Bread (87th Precinct) (2 page)

BOOK: Bread (87th Precinct)
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“We’ll see what we can do,” Carella said. “We’ll check the files, see what Parker’s got on it. If there’s anything we can follow up, we will.”

“Thank you,” Grimm said. “Thank you very, very much.” He reached into his wallet. “Here’s my card,” he said. “Office number and home number. Please call me if you need any more information. And, of course, if you come up with something…”

“We’ll let you know,” Carella said.

“Thank you,” Grimm said again, and put on his straw hat and went out through the gate in the slatted wooden railing that separated the squadroom from the corridor outside.

Both men waited until they were sure he was out of earshot. Then Hawes said, “Are you really going to pick this up for Parker?”

“Well, I’ll take a look at what he’s got on it, anyway.”

“Far as I’m concerned,” Hawes said, “Parker can handle his own damn cases.”

“Yeah, well,” Carella said, and shrugged.

Hawes looked up at the clock. “You mind if I leave a little early?” he asked. “I’ve got a date tonight.”

“No, go ahead,” Carella said. He, too, looked up at the clock. “Meyer and Brown ought to be relieving soon, anyway.”

“See you tomorrow, then,” Hawes said.

“Right.”

Hawes pulled up his tie, put on his jacket, and left the squadroom. Carella glanced at his scribbled notes, rolled a sheet of paper into the typewriter, and began typing:

 

It was always clarifying to see things in chart form.

Grimm had come into a little cash last year ($125,000 wasn’t exactly a
little
cash in Carella’s neighborhood, and Carella wondered precisely
how
Grimm had come into it) and had invested the money in little wooden animals that he had resold here for $250,000. He had then reinvested in a
second
wooden menagerie for which he had firm orders totaling $500,000. He had planned to use this money to pay for a
third
shipment of miniature beasts on the twenty-eighth of the month, reselling them in turn and making himself a millionaire. That was nice work if you could get it. But there are spoilsports everywhere, and apparently someone was determined to see that Grimm
didn’t
get it.

A million dollars, Carella thought. For buying and selling little wooden animals. When he got home tonight, he would tell his nine-year-old son Mark that there was no percentage in the crime biz, not on the cop side of it and certainly not on the crook side of it. The thing to get into, he would say, is the little wooden animals. That’s where the future lies, son. Little wooden animals. And April, Mark’s twin sister, would listen wide-eyed, wondering whether Carella was joking, and wondering why
she
had not been advised to undertake a similar professional pursuit. Was it possible her father was a male chauvinist pig? (Or as she was wont to pronounce it, after having heard the expression on television, “a male show-business pig”). Teddy, the mother of his children, his wife, would listen by watching, her eyes never leaving his lips, a secret, silent, amused expression on her face. And then perhaps she would answer with her hands, using the deaf-mute language her entire family understood, and she would tell the children that their father was joking, the future was
not
in little wooden animals, it was instead in compressed garbage, which she had read could be made virtually indestructible after treatment with radioactive isotopes, and could then be sawed, planed, molded, hammered, and used for all sorts of things. The only problem was how to get rid of the indestructible things made from this specially treated waste. Garbage, she would tell them. Wooden animals, he would insist.

Smiling, he went to the files.

Cotton Hawes, who was a bachelor, had no children (that he knew of) to advise on future career possibilities. His
own
father, who had proudly named him after Cotton Mather, the Puritan priest, had once told Hawes that the only god worth serving was God Himself. Hawes had pondered this for a long time. He had
pondered it all through adolescence, when the only god worth serving seemed to be hidden somewhere beneath the skirts of every high school girl who wandered tantalizingly into his field of vision. He had pondered it during his hitch in the Navy, when the only god worth serving seemed to be survival, a not always certain prospect aboard a PT boat. And he had pondered it when he joined the police force, where the god was justice (he thought at first) and where the god later became retribution (until he learned otherwise) and where the god after his transfer to the 87th seemed embodied in the person of Steve Carella (who he later learned was only a mere mortal, like himself). He was no longer a boy listening to his father, a good and decent man (although a bit of a fanatic when it came to religion), advising him on how to live his life. He had, in fact, needed no better advice than the example his father had set simply by being what he was. Hawes tried to be a good and decent man. He didn’t know whether he was or not, but that’s what he tried to be.

