The Last Dance Chapter Seven

The Last Dance Chapter Seven

When they went to see Norman Zimmer again, they were prepared to threaten him with a grand-jury subpoena. Instead, he seemed ready to cooperate. This was now Friday morning, the third day of December. They had last seen him on Tuesday. They assumed he’d had time since then to talk to his lawyer, and fully realized the folly of impeding a homicide investigation.

They sat in his corner office overlooking Stemmler Avenue and Stockwell Street. On The Stem, six stories below, thick traffic crawled by. Even with the windows closed, they could hear the incessant honking of horns, an annoyance specifically prohibited by law in this city. Here in the privacy of his own office, Zimmer nonetheless projected as if trying to reach the last row in the second balcony, his booming voice easily overriding the traffic noises floating up from below.

“I’m sorry I was so short with you when you popped in the other day,” he said. “But we were just starting auditions, and I’m afraid I was a bit on edge. Things have calmed down a bit now. Ask me anything you’d like.”

He was dressed the way he’d been on that last day of November, the suit brown this time, the shirt a sort of ivory color, the jacket again draped over his chair, the tie pulled down, the sleeves rolled up, the suspenders picking up the color of the tie again, which was a sort of rust-colored knit. A big man, Mrs Kipp had said. Very big.

“First of all,” Carella said, “these rights.”

“The rights,” Zimmer repeated.

“Describe them.”

“Long story.”

“We have time.”

“I’m not sure I do,” Zimmer said, and looked at his watch the way he had on Tuesday. The detectives thought for a fleeting moment they might have to get that grand-jury subpoena after all. Zimmer took a deep breath.

“Fade in,” he said. “1923. A twenty-two-year-old woman named Jessica Miles writes an autobiographical play called Jenny’s Room. It’s a big hit, it runs for three years here on The Stem. In 1928, it’s turned into a musical that opens and closes in a month. End of story, right? Not quite. My partner Connie – whom you met at the auditions Tuesday? She’s the one who smokes a lot?”

“The one I’m old enough to be her father,” Brown said.

“That’s the one. She dug up the original sheet music for the musical – this was before there were such things as cast albums, you know – and guess what? ‘The score is terrific!’ The book was hopeless, of course, but that could be rewritten. So she convinced me we should do it together.”

“This is the same show you’re doing now?” Brown asked.

“Yes,” Zimmer said. “Well, I shouldn’t say that. It’s essentially the same show, yes. We’ve had the book rewritten, and there are several new tunes, but those are minor changes. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same show, yes.”

Brown was wondering why he’d want to produce a flop all over again.

“And it was based on this play called Jenny’s Room, is that right?” he asked.

“Still is based on it,” Zimmer said. “That’s why we had to go to Cynthia Keating.”

Brown looked at Carella. Carella looked back at him.

“To obtain rights to the underlying material,” Zimmei said. “The source material. Cynthia Keating owns those rights.”

Again the detectives looked stupid.

“We’d already acquired the other essential rights from the three people who’d written the musical’s songs and book, but we still needed – well, wait a minute, let me correct that. The original creators had all passed away a long time ago. In most instances we were dealing with grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, who’d succeeded to the rights by inheritance. But the underlying rights were another matter. When the musical closed in 1928, the rights to the play reverted back to the person who’d written the play – Jessica Miles. And without those underlying rights, we couldn’t proceed.”

“Is Cynthia Keating a grandchild?” Carella asked. “Is that it? Or a great. . . ?”

“No, Jessica Miles never married.”

“Then how’d Cynthia get those rights?”

“Another long story.”

“We still have time.”

At first, Andrew Hale knows the woman only to talk to.

He sees her on his way in and out of the building, and they always exchange a friendly good morning or good evening, but that’s it. The woman is very old, far older than Andrew, who – when he first meets her – is in his early fifties. He is still married at the time. This is long before he suffers his first heart attack. In fact, this is shortly after he quit working at the hospital, or – to be more accurate – got fired from the hospital because they thought he was too old to be nursing, even though there were/ema/e nurses his age on the ward. Fifty-three, is that old? – talk about sexism. He guesses it’s because when a man reaches a certain age, they think of him as a dirty old man, and they don’t want him moving in and out of rooms where girls are wearing only surgical gowns tied up the back, their behinds all showing.

He supposes the woman is in her mid-eighties, a frail little thing who looks arthritic and possibly lame in one leg, maybe she’s diabetic, who knows? One morning, he comes across her struggling to get a bag of groceries up to her third-floor apartment. He asks if he can help her with that, and she says oh, thank you, I’d truly appreciate it. A British accent, he figures she’s originally from England. Well, one thing leads to another, and this and that, and the next thing you know they’re truly friends, he’s making tea for her in the afternoons, and running little errands for her, helping her hang photographs, put up screens, dust the apartment for her, little things like that. It makes him feel young again, taking care of her. It makes him feel wanted and needed again, nursing a frail old woman this way.

