The Last Dance Chapter Five
He had drank too much, and had argued with his uncle Dominick too loudly about whichever war was current wherever in the world. His uncle’s attitude was always and ever “Let’s bomb the shit out of them!” Carella had heard these words from him ever since he was old enough to understand, and his mother had always warned, “Dom, the children,” but that hadn’t stopped Uncle Dominick who looked like an enforcer for the mob, and who – for all Carella knew, but never asked – might very well have been one in his younger days.
They had got back home to Riverhead at about nine that night and the twins had reminded them, as if they needed reminding, that there was no school tomorrow, so they’d allowed them to stay up for a Thanksgiving special on NEC. Carella was still grumbling about his thick-headed uncle and Teddy was signing that maybe he should take a nice hot shower before he went to bed because tomorrow was another day, and he wasn’t off from school, and there would always be another war to fight in this sorry world of ours and more people out of whom to bomb the S-H-I-T, which word she spelled out letter by letter with her fingers lest Carella miss the point that he was beginning to annoy her. He came out of the shower
looking wet and contrite and in need of a haircut, which she hadn’t noticed before.
He didn’t say anything to her until she herself was in her nightgown – a long flannel granny because even with the temperature set at seventy-two, the old house was drafty and cold on this dank November night – her dark hair loose about her face, wearing a moisturizing cream she claimed was non-greasy but which he swore was made from goose grease, pulling back the covers, and jumping in quickly, and then reaching over to turn out the light – but his flying fingers caught her attention.
“I’m sorry,” he said aloud, signing simultaneously.
She was half-turned away from him, she missed what he was saying. He said it again.
And signed it.
Only baby boomers in their late forties believed that love meant never having to say you’re sorry. Everyone else knew that if you truly loved someone and had hurt her, you had to say you were sorry – but you only had to say it once. You didn’t have to get down on your hands and knees and beg forgiveness over and over again for the rest of your life, not if the person believed you. You just said it once. “I’m sorry.” Unless you had a wife who could not hear your voice because she’d been born without hearing, and could not see your hands because her back was partially turned, in which case you said it again. “I’m sorry.” And she heard you this time, and nodded, and took one of your hands between both hers, and nodded again.
They left the light on.
She moved into his arms, on his pillow, and he kissed the top of her head and held her close and told her it hadn’t been his jackass uncle Dom who’d caused him to drink too much at his mother’s house this cold Thanksgiving Day, but instead it was the dead old guy hanging from a bathroom hook and Danny Gimp getting shot in that pizzeria and the girl stabbed uptown in Fat Ollie’ s precinct that made him feel so goddamn worthless. It was suddenly as if all the cases he’d ever closed out had burst open again, exploding into a triple fireworks display trailing white-hot sparks on the night, a single brutal case where everything seemed linked but perhaps nothing was. And on top of that, his jackass uncle Dom probably hadbeen a muscle man for a neighborhood smalltime hood named Vinnie Pineapples, a fat slob with bigger tits than most women had.
Teddy listened to everything he had to say, her eyes performing their magic trick of watching his moving fingers and his moving lips at one and the same time, and then she told him how she herself always felt so worthless at the beginning of the holidays because there were so many gifts to buy, but especially this year when they were short of cash because of the payments on the new car. She didn’t want to take a job stuffing grocery bags at the supermarket, but at the same time not very many prospective employers wanted someone around the office who was handicapped, even though she could take steno and type eighty words a minute and was proficient in Word and Quicken and was very well-organized, go ask the twins. So he had to forgive her if sometimes she moped around the house, it was just that she often felt she wasn’t doing enough for him or the children, wasn’t doing enough for herself. And Vinnie Pineapples probably did have bigger tits than hers.
In the dead of night, in the dark, with the children sleeping soundly in their separate bedrooms down the hall, and the house as still as her own silent world, they comforted each other.
In a little while, Teddy fell asleep.
Carella lay awake for most of the night.
A lapsed Catholic – the last time he’d been to church was when he’d investigated the murder of a priest slain during vespers – Carella should have felt some vestiges of religious fervor during the Yuletide season, but instead he felt only guilt. Thanksgiving Day marked a full month since Andrew Hale was murdered. The beginning of the Christmas shopping season on the following day should have signaled the beginning of a month-long celebration that would not end until the last carol was sung and the last nog drunk on Boxing Day. Instead, it served as a reminder that the case was still unresolved. Carella wondered if Fat Ollie Weeks, a mile or so uptown, was experiencing the same feelings of helplessness and remorse. He almost called him. Instead, he slogged through a caseload that seemed to grow more mountainous day by day, taking small solace from the fact that the children seemed to be finding more joy in the holiday season than he did.
Meyer was similarly depressed.
A Jew in a Christian nation, he always felt oddly dispossessed at Christmas time. Never mind the euphemistic Chanukah bush he and Sarah had put up for the kids when they were small and still believed in Santa Claus. Never mind the gifts and the greetings exchanged. Try as he might to convince himself that the season had less to do with religion than with people being kind to each other, he could never shake the knowledge that this was not his holiday. He had once invited Carella and his family to a seder, and Carella had later confessed that he’ d felt oddly out of place, even though Meyer had himself conducted the traditional ceremony, in English. Carella would hide Meyer in his basement in a minute and fight a thousand Nazis who tried to break down the door. Carella would break the head of anyone who made the slightest derogatory remark to Meyer. Carella would defend Meyer with his honor and his very life. But he had felt strange celebrating Passover with him. A measure of their friendship was that he’ d been able to admit this.
In much the same way, Meyer had once asked Carella if all his Christmas cards read “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” or “Yuletide Joy” or the like, or were these just the cards he sent to Meyer and other Jewish friends each year? Did Carella send other cards that read “Merry Christmas”? And if so, was it to spare Meyer’s feelings that he sent the generic card? Carella told him all his cards were similarly antiseptic because what he was celebrating each December was not the birth of Christ, but instead the peace he hoped would prevail at Christmas time – a view he was sure would provoke a flood of letters from people he didn’t know. Meyer said, “In fact, /’// write you a letter, you heathen!”
