The Last Dance Chapter Six

The Last Dance Chapter Six

They went in with a No-Knock arrest warrant and Kevlar vests because from what Betty Young had told them, the dude in here was no cookie-cutter.

The trouble with most tenement buildings in many parts of this city was that they hadn’t been designed for close police work. Maxwell Corey Blaine did not live on a ranch in Beaucoup Acres, Louisiana, where the sheriffs folk could drive up a tree-lined, moss-covered driveway and then storm the front door with a battering ram, five cops on either side of it – my how all dee catties was afeard. Maxwell – or Maxie, as he was familiarly called by his once and former rat fink girlfriend – lived in a six-story walkup on a narrow street in Calm’s Point, part of a section that had once been beautiful and civilized, had since become ugly and barbarous, and was currently targeted for gentrification in the next ten years, a cycle that was doomed to repeat itself though no one on the city council had a clue.

The building was constructed of red brick dimmed by the soot of centuries. The stairways were steep and the hallways narrow. There were four apartments on each floor, and at this hour of the morning – they had assembled outside at a quarter to two – the sounds of deep slumber rumbled from behind double-locked doors. They felt clumsy in the heavy-duty vests. They were dressed for winter as well, wearing layered clothing under the vests, gloveless now that they were inside the building, all of them carrying AR-15 assault rifles. No room for a battering ram in these turn-of-the-century hallways, stairs winding back on themselves until the men reached the fifth-floor landing and regrouped.

These men were colleagues and friends. There were no petty quarrels to settle here, no one was trying to trick anyone else into “taking the door,” which defined the ten most dangerous seconds in any policeman’s life. Kling simply told the others he would take the door. It was him and Brown, he said, who’d initially caught the pizzeria squeal, so this was their case and officially their bust, z/they made a bust here tonight, so he’ d take the door, with Brown and Carella as flankers, and Willis and Meyer as backups. It was very cold on that fifth-floor landing. His breath feathered from his mouth as he whispered all this to the others.

He was holding the heavy Colt carbine in both hands. Inside the apartment here, there was a man who’d maybe committed murder, a man the judge had felt was sufficiently dangerous to merit a No-Knock. The team was a good one. These men had worked together before, and they knew exactly what was coming down here tonight, exactly what they were supposed to do. Carella and Brown would flank the door. Kling would kick it in. The moment the lock was history, all three would rush the room, with Willis and Meyer fanning in behind them. If they were lucky, it would all be over in two, three minutes.

Kling put his ear to the wood, listening.

He heard nothing.

He kept listening a moment longer, backed off the door, and ascertained with little head nods that the others were ready. He took a deep breath, brought up his right knee, the left arm extended for balance, his right hand grasping the pistol grip of the rifle. The force of his kick, combined with his forward momentum and the weight of his body, smashed the wood gripping the lock’s bolt to the striker plate and jamb. He followed the splintered door inward, Carella and Brown peeling off from either side of the doorway and rushing after him into the apartment, Meyer and Willis not a heartbeat behind.

“Police!” Kling shouted and behind him the voices of the others echoed the word, “Police! Police!” as the men fanned into the apartment, eyes darting. Willis hit a wall switch and a ceiling light snapped on. They were in a small, shabby living room crowded with overstaffed furniture. To their left was a tiny walk-in kitchen. On the right wall, there were three closed doors. They guessed the one nearest the entrance opened on a closet. The bathroom was probably behind the middle door, the bedroom behind the last door on the wall, where it would have windows facing the street. No one commented aloud on any of this. They had been in many similar apartments and they knew tenement layouts. They simply moved behind Kling toward the last door on the wall, no hinges showing on this side of the door, it would open inward. He grabbed the knob, twisted it, again shouted “Police!,” and hurled the door open, the assault rifle leading him into the room.

Kicking in the door, rushing the room, zeroing in on what they expected was the bedroom had maybe taken all of thirty seconds. In that same amount of time, the man who’d presumably been in bed when they arrived had already crossed the room to the dresser, opened the top drawer in it, yanked out what looked like a nine-millimeter pistol, and now turned to point it at Kling.