One day she tells him she was once a famous playwright, did he know that? He goes Come on, what are you telling me? She says No, it’s true. When I was twenty-two years old, I wrote a play called Jenny’s Room, it was a big hit, may I drop dead this very minute if I’m not telling the truth. He goes Come on, you’re kidding me. She goes Oh yeah? So look it up in the library. Jessica Miles. I’m in Who’s Who in America, i

He is almost afraid to look in the book because suppose her name isn’t there? Suppose this is all some kind of fantasy? Then she’d be just a crazy old lady making up things, wouldn’t she? He doesn’t know if he can deal with that. But, hey, guess whatl His friend up there on the third floor is a celebrity! Not only did she write the play she says she wrote, but it was also turned into a musical five years later, whatty a know about that? The play starred somebody named Jenny Corbin, who was a big star back then. When he sees her the next time, he says Well, well, well, grinning at her, and she says Was I lying? and he says I’d sure love to read that play sometime, I’d be honored.

She tells him it was originally called Jessie’s Room, not Jenny’s Room, because it was all autobiographical, about her coming to the city here from England and all, and her first years here working for Beneficial Loan, and the experiences she’d had with various beaux and all, and her disastrous love affair, which resulted in her vowing never to marry, all of which was in the play. But when Jenny Corbin, who was a tremendous star of the day, agreed to take the role, she also insisted they change the title to Jenny’s Room, to make it her play, you see . . .

“That’s terrible,” Andrew says.

“Well, no, not really,” Jessica says. “Because she made it a tremendous hit, you see. I mean, no one would have come to see something about me, but they thought the play was about her, you see, about Jenny Corbin the star, so they all flocked to the theater and I made a lot of money. And, oh, she was so very beautiful.”

She does not have similar kind words for the producers of the musical five years later. She tells Andrew that they took a sensitive play – well, a play about Jessica herself – and turned it into something cheap and crass, with a libretto by some person born in Liverpool who’d previously written a comedy about soccer, can you imagine? And the words and music weren’t much better. Everything had an insistent ragtime beat to it, with obvious rhymes and the crudest sort of innuendo. As an example, they took one of the play’s most sensitive scenes – which Jenny performed like an angel, by the way – and turned it into a dance number!

“The scene where she breaks up with the one true love of her life though she doesn’t realize it at the time? A truly wonderful, touching scene, the audience cried every night when Jenny did it. But in the musical, they had colored boys and girls dancing in the background in the most suggestive manner, it was just dreadful. If F d known what was going to happen to my little play, I’d never have given them permission.”

“I would love to read it sometime,” Andrew says, and Jessica goes briefly into the other room and returns a moment later with the leather-bound copy her producer presented to her on opening night.

That night, Andrew cries when he reads the scene in the play where Jessie breaks up with the one true love of her life without realizing it, though the audience does. His wife tells him to please be quiet, she’s trying to sleep.

Not long after that, Jessica Miles becomes desperately ill.

He cares for her at home until it becomes apparent she must be removed to a hospital. And then, he visits her every day, often lingering by her bedside from morning to night, and sometimes throughout the night. She dies within a matter of weeks.

In her will, she leaves to him the leather-bound copy of her precious play, and something even more precious: the copyright to the play itself.

“How do you know all this?” Carella asked.

“Hale told me. A hundred times over,” Zimmer said. “Of course, no one at the time expected the musical would be revived. Jessica died fourteen, fifteen years ago. For all intents and purposes, the play she left him had only sentimental value.”

“Until your partner rediscovered the musical.”

“Yes. We did a copyright search, found that all renewals had been made, located the current owners, and proceeded to license the rights. You can imagine how thrilled these people were! The bookwriter’ s grandson works in the mail room of a publishing house in London. The lyricist’s granddaughter sells real estate in L. A. And the composer’s great-grandson drives a taxi in Tel Aviv! This revival is a godsend to them, an opportunity to make some very big bucks indeed. If the show is a hit, of course. Which I’m sure it will be,” he said, and rapped his knuckles on his desk.

“When did you discover Hale had inherited the underlying rights?”

“When our lawyers did the search. We weren’t expecting a problem, why would there have been a problem? In fact, we were already proceeding, assuming that rights to the play would follow as a matter of course. A new bookwriter was already working, we’d commissioned new songs and hired a director and a choreographer, everything was in motion. But finding Hale was another matter. As it turned out, he was right under our noses here in the city, but he’d moved around a lot in the past several years. Apparently he got fired from a nursing job in a hospital somewhere in Riverhead, molested a young girl in her room, or so she later said, who the hell knew? Or cared, for that matter? What we wanted were the rights to the mawkish little play Jessica Miles had written and inconsiderately willed to him.”

“Are you saying it’s not a good play?”