He did not get back from his evening and night with Christine Maxwell, whom he had met many years ago while investigating a multiple murder in a bookshop, until 3:00
A.M.
He called his answering service, and learned that Steve Carella had phoned while he was out and left a message for him to return the call no matter what time it was. He immediately dialed Carella’s home in Riverhead.

“Hello?” Carella said. His voice was edged with sleep.

“Steve, this is Cotton. I’m sorry I woke you, but your message said…”

“Yeah, that’s all right,” Carella said. He was coming awake. He paused for a moment, and then said, “Roger Grimm called the squadroom at a little past midnight. Meyer took the call.”

“What’s up?” Hawes asked.

“While he was out tonight, somebody burned his house to the ground. I’m going over to take a look at the warehouse tomorrow. How’d you like to drive up to Logan and see what they did to his house?”

“Sure thing, Steve. What time do you want me there?”

“Ten o’clock too early?”

“No, no, fine,” Hawes said, and looked at the clock and sighed.

 

On the drive out to the suburb of Logan the next morning, it occurred to Hawes that Roger Grimm might have set fire to his own house, in order to collect the insurance money on it, in order to obtain some ready cash, in order to release at least part of the cargo of wooden doodads he was expecting from Germany. He arrived in Logan at 10:15, and one look at the house, even in its gutted condition, convinced him that insurance fraud was a definite possibility. Set on a half-acre of rolling ground in an area of luxurious estates, the house alone must have been worth at least a quarter of a million dollars before the fire.

In its present condition, it was worth zilch. Whoever had set the blaze had done an expert job. Even though the Fire Department had responded within minutes, the house was almost totally consumed by the time they got there, and they’d been more concerned with rescuing the rest of the neighborhood than they’d been with salvaging Grimm’s house. In a particularly dry
August, they had not wanted an uncontrollable conflagration on their hands. They’d done a good job wetting down rooftops and shrubbery, containing the blaze, so that the only thing reduced to ashes was Grimm’s placeHawes parked his convertible Pontiac, and then walked up the oval driveway to the still-smoldering ruin. Grimm was standing on the flagstone entry porch before the charred posts and lintel of what had once been the front door. He was wearing white slacks and a dark blue, short-sleeved sports shirt. His hands were in his back pockets, and he was staring through the doorless frame as though hoping to find some semblance of a house beyond it. He heard Hawes’s approach and turned suddenly. There was a pained and distant look on his face.

“Oh, hello,” he said.

“Was it insured?” Hawes asked.

“What? Oh. Yes. Yes, it was insured.”

“For how much?”

“Three hundred thousand.” He turned to look at the rubble again. “I put a lot of work into this place,” he said. “This isn’t like the warehouse. The warehouse was only money, a lot of wooden crap that represented money. This is different. This was where I lived.”

“When did it happen?”

“Fire Department clocked the call at eleven-twenty.”

“Who phoned them?”

“The man next door. He was getting ready for bed and he looked out from an upstairs window and saw the flames. He called the Fire Department right away.”

“What’s his name?”

“George Aronowitz.”

“Well, let’s take a look around,” Hawes said.

“No,” Grimm said, and shook his head. “No, I don’t want to. I’ll wait for you here.”

A burglarized apartment is a violation of self, and there is nothing quite so pathetic as the look on the face of a burglary victim. He stands in the midst of an invasion of privacy, clothing scattered, personal belongings treated with indignity and haste, and he is reduced to helpless rage and childlike dependency. A sense of vulnerability, frailty, even, yes, mortality bounces from the walls of his invaded castle, and he feels in that moment that he himself, his
person,
is no longer safe from the wanton, willful violation of total strangers. Murder, of course, is the ultimate theft. It robs a man not only of his possessions but of his very life. Arson runs a close second.