“Gun!” Kling shouted and hurled himself flat on the floor, rolling away from the shooter as Brown and Carella started into the room. The bedroom was dark. In the faint spill of light from the living room, they didn’t see the girl in bed until she screamed, and she didn’t scream until the giant standing at the dresser in white Jockey shorts and a white tank-top shirt fired two shots in rapid succession, not at Kling, but at the doorway, now filled with Brown’s considerable bulk. Brown hurled himself to the left just as the shots exploded. The first slug missed him, missed Carella as well, who was coming through the door behind him. The second slug buried itself in the door jamb.

“There’s a gun!” Meyer shouted back to Willis, and ran through the doorway, firing in the direction of the muzzle flashes. The girl was screaming hysterically now. The guy in his underwear was blasting away at anything that came through that door, hitting nothing but the door and the doorjamb until Willis, the smallest of the targets, came in like a dancer and took a hit in his thigh where there was no vest to protect it. The slug spun him around. His leg slid out from under him.

The guy at the dresser suddenly realized there were five guys with heavy assault weapons here, and only one of them was down. He could keep firing away for the rest of the night, with that crazy bitch on the bed screaming and screaming, or he could call some kind of truce here before somebody riddled him like a polka dot pie.

“Cool it, boys,” he said, and threw down the gun.

Brown swatted him with an open hand that felt like a ten-pound hammer.

On the floor, Willis was trying to stanch the flow of blood from his thigh.

The one thing that could take all the joy out of police work was the sudden realization that it wasn’t all fun and games. The graveyard shift had relieved at a quarter to midnight. The assault team had arrived a half hour later, to begin gearing up in the locker room. Now, at a little past four a.m., almost every detective on the squad came to the building on Grover Avenue, wanting to know what the hell had happened. Men not due to relieve until eight that morning came in because they’d “heard” something. Men who were supposed to be on vacation or out sick came drifting back to the squadroom, wanting to know all the details.

Sergeant Murchison told them Hal Willis had got shot, something all of them already knew or they wouldn’t have flocked back here. What they wanted was details, man, but the only people who had the details were the four other cops who’d been along on the bust. Two of them, Kling and Brown, were locked in with the lieutenant and Maxie Blaine. The other two, Carella and Meyer, were at St Mary’s Hospital with Willis. There was no one accessible who seemed to have any hard information, and so the gathered detectives settled for speculation instead.

All they knew was that something had gone terribly wrong in that apartment. And since Bert Kling had been leading the assault, the musing cops began thinking perhaps he was the one who’d done something wrong and was therefore somehow responsible for Willis being in the hospital. On the other hand, some of the detectives began thinking that maybe Willis himself had been responsible for his “accident,” and this led to the further consideration that possibly he was a hard-luck cop. Because either he wasn’t doing his job right – and this was merely whispered – or else he was jinxed. Either way, he was not a man to be partnered with. Police work was dangerous. You did not want to be riding with a hoodoo jinx of a cop who raised the odds. Or so some of the detectives on the squad began thinking, and a few actually began saying, on that bleak December morning. Loyalty among policemen was somewhat like loyalty among soldiers. When the shit was flying, it was all for one and one for all. But that didn’t mean you had to go out drinking together after the battle was fought and won. Or lost, as seemed to be the case tonight, despite the fact that an arrest had been made. All in all, Willis getting shot cast a pall over the squadroom that made business as usual seem not as musketeerlike as it appeared on television.

In the squadroom that early morning, there was the usual collection of miscreants dragged in the night before: your snatch of hookers, your stealth of burglars, your clutch of muggers, your dime bag of pushers. Hookers were normally treated with jolly forbearance, the cops copping an occasional feel when opportunity allowed, the girls engaging in mock barter for leniency though they knew from experience that none was in the offing. This morning, it was different. The girls rounded up the night before were brusquely herded into the wagons that would take them downtown to Central Booking, no Sally-and-Sue banter this morning; they were whores, and a cop had been shot, and there was no time for jovial bullshit.

