms before continuing down to check the
situation on the street.
When Vota and Samson exit the building, they see Campo
enter his grocery across the avenue.
“What do you think of him?” asks Vota.
“Just another hardworking guy who would prefer not
knowing that these things happen, but can’t stay out of the
An unmarked car rolls up. It stops on the avenue just past
the southeast corner, unable to turn onto 10thStreet, which is
blocked by three marked police vehicles. A young woman,
smartly dressed in pleated slacks and a gray blazer, slides out
from behind the wheel. She wears her long black hair in a
She quickly crosses to Samson and Vota.
“Lieutenant Samson?” she asks.
“That would be me.”
She looks up at the huge black man, who stands at least a
foot taller and outweighs her by a hundred pounds.
“Nickname?” she asks.
“Not exactly, and you?”
“Marina Ivanov, 60th Precinct Detective Squad. We got
word that you were looking for someone who speaks
“This is Sergeant Vota, Detective. Let’s go up,” says
Samson, turning back to enter the building. Vota follows.
Detective Ivanov hesitates at the bank of mailboxes.
“Which apartment?” she asks.
“3-B,” answers Lou Vota, turning back to Detective
Ivanov reads the name on the box.
“Kyznetsov,” she says. The t is soft.”
“That helps,” says Detective Vota. “Is that a rare
“I would guess it’s something like Johnson or Williams
over here, two million or so. Ivanov, on the other hand, is
twice as prevalent as Smith.”
“And there are eighty-eight million Wangs,” says Samson
from halfway up the first flight. “Let’s move.”
They run into Landis and Mendez between the second and
third floors. The two uniformed officers are coming down.
“Nada,” says Mendez before Samson can ask.
The lieutenant glances at his wristwatch.
“Start hitting the second floor,” Samson says. “Rey, run
down and tell the ambulance guys that they can come up.”
Officers Stan Landis and Rey Mendez continue down,
Landis stopping on two and Mendez hurrying down to the
street. Vota, Samson and Ivanov come off the stairway onto
the third floor and find the door to apartment 3-B. Ivanov
taps on the door and a few seconds later it is opened by a
woman in her early thirties. A girl, four years old, hangs on to
the woman’s dress. The woman looks from face to face at the
three detectives, finally stopping at Samson’s.
One glance into the woman’s eyes made it an easy call for
“Maybe you should speak with her alone, Detective
Ivanov,” he suggests. “We’ll meet you back out front.”
Marina says a few words to Mrs. Kyznetsov in Russian
and the two women disappear into the apartment. Samson
and Vota hear steps coming down from above and wait at the
landing to be joined by Batman. At the same time, the two
ambulance men arrive at the landing with a folded gurney,
followed by a two-man forensics evidence team, causing a
serious traffic jam on the stairway. The detectives and the
medical examiner make way by stepping into the third-floor
corridor while the others pass.
“The boy was killed somewhere else and then brought up
here,” says the M.E. “There was physical trauma to the head
involved, but there may be more. I didn’t see signs of anything
sexual. That’s all I can tell you until we get him down to the
lab, so don’t bother asking.”
“Can you tell me anything about the marks on his face,
Bruce?” asks Samson, unable to resist.
Samson has resisted asking about the boy’s hand; he is
unprepared to accept even the most clinical hypothesis as to
how that could have happened. And Dr. Wayne is on the
“I’m not sure. Looks like the cuts on his face were made
with an X-Acto knife, maybe a box cutter, but very precise. If
it’s what I think it is,” says Wayne, “well, I’d rather not think
“Having a bad day, Doc?” asks Vota.
“Did you happen to look into that boy’s eyes?”
“I did,” says Samson.
“There’s your answer,” says Batman, and the medical
examiner moves quickly down the stairway without another
“What is it, Joseph?” asks Roseanna Campo, seeing the
expression on her husband’s face as he joins her behind the
counter of the grocery.
It is an expression of disillusionment.
The two teens who had been playing handball against the
building are rifling through the cooler, seeking out the coldest
“A dead boy, around little Frankie’s age,” says Campo
“My God, Joe.”
Reluctantly, Roseanna Campo asks the question. “Is it
someone we know?”
“I didn’t recognize him.”
The boy’s own mother won’t recognize him, Joe Campo
Excerpted from "Gravesend" by J.L. Abramo. Copyright © 2012 by J.L. Abramo. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.