“It’s dreadful. The only thing that put it over was Jenny Corbin in the starring role. She was the mayor’s mistress at the time, you know, and quite a notorious personality. A stunning woman, from what I’ve been told.” He hung both huge hands on the air and outlined the ripeness of her breasts, nodding in appreciation. “But we needed the damn thing,” he said. “Without that play, we simply couldn’t proceed any further.” He sighed heavily, opened a cigar box on his desk, and fished a cigar from it. “Smoke?” he asked. “They’re Havanas.”

“Thanks, no,” Carella said.

Brown shook his head.

Zimmer unwrapped the cigar, bit off one end, and struck a match. Puffing great clouds of asphyxiating smoke on the air, he waved them away with one big hand, and then settled back in his chair to puff contentedly. Without asking, Carella got up to open the window. Traffic noises flooded the room.

“Well, I went to see the old man,” Zimmer said. “Never expecting a problem, mind you. Why should there be a problem? Who doesn’t want to make a fortune? I told him we were reviving the musical based on Jessica Miles’s play and wanted to license the rights from him. He flatly refused.”

“Why?” Brown asked.

“Because he was an idiot,” Zimmer said. “I tried to explain that he could make a lot of money if the show was a hit. No. I tried to tell him a hit show would play all over the United States, all over the world No. At first, I thought he was holding out for a bigger advance, higher royalties. But that wasn’t it.”

“What was it?” Carella asked.

“He was protecting Jessica’s shitty little play! Can you believe it? He said she’d been unhappy with the musical . . .well, yes, I said, so are we’.That’s why we’re having the book rewritten, that’s why we’re adding new songs. No, he said. I’m sorry. She would not want the musical revived. I would be dishonoring her wishes if I let you have her play. Three times, I went to see him. He simply would not listen to reason.” Zimmer shook his head, and blew a huge cloud of smoke at the ceiling. “So I went to see his daughter. Cynthia Keating. Mousy little housewife dominated by a legal-eagle husband who immediately appreciated how much money they could make if this show turned out to be a hit. I asked Cynthia to intercede on my behalf, go to the old man, talk some sense into him. No luck. He wouldn’t budge from his position.” Zimmer shook his head again, and looked across his desk at the detectives. “So I killed him,” he said, and laughed suddenly, like a choirboy who’ d farted during a Christmas chorale.

Neither Carella nor Brown even smiled.

“That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?” Zimmer said. “That I had good reason to want him dead? Why not kill the stubborn son of a bitch? Be much easier to deal with the daughter, wouldn’t it?”

The detectives said nothing.

“Incidentally,” Zimmer said, and puffed on the cigar and then looked thoughtfully at the glowing end of it. “Cynthia knew her father was leaving her the rights to that play.”

“How do you know that?” Carella asked.

“He told her. Said when he died she’d be getting twenty-five grand in insurance plus the rights to this miserable little play. Forgive the editorializing, but this entire matter pisses me off a great deal.”

Gee, imagine what it does to us, Carella thought.

“Tell you what,” Zimmer said. “We’re having a Meet ‘N’ Greet tomorrow ni. . .”

“A what?” Brown said.

“Little gathering for the usual suspects,” he said, and grinned. “Why don’t you stop by?”

Carella wondered what had happened to those simple cases where you walked in and found a guy with a smoking gun in his fist and a bloody corpse at his feet. Zimmer had suggested that he himself was a good suspect. Carella agreed. But so was Cynthia Keating, or her greedy little attorney husband, or any one of the copyright inheritors in London, Tel Aviv, or Los Angeles. Not to mention all the people now involved with the current show – the new bookwriter and composer, the director, the choreographer, Zimmer’ s partner. Anyone who wanted this show to happen could have hired the Jamaican who’d hanged Hale on the bathroom door like a wet towel.

“What time tomorrow night?” he asked.

“You want a mystery?” Parker asked them. “Here’s a mystery for you.”

“We don’t want a mystery,” Carella said.

“We already have a mystery,” Meyer said.

“Two mysteries,” Kling said.

“Too many mysteries,” Brown said.

“Here’s a mystery for you,” Parker said. “I stop this guy the other day, he just went through a red light, I’m standing right there on the corner. I flag him down cause I’m a conscientious cop . . .”

Brown blew his nose.

“. . . and I ask to see his driver’s license and registration. So he pulls all this shit out of his wallet and his glove compartment, and guess what’s there with it?”

“What?” Kling asked.

“His marriage certificate.”

“His what?”

“Yeah,” Parker said.

“Why’s he carrying a marriage certificate?”

“That’s the mystery,” Parker said.

“Was he recently married?”

“No, the certificate was ten years old.”

“So why’s he carrying it around with him?”

“I don’tknow. That’s why it’s a mystery.”

“I hate mysteries,” Carella said.

