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Authors: John Dunning

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BOOK: Booked to Die
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“How long has she been up there?”

“A few years, I guess. I’ve never seen her place. She’s goddamned intimidating if you want to know the truth. You don’t just call her up because you’re out for a drive some Sunday and you want to scout her shelves. At least I don’t.”

“How does she sell her books?”

“She’s got clients who come in from out of town. Does mail order. And deals in very expensive stuff.”

I wrote her name down.

“It doesn’t sound logical, does it?” I said. “Her and Bobby?”

Harkness shrugged. “That’s all I can tell you.”

I believed him for the moment, and left.

There were two more dealers on Book Row. One was a specialist in collectible paperbacks, who kept odd hours. His store was closed. Near the end of the block was a junk shop called A-l Books, owned by Clyde Fix. I had never dealt with Fix, for two reasons: I have never seen a book in his store that I wanted, and his hatred for cops was well known and documented. He and Jackie Newton might make a great pair that way, but that was the only way. While Jackie was carving out land deals, Clyde Fix was struggling to stay alive. Where Jackie had brains, Clyde Fix had only animal cunning. It was a safe bet that Clyde Fix had never heard of a Lamborghini: he clattered around town in a red ‘62 Ford that always seemed two miles from the scrap heap. He was in his forties, with thinning hair and a gaunt, consumptive profile. He had owned bookstores all over Denver in the last fifteen years, all of them dumps like this one. Ruby had known him for years. Before he had discovered books, Ruby said, Clyde Fix had been a seller of graveyard plots; before that, he had sold shoes. With books, he had found a way of keeping body and soul together without having to punch a time clock. There are lots of customers for cheap books, and a junkman in almost any kind of junk will usually make a living.

He had a deceptive manner: he could ooze charm and in the same moment turn on you like a snake. People who had never seen his bad side thought of him as a nice man; the rest of us knew better. Fix had been busted half a dozen times for disturbing the peace, and Traffic had pulled him in a few times for speeding. He always argued with the cop. He was his own worst enemy. Once, I knew, he had talked himself from a simple taillight violation to creating a disturbance and ultimately resisting arrest. Cops have a lot of discretion in things like that.

My interview was a short one. Fix was hostile, as I knew he would be, and he wouldn’t give me much. He didn’t seem to know or care that Bobby Westfall was dead. “Why should I worry over that fool? That’s just one less fool out there working my territory.”

“Where’s your territory?” I asked.

“Wherever the hell I say it is.”

I knew that mentality well. Beat me to a book and you’re my enemy for life. Turn over all your best books to me. Sell that to me for ten cents on the dollar, and don’t give me any damn guff about it either. Fix would intimidate if he could, cheat if he could do that. He’d buy a $ 1,000 book for a quarter, then laugh all year at the sucker who’d sold it to him.

It occurred to me suddenly that there was a lot of latent anger in the Denver book world. I could easily see Clyde Fix bashing Bobby’s head in. But with Fix it wouldn’t be calculated: more likely it would be a spur-of-the-moment thing, in broad daylight with fifteen witnesses looking on. They had had one run-in last year: the story had gone through the trade like a shot and quickly taken on the characteristics of an urban legend. I remembered it now and could almost see it: Bobby and Fix at the Goodwill store, both spotting a treasure nestled among the junk. James Crumley’s
One to Count Cadence
, a $100 book then, two or three times that now. The mutual lunge, the struggle, the tumble into a counter of glassware, Fix coming up with the book, whirling and knocking a little old lady flat. The cops arrived, but Fix and Bobby were gone. So was the book.

I hassled him for a while: it was good for my constitution. Where were you last night, Fix? Anybody there with you? Can you prove where you were between ten o’clock and midnight? You didn’t like Bobby much… did you kill him?

Pleasantries like that help get me through a dull day. If only I had something to do with my hands.

I moseyed back up the street. It was a quiet day on Book Row. At Seals & Neff a few customers had come and gone and the day was quickly settling into its inevitable, uneventful course. There was a young woman in the store, who had brought in a bag of books. Bookscouts, like dealers, come in all sizes, colors, and sexes. This one was a cut above the others I had seen, at least in the category of looks, but it was clear from what was being said that she had more than a smattering of ignorance when it came to books.