Thus encouraged, Carella went on to wonder aloud why he sent Christmas cards at all since he knew in his heart of hearts that Christmas – in America, at least – was simply a commercial holiday designed by merchants eager to recoup losses they’d sustained during the rest of the year. Meyer asked him if he was using the word “merchants” in an anti-Semitic way, and Carella said, “Vot minns anti-Semitic?” and Meyer said, “In that case, I wish to remind you that ‘White Christmas’ was written by a Jew.” Carella said, “Giuseppe Verdi was a Jew?” Thus encouraged, Meyer said, “‘A Rose in Spanish Harlem,’ too.” All amazed, both men went out to drink fervent toasts to Mohammed and Buddha.
That was too many Christmases ago.
This year, they shared a guilt that had something to do with what each considered a solemn duty to protect and preserve. A lonely old man had been befriended by someone who’d later drugged him and hanged him. A nineteen-year-old black quasi-hooker had been drugged in the same manner and then stabbed to death, most possibly by the same person who’d slain the old man. That person was either still here in this city, or else in Houston, Texas, or else only God knew where. For all they knew, he himself might be dead by now, killed in a bar fight or a motorcycle crash, murdered by a stiffed hooker or a miffed lover. Until they knew for certain, both cases sat in the Open File, neither resolved nor any longer under investigation, exactly like the Danny Nelson assassination.
But then, on the last day of November, Carella opened the morning paper.
The article was headlined “Jenny Redux.”
Norman Zimmer, whose “Tea Time” is still running after 730 performances, has announced the acquisition of all rights to “Jenny’s Room, ” a musical he plans to revive here next f al 1.
“Auditions will start this week, ” he said, “with rehearsals planned for the spring. We’re looking for an L.A. tryout in late June, early July.” Mr Zimmer added that negotiations were already under way with a top female star whose name he refused to divulge.
For those with long memories, “Jenny’s Room” was first produced in 1927 , as a vehicle for Jenny Corbin, a popular musical comedyperf ormerof the day. It didnot fare well with the critics and closed within a month. Mr Zimmer is certain this will not be its fate this time around. “I’ ve worked too hard acquiring the rights, ” he said. “The original copyright holders have all passed on, and it was a matter of tracking down whoever had succeeded to their ownership. We found one of them in London, another in Tel Aviv, a third in Los Angeles . “
The quest ended happily five days ago when 12O the last of the successors, a woman named Cynthia Keating, signed on the dotted line, right here in the big bad . . .
Carella spit out a mouthful of coffee.
He found a listing for a Zimmer Theatrical downtown on The Stem and called the office shortly after nine a.m. A woman told him Mr Zimmer would be at auditions all day today, and when Carella told her he was a detective investigating a homicide – the magic word – she gave him an address for Octagon Theater Spaces and told him the auditions were being held down there, she didn’t know in which studio. “They don’t like to be bothered, though,” she added gratuitously.
Octagon Theater Spaces was a six-story building in a section of the city called King’s Road after the one in London, but bearing scant resemblance to it. The actual name of the street was Kenney Road, a heavily trafficked thoroughfare lined with furniture warehouses, electrical supply stores, auto repair shops, a garage for the city’s Department of Sanitation trucks, and an occasional restored and renovated factory like the Octagon and its virtual twin down the street, Theater Five, an eight-story structure divided into large rehearsal spaces. A receptionist told them there were six studios on each floor. In some of them, rehearsals were in progress; in others, auditions were being held. The Jenny’s Room auditions were in studio four, on the second floor.
A lumbering elevator dating back to the building’s factory days took them to the second floor, where they stepped out into a large entrance hall, one wall of which was hung with pay phones. The pleasant hum of busy chatter hung on the air. Good-looking men and women – this was their profession, after all – greeted each other familiarly, all of them seeming to know each other. Actors holding scripts, dancers in tights and leg warmers roamed from telephones to rehearsal halls, elevators to corridors, rest rooms to audition rooms. They glanced only cursorily at Carella and Brown, knowing at once that they weren’t actors, but unable to peg their occupations.
Brown hadn’t expected to be in the field today. He was wearing blue jeans, a ski sweater with a reindeer pattern, a green ski parka over it, and a blue woolen watch cap pulled down over his ears. He looked as square as a tuba. Carella could have passed for some guy here to read the gas meter. He was wearing a heavy mackinaw over a maroon sweater and gray corduroy trousers. No hat, although his mother constantly told him if his head got cold, he’d be cold all over. Both men were wearing wool-lined pull-on Bean boots. As they came down the corridor looking for studio four, a young girl in jeans and a leotard top chirped, “Hi,” smiled, and flitted on by.
A door with a frosted-glass upper panel was lettered with the words studio four. It opened onto a small waiting room lined with folding chairs upon which sat young men and women in street clothes, all of them intently studying pages Carella assumed had been photocopied from a master script. A feverish-looking young man wearing glasses and a V-necked vest sweater over an apple green shirt asked Carella if he was here for Jenny. Carella showed him his shield and said he was here to see Mr Norman Zimmer. The young man didn’t seem to get it at first.
“Will you need sides?” he asked.
Carella didn’t know what sides were.
“I’m a police detective,” he said. “I’m here to see Mr Zimmer. Is he here?”
“Just a second, please, I’ll see,” the young man said, and opened a door beyond which Carella glimpsed a very large room lined with windows on one side. The door closed again. Brown shrugged. The man was back a moment later. He said auditions would be starting at ten, but Mr Zimmer could spare them a few minutes before then. “Please go right in,” he said.
Carella looked at his watch.
It was a quarter to ten.
At the far end of the room, Zimmer – or a man they assumed was Zimmer – stood alone behind a row of folding chairs behind a bank of long tables. The moment they stepped into the room, he said, “What’s this about, gentlemen?”