Burglars – unless they were junkie burglars – were usually treated with some measure of respect. For reasons understood only by cops, a burglar was mysteriously considered to be some kind of gentleman, even though he invaded a person’s home, violated his privacy, and ran off with his personal goods. Professional burglars were very rarely violent. Cops appreciated this. They would kick a junkie burglar’s ass six times around the block, but they would treat a pro like an equal who merely happened to be on the opposite side of the law. Not this morning. This morning, a cop had been shot, and there was no Hello-George-When-Did-You-Get-Out familiarity. This morning, everybody was a fucking criminal and everybody was guilty.

This morning, the victimizers suffered most.

Assault was never a very popular crime, but this morning if you’d beaten up an old lady in the park and stolen her purse, you were in for it, man. A minor assault wasn’t the same as shooting somebody, but to the cops of the Eighty-seventh Precinct, it came damn close on this morning when one of their own had been assaulted with a deadly weapon. But “if you had to be detained at the Eight-Seven this morning, the worst thing to be was a narcotics peddler. Too many police officers had been shot and killed by men selling dope to school kids, and whereas such criminals were never made to feel welcome in any precinct in the city, this morning the association of narcotics to murder and especially the murder of policemen was very keenly felt here at the Eight-Seven – especially when word had it that the perp being interrogated by Kling and Brown was an enforcer for the Colombian cartel.

Even aware of recent screaming headlines and protests and marches to City Hall, even cognizant of a public scrutiny that could escalate minor incidents into federal cases, the cops of the Eight-Seven were a mite careless this morning, if not downright reckless, shoving shackled prisoners into holding cells or vans when a mere invitation might have sufficed, using abusive and derisive language, acting-out all their personal fears, rages, and hatreds, treating criminals of any color or stripe exactly like the scumbags, shitheads, and evil sons of bitches they were, while at the same time themselves behaving like the brutal, detestable pricks the citizens of this city always knew they were.

Crime did not pay on this particular Thursday morning.

Not with a cop in St Mary’s Hospital.

She had known Kling was leading a No-Knock arrest early this morning and when she’d first answered the phone and was informed that there was a cop down and he’d been taken to St Mary’s with what was first reported as a stomach wound, she thought it might be Kling. She was relieved to learn that he hadn’ t been the victim, but any cop shot was a problem for Sharyn Cooke because she was a deputy chief surgeon in the police department and her job was to make sure any cop injured on her watch received the best treatment this city had to offer.

The unfortunate spelling of Sharyn’s first name was due to the fact that her then thirteen-year-old, unwed mother didn’ tknow how to spell Sharon. This same mother later put her through college and then medical school on money earned scrubbing floors in white men’s offices after dark. Sharyn Cooke was black, the first woman of color ever appointed to the job she now held. Actually, her skin was the color of burnt almond, her eyes the color of loam. Off the job, she often wore smoky blue eye shadow and Yf&kk!ft.t coo cS.sM^ywS^ ^we,. To ^j otk, stae, ^ ore to makeup at all. High cheekbones, a generous mouth, and black hair worn in a modified Afro gave her the look of a proud Masai woman. At five-nine, she always felt cramped in the compact automobile she drove and was constantly adjusting the front seat to accommodate her long legs. It took her forty minutes to drive from her apartment at the farther reaches of Calm’s Point to St Mary’s Hospital in the depths of lower Isola, close by the apartment building in which Maxie Blaine had been captured. St Mary’s was perhaps the second-worst hospital in the city, but that was small consolation.

A visit to Willis in the ER assured Sharyn that this wasn’t the stomach wound she’d been dreading, but some two to three percent of all fatal bullet wounds occurred in the lower extremities and the bullet was still lodged in his thigh, close to the femoral artery. She did not want some jackass fresh out of medical school in the Grenadines to be poking around in there and possibly causing severe hemorrhaging. She went immediately to the head of the hospital, a nonpracticing physician named Howard Langdon. Langdon was wearing a gray flannel suit with wide lapels that had gone out of style ten years ago. He was wearing a pink shirt and a knit tie a shade darker than the suit. He had white hair and a white goatee. He looked as if his picture should have been on a fried chicken carton.

