Authors: SJ Rozan
S. J. R
t Mike Downey’s wake the coffin was closed.
In the large front room at Boyle’s Funeral Home dark-dressed women kissed each other’s cheeks, murmured gentle words. The older men stood together in small groups, looked uncomfortable in out-of-date suits; the younger ones, Mike’s friends, passed a surreptitious flask, and told each other stories about Mike they’d all heard a hundred times, and laughed too loudly at the stories.
Bobby Moran nodded to me across the flower-choked room. He spoke parting words to the men around him and headed over. His limp was worse than I’d seen it, giving him a halting, rolling gait.
“Kid,” he said. “Thanks for coming.” His face, usually ruddy, was gray, the slackness on the left side pronounced. His blue eyes were pale, washed-out. Twenty-five years ago, when I’d met him, Bobby Moran’s eyes had been sharp and clear as a January morning.
“I’d have come anyway,” I told him. “Even if you hadn’t called.”
“I was afraid you’d be out of town. Upstate.”
Bobby knew me well enough to know that about me: that I try, if I can, to spend some time at my cabin this time of year. I was born in the South, raised on Army bases in Europe and Asia, and though I’ve lived in New York since I was fifteen, the extravagance of an eastern hillside in autumn still amazes me.
“I was going,” I told Bobby. “I put it off.”
“Thanks.” He looked away. “Seen Sheila yet?”
“Just now.” Mike’s widow, to whom I’d said clumsy words, sat by the coffin. She was quiet, but she seemed to be trembling inside, like a teardrop.
Bobby and I stood in silence for a moment, surrounded by voices and soft light. The air was sweet with white roses, camellias, lilies. Bobby said, “I need you, kid.”
“I owe you, Bobby. You know that.”
He scowled. “No, to hell with that. I’ll hire you. I’ll pay you. Pay you better than the dumb fucks who work for me now. Pay you better than I used to.”
I shook my head no. He nodded his yes.
“It’s just—I’d do it myself,” he said, his voice tight with targetless anger, “but I can’t. I’ve got no one else to ask, kid. I’ve got no investigators anymore. I gave that up, because of this….” He trailed off, gestured at his left side, where the arm hung slack and the leg limped. “This” was Bobby’s stroke. “But the guard business, I thought I could keep that up. Take dumb fucks, train ’em and pay ’em, how hard could that be? How goddamn hard?” He didn’t meet my eyes.
“Come with me,” I said.
We worked our way through the crowded room, Bobby’s eyes fixed savagely ahead, acknowledging no one’s words of comfort or greeting.
We crossed a deeply carpeted hall to a small, plain chapel where a crucifix hung. Beside it a stained-glass St. Patrick, staff raised and halo glowing, drove the snakes out of Ireland. The panel shone from behind, lit by fluorescent lights. Bobby gave me a shaky grin.
“Ah, piety,” he said.
From my jacket pocket I took my own surreptitious flask, handed it to him.
“I’m not supposed to,” he told me.
He eased onto an upholstered folding chair. The chairs were set in rows; I swung one around to face him. He pulled on the flask, handed it back.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I told him, words no one who needs them ever believes.
“Yeah,” he said. “My sister’s son. The dumb fuck.” He looked at St. Patrick, or maybe at the snakes. He said to me, “How soon can you start?”
I drank from the flask. I’d filled it with Bushmill’s, Bobby’s drink, thinner than my bourbon, and smoother. “Just tell me what you want me to do.”
Bobby turned away from St. Patrick, to me. “Do? Do what I goddamn taught you to do, kid. Do your job.” He looked around the chapel as though searching for something to help him say the words. “Find out who killed Mike.”
e sat in the St. Patrick chapel for a while, as Bobby sketched for me the place I’d be going and the people I’d meet there. It was like the old days, Bobby giving me a job, sending me out; but it wasn’t like that at all.