His voice. I recognized his voice. He had a very distinctive voice. Whenever he got agitated, the voice just boomed out of him.
Mrs Kipp’s words. Describing the voice of the man who’ d visited Andrew Hale three times during the month of September, arguing with him each time, threatening him.
The voice was a trained voice, an actor’s voice, an opera singer’s voice, a radio announcer’s voice, something of that sort.
Carella – remembering the description from the report Kling and Brown had filed – was himself suddenly paying very close attention to the man who now came around the end of the row of tables, walking toward them.
“Mr Zimmer?” he asked.
“Yes?” His voice sounded as if it were coming over a bullhorn.
“Detective Carella. My partner, Detective Brown.”
“How do you do?” Zimmer said, and extended his hand. His grip was like a moray eel’s. “I haven’t much time,” he said. “What is it?”
Like Andrew Hale’s visitor, Zimmer had dark hair and blueeyes. He was aboutBrown’s size, a tank of a man with a barrel chest, and a belly that overhung the waistband of dark blue trousers. A blue jacket matching the pants was draped over the back of the chair he’d been sitting in. He wore a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the collar unbuttoned. The knot of his tie was pulled down. The tie sported alternating stripes, yellow to match his suspenders, navy blue to complement them and to pick up the color of his suit. A big man, Mrs Kipp had said. Very big.
“Sorry to bother you,” Carella said. “We know you’re busy.”
“Yes, sir, we realize that. But if you can spare a moment. . .”
“. . . there are some questions we’d like to ask.”
He was scowling now. Carella wondered what had put him so immediately on the defensive. Brown was wondering the same thing.
“Did you know a man named Andrew Hale?” he asked.
“Yes. I also know he was murdered. Is that what this is about?”
“Yes, sir, it is.”
“In which case . . .”
“Did you ever have occasion to visit Mr Hale?” Carella asked.
“I met with him on three occasions,” Zimmer said.
“We had business to discuss.”
“What kind of business?”
“That is none of your business.”
“Get into any arguments on those occasions?” Brown asked.
“We had some lively discussions, but I wouldn’t call them arguments.”
“Lively discussions about what?”
The door from the waiting room opened, and a tall, thin woman wearing a mink coat and matching hat stepped into the room, hesitated, said, “Oops, am I interrupting something?,” and seemed ready to back out again.
“No, come on in,” Zimmer said, and turned immediately to the detectives again. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but why are two police detectives asking me … ?”
“Won’t you introduce me, Norm?” the woman said, and took off the mink and tossed it casually over the back of one of the chairs.
“Forgive me, this is Connie Lindstrom,” Zimmer said. “Detectives Carella and Brown.”
She was a woman in her mid-thirties, Carella guessed, wearing the mink hat at a rakish tilt that gave her a somewhat saucy look. Dark hair showed around the edges of the silky brown hat. Darker eyes flashed at Carella for a moment. “Nice to meet you,” she said, and turned away.
“Mr Zimmer,” Carella said, “do you know a woman named Cynthia Keating?”
“Do you know she’s Andrew Male’s daughter?”
“Did she recently sign some papers for you?”
“Yes, she did.”
“Assigning some rights to you?”
“Why should a business deal we made with Cynthia Keating. . . ?”
“We?” Brown asked.
“Yes. Connie and I are co-producing Jenny’s Room.”
Threatened him how?
Told Mr Hale he ‘d be sorry. Said they ‘d get what they wanted one way or another.
They? Was that the word he used? They?
They ‘d get what they wanted?
Yes. I’m pretty sure he said they.
So now we’ve got two producers, Brown thought, and they are doing this show here. The rights to which they finally got from a woman whose dear old dad got killed a month ago. My, my, what a tiny little world we live in.
“The newspaper said you worked very hard acquiring the rights to this show,” he said.
“Yes, we did.”
“Original copyright holders all dead . . .”
“I’m sorry, but this is really none of your. . .”
“Had to track down whoever’d succeeded to ownet-ship, isn’t that correct?”
“Wow, it is fucking cold out there!” a voice from the door said, and a short, dark man wearing ear muffs, a camel-hair coat, and blue jeans stuffed into the tops of unbuckled galoshes – though it wasn’t snowing outside – burst into the room like a rocket. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “there’s construction on Farrell Avenue.”
“There’s always construction on Farrell Avenue,” Connie said, and opened her handbag. Removing a package of cigarettes from it, she lighted one, blew out a stream of smoke, and said, “Excuse me, Norm, but there are some things we ought to discuss before . . .”
“This won’t take a minute more,” Zimmer said.
“One of the owners in London,” Brown said. “Another in Tel Aviv.”
“Is that some kind of code?” the man in the camel-hair coat asked. He swung a tote bag off his shoulder, took off the ear muffs, carefully folded them into their own spring mechanism, unzipped the tote, and dropped them inside it. Tossing his coat carelessly over Connie’s mink, he said, “Are we reading truck drivers today?”
Brown guessed he and Carella were the truck drivers in question. “Mr Zimmer,” he said, “when did you learn that Andrew Hale’s daughter owned these rights you needed?”
“Why should our business affairs be of any interest to you?” Connie asked suddenly and quite sharply.
“Ma’am?” Brown said.
“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me, mister,” she snapped. “I’myoung enough to be your daughter.” She turned abruptly to Carella, effectively dismissing Brown. Puzzled, he gave her a closer look. He figured her to be thirty-two, thirty-three, what the hell did she mean, old enough to be her father? Or did she find it difficult to judge a black man’s age? Was he dealing with a closet racist here?
“If your visit has anything at all to do with our show,” she told Carella, “perhaps our lawyers . . .”
“You won’t be needing lawyers just yet, Miss Lindstrom,” he said.
“Is that some sort of threat?” Zimmer asked.
“The ‘just yet’? Are you indicating we might be needing lawyers sometimes in the future?”
“Anytime you want one, that’s your legal right, sir,” Carella said.
