American Detective: An Amos Walker Novel (6 page)

BOOK: American Detective: An Amos Walker Novel
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SIX

A
lderdyce put on a pair of disposable latex gloves from his pocket, bent, and lifted the woman’s head from the floor to give me a better look at the face. She lay in a loose braid, on her back with her hips twisted sideways and her head turned so only her profile showed when you were standing over her. She’d exchanged the white summer dress for a yellow linen jacket and slacks and a knit black top. One of her open-toed pumps, black patent leather, was off her bare foot. Her flap of black hair fell down over one eye when her head was lifted. The other eye was looking at something way outside my range.

“We never met,” I said.

“Deirdre Jacqueline Fuller.” Detective Burrough read from a spiral pad. “Name on her driver’s license, and the photo checked. She had a key in her purse that fit the apartment door.” He tilted his Panama toward a shiny black handbag on an end table.

Alderdyce lowered her head to the rug. The puddle of drool had begun to dry. “Lab monkeys won’t thank you for laying on hands,” Burrough said.

“What they going to do, stomp my toes in their paper shoes?”

“They were okay before. It was that TV show turned them into arrogant pricks.”

“Head trauma?” Alderdyce asked.

“Bruise on the left temple. I make it she fell and hit the floor lamp on the corner of the metal shade. Or somebody pushed her.”

“Accident?”

“I don’t see how you could plan it. You can land punches on the temple all day and miss the sweet spot.”

“Well, maybe we won’t have it long. Five hundred hours community service and three years probation if he cops. Anyone see Bairn?”

“Neighbor heard the door slam after the commotion in the living room. He didn’t look out. Didn’t hear the elevator, so he figured whoever it was took the stairs. Stewed for a little and then called it in. Ransom and Ordoñez caught the squeal. They found the door unlocked and called me when they saw this.

“Be different it was a couple blocks north,” he went on. “Voices raised, slap on the chops, that’s a day in the life. Down here they’re interested in stopping things before they slide back.”

Alderdyce stripped off the gloves, watching me. “How long since you went to a Tigers game?”

“When did they close down the stadium?” I asked.

“It’s the same team, no matter where they play.”

“Same jerseys. Different names on the back. I lost touch. You trying to get rid of an extra ticket?”

“It wasn’t a social question. You really don’t know who Deirdre Fuller is.”

“Another friend of Bairn’s, apparently.”

“Her father’s Darius Fuller: the Fuller Brush Man. That’s how come she rates an inspector. The mayor takes it hard when the children of famous locals come to bad ends. Especially when it’s inside city limits. In a couple of hours this place is going to be crawling with media.”

“Assholes.” Burrough swept shut his notepad.

“The detective’s beef is personal. Mine’s professional. When they stick their corn dogs in my face and start yapping questions, it would be nice to say we’re questioning her boyfriend. It’s always the boyfriend, so they’ll accept that and stand back and give us some air. If you did know Bairn casually, you should be able to shed some light on their relationship, what it was and if they got along, but you say you didn’t know her. If, and I know it goddamn well to be true, he’s business, you do know. So is he the client or the subject of the investigation?”

“He isn’t a client.”

“Progress. Who’s the payroll?”

“I didn’t say there was one.”

“Bullshit. You made a business call to this number and you didn’t even know it wasn’t Bairn’s voice on the line. The only way you’d make that mistake is if you’d never heard him talk.”

“You can tie up a domestic killing without my help,” I said. “For you it’s a daily crossword. All I did was—”

“If you say ‘make a telephone call and knock on a door,’ I’ll leave you here with Burrough and Ransom and take a walk around the block. The FBI can make what it wants to out of it when it comes up for review.”

He’d kept his temper, but then he’d had it on a leash so many years he knew he could whistle it back anytime he cut it
loose. Only the bright whites of his eyes told you what would happen to you in between. I said, “I have to talk to the client.”

“Do it now. You’ve got a cell.”

I shook my head. “If the answer’s no, you’ll just confiscate it and check the log.”

Burrough spoke up. “We can wait till the phone here’s dusted, then you can use that. I got people checking on Bairn’s location. Nothing else to do till they report, right, Inspector?”

I said, “Then you’ll get the number from Ma Bell.”

Alderdyce’s face went as smooth as it could short of sandblasting. “Long distance, is it?”

“Yeah, you tricked it out of me. Narrows it down to the cops and the crooks and the people who can’t afford to live outside this exchange.”