“You can trust Al Dayton,” Bobby said, running down his mental list, but absently, as though his thoughts were elsewhere. “Been with me seven, eight years. Been job super out at the Bronx Home since I took it on three years ago.”
“Who had it before you?” I tried to ask normal questions, things I’d need to know, as though this were just a normal case.
“Nobody, they did it themselves. Their maintenance guys doubled for security, like in a lot of places. But the neighborhood got worse. You know.” He shrugged. “Arab shopkeeper on the next block was shot in the back by some local punks. That was the last straw for the organization that runs the place. Helping Hands, they’re called. Their offices are in the Home building.”
“They’re a charity?” I passed him the flask.
“Yeah. And listen, watch out for the lady who runs it.”
“No, that’s Dr. Reynolds. Nice guy. No, I mean Mrs. Wyckoff. Eats guys your size for breakfast. Only thing she cares about is Helping
Hands’ reputation. Just don’t make the place look bad, you’ll be okay.”
I sipped whiskey. Bobby said, “Listen, kid, you want me to tell Dayton why you’re there? He’s a good man. Ex-Navy man, like you.” He tried a smile, but it didn’t get far.
“Not a recommendation,” I said.
He grunted. “Could help, having someone who knows the place working with you.”
“No. I’ll go in alone. But I’ll want someone working with me, on the outside.”
“I’m not sure. Poking around.”
I expected more discussion, maybe even an argument, but Bobby just shrugged and said, “Okay, kid. Play it however you want. Let me know, whatever you need.”
I let my eyes wander the chapel: the soft cream walls, the altar where candles waited to be lit, St. Patrick glowering down on us the way Bobby used to glower when I screwed up, in the early years. I wanted to say something that would erase the pain and helplessness from Bobby’s eyes, but I didn’t know what that was, what could do that. So I drank some whiskey, and I said, “I’ll need to talk to the police, whoever’s handling the case. Can you set it up? Is it someone you knew?”
He shook his head. “I’ve been off the job a long time, kid. There’s almost no one left I knew. But I set it up already. Hank Lindfors, at the four-one.”
I had to smile at that. Bobby knew my moves; but then, he’d taught me most of them. “Did you speak to him?”
The old fire flashed in Bobby’s eyes, just for a second. “For Chrissakes, I’m a cripple but I’m not senile! Sure I spoke to him. Asshole,” he added.
“Me or Lindfors?”
He looked as if he were making up his mind; then he said, “Lindfors.”
“What did he say?”
“He said, I’ve been off the job twenty years and I don’t know what it’s like out there anymore. He said, he doubted if I liked it when civilians crapped up my cases then, and he doesn’t like it any better now. He said, there’s an ongoing police investigation and if
my private talent screws it up, he’s going to throw you and me, and everyone we ever met, in the can, just to make his quota.”
Bobby looked away. “He told me to go back home and wait, not to call him again. He said he’d call me if anything broke.” Anger and shame darkened his face. “Like an old man, kid. Like what you’d say to an old man.”
“Asshole,” I said. “Lindfors,” I added.
Bobby shook his head. The color receded, left him gray and tired, like before.
“Will Lindfors see me?” I asked.
Bobby took the flask from me, drank. “Yes.”
“Christ, kid, I don’t know. Maybe because he doesn’t know you.”
He looked at me swiftly, then gave a short laugh. “Well, he’s all yours.”
I started to take out a cigarette, but St. Patrick glared. I shoved it back in the pack. “Does Lindfors have any leads?”
Bobby waited before he answered. “It’s his opinion—” he emphasized each syllable in ‘opinion’—“that Mike surprised a gang of kids who came over the wall. He faced them down and he lost.”
“But you don’t buy it.”
He didn’t answer. I asked another question: “And why shouldn’t I go in straight? Why undercover?”
Looking at the stained-glass saint, he said, “Kid, I’ll tell you something. I was twenty years on the job, private another twenty. Something about this stinks.”