“Oh, look, the new police politeness,” the man in the unbuckled galoshes said, and rolled his eyes.
“You are?” Brown asked.
“Rowland Chapp. I’m supposed to be directing this show. If ever I get a chance to cast the damn thing.”
“Mr Zimmer,” Carella said, “these rights you bought from Cynthia Keating. Did she inherit them from her father?”
“If you need information regarding the acquisition of rights, you’ll have to talk to my attorney. Meanwhile, you’ve wasted enough of my time. Goodbye.”
“Does that answer your question?” Chapp said, and nodded. “Good, we have work to do here, so do curtsy and go home.” He sat abruptly on one of the folding chairs, took off the galoshes, removed from his tote bag a pair of soft leather loafers, and slipped into them. “Where’s Naomi?” he asked. Rising abruptly – he was a man of swift, decisive movements, Brown noticed – he clapped his hands like a schoolmarm calling together an unruly class, said, “Ten after ten, kiddies, no more questions!”
Ignoring him, Brown asked, “Is that why you went to see Hale? To talk about the rights to Jenny’s RoomT
“Yes,” Zimmer said.
“Where the hell is NaomiT Chapp shouted.
The door opened. A blond, blue-eyed woman wearing a black parka, a black cowboy hat, and black jeans came in and walked swiftly toward the tables.
“Right on cue,” Chapp said.
Naomi – if that was her name – smiled quizzically at the detectives, pulled a face that asked Who the hell are these people, unzipped the parka, and said, “Sorry I’m late.”
“Construction on Farrell,” Connie said.
“Got it,” Naomi said, aiming a finger at her and pulling an imaginary trigger. Under the parka, she was wearing a long black sweater pulled low over the jeans. She did not take off the black hat.
“Are you a cattle rustler?” Chapp asked her.
“Yes, Ro,” she said.
Connie was lighting another cigarette from the stub of the first one.
“You don’t plan to smoke while people are singing in here, do you?” Naomi asked, appalled.
“Sorry,” Connie said, and stubbed it out at once.
The door to the waiting room burst open. The bespectacled young man who’d earlier asked Carella if he’d need sides popped his head in.
“The piano player’s here,” he said.
“Good,” Chapp said. “What’s that in the corner there, Charlie?”
“A piano?” Charlie said cautiously.
“Good. Introduce it to the piano player. Who’s our ten o’clock?”
“Girl named Stephanie Beers.”
“Send her right in.”
“You heard him,” Zimmer told the detectives.
“Just one more question,” Carella said.
“How’d Hale acquire those rights?”
“I have no time to go into that just now.”
“When will you have time?” Carella asked.
“You said just one more question,” Chapp reminded him.
The door opened again.
A man wearing a short overcoat, a long muffler, and bright red woolen gloves walked directly to the upright piano angled into the corner, took off his overcoat and gloves, hurled them on top of the piano, yanked out the bench, and sat. A tall, redheaded woman walked in almost immediately behind him.
“Good morning, everyone,” she said. “I’m Stephanie Beers.”
“Hi,” Chapp said. “I’m Rowland Chapp, director oi Jenny’s …”
“I love your work, Mr Chapp.”
“Thank you. Naomi Janus, our choreographer. And om two producers, Connie Lindstrom and . . . Norm? Sorry, but we really must …”
“We’ll be back,” Carella said.
“What are you going to sing for us?” Chapp asked, smiling.
A call to the Hack Bureau had revealed no pickups outside The Telephone Company at two a.m. or thereabouts on November 10. So you think, a black hooker, who gives a shit? Then you think some guy dropped roofers in her beei or gingerale and stabbed her? That ain’t fair, is what you think. So you start wondering how the girl got home that night if she didn’ t take a taxi. Did somebody drive her home in his own car, which was the worst of all possibilities? Or did she take the subway or a bus? Not many girls wanted to risk the subway at two in the morning, even though it was faster than surface transportation. After midnight, a bus driver had to let you out anywhere along the route, and not just at designated stops, a peculiarly civilized option in a city often cited for barbarism. So Ollie figured maybe the girl did take a bus home the night she was killed. In which case it was possible she’d met whoever later killed her either on the bus or after she got off the bus, both magnificent speculations but better than nothing when all you had was nothing. If you went this route, you were thinking the two crimes were unrelated. The roofers in each crime were then just a coincidence, which Ollie did not rule out. No working cop ever ruled out coincidence. Only in Sweden did learned scholars scoff at coincidence. Ollie checked his bus schedules and discovered there was a bus that stopped on the corner of Stemmler and Lowell at 2:05 each weekday morning, which bus Althea probably couldn’t have caught since the stop was three blocks from the club, which Ruby said she’d left at 2:00 a.m. approximate. There was another bus twenty-one minutes later at 2:26 a.m. which she could have caught easily enough. So Ollie went downtown three weeks after the murder of Althea Cleary, and stood in the bitter cold on the corner of Stemmler and Lowell, waiting for the 2:26 a.m. bus. There was one other person at the bus stop, a man carrying a black lunch pail. Ollie figured him at once for a regular. Guy carrying a lunch pail at two-thirty in the morning, was he going to a baseball game? No, he was going to work. And if he was going to work at this hour on a Tuesday night, chances are he was also going to work on a Tuesday night three weeks ago. Ollie waited till the bus arrived and they’d both boarded it before he struck up a conversation with the man.
“My name is Oliver Wendell Weeks,” he said. “I’m a detective,” and showed his shield.
The man said nothing.
Looked at the shield.
“You ride this bus every night at this time?” Ollie asked.
“Mornings, actually,” the man said. “This time of night, it’s morning already.”
“On my block,” Ollie said, “if it’s still dark, it’s nighttime.”
“Who can argue with that?” the man said. “My name’s Jimmy Palumbo, I’m a short-order cook in a deli in Riverhead. We start serving at six, I have to be there at four-thirty to set up. I’m afraid to ride the subways, so I take a bus to work. Takes me two hours to get there from where I live. But at least I get there alive, am I right?”