The Meet ‘N’ Greet was supposed to start at six p.m. in Connie Lindstrom’s penthouse apartment on Grover Avenue, overlooking Grover Park, a world away from the Eighty-seventh Precinct station house, but only a mile and a half farther downtown. If Brown and Carella had gone to work that Saturday, they’d have been to the party in ten minutes. But they were coming down from their homes in Riverhead, and so they allowed themselves forty minutes, Brown picking up Carella at twenty past five. By that time, a fierce snow storm had started in the city and they hit its full force just as they were crossing the bridge over the Devil’s Byte. They did not get to her building until six-thirty. As it was, they were not overly late. Most of the guests, similarly held up by the storm, were just arriving. The detectives had dressed up for the occasion, both of them wearing unaccustomed suits, Brown’s blue, Carella’s gray. They needn’ t have bothered. Half the guests were wearing blue jeans. One of them, an actor, asked them what they did. When they told him they were police detectives, he said he had once played a cop in a summer stock production of Detective Story.

The show’s new songwriter, a man who introduced himself as Randy Flynn, told Carella that the term “Meet ‘N’ Greet” was usually reserved for the start of rehearsals, when the full cast met the producers and the creative team for the first time. “Connie’s new in the business, though,” he whispered. “She sometimes gets the lingo wrong.” Flynn, a man in his sixties with several hit shows to his credit, wore a look of extreme smugness that attested to his worldwide fame. Puffing incessantly on a cigarette, he told Carella that he’d been contacted by Zimmer early in July, when they’d first acquired the rights to the original show’s music from the composer’s great-grandson in Tel Aviv. “He’s not here tonight,” he said, “but the others are.”

The original lyricist’s granddaughter had been flown in from Los Angeles, where she worked at Coldwell Banker selling real estate. Her name was Felicia Carr, and she was possibly thirty-three years old, a reddish-blonde wearing the only long gown in the room, a silky green number that clung to her like moss. She was listening intently to Naomi Janus, the choreographer, who had on her head the same black rustler’s hat she’d been wearing this past Tuesday. Naomi was telling a man named Arthur Bragg that she planned some startlingly sexy dance sequences for the speakeasy number, whatever that was. Brown surmised that Bragg was the show’s musical director, whatever that was. He decided there were too many people here. Felicia said she couldn’t wait to see the dances, she just loved musicals that had a lot of sexy dancing in them.

“When did you fly east?” Brown asked her.

“Yesterday,” she said. “On the Red Eye.”

“And you go back when?”

“Oh, not for a while. I’m planning to do some Christmas shopping.”

“This must be very exciting for you.”

“Oh yes, it is!” she said. “I can’t wait for it to open!”

“When will that be?”

“Next fall sometime,” Naomi said. “Provided there’s a theater available.”

“That seems a long way off.”

“Well,” Naomi said, “the show’s been lying dormant since it closed in 1928, so I guess it can wait a few months more.”

The bookwriter’ s grandson was a Brit named Gerald Palmer. He was in his early forties, Carella guessed, a clean-shaven man in need of a haircut. Like the two detectives, he, too, was wearing a suit, though his seemed somewhat out of fashion, an impression possibly created by its British styling. The suit was blue, the shoes he wore with it brown. In his Cockney accent, he explained to Carella, unnecessarily, that the bookwriter wrote all the words spoken onstage, as opposed to anything sung or danced. “He’s sometimes called the librettist,” he said. “My grandfather wrote an absolutely wonderful libretto for the original musical. I don’t know why they hired someone to rewrite it.” Carella guessed he hadn’t been told that the original book was “hopeless.”

At just that moment, the man who’d revised the book joined them. He was tall and ungainly, in his late fifties, Carella supposed, wearing jeans, a blue shirt open at the throat, and a green shawl-collared cardigan sweater over it. “Clarence Hull,” he said, and shook hands with both of them. He immediately told Palmer – almost by way of apology, it seemed to Carella – that his grandfather’s libretto had been “quite artful for its day,” his exact words, but that the new millennium required something more immediately engaging, which was why he’d chosen to place the show’s opening not on a farm in the East Midlands, where the original had started, but instead in London, “so that the heroine isn’t a simple farm girl coming to America but is instead someone rather more sophisticated moving from one big city to another, do you see?” Palmer told him that his grandfather had once written a straight play as well, “A comedy, actually,” he said, “about soccer,” which he thought might make a good musical, given the current American obsession with the sport. Hull told him flatly that the only sports musical that had ever made it was Damn Yankees, and then excused himself to go refill his champagne glass.

Palmer told Carella that for the past fifteen years he’d been working in the “post room,” as he called it, of a publishing house called Martins and Grenville, “the last publisher in Bedford Square, d’you know it? A highly prestigious firm.” He said he was thrilled they were doing his granddad’s show again. “I hope it’ll come to London one day,” he said.

“When did you get here?” Carella asked.

“Flew over on Wednesday.”

