Read In the Midst of Death Online

Authors: Lawrence Block

Tags: #Private Investigators, #Police corruption, #Mystery & Detective, #Private investigators - New York (State) - New York, #New York (N.Y.), #Hard-Boiled, #General, #Mystery Fiction, #Fiction, #Scudder; Matt (Fictitious character)

In the Midst of Death (12 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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"And that was the case with Portia Carr?"

"Absolutely.In fact she became quite eager. I think she relished the MataHari role, garnering information in bed and passing it on to me. Not that she managed to supply me with too terribly much, but she was shaping up as a promising source for my investigations."

"Any investigation in particular?"

There was just a little hesitation. "Nothing specific," he said. "I could just see that she would be useful."

I drank some more coffee. If nothing else, Hardesty was enabling me to find out just how much my own client knew. SinceBroadfield had chosen to play coy with me, I had to get this information in an indirect fashion. But Hardesty didn't know thatBroadfield hadn't been completely straight with me, so he couldn't deny anything that I might have presumably learned from him.

"So she cooperated enthusiastically," I said.

"Oh, very much so."He smiled in reminiscence. "She was quite charming, you know. And she had the notion of writing a book about her life as a prostitute and her work for me. I think that Dutch girl was an inspiration to her. Of course the Dutch girl can't set foot in the country because of the role she played, but I don't really think Portia Carr would have ever gotten round to writing that book, do you?"

"I don't know. She won't now."

"No, of course not."

"JerryBroadfield might, though. Was he terribly disappointed when you told him you weren't interested in police corruption?"

"I'm not sure I put it quite that way." He frowned abruptly. "Is that why he came to me?For heaven's sake. He wanted to write a book?" He shook his head in disbelief. "I'll never understand people," he said. "I knew that self-righteousness was a pose, and that made me resolve not to have anything to do with him, that more than the sort of information he had to offer. I simply couldn't trust him and felt he'd do my investigations more harm than good. So then he popped over to see that Special Prosecutor chap."

That Special Prosecutor chap.It wasn't hard to tell what Knox Hardesty thought ofAbner L.Prejanian .

I said, "Did it bother you that he went toPrejanian ?"

"Why on earth should it bother me?"

I shrugged. "Prejanianstarted to get a lot of ink. The papers gave him a nice play."

"More power to him if publicity is what he wants. It seems rather to have backfired on him now, though. Wouldn't you say?"

"And that must please you."

"It confirms my judgment, but aside from that why should it please me?"

"Well, you andPrejanian are rivals, aren't you?"

"Oh, I'd hardly put it that way."

"No? I thought you were. I figured that's why you got her to accuseBroadfield of extortion."

"What!"

"Why else would you do it?" I made my tone deliberately offhand, not accusing him but taking it for granted that it was something we both knew and acknowledged. "Once she was pressing charges against him he was defused andPrejanian didn't even hear his name mentioned. And it madePrejanianlook gullible for having usedBroadfield in the first place."

His grandfather or great-grandfather might have lost control. But Hardesty had enough generations of good breeding behind him so that he was able to keep almostall of his cool. He straightened in his chair, but that was about the extent of it. "You've been misinformed," he told me.

"The charge wasn't Portia's idea."

"Nor was it mine."

"Then why did she call you around noon the day before yesterday?

She wanted your advice, and you told her to go on acting as if the charge was true. Why did she call you? And why did you tell her that?"

No indignation this time.A little stalling- picking up the glass of milk, putting it downuntasted , fussing with a paperweight and a letter opener. Then he looked at me and asked how I knew she'd called him.

"I was there."

"You were-" His eyes widened. "You were the man who wanted to talk with her. But I thought- then you were working forBroadfield before the murder."

"Yes."

"For heaven's sake.I thought- well, obviously I thought you'd been engaged after he was arrested for homicide.Hmmm. So you were the man she was so nervous about. But I spoke to her before she had met you. She didn't even know your name when we talked. How did you know- she didn't tell you,that's the last thing she would have done. Oh, for heaven's sake. That was a bluff, wasn't it?"

"You could call it an educated guess."