Who asked you? Ollie wondered.
“Were you on this bus, at this time, three weeks ago?” he said.
“On a Tuesday, you mean?
“Yes. Three weeks ago tonight.”
“I’m on this bus every Tuesday at this time. I’m prompt and punctual. I also make the best hash browns in the business. You want to know the secret of making great hash browns?”
“No,” Ollie said. “I want to know do you remember seeing this girl on this bus three weeks ago at this time.” He took from his jacket pocket a black-and-white print the Photo Unit had made from a picture recovered in Althea’s apartment. “Black girl,” he said, “nineteen years old, five-seven or eight, weighed about a nun’ fifteen. Recall seeing her that Tuesday?”
“No,” Palumbo said. “Why? What’d she do?”
“Did you ever see her on this bus? At any time?”
“Not that I recall. Usually the bus is empty till it hits the stop near the Sands Spit Bridge. Lots of people connect there. They come over the bridge, make the connection. Of course, when I say empty, I don’t mean literally empty. I mean just a handful of people. Most people prefer the subway, but I value my life too highly. Two hours later, I’d risk it. But two-thirty in the morning? No way.”
Who asked you? Ollie thought again.
“Where would she have got off, this girl?” Palumbo asked.
“What difference does it make where she got off,” Ollie asked, “if she didn’t get on in the first place?”
“Cause maybe I noticed her getting off, but not on,” Palumbo said. “Lots of times, people don’t notice things till later.”
“She woulda got off at Hanson Street. Or maybe she signaled the driver to let her off between Slade and Hanson.”
“I don’t even know where that is. Hanson Street.”
“It’s up in Diamondback.”
“That where you work?”
“What’s that precinct up there?”
“Oh yeah, right.”
“You know it?”
Ollie figured there was no use talking to this jackass. He changed his seat and watched the silent city passing by outside. This was the time of day he liked best, the empty hours between midnight and dawn, a time when the sleepless city lay coiled with menace and surprise. If he were not a cop, he would never venture outdoors at this time of night, however safe the Mayor said it was. Let the Mayor take a little stroll out there where blurred figures clustered under street lamps and cars cruised slowly past on the night. Let him.
Through his own image reflected darkly in the window, he could see the city beyond, changing from white to Latino in the wink of an eye, and then Latino to black as the bus lumbered farther uptown through forsaken streets where steam drifted up from sewer lids and rats scurried in packs from sidewalk to sidewalk. Let the Mayor take his stroll, the fuck.
He signaled for a stop where he supposed Althea would have if she’d taken the bus home that night. It was close to three-thirty. The short-order cook was dozing as Ollie made his way to the front of the bus. The door opened. The driver asked, “You be all right up here, man?”
“I’m a cop,” Ollie said, and stepped out into the night.
There was an arrogance in his girth and his waddle, an insolence in his gaze that advertised his profession a mile away. If you didn’t know this man was a cop, you had no right being out on the street at this hour. And if you recognized him as such, you’d be a damn fool to mess with him. Ollie knew the shield wasn’t much protection these days; in some instances it would as easily encourage a slug as dissuade one. But the demeanor that said he was a cop also warned that there was a nine-millimeter semi-automatic in a holster under his jacket. He walked the empty hours of the night with not-quite immunity, but with something as close to it as anyone deserved.
At three-thirty in the morning, Althea deary’s street was a lot livelier than Ollie expected it would be. An all-night Korean grocery store stood ablaze with light on one corner. An all-night diner, equally incandescent, occupied the corner opposite. In a way, these two bustling places of business were good news. They widened the field of possible suspects beyond the invisible John Bridges; Althea could have left the club alone, got on and off the bus alone, and – in either the diner or the grocery store – met the man who’d later killed her. On the other hand, did Ollie really need or want a wider field? Why not expand the number of suspects to include the entire city, the entire state, the entire nation? Why not work this fucking case for the rest of his life?
He almost went home to bed.
This was, after all, just a little black hooker here.
Instead, he went into the grocery store, and sauntered over to the cash register with his coat open and his belly and the butt of the nine showing, hoping the smiling idiot behind the counter would think he was about to hold up the joint, heh heh. Inject a little humor here, right? Throw a minor scare into these slopes here, while never forgetting the magnitude of the mission, ah yes.
“Let me talk to the manager,” he said.
The manager or the owner or whoever he was came over grinning nervously.
“You know this girl?” Ollie asked.
The man looked at the picture.
“She live aroun corner,” he said.
“Right. Ever see her?”
“She killed,” he said.
“When’s the last time you saw her?” Ollie asked.
“Night before. She come in, buy milk.”
“What time was that?”
“Three-thirty, around then?”
“Was she alone?”
“Say anything to you?”
“Say hello, goodbye.”
“Did you thank her for buying the milk?”
“Forget it. How long was she in here?” “Fi’ minute. Go across street diner.” “Thanks,” Ollie said, and winked. “English word,” he explained, and walked out.
The diner at this hour was packed with what Ollie called “denizens,” which in his dictionary – but no one else’s – was the antonym of “citizens.” Here were the predators, the occupiers of the night, the people who woke up at midnight and began stalking the city like the wild animals they were. White, black, Latino, they all talked too loud and looked too tough till you shoved a nine in their face. The minute Ollie walked in, they knew he was a cop. To make the point clearer, he tossed open his coat and jacket, flashing the nine again. He didn’t want to sit on a stool with his back to the door. He took a booth in the corner instead, where he could watch the counter as well as anyone coming in or going out. He lifted a menu from where it was nesting between the napkin holder and the salt and pepper shakers, studied it briefly, and signaled to the waitress. She was thirty-three or -four, Ollie guessed, not a beautiful woman, but there was something very sexy about her weariness.
“Bring me two burgers and a large order of fries,” he told her.
“We only got one size order of fries,” she told him.
“What size is that?”
“It don’t have a designation. It’s just the fries we serve as a side order.”