“Where are you staying?”

“The Piccadilly. Sounded a lot like home,” he said, and grinned. He’d shaved too close. There were razor nicks on his chin.

“When will you be going back?”

“Not till next Sunday. I’m taking a little time here, enjoying the city. Plenty of time for work later on, eh?” he said.

Cynthia Keating was wearing a simple black cocktail dress. Her husband Robert was another of the men wearing a suit. Brown figured anyone not intimately connected with show business had dolled up for the occasion. He was beginning to feel somewhat like a horse’s ass. The suit Keating had on was a severe pinstripe. He looked as if he might be trying a case for IBM. Cynthia was telling Rowland Chapp, the show’s director, that the original play Jessica Miles had written was “perfectly wonderful,” something Chapp accepted with a distracted nod that indicated he knew precisely how dreadful the play was. Brown wanted to go home.

Champagne and canapes were coming around on trays, served by a pair of wannabe actors who were dressed in black and white tonight, earnestly playing witty waiter and flirtatious waitress. Snow swirled past the penthouse windows, the flakes illuminated by corner floodlights that made them appear as sharp and as swift as tiny daggers.

Connie Lindstrom tapped on her champagne glass.

“I have a treat,” she said. “Randy?”

There was applause, and then a hush as Randy Flynn went to the grand piano in one corner of the room, sat, and lifted the lid over the keys. Behind him, snowflakes rushed the night.

“I’m going to play the show for you,” he said. “Including the three new songs I wrote. We’ve kept the original conceit, the entire musical takes place in Jenny’s room. The window in her room is a window on the city. We see the city, we see everything happening in the city through her eyes, from her point of view.”

He began playing.

Carella could not determine where any new songs had been added; to him, the music flooding the air in Connie Lindstrom’s penthouse apartment sounded seamless. As Flynn sang in his raspy smoker’s voice, Carella floated back to another time and place, this city in the year 1928, when everything seemed fresh and innocent to a young girl named Jenny, fantasizing in her room all the way downtown, in an immigrant area then called – as it still was – The Lower Platform.

But, oh, the differences between then and now.

Flynn sang of a young girl’s yearnings and awakenings in a wondrous island bordered by confluent rivers and spanned by magical bridges. He sang of golden towers rising into the clouds, interlaced with immaculate streets, humming belowground with subways not yet sullied by time or wear. He sang of promise and hope for a population of immigrants that had brought with them customs to treasure and to nourish. As he sang, his voice became a choir of voices, the voices of a hundred tribes with as many different backgrounds, joining together in this shining new land, to become at last a single strong united tribe.

Here beyond the windows in Jenny’s room. . .

Ah, what a wonderland there had been.

Flynn struck the last chord of the last dance.

It was still snowing.

Carella looked across the room to where his partner stood solid and big and black against the white flakes swirling outside. Randy Flynn rose from the piano bench, placed the palms of his hands together like a guru, and bowed in transparently false modesty, accepting applause from the assembled guests. Brown’s eyes scanned the room. So did Carella’s.

Almost anyone in this room could have killed Andrew Hale.

There was no way the detectives who caught the murder down in Hopscotch could have connected it with the murders uptown. No way. The first victim uptown had been a sixty-eight-year-old white man who’d been hanged from a door hook and then transported to a bed. The second one had been a nineteen-year-old black girl stabbed in the chest with a knife grabbed from her own kitchen counter. The prior ingestion of a drug called Rohypnol was the only connecting link between them – if, in fact, it was a link and not the sort of coincidence that plagued police work.

Except when they were reading novels, the cops in this city rarely came across serial killers. Serial killers in novels were enormously popular these days, but that did not mean they were running rampant all over the United States. Current estimates maintained that only some thirty-five to fifty of them were out there loose. In order for a murderer to qualify as a bona fide serial killer, he had to have killed three or more people within a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, a serial killer was not someone who killed Uncle George and two days later killed Cousins Mandy and Maude because they’d seen him commit the first murder. That was merely a careful murderer.

The cops in this city investigated some 2,000 homicides annually. Even if the detectives catching the downtown squeal had remotely suspected a connection between the Hale murder, the Cleary murder, and this new murder, they would not have jumped to the conclusion that a raving lunatic serial killer was loose in the city. The detectives catching the squeal early that Monday morning might have heard about the Hale murder from television, but they most certainly had not heard about the murder of an obscure little black girl in Diamondback. So it never once entered their minds that this new murder was somehow related to the previous two, serially or otherwise.