“You live in it.”

“Work it out. I’m not a cop and I don’t have a record.”

“Just a fistful of charges for withholding and obstruction. You’ve been behind bars so many times you’ve got grill marks on your ass.”

“Can I quote you in my Yellow Pages ad?”

We went back into the kitchen. Officer Ransom’s long bony face was flushed; he’d made a discovery. “Check out the calendar on the fridge, Inspector. This guy Bairn thinks it’s September.”

July and August were missing, including Bairn’s scribbled appointment with Charlotte Sing, if that’s what it was. Alderdyce looked. “Could be nothing,” he said. “But good work, Officer.”

The Mexican cleared his throat, almost too softly to hear.

“It was Ordoñez pointed it out,” Ransom added, nearly as softly.

Alderdyce turned to the partner. “Why two pages, Officer?”

“In case somebody wrote something in July hard enough to make an indentation in August. Somebody’s been watching Charlie Chan.” The Mexican’s smile withered short of full bloom.

“Well, like I said, it could be a dry hole.” But Alderdyce sounded impressed. He looked at me. “I don’t guess you noticed.”

I shrugged and shook my head. This brought me into eye contact with Ordoñez. His were intelligent, mahogany-colored, and just as hard. He’d seen me looking at the calendar, all right; seeking it out. I’d led him right to it.

“Pick up your shit,” Alderdyce told me. “Call that client you don’t have. I don’t hear from you by the end of the shift, you start the next in Holding.”

Ransom said, “Sir, I know he’s your friend—”

“Stand down, Officer,” snapped Burrough.

Alderdyce addressed Ransom as if the detective hadn’t interrupted. “He’s a fucking hemorrhoid is what he is. But he’s closed more police cases than you read in training. You learn to be half the cop he is, I’ll put you in for plainclothes. You start to mouth off like him, I’ll bust you down to khaki. Do like your partner, keep your trap shut and listen.”

“Yessir.” And an enemy was born.

I started scooping stuff back into my pockets. Alderdyce snatched up the envelope as I was reaching for it. “We’ll hang on to this for now. You’ve got enough for gas.”

“When do I get it back?”

“End of the shift.” He smiled.

“How about a receipt?”

He looked at Burrough, who scribbled in his pad. When he hesitated before signing it, Alderdyce took the pad and
mechanical pencil, scratched his name, tore out the sheet, and stuck it at me. I still have it:

Received from A. Walker: $50,000 cash.

I’m thinking of getting it framed.

Waiting for the attendant to pry my car out from behind a monster truck, I leaned against the plywood booth, the only shade in the lot, and tapped out a number on my cell. The signal went to a tower in the suburbs and from there to the ear of Darius Fuller, telling him he wasn’t a father anymore. I listened to him gasping for breath, then mouthed the worthless words of sympathy and said the police would be in touch soon with details.

“What about you?” He sounded older than sixty now, dragging his glove back to the bullpen, beaten by the side.

“They want to know who I’m working for. If they see me with you, they’ll know.”

“It don’t much matter now, does it?”

“I’d like to poke around a little. They’ve got Hilary Bairn all wrapped up for it, and maybe they’re right. She was mad enough the last time I saw her to start a fight. But the cops don’t know the whole story and it’s not mine to tell.”

“Why do you care? The job ended when—Oh, God.” It broke then. You never know when it will or how bad. I took the telephone away from my ear until it subsided.

When it did I said, “There’s something else. If they find out what the job was and that you had a fight with Deirdre, it puts a whole new face on the investigation.”

“You don’t think they’ll think it was me? She’s my daughter, for Christ’s sake!” Now he was mad.

“They know that. Pretty soon they’ll know about the two million she had coming to her. Who gets it in the event she didn’t live to collect?”

He paused. “Her heirs and assigns. If she didn’t make other arrangements, that’d be me and Gloria. Her mother. Even split. What the hell are you saying?” Mad at me now. Hormones were colliding all over the place.

“I’m talking about the cops, not me. I just asked the question first. When they put the answer together with the fifty grand you gave me to pay him to walk away, they won’t see it as a father’s concern for his daughter’s welfare. They’re not paid to.”

“You said it was an accident!”

“That’s where the fight comes in. You didn’t let it end there—where was it, by the way?”

“Here in the house, but—”

“You followed her to Bairn’s place, they’ll say, or went looking for her there. It started all up again. There was a scuffle. That’s manslaughter, or at worst wrongful death. Money makes it something else. If the right one don’t get you, the left one will. Prosecutor’s dream.”