“Okay, bring me two of them.”
“They’re just the normal size of the side order.”
“Good, bring me two of the normal size.”
“I mean, that’s not their designation or anything, they don’t have a designation. That’s just the size they are.”
“That’s fine,” Ollie said. “Two orders. Whatever size they are.”
“Two burgers, two sides of fries,” the waitress said, and walked off to place the order. When she came back some five minutes later, Ollie’s shield was sitting on the table. He pointed to it, winked, and said, “When it quiets down a little, I want to talk to you.”
The waitress looked at the shield.
“Sure,” she said. “I have a break at four. I’ll bring myself a cup of coffee.”
“What would you say if I told you I know how to play piano?” he asked.
“I’m gonna learn.”
“Good for you,” she said. “I’ll see you later.”
She came back again at a few minutes past four. She offered him a cigarette, lighted one for herself when he refused, and then sipped at the coffee she’d carried with her to the table. Stretching her legs, she said, “So who killed who?”
“How’d you guess?”
“You look like Homicide.”
“Bite your tongue,” Ollie said.
“I used to date a Homicide cop.”
“Did he wear black underwear?”
“No. Black everything else though.”
“What’s your name?” Ollie asked.
“Hildy. What’s yours?”
“Ollie Weeks. I work out of the Eight-Eight.”
“Hildy, you prob’ly know a girl was killed around the corner here last month. Girl named Althea Cleary.”
“You know her?”
“Yeah. She used to come in here all the time. I think she was a dancer or something. Either that or a hooker.
She’d come in here two, three in the morning almost every night.”
“Was she in here the night she got killed?”
“I don’t even know when that was.”
“You’re still lookin for whoever done it, huh?”
“November ninth,” she said, thinking.
“Would’ve been a Tuesday night.”
“I can’t say for sure.”
“Do you remember any night this month when she might’ve come in here with a guy? Some kind of Jamaican, tall, easy grin. Would’ve had a knife scar down the left-hand side of his face.”
“Oh yeah,” she said, nodding.
“You remember him?”
“Mean-looking son of a bitch. Light complexion, kind of bluish-green eyes, lots of white back there someplace. But Althea didn’t come in with him. He was here already.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“He walked in, it must’ve been two-thirty or so,” Hildy said. “First thing I noticed was the scar. Well, hell, you couldn’t miss it. You see lots of knife scars up here, but this one was a beaut. What you don’t see much of up here is Jamaicans, though. You get all colors of the rainbow up here, but this ain’t what you’d call a Jamaican neighborhood. That’s further uptown, near the ballpark, you know? Minute he asked for a cup of coffee, I caught the Jamaican speech. You know how they sound. Cop of coffee ond a scrombled egg son’wich,” she said, trying to sound Jamaican but failing miserably; Ollie knew because he had such a finely tuned ear. “Anyway, Althea didn’t come in till sometime later.”
“You knew her by name?”
“Oh sure. She was a regular.”
“How about the Jamaican? Did he give you a name?”
“Who made the first move?”
“You mean him or Althea? Actually, it was him. She took a seat in one of the booths, ordered whatever it was, I forget. He wandered over, introduced himself, sat down.”
“You didn’t hear a name when he introduced himself, did you?”
“Nope. Took off his hat, though.”
“Curly black hair, right?”
“Well, I didn’t notice if it was curly, but it was black, all right.”
“He seem gay to you?”
“Gay? Hell, no.”
“So what happened with the two of them?”
“Was she a hooker?” Hildy asked.
“Not officially. She worked in a topless joint downtown.”
“Cause she got real friendly with him, is what I mean.”
“Did they leave here together?”
“Arm in arm, or what?”
“Well. . . friendly. Like I said.”
“Think she was heading home with him?”
“Saw them turning the corner together. Through the window there,” Hildy said, and nodded toward it.
“Then it was a possibility.”
“A likelihood. So when do you start?”
“You’ll have to play for me sometime,” she said.
“What’s your favorite song? I’ll learn it.”
“Gee, that’s hard to say. Without dating myself.”
“That’s not always true. You got songs they call standards, you didn’t have to be a teenager at the time to know them.”
“Like ‘Stardust,’ for example. Everybody knows ‘Star-dust.'”
“How about ‘Night and Day’?”
“Is that a song?”
“You never heard of ‘Night and Day’?”
“Sinatra? You heard of Frank Sinatra?”
“Of course I heard of Frank Sinatra.”
“That was one of his big songs, ‘Night and Day.'”
“I don’t know it.”
“What Sinatra songs do you know?”
“That was Bobby Darin ‘s big hit.”
“It was not.”
“Of course it was. You know any other Sinatra songs?”
” ‘Strangers When We Meet’ ?”
“That was a book.”
“No, it was a song.”
” ‘Strangers in the Night’ was the song.”
“Oh yeah, right.”
“Do you know any Beatles’ songs?”
“Sure, I do.”
“The one about diamonds?”
” ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’?”
“Sure, but I can’t remember their names offhand.”
“What songs do you remember?”
“Well, there’s ‘Back 2 Good’ by Matchbox 20?”
“And ‘Bad.’ By U2. You know that one?”
“Uh-huh. What else?”
“How about ‘Uninvited’?”
“Alanis Morissette? You ever hear of her?”
” ‘Criminal’? You oughta know that one, a cop. Fiona Apple?”
“Uh-huh,” Ollie said. “Well, I guess I could learn some of those songs for you.” He’d already forgotten the titles. “How about ‘Satisfaction’?” he asked. “You know ‘Satisfaction’?”
“Sure,” Hildy said. “The Rolling Stones.”
Bingo, Ollie thought.
The special 800 line was officially called the Police Information Network, or PIN for short. The team of twelve police officers manning the line called themselves “The Rat Fink Squad.” The female officer who answered one of the phones that Tuesday afternoon said, “Police Information Network, good morning.”
A woman’s voice said, “I saw the Guide’s Pizzeria commercial.”