There is undisputed excitement in watching a roaring blaze, perhaps a throwback to those days when Neanderthal struck flint against tinder and leaped back in surprise at what he had miraculously wrought. Or perhaps it is something deeper, something evil and dark that causes man to respond to a fire raging uncontrolled, something that echoes his own inner desire for the same sort of violent, irrepressible freedom—oh, to be able to challenge and defy, to roar rebellion and command complete and awed attention, to terrorize spectacularly, to rule with undisputed power, and finally to triumph! It’s not surprising that some firebugs will watch their handiwork in total ecstasy, erections bulging in their trousers, ejaculations dampening their own hot passions when hoses fail to quench the rampaging flames. There is excitement in a fire, and the naked ape responds generically. There is no excitement in the aftermath. A fireman does not fight a fire, he fights the
thing
that is on fire. He drenches it with water, he sprays it with carbon dioxide, he hacks at it with an ax, he does all he can to destroy the
thing
because the fire is only a parasite feasting on the thing, and if he can kill the thing, he can kill the fire. There were a lot of dead things in the rubble of Roger Grimm’s home. They lay in sodden steaming chaos like dismembered corpses on
a battlefield, partial reminders of what they must have been when they possessed lives of their own.

Like an archaeologist mentally reconstructing an earthen jug from the handle or the lip, Hawes picked gingerly through the ruins, finding charred, blistered, and melted remnants of what had once been a sofa, a record player, a toothbrush, a martini pitcher. There had not been a living soul in the house during the fire, only things that once had lived and now were dead. He could understand why Grimm had no stomach for wading through this inanimate carnage. He searched diligently for some trace of the device that had started the blaze, but found nothing. Alerted to the likelihood of arson, the Logan police would undoubtedly make their own thorough search and perhaps find more than he had. Hawes doubted it. He went outside, talked briefly with Grimm, told him they’d be in touch, and then went next door to the Aronowitz house.

The maid informed Hawes that Mr. Aronowitz had left for work at nine that morning and could be reached at his office in the city. She gave Hawes his business number and suggested that he call Mr. Aronowitz there. She would not reveal the name or address of the firm for which he worked. Hawes got into his car, drove to the nearest phone booth, and dialed the number the maid had given him. The answering voice said, “Blake, Fields, and Henderson, good morning.”

“Good morning,” Hawes said. “George Aronowitz, please.”

“Moment,” the voice said.

Hawes waited. Another voice came onto the line.

“Art Department.”

“Mr. Aronowitz, please.”

“Busy, can you hold?”

Hawes held.

“Ringing now,” the voice said, and a third voice came onto the line almost immediately.

“Mr. Aronowitz’s office.”

“May I speak to him, please?” Hawes said.

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“Detective Hawes, 87th Squad.”

“Yes, sir, just a moment.”

Hawes waited.

George Aronowitz was in the middle of a sentence when he finally came onto the line. “…want those chromos back by twelve noon or his ass’ll be in a sling. You tell him that exactly,” he said. “Yes, hello?”

“Mr. Aronowitz?”

“Yes?”

“This is Detective Hawes, I’m investigating the Grimm fire, and I wonder if you can spare a few minutes…”

“Yes?” he said.

“May I stop by to see you sometime today?”

“Can’t we do this over the phone?”

“I’d rather talk to you personally.”

“Who did you say you were?”

“Detective Hawes.”

“Who are you with? The Logan police?”

“No, I’m with the 87th Squad. Right here in the city.”

“Hell of a thing, wasn’t it?” Aronowitz said. “Burned right down to the ground. Let me look at my schedule. What’d you say your name was?”

“Detective Hawes.”

“Detective
Horse?


Hawes.
H-a-w-e-s.”

“How soon can you get here? I’ve got a lunch date at twelve-thirty.”

“Where are you?”

“933 Wilson. Fourteenth floor.”

“I’m in Logan now, give me forty minutes,” Hawes said. “See you,” Aronowitz said, and hung up.

Detective Andy Parker was sitting in his undershorts drinking a bottle of beer in the kitchen of his apartment, and he was supposed to be on vacation, and he was not very happy to see Steve Carella. Carella, who was
never
very happy to see Parker, even under the best of circumstances, did not particularly enjoy seeing him now, in his undershorts. Parker looked like a slob even when he was fully dressed. In his undershorts, sitting at the enamel-topped table and scratching his balls with one hand while tilting the bottle of beer to his lips with the other, he hardly seemed a candidate for
Gentlemen’s Quarterly.
His hair was uncombed, and he had not shaved since last Saturday when his vacation had started, and this was Thursday, and from the smell of him, he had not bothered to bathe, either.