“I don’t know.” Still not looking at me, he said, “Someone took an awful lot of trouble with Mike. You didn’t see him, how it was. I don’t know,” he repeated, talking now as though to himself. “Seems to me you come to steal, someone interrupts you, you shoot him or cut him or hit him with something. Beating the shit out of a guy so he don’t even look human when you’re done—you only do that for a reason, kid. Only for a reason.”
Bobby fell silent, watched the flask he was holding. I waited.
“And there’s another thing,” he finally said. “Mike.”
“What about him?”
“Something. Something about him.” He met my eyes, but he didn’t hold them. “I moved him to that shift six weeks ago. Before that we weren’t running the third man up there.”
“Why’d you start?”
“A trucker got beat up making a delivery to that place one night. They got spooked up there, so we added a man to the night shift, no fixed post, a troubleshooter. I moved Mike there, with Howe and Morales.” He paused. “Mike liked that shift. He could be home with Peg, when Sheila was at work….” He pressed his eyes shut. I looked away, gave him time.
Bobby went on: “But Mike—something happened with Mike. I don’t know … had you seen him much lately?”
“No. I think the last time was when he helped me with some repairs in Shorty’s basement, a few months ago.”
“Yeah, I remember he told me. Said you blew up at him a couple times.”
“I guess I did. He was good, but he never shut up. He wanted to know everything about everything, why we were doing it this way, why you didn’t do it the other way. He wanted to know why gypboard screws are black when all the other screws in the world are chrome. He drove me nuts.” I added, “I should have been more patient.”
Bobby smiled again, a soft smile that this time was echoed in his eyes. “I knew another kid like that once,” he said. “Had to know everything, couldn’t let anything go. Good kid, but Jesus, he was annoying. Finally he started to keep his mouth shut and just watch and listen. Then he started to learn.”
My half-embarrassed smile answered Bobby’s. “Mike would have figured that out, too, Bobby. Sooner than I did.”
“Yeah,” Bobby said. “He would have. He could learn fast, always, from when he was a kid. But the last couple weeks, there was something he stopped being able to do.”
“He stopped being able to look me in the eye.”
From home, after I’d poured a drink but before I’d started to drink it, I sat down by the phone and called a number I could dial in my sleep. Sometimes, in my dreams, I did.
“Chin Investigative Services. Lydia Chin speaking,” a woman’s voice answered, a little out of breath. Before I could say anything she said it again, in Chinese.
“Hi,” I said. “What are you doing that you’re breathing so hard?”
“Bill!” she said. “Hi! I was just coming in the building as the phone was ringing. I ran up the stairs.” I could hear her gulping water between sentences. “I have a race on Saturday. I was down at Battery Park working out.”
“On roller blades? Does that mean you’re in the black spandex thing with the green stripes down the sides?”
“Uh-huh. And I’m soaking wet and I smell like sweat socks.”
“Eau de Locker Room. I love it. I’ll give you a quart for Christmas. Listen, do you have anything on?”
. This is a legitimate call.”
“Oh, whoops, didn’t recognize it.” She gulped some more water. “Actually, I haven’t worked in a week. Why? You have something for me?”
“Yeah, I do.” I told her then about Mike Downey, and Bobby.
She was silent for a few moments, after I’d finished. “Oh, Bill, I’m sorry,” she said gently. “Is Mr. Moran all right?”
“It’s eating him up,” I said. “He blames himself. He wants to charge in and do something, but he doesn’t know what and he doesn’t think he can. So he called me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Investigate. That’s what I do. And I want you with me.”
“With you how?”
“I want you to check that place out. The Home. Helping Hands, the people who run it. I’m not sure what else, but it’s a beginning. I’m starting there in the morning, as a guard. I’m going to poke around, and when I get a better idea what I want, I’ll tell you. Can you do it?”
“Great. Thanks. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Just to check around, that’s what you want? Nothing more specific than that?”
“Well, one thing.”
“Would you rub the phone all over the spandex before you hang up?”
She said, “I don’t think so,” and hung up.