“Yes, ma’am?” the officer said.
“Is this call being recorded?” the woman asked.
“Yes, ma’am, it is,” the officer said.
“Do you have caller ID there?”
“Yes, ma’am, we do.”
The officer had been instructed to tell the truth in answer to any caller’s questions. She thought this was stupid, but that was what they’d told her.
“Then it’s a good thing I called from work, huh?”
“Either way, ma’am, whatever you tell us will remain strictly confidential.”
“I don’t want to say anything to anyone but a detective,” the woman said.
“Shall I ask a detective to call you back?” the officer asked.
“Please,” the woman said.
Bert Kling spoke to her shortly after three p.m. and went to see her at home later that evening. She lived in a five-story walkup outside the Eight-Seven, on Coral Street farther downtown, near the old Regency Theater building. Betty Young turned out to be white and thirtyish, a good-looking, dark-haired, blue-eyed woman who told him she’d just got home twenty minutes ago. When he arrived, she was still wearing the suit and jacket he assumed she’d worn to work that morning, standing at the kitchen counter, eating a Twinkie and drinking a glass of milk. She asked him if he’d care for anything, and when he declined, she invited him into the living room of the one-bedroom apartment where she sat on the sofa and he sat on an easy chair facing her. Through the row of windows behind her, Kling could see the tall smokestack of a building several doors away, dominating the skyline.
She told him she worked as a receptionist for the accounting firm he’d called, and she’d been able to make ends meet until her mother in Orlando, Florida, suffered a stroke this past August. Which was why she could sure use the fifty thousand bucks Guide’s was offering, what with all the additional medical expenses and all.
“But what I want to make sure of,” she said, “is that I’ll be protected in this thing. We’re talking about murder here, you know.”
“Yes, Miss, I know.”
“So what kind of protection would I be getting if I tell you what I know?”
Kling explained that her name would be kept confidential, that she would not be called as a witness in any criminal proceeding. . .
“F m not a witness, anyway,” she said. “I didn’t actually see anybody kill anybody.”
“But you do have information that would lead us to the person or persons responsible?”
“Yes, I do. The point is, how can I be sure my name won’t be made public?”
“Well, there would be no need to do that.”
“Suppose some television reporter gets nosy, how do I know the cops won’t tell him my name? Or the Guide’s people? How can I be sure?”
“You can’t,” Kling said. “You’d just have to trust us.”
She gave him a look that said Trust you? In this city, he was used to such looks.
“And how do I know I’ll get my money?” she asked.
“Same thing,” he said. “Trust.”
“Or maybe … I know we wouldn’t do this if it was a police reward . . . but maybe the company’d be willing to put half the money in escrow to begin with and then pay the rest after arrest and conviction.”
“Arrest and conviction!” she said.
“Yes, that’s the . . .”
“Oh, no, wait a minute,” she said. “Suppose you arrest the guy who did the shooting and then your D.A. screws up? Why should I be responsible for a conviction?”
“Well, those are the terms of the Restaurant Affiliates offer. Arrest and . . .”
“The who offer?”
“Restaurant Affiliates. That’s the corporation that owns the Guide’s chain. Arrest and conviction is what they stipulated.”
“Then it’s not really a genuine offer, is it?”
“I think it’s genuine, Miss.”
“How? If some inept D.A. lets him walk, I don’t get the reward. How’s that genuine?”
“Well, theD.A.’s Office wouldn’tbringitto trial if they didn’t think they had a strong case.”
“But they lose cases all the time, don’t they?”
“Well . . . no. Not all the time. I would say they win many more cases than they lose.”
“Still, where’s my guarantee? I stick my neck out. . .”
“Win or lose, your safety would be protected. If you identified this person for us . . .I’m assuming you know only one }f the shooters, am I right?”
Betty looked surprised.
“What gives you that idea?” she asked.
“Well, you referred to ‘the guy who did the shooting’ and just now you said something about the D.A. letting him walk. Him. Singular. So I’m assuming you know only one of them.”
“Gee, an actual detective,” she said, a remark which in this city didn’t surprise Kling. In fact, nothing in this city surprised Kling. He plunged ahead regardless. “In any case,” he said, “I don’t want to ask you any questions until you’re ready to answer them. So . . .”
“I won’t be ready to answer them till Guide’s assures me I’ll get the fifty thousand if what I tell you leads to charges, never mind conviction. If there’s a catch to this, they can just forget the whole thing.”
“I can’t speak for them, of course, but I don’t think there’s a catch. I think they genuinely want to apprehend these guys. Or even one of them, if that’s all the information you have.”
She said nothing.
He looked at her.
“You could feel perfectly safe,” he said.
She still said nothing.
“Let me take this back to my lieutenant,” Kling said. “He’ll want to make some calls. If we can tell Restaurant Affiliates we’ve actually got someone who’s willing to come forward with information . . .”
“I understand that.”
“But only if they drop the conviction part of it. I want my money the minute he’s charged with the crime. I mean, suppose I’d seen O.J. stabbing his wife and I gave the police information that led to his arrest? And then he walked. Do you see what I mean?”
“But you said you didn’t witness the actual shooting. . .”
“That’s right, I didn’t witness the shooting itself. But I know one of the men who did it.”
“Why’d you decide to come forward at this time, Miss Young?”
“My conscience was bothering me.”
She paused a moment, and then said, “Also, I broke up with him last week.”
The deputy chief in charge of PIN was informed by Lieutenant Byrnes of the Eighty-seventh Squad somewhere away the hell uptown that one of his detectives had interviewed a young woman who claimed to know one of the shooters in the pizzeria rumble, but would not divulge any information about him until she was assured she’d get the reward money the moment criminal charges were brought – all of this in a somewhat breathless rush from Byrnes who was, to tell the truth, a bit excited by what Kling had brought home.
“The fuck she think she is?” the deputy chief asked.
“You might want to discuss this with the Guide’s people,” Byrnes suggested.
“They’ll say no,” the deputy chief said.