Neff was explaining to her why her as-new copy of Faulkner’s
The Reivers
wasn’t a first edition. “But it says first edition,” she protested. “Right here on the copyright page… look. First edition. How much clearer can it be than that? Random House always states first edition, right? You told me that yourself the last time I was in here. Now I’ve got a first edition and you’re telling me it isn’t a first edition. I don’t know what to believe.”

“Believe this, honey,” Neff said. “I don’t need the grief. If you think I’m trying to steal your book…”

“I didn’t say that. I’m not accusing you, I just want to know.”

“It’s a Book-of-the-Month Club first,” Neff said, enunci-ating each word with chilly distinction. “It’s printed from the same plates as the first, or maybe the same sheets are ever used; that’s why it says first edition. But the binding is different, there’s no price on the jacket, and the book has a blind stamp on the back board.”

“What’s a blind stamp?”

“A little dent, pressed right into the cloth. Look, I’ll show you. You see that little stamp? That means it’s a book club book. Whenever you see that, it came from a book club, even if it’s written ‘I’m a first edition’ in Christ’s own blood inside. Okay?”

She sighed. “I’ll never learn this stuff. How much is it worth?”

“This book? Five bucks tops. There are eight million copies of this in the naked city.”


I paid
more than that for it. Didn’t I come in here last week and ask you what it was worth? You said fifty dollars. That’s why I went and bought it.”

“We’re talking about two different animals. You asked me a question, I answered you. How was I supposed to know you couldn’t tell one from the other?”

“I paid seven-fifty,” she said sadly.

“You got rooked.”

“Damn shit,” she said.

“You tell her, Mr. Janeway,” Neff said. “Lady, this guy is a Denver cop. Would a cop lie to you? He’s a cop and he’s also a damn good bookman. Show him the book.”

She handed it to me. I looked at it and told her Neff was right. It was a $5 book and you had to pray mighty hard to ever get the five.

“Let me see your badge,” she said. “You don’t look like a cop to me.”

I showed her my badge. She sagged in final defeat.

“It’s a tough world, hon,” Neff said.

“Don’t give me that. I see some of the characters who sell you books. They don’t look like any Einsteins to me. If they can do it, I know I can. I’ve got as much brains as they have.”

“I’m sure that’s true. The difference between you and them is that they’ve already made their mistakes.”

“Seven dollars and fifty cents, shot to hell,” she said. “Bet you won’t even give me two for it.”

“I can pick those things up in thrift stores all day long for fifty cents.”

“Aw, give her the money,” Ruby said, coming out from the back room. “We’ll subsidize this mistake. Just don’t make any more, and bring us all your good books first. Give her the seven-fifty, Em.”

“No wonder we’re going broke,” Neff said.

“This’ll pay big dividends down the road, I can feel it in my bones,” Ruby said. “What’s your name, lady?”

“Millie Farmer.”

“Here—here’s your money back. I’m taking a two-buck loss, that is if I ever sell the son of a bitch. Bring me a good book next time.”

“I will,” she said determinedly. “By God, you watch me.”

“It’s easy,” Ruby said. “Like taking candy from a baby. When you see a box of books, don’t take any bad ones and don’t leave any good ones. That’s all there is to it.”

I had been taking all this in as a spectator. Now, at the end of it, I couldn’t help shaking my head and asking her one question.

“Why would you want to be a bookscout?”

“I’m a teacher,” she said. “Would you like to try to make it on what they pay you to teach third grade in this town? I need the extra money.”

“All right,” Neff said. “Stick around, I’ll show you some ropes. It doesn’t look like much else is gonna happen today.”

“Ruby,” I said, “I’m ready to go to Bobby’s place if you are.”