According to a birth certificate they found in a candy tin in the top drawer of her bedroom dresser, the victim’s name was Martha Coleridge and she was ninety-eight years old. A thin, birdlike creature, she lay in her nightgown at the foot of the bed, her neck apparently broken. The detectives – an experienced First named Bryan Shanahan, and a newly appointed Third named Jefferson Long – went through the lady’s belongings, sifting through browned letters and diaries, knowing they wouldn’t find any clues in all this stuff, but going through the drill anyway. What they figured was that some junkie burglar had come in here, stolen the old lady’s grocery money, and then snapped her neck for good measure. They kept looking through her old papers, tossing them onto the bed while the ME examined the body. One of the things they found was a blue binder with a typed label on it. The label read:

MY ROOM by Martha Coleridge

What was inside the binder looked like some kind of play or something. They tossed it on the bed with all the other crap.

The first thing that attracted the Reverend Gabriel Foster to the case was the fact that the white suspect had been released on bail whereas his black counterpart had been denied bail and remanded to the Men’s House of Detention. Same crime, same judge, two shooters, one white, one black, different disposition.

That was the first thing, but it wasn’t enough to send him running through the streets, because what he was sensing here was a change in the public mood. Whereas Maxwell Corey Blaine and Hector Milagros had at first been treated like national heroes for disposing of that vilest of human beings, the informer, they were now being pilloried as monsters or worse because a second informer – who was now a media darling and something of an instant heroine – had for a substantial reward turned in the white man, who had at once copped a plea and given up his partner, the black man who’d been denied bail. The world was full of no-good dirty rats these days, but Foster wasn’t about to take up the banner for a pair of universally reviled murderers.

Until a pair of ambitious detectives made life easier for him.

The partners were named Archie Bingman and Robert Tracey, familiarly called Bingo and Bop by the people who lived in Hightown, where Enrique Ramirez ran his pool hall and his drug operation. They had been dogging El Jefe’s tracks for the past year and a half now. Under the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, murders committed in the furtherance of criminal enterprise were punishable by lifetime sentences. The Colombian cartel was most definitely a racketeer-influenced and corrupt organization. If they could tie the Guide’s Pizzeria murder to El Jefe’s drug operation, he’d be sitting on his ass in Kansas for the rest of his life, Toto.

Bingo and Bop felt certain that the two shooters hadn’t revealed anything that might incriminate Ramirez. The indicted pair knew well enough that the long arm of the cartel could reach into the loneliest of prison cells, and they did not long for an icepick in the eye one dark and stormy night. Better to ride the road upstate alone, do the time, and breathe easy. Besides, if the pair had traded Ramirez for some kind of Chinese deal, the grand jury would have already indicted him. Bingo and Bop knew of no such paper handed down.

It galled them to know that one of Ramirez’s hit men was sitting downtown in custody, where any police officer with a bit of ingenuity could gain access to him and perhaps learn something about who had sent whom to shoot the hapless little stoolie neither of the detectives had ever met or used. They already knew who had sent Milagros to that pizzeria because it was common knowledge up here in the Eight-Nine that Milagros and his partner Blaine were two ofEUefe’s cleanup men. In the American criminal justice system, however, knowing something wasn’t enough. You also had to be able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, worse luck.

That Monday night, the sixth of December, while two detectives in Hopscotch filed their DD-5 on the little old lady who’d had her neck broken, and the reverend Foster pored over that day’s newspapers trying to figure out a way to turn the arrest of Hector Milagros to his advantage, Bingo and Bop drove downtown to the Men’s House of Detention in its new quarters on Blanchard Street, and told the jailer on duty they were there to see the Guide’s Pizzeria shooter. The jailer wanted to know on whose authority.

“We’re investigating a related drug matter,” Bingo said.

“You got to go through his lawyer,” the jailer said.

“We already talked to him,” Bop said. “He told us it’s okay.”

“I need it in writing,” the jailer said.

“Come on, don’t break ’em, willya?” Bingo said. “Where the fuck we gonna find his lawyer, this hour?”

“Find him tomorrow,” the jailer said. “Come back tomorrow.”

“We got something hot can’t wait till tomorrow,” Bingo said.

“You ever hear of hot pursuit?” Bop said.

“I never heard of hot pursuit leadin to a jail cell.”

“Come on, we want to nail this cocksucker sellin dope to your kids.”

“My kids are grown up and livin in Seattle,” the jailer said.

“Ten minutes, okay?”

“The door was open, and you walked in,” the jailer said.

Milagros was in his cell reading his Bible. One other cell in the hall was occupied by an old man mumbling in his sleep. Milagros had never seen these guys in his life, and he wondered how they’ d got in here. His lawyer hadn’t mentioned anything about anybody coming to see him. Far as Milagros knew, he’d be sitting on his ass here in The Catacombs till his case came to trial. The way his lawyer had explained it, you couldn’t convict somebody solely on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. Anyway, who was gonna believe a guy who tried to kill five cops and succeeded in hurting one of them pretty bad? Nobody, that’s who. Just sit tight and you walk, his lawyer had said, which was fine with Milagros. So who were these two guys, and what did they want here, this hour of the night?