Langdon had once been a very good surgeon, but that didn’ t excuse the way he now ran St Mary’ s. Sharyn herself was a board-certified surgeon – which meant she’d gone through four years of medical school, and then five years as a resident surgeon in a hospital, after which she’d been approved for board certification by the American College of Surgeons. She still had her own private practice, but as a uniformed one-star chief she worked fifteen to eighteen hours a week in the Chief Surgeon’s Office for an annual salary of $68,000. In this city, some twenty to thirty police officers were shot every year. Sharyn wasn’t about to let one of them languish here at St Mary’s.

As politely as she could, she told Langdon she wanted Detective Willis ambed over to Hoch Memorial, half a mile uptown – and three hundred light years away in terms of service and skill, which she did not mention. Langdon looked her dead in the eye and asked, “Why?” “I’d like him to be there,” she said. Again, Langdon asked, “Why?” “Because that’s where I feel he’ll receive the sort of care I want him to have.”

“He’ll receive excellent care here as well,” Langdon said.

“Doctor,” Sharyn said, “I really don’t want to argue this. The detective needs immediate surgery. I want him ambed over to Hoch Memorial right this minute.” “I’m afraid I can’t discharge him,” Langdon said. “It’s not your call to make,” Sharyn said. “I run this hospital.”

“You don’t run the police department,” she said. “Either you have an ambulance at the ER door in three minutes flat, or I’ll have him nine-elevened out of here. Say, Doctor.”

“I can’t let you do this,” Langdon said.

“Doctor, I’m in charge here,” Sharyn said. “This is my job and my mandate. That detective is moving out of here now”

“They’ll think it’s because St Mary’s isn’t a good hospital.”

“Who are you talking about, Doctor?”

“The media,” Langdon said. “They’ll think that’s why you moved him.”

“That is why I’m moving him,” Sharyn said coldly and cruelly and mercilessly. “I’m calling Hoch,” she said, and turned on her heel, walked to the nurses’ station, and snapped her fingers at a telephone. The nurse behind the counter handed it to her at once. Langdon was still floating in the background, looking angry and defeated and sad and somehow pitiable. Dialing, Sharyn told the nurse, “Get an ambulance around to the back door, and wheel the detective out. I’m moving him.” Into the phone she said, “Dr Gerardi, please,” and waited. “Jim,” she said, “this is Sharyn Cooke. I’ve got a cop with a thigh wound, he’s being transferred right this minute from St Mary’s.” She listened, said, “Tangential,” listened again, said, “Nonperforating. It’s still in there, Jim, can you prepare an OR and a surgical team, we’ll be there in five minutes. See you,” she said, and hung up, and looked at the nurse who was standing there motionless. “Is there a problem, Nurse?” she asked.

“It’s just . . .,” the nurse said, and looked helplessly across the counter to where Langdon was standing. “Dr Langdon?” she asked. “Is it all right to order an ambulance?”

Langdon said nothing for several moments.

Then he said, “Order it,” and walked away swiftly, down the long polished tile corridor, not looking back, turning a corner, out of sight.

Sharyn went to Willis where he lay on a wheeled table behind ER curtains, an oxygen tube in his nose, an IV in his arm.

“I’m getting you out of here,” she said.

He nodded.

“You’ll be uptown in five minutes.”

He nodded again.

“I’ll be with you. Do you need anything?”

He shook his head.

Then, quite unexpectedly, he said, “It wasn’t Bert’s fault.”

Section 125.27 of the Penal Law stated that a person was guilty of murder in the first degree when he caused the death of a police officer engaged in the course of performing his official duties. Maxie Blaine hadn’t killed anyone, but he’d opened fire indiscriminately on a roomful of cops armed with an arrest warrant. This meant they had him cold on five counts of attempted murder one, a Class A-1 felony punishable by fifteen to life as a minimum on each count. In this city, you didn’t shoot a cop and walk. No self-respecting D.A. would even consider a plea when he had four other police officers ready to testify that ole Maxie Blaine here had repeatedly pulled the trigger of the gun that downed a fellow police officer. If they needed civilian corroboration, they were sure they could get that from the eighteen-year-old girl who’d been screaming in Maxie’s bed, and whose lawyer had advised her to remain silent until he saw which way the wind was blowing here. The girl’s lawyer – whose name was Rudy Ehrlich – didn’t yet know the wind was blowing toward lethal injection, the penalty for first-degree murder in this state. So far, all Ehrlich knew was that his client’s “friend” had wounded a police detective, and that she’d been a possible witness to the shooting. In such cases, Ehrlich’s motto was “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” As a matter of fact, this was Ehrlich’s motto in any criminal case. He got a lot of money for this advice, which was only common knowledge to any schoolyard kid who’d ever been frisked for a firearm.