We picked up my car and headed down Seventeenth Avenue toward Capitol Hill. Ruby talked as we drove, a seemingly endless chain of stories about Bobby Westfall and his adventures in the book trade. Ruby knew all the scuttlebutt. “I can’t believe the little bastard’s dead,” he said at one point. I told him he could believe it. “I sure hope you get the son of a bitch that did it, Dr. J,” he said. I told him I would, but you never know about that. You just never know.

Bobby lived in one of those old tenements on Ogden Street. It was a garret, up three long flights of stairs. We stopped at the manager’s on the ground floor. I showed him my badge and told him the news. He was shocked. The manager was about fifty: he wore a sweatshirt and had a dark, unhealthy look. His name was Marty Zimmers. I told him we’d need to see the apartment and he got his spare key. At the top of the stairs, I said, “I don’t want you boys to touch anything. In fact, I think I’m gonna ask you to wait out here.”

I opened the door and the cats came running. I went in alone.

It was a small place, one room with a kitchenette and a tiny bathroom. It was a maze of books, a veritable cave of books. There were books piled from the floor to the ceiling, books stacked around the hideaway bed he’d slept in, books on the toilet, on the kitchen counter. I could see at a glance it was mostly crap, the kind of things a bookscout buys on a wing and a prayer, because it’s cheap, because he has a hunch that never pays off, because he makes mistakes. Millie Farmer ought to be here now, and see what it’s really like, I thought. There were later printings and books without jackets and books with vast, unfixable problems. Later I’d have to go through every piece in this room on the off chance that, if Bobby had found something, it might still be here. For now the main job was to get the area secured.

“This the only key?” I called out into the hall.

Marty Zimmers stuck his head in. “Well, he had one.”

“This is the only spare, though.”

“That’s it.”

I gave the place one quick looksee before going down to call the lab. The only things that stood out were the cats and a cheap little notepad that he had used for a telephone book. I picked up the notebook carefully and thumbed through it. Everybody was in it, all the book dealers in Denver by name and address. For some he had home numbers. Ruby and Neff were there, both home numbers and the store. On the back page of the book he had scrawled “Rita McKinley,” and a telephone exchange that I recognized as Evergreen, in the mountains. I checked it against the number on the paper that Bobby had dropped in Jerry Harkness’s bookstore. The numbers were different. I copied the new number in my notebook and left Bobby’s book on the rickety little table beside the bed.

In the manager’s office I made my calls. The first was the new Rita McKinley number. It rang once and was answered by a machine. The cool female voice said, “You’ve reached 670-2665. No one’s here now. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you soon.” The phone beeped. I didn’t leave a message.

I tried the other number. A cutoff recording came on and said that the call could not be completed as dialed.

I called downtown. Hennessey had come in. I told him I was at Bobby’s place and I gave him the address. “We’ll need a crew over here to comb through things. You come supervise, will you? Tell them to leave the books for me. I want to go out and talk to some more book dealers.”

“Will do. You had a couple of calls while you’ve been out. One of them might be important. Barbara Crowell.”

“When did that come in?”

“Time on the message said one-fifteen. Just a few minutes ago.”

“Did she say anything?”

“The dispatcher wrote ‘urgent’ on it, underlined in red. Said the woman sounded scared to death. But she wouldn’t talk to anybody else.”

“What’s her number?”

He read it to me. I hung up and dialed it. Another goddamn answering machine.

“Hi, this’s Barbara. I can’t come to the phone right now, but…”

I slammed the phone down. I had a very dark vision suddenly. Jackie Newton walked over my grave.

“Ruby, I want you to stay here and keep Mr. Zimmers company. I’m leaving you the key, so you can give it to Hennessey when he comes. I don’t want either one of you guys to go into that apartment. You understand what I’m saying?”

“I think I do, Dr. J.”

“You boys need to vouch for each other that nobody’s been up there between the time I left and when the cops came. Okay?”

“Sure. What’re you gonna do?”

“I’ve got to be somewhere, right now.”

Five minutes later I pulled up at Barbara Crowell’s place on Pearl Street. The Lamborghini was parked out front.