The door clicked open electrically. Bingo and Bop entered the cell, and closed the door behind them. From the far end of the corridor, the jailer threw the switch that locked it again.

Bingo smiled.

Milagros had learned a long time ago all about guys who came at you smiling.

The other one was smiling, too.

“So tell us who sent you to the pizzeria,” Bingo said.

“Who the fuck are you?” Milagros asked.

“Nice talk,” Bop said.

“We’re two fellas gonna send your boss away,” Bingo said.

“What boss you talkin abou’, man?”

“Enrique Ramirez.”

“Don’t know him.”

“Oh dear,” Bingo said.

“Get the fuck outta here, I call d’key.”

“The key is down the hall takin a leak,” Bop said.

“I wake up dee whole fuckin jail you don’ ged outta here,” Milagros said.

“Oh dear,” Bingo said again.

“Someone I’d like you to meet,” Bop said, and yanked a nine from a shoulder holster. “Mr Clock,” he said, “meet Mr Milagros.”

Milagros looked at the semi.

“Come on, whass dis?” he said.

“Dis,” Bop said, mimicking him, “is a pistol. Una pistola, maricon. Comprende?”

“Come on, whass dee matter wi’ you?”

“Who sent you to kill that fuckin pussy-clot?”

“Nobody. He owe us money, we go on our own.”

“El Jefe sent you, didn’t he?”

“You know who El Jefe is?” Milagros said, and tried a smile. “My mama is El Jefe. Thass wha’ me an’ my brudders call her. Jefita.”

“Gee, is that what you call your mama?” Bingo said.

“Is that what you call your whore mama?” Bop said.

” ‘Ey, man, watch your mou’, okay?”

“You watch your mouth,” Bop said, and rammed the barrel of the nine against Milagros’s lips.

“‘Ey, man . . .”

“Eat it!” Bop said.

“Man, what you . . . ?”

Bop swung the muzzle sideways across Milagros’s mouth. There was the sound of something snapping. There was a spray of blood. Teeth clicked loose and spilled onto the air.

“Jesus Chri. . .”

“Shhh,” Bingo said.

“Eat it,” Bop said again, and slid the barrel of the gun into Milagros’s mouth.

“Quiet now,” Bingo said.

Milagros began to blubber. His eyes were wide. Blood dribbled from the corners of his mouth, around the barrel of the nine.

“Who sent you to kill him?”

Milagros shook his head.

“No, huh?” Bop said, and cocked the pistol. “Who?” he insisted.

Milagros shook his head again.

“You ought to go see your dentist again,” Bingo said, and nodded.

Bop swung the gun against Milagros’s mouth.

He almost choked on his own teeth.

The jailer didn’t see what had happened to Milagros until he made his rounds at midnight. Long before then, he had clicked open Milagros’s cell from his end of the corridor and had watched the two detectives approaching the steel door with its bulletproof viewing window, and had let them out into the small holding room, and then out of the complex itself. Now, as he came down the corridor, the old man in the cell next to Milagros’s was sitting upright on his cot, his eyes wide, but saying nothing. The jailer knew right away something was very wrong.

Milagros was lying on the floor of his cell.

There was blood on the floor, and scattered teeth, and what looked and smelled like vomit. There was also another smell because Milagros had soiled himself while the two detectives were methodically knocking every tooth out of his mouth, but the jailer didn’t yet know the full extent of what had happened here, he saw only the blood and a handful of teeth in the spill of light from the after-hours illumination in the corridor.

The jailer had read enough newspapers in the past few months.

He didn’t even go into Milagros’s cell. He went back down the corridor, past the cell of the old man with the wide accusative eyes, and he unlocked the steel door at the far end, and locked it again behind him, and walked directly to the wall phone by the officers’ station, and called his immediate superior, the Security Division captain on duty.

The jailer’s story was that two detectives had come into the lockup showing a piece of paper authorizing them to question Hector Milagros. He couldn’t remember their names. He’d asked them to sign in, and he assumed they both had; he hadn’t looked at the log book afterward. He told the captain they’d been in the prisoner’s cell for about half an hour, and that he hadn’t heard anything out of the ordinary during that time. Then again, there was a thick steel door at the end of the corridor. He said he couldn’t remember having seen either of the detectives down here before, nor could he remember what either of them looked like, except that one had a mustache. The duty captain figured the man was covering his own ass.

He read newspapers, too.

Lest anyone later accuse him of having delayed while a story was being concocted, he called an ambulance at once, and had the prisoner expressed to nearby St Mary’s, the same hospital Sharyn Cooke had moved Willis from not four nights earlier. Then he telephoned the deputy warden of Security Division, who listened to the story from his bed at home, alternately expressing surprise and grave concern. The deputy warden in turn woke up the warden, who was commanding officer of the entire facility. The warden debated waking up the supervisor of the Department of Corrections, but finally called him at home. The Police Commissioner himself was awakened at close to three in the morning. It was he who informed the media at once, before anyone began thinking a cover-up was taking place here.