Maxie Blaine knew instinctively and through bitter experience on his meteoric rise through Georgia’s criminal justice system that “Silence Is Golden” was really and truly a terrific rule to follow whenever you were dealing with law enforcement types. He also knew that he had just now popped a cop, and he knew in his secret heart of hearts that a month or so ago he had killed a man the media had later identified as a police informer, so long, Ratso. He suspected the reason the cops had come a-rappin on his door at two in the morning was they needed desperately to know had he really done that little rat bastard. Which he wasn’t ready to admit since he wasn’t pining just yet for a massive dose of Valium.

In an instance such as this, where they already had him on inadvertently plugging a cop in a moment of panic, the damn girl shrieking like a banshee and all, Blaine shrewdly calculated that maybe there was a deal to be made if he played his cards right. So whereas he asked for a lawyer – no experienced felon ever did not ask for a lawyer when he was in custody – he nonetheless figured he’d answer their questions until he saw where they were going. The minute he figured out what they really had here – he didn’ t see how they could possibly tie him to the pizzeria shooting – why that was when he could maybe squirm his way out of this, maybe talk the D.A. into covering everything he’d done including the Guido’ s thing for a plea that might grant him parole in twenty years, maybe even fifteen. In other words, he thought the way many criminals think: he thought he could outsmart two experienced detectives, a lieutenant who’ d seen it all and heard it all, and even his own attorney, a man named Pierce Reynolds, a transplanted good ole boy from Tennessee, who naturally urged silence.

The interrogation started in the lieutenant’s office at six o’clock on that morning of December 2, by which time Blaine’s attorney had arrived and consulted with him, and Blaine had been read his rights and verified that he understood them. To protect his own ass in any subsequent client-lawyer law suit, Reynolds went on record as having advised Blaine to remain silent and Blaine went on record as having been so advised. All the bullshit out of the way, the questioning proper began at six-fifteen a.m. with Detective-Lieutenant Peter Byrnes himself eliciting from Maxwell Corey Blaine his full name, address, and place of employment, which was a pool parlor in Hightown, or so he said, but then again he wasn’t under oath.

If Blaine was in reality breaking heads for someone linked to the Colombian cartel, as Betty Young had informed them, he couldn’t very well tell the cops this was his occupation. Not if he hoped to outfox them and cut a deal later. There was no official police stenographer here as yet, and no one from the District Attorney’s Office. Blaine figured the deck was stacked in his favor. The cops figured they could nail him on shooting Willis whenever the spirit moved them. Getting someone to ride uptown from the D.A.’s Office was a simple matter of making a phone call. But they were angling for bigger fish. They were looking for Murder One.

Byrnes opened with a laser beam straight to the forehead.

“Know anyone named Enrique Ramirez?”

Blaine blinked.

“Nossir,” he said, “I surely do not.”

“I thought you might have done some work for him,” Byrnes said.

“Is that a question?” Reynolds asked.

“Counselor,” Byrnes said, “could we agree on some basic ground rules here?”

“What basic rules did you have in mind, Lieutenant? I thought I was familiar with all the rules, basic or otherwise, but perhaps I’m mistaken.”

“Mr Reynolds,” Byrnes said, “we don’t need courtroom theatrics here, okay? There’s no judge here to rule on objections, there’s no jury to play to, your man isn’t even under oath. So why not just take it nice and easy, like the song says, okay?”

“Does the song say anything about a cop getting shot tonight?” Reynolds asked. “Which is why my client is here in custody, isn’t that so?”

“Well, Counselor,” Byrnes said, “if you’d let him answer my questions, we could maybe find out why we’re here, okay? Unless you want to call the whole thing off, which is your client’s right, as you know.”

“For Chrissake, let him ask his goddamn questions,” Blaine said. “I got nothing to hide here.”