7

The house where
Barbara lived had two apartments on each floor. I parked in the loading zone behind Jackie Newton’s car, got out, went inside, and started up the stairs. The place seemed like a mausoleum, still and deathly quiet. The steps creaked as I moved up, but that was the only sound until I got to the second floor and heard the radio. It was soft rock music, trickling faintly from above. I knew it was her radio playing—the apartment across the way was vacant. I took a grip on my gun and started up to the top. The radio came closer but still there were no voices. At her door I stopped and listened. Nothing. It was one of those
oh-hell
bad times in a cop’s life. You want I should maybe knock on her door? Not this boy. I’d walk in and catch him
in flagrante delicto
, my only witness the terrified victim. Can’t you just see it?
No. Your Honor. I didn’t invite him in
. That’s me she’s talking about now, not Jackie Newton: we know from past experience what she’d say about a guy who could make her heart stop just by saying boo. I
asked Mr. Newton over to make up a quarrel we’d had… I certainly didn’t expect or want Detective Janeway to come walking into my bedroom

Why couldn’t she scream? Throw something against the wall? I’d take any help I could get, any way I could get it.

But there was only profound stillness and the refrain from
A Lover’s Concerto
on the other side of the door.

Ah, fuck it. I turned the knob. It was unlocked. I pushed it just a crack, enough to see into the front room. The radio got suddenly louder and that was all. I could see it blaring away on a table across the room. I pushed the door a little wider and I could see through to the kitchen. Still nothing. Nothing. No… living… thing. The bedroom door across the room was closed. Here I come, ready or not. I pushed the door wide and stepped in, the gun pointing my way like a beacon. I saw that the wood had been shattered where she’d had a chain lock fastened. That had stopped him for all of twenty seconds. I took four long steps to the bedroom door and listened again. It wasn’t going to happen, was it? They just weren’t going to invite me to their little party. I stood on the verge of big trouble, a brilliant, silly line from James Jones running through my head.
They can kill you but they can’t eat you
. I had news for Mr. Jones, whatever corner of Eternity he’d gone to. They could kill you, yes, and they could eat you too.

I opened the door. They weren’t there.

They weren’t anywhere.

The bed had been neatly made up, not a ripple showing on the pink-and-white spread.

I looked in the closet and found nothing I could call unreasonable. I looked in the bathroom. Finally I went into the kitchen and began to see what had happened. There was a door that opened onto an outside landing, and a wooden stair-case that ran down the rear of the apartment house to a small parking lot. The door had been slammed open with such force that the glass was broken. I walked back into the main room, the gun still in my hand. The scenario was becoming fairly clear. The curtains were drawn back: the Lamborghini was parked directly below. Barbara had looked out this front window and had seen Jackie Newton down in the street. She had called me: when I wasn’t there, she had hung up. The recorder had activated automatically, and here we were. She had panicked when she heard him coming up the stairs. She took the only way out—down the back way. The lock had bought her a few seconds, then he came through the door and went down after her. That’s where they were now, playing a game of chase on the streets.

Probable cause had dropped in my lap like a plum. I had never been in here—that was my story before God, Mother, and the state of Colorado. I had come up on a response to a phone call. I had come to her door and knocked: when on one answered, I had gone away. If I happened to spot them in the course of cruising the neighborhood, if it looked to my casual eye like Barbara Crowell was being unlawfully pursued… well, events could take care of themselves.

I didn’t think it would be hard to find them. Barbara had run without any money, it seemed—her handbag was still on the table beside the radio. She wouldn’t be jumping into any buses or cabs, and I didn’t think she’d be flagging any cops, either. There was too much fear in her: it was an old story to me, I had seen it so many times. As for Jackie Newton, he was out there in hog heaven. This was the kind of game he loved: the cat-and-mouse, the heading-off, the dodging up alleys and down side streets. Playing with people, working on their fear.

I went downstairs and opened my trunk. In the toolbox I found a rubber hammer and a punch. I flattened one of Jackie’s tires and the Lamborghini sagged back on its haunch, hissing.