Gabriel Foster didn’t hear the news until he turned on his television set the next morning.

That same morning, Carella first called Cynthia Keating’s attorney to tell him he hoped he didn’t have to yank her before a grand jury to get a few simple questions answered, and when Alexander started getting snotty on the phone, Carella said, “Counselor, I haven’t got any more time to waste on this. Yes or no?”

“What questions?” Alexander asked.

“Questions pertaining to the rights she inherited from her father.”

“In my office,” Alexander said. “Ten o’clock.”

They got there at five minutes to.

Alexander was wearing chocolate-brown corduroy trousers, tan loafers, a beige button-down shirt, a green tie, and a brown tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. He looked like a country gentleman expecting the local pastor for tea. Cynthia was wearing a pastel-blue cashmere turtleneck over a short miniskirt, navy blue pantyhose, and high-heeled navy patent pumps. She looked long and leggy, her dark hair styled differently, her makeup more unrestrained. Altogether, she seemed to exude an air of self-confidence that hadn’t been apparent that first morning in October, after she’d admittedly dragged her father from his perch on the closet door to his new resting place on the bed. Apparently, the prospects of a hit musical did wonders for the personality. Alexander, on the other hand, seemed his same brusque, blond, blustering self.

“What do you want from my client?” he said. ‘Twenty-five words or less.”

“Honesty,” Carella said.

“That’s a lot less,” Meyer said.

Alexander shot him a look.

“She’s always been honest with you,” he said.

“Good,” Carella said. “Then we won’t have to work so hard, will we?”

“Tell me something. You don’t really think she had anything to do with her father’s murder, do you?”

Carella looked at Meyer. Meyer gave a faint shrug, a brief nod.

“She’s a suspect, yes,” Carella said.

“Have you shared that thought with anyone else? Anyone outside the police department, for example? Because I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, if Mrs Keating is libeled. . .”

“The hell with this,” Carella said. “Let’s go, Meyer.”

“Just a second, Detective.”

“I told you on the phone I won’t waste any more time with you,” Carella said. “If I walk out of here empty, I go straight to the D.A.’s office. Yes, no, which? Say. Now.”

“I’ll give you half an hour, no more,” Alexander said, and went behind his desk, and tented his hands and sat there scowling at the detectives.

“I’ll make this brief,” Carella said. “At the time of your father’s death, you knew he’d left you the rights to Jessica Miles’s play, isn’t that so?”

“Yes.”

“Then why didn’t you tell us?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You told us about the twenty-five-thousand-dollar insurance policy . . .”

“Yes?”

“And your concern that it might contain a suicide clause. . .”

“That’s right. But. . .”

“Why didn’t you also mention you’d inherited the play?”

“I didn’t think it was important.”

“You didn’t. . .”

Carella turned away from her. He looked at Meyer, who said nothing. He went back to her. There was a tight, controlled look on his face. Meyer watched him.

“How much were you paid for the license to those rights?”

“That’s none of your business,” Alexander said.

“Okay, so long,” Carella said. “Meyer? Let’s go.”

“Three thousand dollars for a year’s option,” Cynthia said at once. “And three thousand for a second year, if it hadn’t been produced by then.”

“What kind of royalties are you getting?”

“Same as the others.”

“Which others?”

“The guy in London . . .”

“Gerald Palmer?”

“Yes. And the cab driver in Tel Aviv. And the girl from Los Angeles. The redhead in the long gown. Felicity Carr.”

“Felicia,” Meyer corrected.

“Felicia, yes. We’ll be sharing six percent of the weekly gross.”

“Do you realize how much money . . . ?”

“Cynthia, you can end this any time you want to,” Alexander said.

“And go before a grand jury?”

“I hardly think the gentlemen will convene a grand jury simply to . . .”

“Do you realize how much money that can come to?” Carella said. “Six percent of the grossl Split four waysT

“I imagine quite a lot,” Cynthia said. “If the show’s a hit.”

“Then how can you say . . . ?”

He turned away from her again. Walked back. Let out his breath.

“Do you want us to arrest you?” he asked.

“Of course not.”

“Then how can you say you didn’t think it was important”? You tell us about a lousy little insurance policy . . .”

“Lower your voice, Detective. She’s not in Canada.”

“. . . but you don’t tell us about a play that can eventually earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for you? Because you don’t think it’s important!”

“I didn’t kill him.”

“I think that’s enough,” Alexander said.

“I’m not finished.”

“I said that’s . . .”

“I said I’m not finished.”

“I didn’t kill him.”

“When did you sign over the rights to that play?”

“I did not kill my father.”

“When, Mrs Keating?”

“I didn’t kill him, damn it!”

“When?”

“Right after the will was probated.”

“And when was that?”

“Two weeks after his death,” she said.