Famous last words, Byrnes thought.

Reynolds was thinking the same thing.

So was Kling.

Brown was wondering if the son of a bitch was going to claim police brutality cause he’d smacked him upside the head back there in his apartment.

Blaine all of a sudden thought he had to be very careful here because somehow they’d learned about his relationship with Enrique Ramirez, and that was a road that led directly to Guide’s Pizzeria and a lot of spilled tomato sauce.

Byrnes was thinking he had to walk a very careful line here because they’d promised Betty Young sanctuary, they’d asked her to trust them, and he couldn’t now reveal her name or how he’d come into possession of the information she’d given them.

“This pool parlor you work for?” he asked. “Who owns it?”

“I got no idea.”

“You don’t know who the boss is?”

“Nope. The manager pays me my check every week.”

“What’s the manager’s name?”

“Joey.”

“Joey what?”

“I haven’t the faintest.”

“How’d you get this job?”

“Friend of mine told me about it.”

“What’s your friend’s name?”

“Alvin Woods. He’s gone back home to Georgia.”

Go find him, he was thinking.

Doesn’t exist, Byrnes was thinking.

“Know a man named Ozzie Rivera?”

“Nope.”

“Oswaldo Rivera?”

“Never heard of him.”

“How about a man named Joaquim Valdez?”

“Nope.”

“That wouldn’t be the Joey who pays you your check every week, would it?”

“I don’t know what Joey’s last name is.”

“Rivera had both his legs broken last April. Were you living in this city last April?”

“I surely was. But I don’t know anything about this Ozzie Rivera or both his broken legs. That sure is a shame, though.”

Like to smack him again, Brown thought.

“What were you doing on the morning of November eighth?” Byrnes asked.

Here we go, Blaine thought.

“November eighth, let me see,” he said.

“Take all the time you need,” Byrnes said.

“Would that have been a Saturday morning? Cause Saturday’s my day off. I sleep late Saturdays.”

“No, this would’ve been a Monday morning.”

“Then Fd’ve been at the pool hall.”

“Doing what? What do you do at this pool hall, Maxie?”

“I’m a table organizer.”

“What’s that, a table organizer?”

“I see to it that there’s a flow.”

“A flow, uh-huh. What’s that?”

“I see to it that the tables are continuously occupied. So we don’t have people waiting for tables or tables not being played. It’s an interesting job.”

“I’ll bet. Did you ever hear of a man named Danny Nelson?”

“Sorry, no.”

“Danny Gimp is another name he went by.”

“No. Never heard of him.”

“Would you be surprised if I told you he’d stiffed your boss on a minor-league dope deal. . .”

“My boss? Who’s supposed to be my boss?”

“Enrique Ramirez. Who owns the pool hall you work for.”

“I don’t know anybody named Enrique Ramirez, I already told you. Nor Danny Gump, neither.”

“Gimp.”

“I thought you said Gump.”

“Gimp. It means a guy who limps.”

“Has all this got to do with some sort of drug violation?” Reynolds asked.

“Two keys of cocaine,” Byrnes said, nodding. “Worth forty-two large.”

“You know,” Reynolds said, “I really think you people should either charge my client with a specific crime or else. . .”

“Ramirez paid a man named Danny Nelson to deliver two keys of coke to a dealer in Majesta,” Byrnes explained genially. “Danny never showed up and neither did the coke. You don’t do that to Enrique Ramirez.”

“I don’t know anything about any of this,” Blaine said.

“I especially don’t know this Enrique Ramirez person, who I guess you’re saying is somehow involved with dealing dope.”

“El Jefe ? ” Byrnes said. “Ever hear him called that?”

“No. Is that Spanish, what you said?”

“We think El Jefe hired you to kill Danny Nelson,” Byrnes said.

“Ooops, that’s it, Lieutenant,” Reynolds said.

“No, that’s okay,” Blaine said, grinning. “I don’t know any of these people he’s talking about, so just relax, it’s okay. I’ve got nothing to worry about here. Nice and easy, okay? Like you said, Lieutenant.”

Smack him right in the fuckin eye, Brown thought.

“On the morning of November eighth,” Byrnes said, “did you tell a friend of yours you were going out for some pizza?”