I drove in a widening circle, coming back to Pearl Street every few minutes to check on the Lamborghini. It took me twenty minutes to find them. I came upon Jackie on East Eighth Avenue, a few blocks from the governor’s mansion. He was standing under a tree like a predator, watching. I drove on by. He didn’t see me: like the leopard, his attention was fixed on the prey, on the place where the prey was hiding. I couldn’t see it at first: all I knew was that she was there somewhere. I circled the block, parked the car, and got out. I walked to the corner and got behind a tree of my own. That’s the way we did it for half an hour: Barbara hiding in a place unknown, Jackie watching her, me watching Jackie.

It was all a lot of fun till it started to rain.

I went back to the car and pulled into a vacant lot that had a clear view up Eighth. Jackie hadn’t moved. He looked almost like a statue, every muscle chiseled in infinity. The rain fell. From a slight drizzle it had become a summer storm, water swirling in the street in the wind. It didn’t seem to bother Jackie: he watched with an intensity that was almost scary, as if to watch all week, all year, wouldn’t worry him a bit. Only once in that hour did he look up the street. But I was in an unmarked car, settled back with only my eyes above the dash, and he turned away none the wiser.

Rainstorms in Denver are often fast and furious. This one was over in forty minutes, becoming what had started it, a drizzle. I saw Barbara come out of a flower shop and look around nervously. Was he there? Of course. When someone scares you that bad, he’s always there.

She had to do something, even if it was wrong. She walked to the corner, looked around again, and started up the block to the north.

Jackie leaped into action. He ran straight toward me, then doubled up the next block toward East Ninth Avenue. He was going to cut her off, try to get close enough to grab a wrist before she knew he was there. I started the car, drove up Eighth and hung a right. Barbara Crowell was half a block ahead, walking briskly. But she kept stopping and looking back, not trusting the evidence of her eyes that he was gone. Once she stood for half a minute, giving him plenty of time to get in place on Ninth. I had pulled to the curb about forty yards behind her, opposite side of the street. When she started up again, so did I.

I could see him now, a shadow behind a tree on Ninth near the corner. I don’t think I knew what I was going to do until that moment. She had reached the corner and looked both ways. He was now no more than ten yards away and could have caught her easy. But no… he was waiting for the big shock when he could grab her after she thought she’d made it. He wanted to see the fright, the heartbreak on her face. She had stopped on Ninth to look around, and I got out of the car and gave her the high sign.

I had my finger to my mouth, the universal gesture for quiet. I came up beside her and took her arm. With my other hand I got out my gun. I turned her east on Ninth, a course that would carry us right past the tree where he hid. She started to speak: I shushed her with a low hiss. The tree loomed up, then we were by it and Jackie leaped out. This all happened in less than five seconds. Jackie made a grab for my arm, still thinking it was Barbara he was grabbing. I said, “Hello, sweetheart,” and jammed him in the ribs with the gun. I saw him start to swing and I brought the gun up and let him taste the barrel, hard. It knocked him down and split both lips. He rolled over in the grass and got to his feet. He stood like a panther ready to spring and I stood there waiting for him.

Then nothing happened. He didn’t say a word: his eyes said it all. You are dead, Janeway, his eyes said, you are one dead cop. He had me quaking like Mount Saint Helens. With his eyes, Jackie said, I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I am gonna bury you. With my mouth, I said, “I told you before, Newton, you better fix that door.” He didn’t think that was funny. He turned his evil eye on Barbara. She couldn’t look at him: her skin had gone white with goose bumps. I stepped in front of her and locked eyes with Jackie for what seemed like forever. He turned and walked away first. He was going up the hill toward her place, where his car was parked.

“Come on,” I said. “We’ll go a different way.” Again she had been taken by a fit of shivering. I draped my coat over her shoulders. “I’m gonna have to start charging you rent for this coat,” I said. It didn’t cheer her up. We cut up alleys and went in the back way to her place. I sat her on the couch and put on a pot of water for instant coffee. While it was coming to a boil I went to the window and looked down where Jackie Newton had discovered his flat tire. I saw him throw his jack halfway across the street, then flip off a passing driver who had blown his horn. He was a bad son of a bitch, Jackie. All that remained to be seen was how bad.

BOOK: Booked to Die
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