“Jesus.” It sounded like a prayer.

I paused. The attendant had brought up my car and got out to look at me, waiting for his money. He had a ball cap on backward and half a tin of Skoal under his lower lip. I stared at him until he turned, spat, and went into his booth. I walked a few yards away and lowered my voice. “There’s something else.”

“You already said that,” Fuller said.

“The cops confiscated the fifty.”

“Shit. Detroit cops? Shit.”

“They’re not all bent. I’ll get it back, but if you tell them
I’m working for you they’ll reconstruct the whole thing like the archaeologists they are, and the rest will play out like I said.”

“You’re something,” he said after a moment. “I don’t know what, exactly, but when a man goes out of his way to tell someone not to help him stay out of jail, you got to trust him like a good catcher. How you figure to stay out long enough to do squat?”

“Same as always: Keep fouling ’em off till I get the pitch I want.”

That was the end of the conversation. He started to say something, choked, and clicked off after a second of dead air.

I hoped it wasn’t an act. I was out on the same old dead limb and I didn’t bounce as well as I used to.

SEVEN

W
hen the day starts to run down there’s no place like the office for a think. There are no clever decorative touches to distract the tired brain, no witchy PC to dangle the temptations of a walking tour of the hanging gardens of Babylon or a pornographic website in Milwaukee, no flashing lights on the telephone; just the same old dust-trap desk and file cabinets and scrap rug and flakes of cigarette ash waltzing in the current from the electric fan on the windowsill. The half-dozen other businesses that hung on three floors like leaves on a dead tree had closed for the day and down in the street the feral dogs crossed against the light without incident. Some of them still wore collars; the U of D and Wayne State University students had neglected to remove them when they turned their pets loose at the end of the term. The Dogs of Summer were a problem. They roamed in packs, scattering garbage, preying on small pets, and mauling children. Meanwhile the city had discontinued Animal Control on weekends to save money.

After I locked the door to the outer office I unzipped the compartment in the lining of my belt and took out the paper
Darius Fuller had given me to have Bairn sign once money had changed hands. As evidence it was dynamite, and I couldn’t count on the cops not making a more thorough search next time. The safe was good only for prop comedy. I opened a desk drawer, dumped the staples out of the stapler, gave the paper another fold lengthwise, and laid it in the narrow channel inside. I figured it would escape discovery unless someone decided to staple something.

I returned it to the drawer and put the swivel to work, with a glass in my hand and two inches of charcoal starter in the bottom. Soon it was in my stomach and the coals were warming up.

Deirdre Fuller was a sad surprise. If anyone had an early expiration date stamped on his forehead it was Hilary Bairn, who swiped expensive watches and tried to pawn them through his girlfriend to support his champagne tastes, which probably included gambling debts. Deirdre had survived celebrity parentage and a broken home, had two million dollars coming, and yet had still been studying for a profession. She’d smelled of sweet almonds, a scent I approved of in a world drenched in honeysuckle and lilac. I couldn’t forget the expression on her face in Bairn’s apartment, that look of weary acceptance that said she had the answers I needed.

One of them was what had happened to the watch. I hadn’t seen it in either the kitchen or living room and Detective Burrough hadn’t mentioned finding it in her handbag, a man’s wristwatch in a woman’s purse. If she’d gone there to confront Bairn over turning her into a fence for stolen merchandise, starting a fight that got her killed, it stood to reason she’d have had the evidence with her, to throw in his face. She wouldn’t have tried to pawn it after the first time;
love is blind, not stupid, and she hadn’t the makings of a crook, not with an inheritance coming and her still committed to the law program at Michigan.

I could ask Bairn, if the cops didn’t arrest him first. I’d start with where he went after he left the office early. Or I could ask Darius Fuller where
he
went after he fought with Deirdre at his house in Grosse Pointe. No wristwatch might mean she’d already said her piece to Bairn and he’d apologized and they were friends again and that was why she was waiting for him in his apartment. That would take the heat off the boyfriend. The father had sounded convincing on the telephone, but if her death was an accident he wouldn’t have had to fake grief. It would also explain why no one else was home when the police investigated the disturbance. Most domestic killings are tied up on the spot, with the perpetrator waiting next to the corpse to be taken into custody. Intruders panic and leave.

BOOK: American Detective: An Amos Walker Novel
2.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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