Kling looked at him. So did Brown. The lieutenant had just come dangerously close to revealing Betty Young’s identity. If Blaine walked out of here today . . .

“No,” Blaine said. “What friend?”

“Excuse me, lieutenant. . .,” Kling said.

“What friend?” Blaine insisted.

“A friend you told you were going out for pizza, on the morning Danny Gimp . . .”

“Lieutenant. . .”

“Did you tell a friend you were going out for pizza?”

“This is Betty Young, right?” Blaine said.

Oh Jesus, Kling thought. The Loot just gave her up.

“Never mind who it is. Did you . . . ?”

“It’s that fuckin bitch Betty, ain’t it? Who else could it be? What else did she tell you?”

“I would suggest. . .”

“If you don’t mind, Counselor. . .”

“Mr Blaine . . .”

“What did you mean when you said you were going out for pizza?” Byrnes asked.

“I meant I was going out for pizza, what the fuck’s wrong with that? Oh, I get it. She spotted me on the tape, right? She’s going for the re . . .”

“What tape?” Byrnes asked at once.

Blaine suddenly shut up.

“Are we finished here?” Reynolds asked.

“Unless Mr Blaine has something else he wants to tell us,” Byrnes said.

“We’re finished here,” Blaine said.

“You heard him. In which case . . .”

“Like what?” Blaine said.

“Come on,” Reynolds said. “Let’s go.”

“No, like what?” Blaine insisted. “What would I want to tell you?”

“That’s up to you,” Byrnes said. “You think it over. Meanwhile, we’re gonna hold you here for a few hours while we assemble some witnesses from the pizzeria. Run a little lineup for them, see if they can recognize you a little better in person than on that tape you were just talking about. The law allows us . . .”

“That was it, am I right? She spotted me on the tape, that fuckin bitch.”

Kling was staring at the lieutenant.

They had asked Betty Young to trust them.

But the lieutenant had given her up.

“You want whose name went in with me?” Blaine asked. “Is that it?”

It was contagious.

The black man who’d been Blaine’s partner on the pizzeria shivaree was a dark-skinned Colombian named Hector Milagros. They arrested him in a diner at nine that morning, having breakfast alone in a corner booth. Milagros knew there was no sense trying to force his way out of a situation where his back was to a plate glass window and he was looking at three nines as compared to his singleton thirty-eight. He asked them could he finish his eggs before they got cold. They told him they’ d order more eggs for him up at the station house. Casually, he asked, “Wass thees all abou, anyways, muchachosT

“We’ve been talking to an old friend of yours,” Brown said.

“Old shooting buddy of yours,” Kling said.

“Maxie Blaine,” Carella said. “Remember him?”

“Mierda! ” Milagros said, and stabbed his fork into one of the egg yolks. Yellow ran all over his plate.

By the time the network news broke the following day, both Milagros and Blaine had been indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Daniel Nelson. Expecting they would both be held without bail, Betty Young showed little temerity about revealing herself as the person responsible for their arrest. Ever on the prowl for promotional opportunities, Restaurant Affiliates arranged for presentation of the $50,000 reward check (blown up to gigantic viewing size) on that evening’s six-thirty network news. It did not hurt that Betty Young was an attractive woman with a dazzling smile and a blameless bust. Winsomely grinning into the camera, she thanked RA, Inc. for the check she would use to buy nursing care for her bedridden mother in Florida and a new Chevy Geo for herself. She then expressed the fervent wish that those two ruthless killers would receive the maximum penalty – otherwise she’d be looking over her shoulder the rest of her life, she did not say to the television audience. Literary agents all over the city wondered if there was a book and subsequent movie in this. School children all over the United States wept sympathetic tears into their beers and went out to buy a nicer pizza, hopeful they’d accidentally stumble into a Guido’ s killing of their own and glean a fifty-K reward as a result. Watching the show in bed, eating Chinese food with Sharyn Cooke, Kling wondered aloud if Lieutenant Byrnes had done the right thing.

“Because you know, Shar,” he said, “Pete had no idea Blaine would suddenly open up. No idea at all. He just threw her to the lions, was what he did. After she gave us her trust.”