Carella did not like Parker.

Parker did not like Carella.

Carella thought Parker was a lazy cop and a bad cop and the kind of cop who gave other cops a bad name. Parker thought Carella was an eager cop and a Goody Two-Shoes cop and the kind of cop who gave other cops a bad name. Only once in Parker’s life had he admitted to himself that perhaps Carella was the kind of cop he himself might have become, the kind of cop he perhaps even longed to be, and that was when a body had turned up bearing Carella’s identification and it was presumed Carella was dead. Drunk in bed with a whore that night, Parker had buried his head in the pillow and mumbled, “He was a good cop.” But that had been a long time ago, and Carella had been alive all along, and here he was now, bugging Parker about a goddamn arson case when he was supposed to be on vacation.

“I don’t see why this can’t wait till I get back,” he said. “What’s the big rush here? This guy married to the mayor’s daughter or something?”

“No, just an ordinary citizen,” Carella said.

“Yeah, so ordinary citizens are getting hit on the head every day of the week in this city, and we handle
those
cases in our own sweet time, and some we crack and some we don’t.
This
guy loses a bunch of wooden crap in a fire, and he gets hysterical.” Parker belched and immediately swallowed another mouthful of beer. He had not yet offered Carella a bottle, but Carella was already prepared with a brilliant squelch if and when Parker decided to extend at least a small measure of hospitality to a hardworking colleague.

“Grimm feels he’s been victimized,” Carella said.

“Everybody in this city is victimized one way or another every day of the week. What makes Grimm so special? I’m supposed to be on vacation. Doesn’t Grimm ever take vacations?”

“Andy,” Carella said, “I came over here only because I couldn’t get you on the phone…”

“That’s right, it’s off the hook. I’m on vacation.”

“And I can’t find the file on this case. If you’ll tell me…”

“That’s right, there
ain’t
no file,” Parker said. “I was only
on
the case a lousy two days, you know. I caught the squeal late Wednesday night, I worked the case all day Thursday and Friday, and then I started my vacation. How could there be a file on it?”

“Didn’t you type up any reports?”

“I didn’t have time to type up reports, I was too busy out in the field. Look, Steve, I busted my ass on this case, and I don’t need you telling me I was dogging it. I went over that warehouse with a fine-tooth comb,” Parker said, gathering steam. “I couldn’t find a thing, no fuse, no wick, no mechanical device, no bottles that might’ve had chemicals in them, nothing. I talked to…”

“Is it possible the fire was accidental?”

“How could it be? The two watchmen were doped, which means somebody wanted them out of the way, right? Okay, so why? To set fire to the joint.”

“You think Grimm might’ve done it himself?”

“Not a chance. All the stock was committed, he was ready to ship the stuff the next Monday morning. There were no records or books in the warehouse, he keeps those in an office on Bailey Street. So why would he burn down the joint? He’s clean.”

“Then why wouldn’t you tell that to his insurers?”

“Because I wasn’t sure. I only worked the case two days, and all I had at the end of that time was a pile of ashes. You think I was going to stick my neck out for Grimm? Screw that noise, buddy.”

“Did you get anything from the night watchmen?” Carella asked.

“They’re two old farts,” Parker said, “they can hardly remember their own names. They both got to work at eight o’clock, they remember feeling dizzy about ten, and then blooie. One of them collapsed in the courtyard outside. The other guy was inside making his rounds when it hit him. The firemen thought it was smoke inhalation at first, but that didn’t explain why the
outside
man was unconscious. Also, he had his head in a pool of his own vomit, so somebody got the bright idea he’d been doped. They pumped him out at the hospital, and sure enough, he’d been given a healthy dose of chloral hydrate. Okay, so where does that leave me? Chloral hydrate ain’t called ‘knockout drops’ for nothing, the stuff works in minutes. But both watchmen got to the warehouse at eight, and they didn’t pass out till two hours later. They told me nobody came anywhere near the place during that time, but
nobody.
So who gave them the knockout drops? You’re so hot to crack this one, find the guy who slipped them the Mickey. He’s probably the same guy who burned down the joint.”

“You mind if I talk to those watchmen again?” Carella asked.

BOOK: Bread (87th Precinct)
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