"I'd just as soon call it a bluff. I'm not sure I'd care to play poker with you, Mr. Scudder. Yes, she called me- I might as well admit it since it's fairly obvious. And I told her to insist that the charge was true, although I knew it wasn't. But I didn't put her up to making the charge in the first place."

"Then who did?"

"Some policemen.I don't know their names, and I'm not inclined to think Miss Carr did. She said she didn't, and it's likely she'd have been open with me on that subject. You see, she hadn't wanted to press those charges. If there was a chance I could have gotten her off that hook, she'd have done what she could." He smiled. "You may think I had reason to cast a pall on Mr.Prejanian's investigation. While I'm not saddened by the spectacle of that man with egg on his face, I'd never have taken the trouble to put it there. Certain policemen, however, had a much stronger motive for sabotaging that inquiry."

"What did they have on Carr?"

"I don't know. Prostitutes are always vulnerable, of course, but- "

"Yes?"

"Oh, this is just intuitive on my part. I had the impression that they were threatening her not with the law but with some extralegal punishment. I believe she was physically afraid of them."

I nodded. That checked out with the vibrations I'd picked up at my own meeting with Portia Carr. She hadn't acted like someone afraid of deportation or arrest, but like someone worried about being beaten up or killed. Someone worried because it was October and she was waiting for winter.

Chapter 10

Elaine lived just three blocks from where Portia Carr had lived.

Her building was on Fifty-first between First and Second. The doorman checked me on the intercom and motioned me on through. By the time the elevator got me to the ninth floor, Elaine was waiting in her open doorway.

I decided she looked a lot better thanPrejanian's secretary. I suppose she's around thirty by now. She has always looked younger than her years and she has a face full of good bones that will age well. Her softness contrasted dramatically with the stark, modern feel of her apartment. She had the place carpeted in white shag, and the furniture was all angles and geometric planes and primary colors. I don't ordinarily like rooms done that way, but somehow her place worked for me. She'd told me once that she had done her own decorating.

We kissed each other like the old friends we were. Then she gripped my elbows and leaned backward.

"Secret AgentMardell reporting," she said. "I'm not to be taken lightly, man. This camera of mine just looks like a camera. It's actually a tie clip."

"I think that's backward."

"Well, I certainly hope so." She turned, flounced away. "Actually I haven't found out a hell of a lot.

You want to know what prominent people were in her book, is that right?"

"Especially if they're politically prominent."

"That's what I meant. Everybody I asked kept coming up with the same three or four names.Actors, a couple of musicians. Honestly, some call girls are as bad as groupies.Boasting like any other celebrity-fuckers."

"You're the second person today to tell me call girls don't keep everything confidential."

"Ha! Your average hooker isn't exactly Stella Stable, Matt. Of course I'm the winner of the Miss Mental Health contest."

"Absolutely."

"If she didn't mention what politicians were in her book, it's probably because she wasn't that proud of them. If she'd been fucking the governor or aU.S. senator, people would have heard about it, but if it's somebody local, who cares? What's the matter?"

"Politicians would probably be sad to learn that they're not so important."

"They'd positively shit, wouldn't they?" She lit a cigarette. "What you ought to have is her john book.

Even if she had the brains to code it, you'd have the phone numbers and you can work backward from there."

"Is yours in code?"

"The names and the numbers, sugar." She smiled triumphantly.

"Anybody who steals my book steals trash, just like Othello's purse. But that's because I'm Brenda Brilliant. Could you get your hands on Portia's book?"

I shook my head. "I'm sure the cops have tossed her place. And if she had a book, they found it- and tossed it.In the river. They don't want any loose ends that might giveBroadfield's lawyer an opening.

They want him drawn and quartered, and the only way they'd leave her book around is ifBroadfield's name was the only one in it."

"Who do you figure killed her, Matt? Some cops?"

"People keep suggesting it.Mabye I've been off the force too long.

I have trouble believing that police officers would actually murder some innocent hooker just to frame someone else."

She opened her mouth,then closed it.

"Something?"