He was wrong.
The executives up at Restaurant Affiliates, recognizing another brilliant public relations coup when they saw one, immediately pounced upon it. On television that night – with commercial spots going for hundreds of thousands of dollars a minute – all five major networks and most of the cable channels gave at least two minutes of free broadcast time to the news that RA, Inc., ever mindful of the uncertainties of the criminal justice system, were revising their reward offer. If anyone provided information leading to the arrest and indictment of the shooters, the $50,000 was theirs for the asking.
RA Inc.’ s advertising people might have been forgiven for linking the singular “anyone” with the plural “theirs” because they were selling a product and they didn’t want to offend any feminist who might object to the proper but politically incorrect “his.” Too clumsy to say “his or hers for the asking.” Much easier to say “theirs” and play it ungrammatically safe, as if anyone cared. But the journalists reporting the revised offer should have known better. Instead, they read it verbatim from the ad agency’s press release, compounding the felony. Further aiding and abetting, most of them closed their reports with the slogan RA, Inc. had paid millions to popularize over the years: “So come on over to Guide’s for a nicer pizza!”
There was enough bitterness and bile in Betty Young to corrode the hull of a battleship. Divorced at the age of thirty-two, after eleven years of seemingly blissful marriage to a stockbroker who ran off to the Pacific with a Hawaiian woman visiting the city – “An easy lei,” Betty mentioned. – she’d finally met the man she thought she could unreservedly love again. This happened just this past March, when Maxwell Corey Blaine, a good ole thirty-seven-year-old white boy from Grits, Georgia, walked into the accounting firm for which she worked and asked for some help filling out his income tax return. Ole Maxie, it seemed, worked for a pool hall up in Hightown, a largely Dominican section of the city, but this did not seem at all ominous to Betty at the time, she being the most tolerant of human beings except when it came to cheating sons of bitches, “May they both drop dead,” she also mentioned.
Maxie’s title at the pool parlor was “table organizer,” an occupation he found difficult to describe to Betty with any precision, but apparently a job requiring skills enough to warrant a salary of three thousand dollars a week. His employer, a man named Enrique Ramirez, was dutiful in supplying a W-2 as tax time rolled around, but that wasn’t the problem. Apparently, the state of Georgia wanted Maxie to file a return for the previous year, during which time not only had he been unemployed, he had also been in jail. Maxie wondered if the meager wages he’d earned in the prison laundry washing other inmates’ uniforms was taxable income. Betty passed him on to one of the firm’s junior accountants, who straightened out the entire mess – but that was another story.
To tell the truth, Betty found Maxie’s imprisonment somewhat exciting. He had been sent to the state prison in Reedsville on what they called in Georgia “aggravated assault,” a felony that carried with it a sentence of one to twenty. He’d been paroled in January and had left the state to come straight north, in itself a violation, but the hell with Georgia, he’d found his own sweet little peach right here.
“He called me his sweet little peach,” Betty said. She moved in with him on April 16 of this year, the day after the firm filed his tax returns. He told her fairly early on that the reason he’d been sent to prison was that
he’d broken the back of a person who owed money to a gambler in Atlanta, for whom Maxie was working at the time. The person was now paralyzed from the waist down, but that wasn’t Maxie’s fault, since all he’d planned to do was encourage the man to pay up, not cripple him for life, a story the Fulton County District Attorney had not bought.
There was something frightening, Betty admitted – but also exciting – about Maxie’s size. She guessed he was about six feet, four inches tall, and had to weigh something like two hundred and ten, with muscles everywhere and jail house tattoos on his shoulders and arms. It was perhaps his size that caused him to seek employment similar to what he’d had in Atlanta. “Table organizer,” it turned out, was a euphemism for “enforcer,” Maxie’s job being to bring to task any miscreant drug dealer who failed to pay Ramirez any moneys owed to him. Ramirez dealt cocaine – and “a lot of designer drugs,” according to Betty – and was connected to the Colombian cartel in a strutting bantam cock sort of way, several steps higher than the snotnosed sellers proliferating like cockroaches in the streets uptown, but nowhere close to the invisible, untouchable upper echelons of Dopeland.
In October sometime, it was brought to Maxie’s attention that a stoolie and sometime courier named Danny Gimp had done grievous harm to Ramirez. Apparently, a dealer in Majesta had agreed to pay El Jefe – as Ramirez was familiarly called – $42,000 for two kilos of coke. Ramirez turned the packaged snow over to Danny for delivery, but it never found its way to Majesta. The way El Jefe looked at it, he was out not only the coke but also the profit he would have made on the coke. It was one thing to owe money to him but quite another to steal from him. This was an unpardonable offense. This did not call for mere physical retribution. This called for extinction.
On the morning of November 8, after a night of somewhat torrid lovemaking, Maxie showered and dressed
and told Betty he was going out to meet a friend of his for pizza.
“He grinned when he said this,” Betty mentioned.
On the following Monday night, Betty saw the video tape on television and thought she recognized Maxie as the white gunman shooting up Guide’s.
“They ought to get better cameras,” she said. “I have to tell you the truth, if I didn’t know Maxie, I never would have recognized him from the tape.”
The closest she came to telling Maxie that she’d seen him on the tape, and suspected he was one of the men who’ d killed the rat everyone was talking about, was at breakfast a week or so later when she casually remarked, “By the way, how did you enjoy your pizza that morning?”
“What the fuck you talkin about?” Maxie said.
Four days later he moved in with an eighteen-year-old bitch whose sole claim to fame, according to Maxie, was that she knew how to do The Moroccan Sip. Whatever that was. As if Betty cared what it was.
All she wanted was for the cops to arrest him and send him to the electric chair. Was that a lot to ask for a lousy fifty thousand bucks?
She told them all this on Wednesday morning, the first day of December.
At a quarter past one the next morning, five detectives from the Eight-Seven drove all the way downtown to kick in Maxwell Corey Blaine’s front door.
Only one of them got shot.