“She didn’t look so shy accepting that check,” Sharyn said.

He watched her manipulating the chopsticks. She worked them like a pro, clamping them onto morsels of food as if she’d been born in Beijing. He was almost hypnotized.

“What?” she said.

“I like the way you do that.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“You do it pretty good yourself, Big Boy,” she said.

“I keep dropping rice.”

“Just don’t get it all over the bed.”

“She really does have a bedridden mother in Florida, you know?”

“Reason she needs the Geo,” Sharyn said. “Drive on down there to visit the old lady.”

“Stop for a pizza on the way,” Kling said.

“Fifty thousand bucks is gonna buy a whole lot of pizza,” Sharyn said, and pincered a mushroom and popped it into her mouth. “I never won anything in my life, did you?” she said. “I grew up with my mother playing the numbers every day of the week, most she ever won was five, ten dollars. I never won a nickel.”

“I won a bicycle once.”

“When?”

“When I was twelve. At a street carnival.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah. One of these roulette-wheel kind of things. I still remember the number.”

“What was the number?”

“Seventeen. It was black with white trim.”

“The number?”

“The bike.”

“Just like us,” Sharyn said.

“But you know,” he said, “she didn’t win anything. This was a reward.”

“Right, for ratting on him,” Sharyn said.

“We try to discourage that sort of thinking,” Kling said.

“What sort?” Sharyn said. “And who’s ‘we’?”

“The police. The sort of thinking that equates performing a public duty with ratting on somebody.”

“Gee, is that whut youpo-licemens try to do?” she said, and put her plate and chopsticks on the night table on her side of the bed, and finished her cup of tea and then slid over to him and kissed him on the mouth.

She tasted of every black woman he had ever known.

Matter of fact, she was the only black woman he had ever known, the only woman of whatever color he ever hoped to know in the near or distant future. He considered it fortunate that she felt the same way about him, that somehow in this troubled tribal universe, two people from very definitely different tribes had met and decided to give it an honest shot. He thought it miraculous, and so did she, that in the face of overwhelming odds, they were actually making a go of it. Just think of it. A little colored girl from Diamondback grows up to be a deputy police chief, and a white boy on a bicycle he won grows up to be a police detective, and in this hurried hating city, they find each other. And fall in love with each other. Go tell that to your Hutus and Tutsis, your Albanians and Serbs, your Arabs and Jews.

They both knew that the God, Country, and Brotherhood bit they’ d each and separately had drummed into their heads in school wasn’t quite where it was at today. They were a black woman and a white man living together in the real world. What they shared was not some idealistic democratic sentiment premised on alikeness. They knew that much of what they felt for each other had to do with identical likes and dislikes, yes, but that really wasn’t all of it. They had similar senses of humor, yes, and they were in the same line of work, more or less, and yes, they had the same tastes in movies and books and plays and they both liked basketball and they both voted identically and yearned for a house and three kids if that was in their future somewhere – but this was America, you know, and so they wondered and worried about that future, and were cautious about wishing too hard for it. In the darkness of the night, where there was no color or lack of color, if they ever thought about whether their samenesses had created the strong and unusual bond between them, they each and separately might have concluded that it had also been their differences.

They were not color blind.

Any white or black person in America who told you he or she was color blind was lying.

In fact, Kling had been attracted to her because she was black and beautiful and he was curious, and Sharyn had been attracted to him because he was so goddamn blond and white and good-looking and forbidden. There were differences between them that spanned continents and oceans and spoke of jungle drums and sailing ships and slaves in chains and white men bartering in open markets and blood on the snow and blood on the stars and blood mixing with blood until blood became meaningless. These very differences brought them closer together. In each other’s arms, in each other’s lives, they shared an intimacy each had never known before, Kling not with any other woman, ever, Sharyn not with any other man, ever.

“A black and white bicycle, huh?” she said.

“Black with white trim.”

“You sure it wasn’t white with black trim?”

“I’m sure.”

“You know what trim is?”

“I know.”

“You know what black trim is?”

“I know.”

“How come you know such dirty things?”

“How come I love you so much?” he asked.

“Sweet talker,” she said.

“You love me, too?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said.