"Well, maybe you've been off the force too long." She looked about to say something else,then gave her head a quick shake. "I think I'll make myself a cup of tea. I'm a rotten hostess.A drink? I'm out of bourbon, but there's Scotch."

It was time."A small one, straight."

"Coming right up."

While she was in the kitchen I thought about the relationship of cops and whores, and the relationship of Elaine and myself. I had gotten to know her a couple of years before I left the police department.

Our first meeting was social, though I do not remember the precise circumstances. I believe we were introduced by a mutual friend at some restaurant or other, but we may have met at a party. I don't remember.

It's useful for a hooker to have a cop with whom she's on particularly good terms. He can smooth things out if a brother officer is giving her a hard time. He can furnish her with a brand of reality-oriented legal advice that is often more useful then the advice she would get from a lawyer. And she reciprocates for all ofthis, of course, as women have always reciprocated for the favors men do for them.

So I spent a couple of years on ElaineMardell's free list, and I was the person she called when the walls started coming together around her.

Neither of us abused the privilege. I would see her once in a while if I happened to be in the neighborhood, and she called me perhaps half a dozen times all told.

Then I left the force, and for a period of several months I wasn't interested in any human contact, least of all sexual contact. Then one day I was, and I called Elaine and went over to see her. She never mentioned that I wasn't a cop anymore and that our relationship was thus due to change. If she had, I probably wouldn't have wanted to see her again. But on the way out I put some money on the coffee table, and she said she hoped she'd see me again soon, and every now and then she does.

I suppose our original relationship had constituted a form of police corruption. I hadn't been acting as Elaine's protector, nor had it been my job to arrest her. But I had seen her on the city's time, and it had been my official position that earned me the right to share her bed.

Corruption, I suppose.

She brought me my drink, a juice glass with around three ounces of Scotch in it, and sat down on the couch with a cup of tea with milk.

She curled her legs under her compact little behind and stirred her tea with a demitasse spoon.

"Beautiful weather," she said.

"Uh-huh."

"I wish I was closer to the park. I take long walks every morning.

Days like this I'd like to take my walks in the park."

"You take long walks every morning?"

"Sure. It's good for you. Why?"

"I figured you'd sleep until noon."

"Oh, no.I'm an early riser. And I'll get visitors from noon on, of course. And I can get to sleep early because it's rare I have anyone here after ten o'clock at night."

"That's funny. You think of it as a business for night people."

"Except it's not.The guys, you know, they have to get home to their families. I'd say from noon to six-thirty is maybe ninety percent of the people I see."

"Makes sense."

"I got somebody coming in a while, Matt, but we got time if you feel like it."

"I'd better take araincheck ."

"Well, that's cool."

I drank some of my drink. "Back to Portia Carr," I said. "You didn't come up with anybody who might have had some kind of a government connection?"

"Well, I might have." My face must have changed expression because she said, "No, I'm not hustling you, for God's sake. I learned a name, but I don't know if I got it right and I don't know who it is."

"What's the name?"

"SomethinglikeMantz orManch orManns . I don't know it exactly. I know he's somebody connected to the mayor, but I don't know what. At least that's the story I got. Don't ask me the guy's first name because nobody knows. Does that give you anything?MannsorMantz orManch or something like that?"

"It doesn't ring a bell. He's connected to the mayor?"

"Well, that's what I heard. I know what he likes to do if that helps.

He's a toilet slave."

"What the hell is a toilet slave?"

"I wish you knew because it doesn't especially thrill me to discuss it." She put her teacup down. "A toilet slave is, well, they'll have different kinds of kinks, but an example would be that he wants to be ordered to drink piss or eat shit, or to clean out your ass with his tongue, or clean out the toilet, or other things. What you have to tell him to do can be really disgusting or it can just be sort of symbolic, like if you made him mop the bathroom floor."

"Why would anybody- never mind, don't tell me."

"It's getting to be a very strange world, Matt."

"Uh-huh."

"Like nobody seems to fuck anymore. You can make a ton doing masochist tricks. They'll pay a fortune if you can fill up their fantasy for them. But I don't think it's worth it. I'd rather not have to contend with all that weirdness."

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
12.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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