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 (2 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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"You're certainly not his friend."

"I never said I was."

"Why charge him with extortion?"

"Because the charge is true."She managed a small smile. "He insisted I give him money. A hundred dollars a week or he would make trouble for me. Prostitutes are vulnerable creatures, you know. And a hundred dollars a week isn't so terribly much when you consider the enormous sums men are willing to pay to go to bed with one." She gestured with her hands, indicating her body. "So I paid him," she said.

"The money he asked for, and I made myself available to him sexually."

"For how long?"

"About an hour at a time, generally.Why?"

"For how long had you been paying him?"

"Oh, I don't know. About a year, I suppose."

"And you've been in this country how long?"

"Just over three years."

"And you don't want to go back, do you?" I got to my feet, walked over to the couch. "That's probably how they set the hook," I said. "Play the game their way or they'll get you deported as an undesirable alien. Is that how they pitched you?"

"What a phrase.An undesirable alien."

"Is that what they- "

"Most people consider me a highly desirable alien." The cold eyes challenged me. "I don't suppose you have an opinion on the subject?"

She was getting to me, and it bothered the hell out of me. I didn't much like her, so why should she be getting to me? I remembered something ElaineMardell had said to the effect that a large portion of Portia Carr's client list consisted of masochists. I have never really understood what gets a masochist off, but a few minutes in her presence was enough to make me realize that a masochist would find this particular woman a perfect component for his fantasies. And, in a somewhat different way, she fit nicely into my own.

We went around and around for a while. She kept insisting thatBroadfield had really been extorting cash from her, and I kept trying to get past that to the person who had induced her to do the job on him.

We weren't getting anywhere- that is, I wasn't getting anywhere, and she didn't have anyplace to get to.

So I said, "Look, when you come right down to it, it doesn't matter at all. It doesn't matter whether he was getting money from you, and it doesn't matter who got you to press charges against him."

"Then why are you here, angel?Just for love?"

"What matters is what it'll take to get you to drop the charges."

"What's the hurry?" She smiled. "Jerry hasn't even been arrested yet, has he?"

"You're not going to take it all the way to the courtroom," I went on. "You'd need proof to get an indictment, and if you had any it would have come out by now. So this is just a smear, but it's an awkward smear for him and he'd like to wipe it up. What does it take to get the charges dropped?"

"Jerry must know that."

"Oh?"

"All he has to do is stop doing what he's been doing."

"You mean withPrejanian ."

"Do I?" She had finished her cigar, and now she took another from the teak box. But she didn't light it, just played with it. "Maybe I don't mean anything. But look at the record. That's an Americanism I rather like. Let us look at the record. For all these years Jerry has been doing nicely as a policeman. He has his charming little house inForest Hills and his charming wife and his charming children. Have you met his wife and children?"

"No."

"Neither have I, but I've seen their pictures. American men are extraordinary. First they show one pictures of their wives and children, and then they want to go to bed. Are you married?"

"Not anymore."

"Did you play around when you were?"

"Now and then."

"But you didn't show pictures around, did you?" I shook my head.

"Somehow I didn't think so." She returned the cigar to the box, straightened up, yawned. "He had all that, at any rate, and then he went to this Special Prosecutor with this long story about police corruption, and he began giving interviews to the newspapers, and he took a leave of absence from the police force, and all of a sudden he's in trouble and accused of shaking down a poor little whore for a hundred dollars a week. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?"

"That's what he has to do? DropPrejanian and you'll drop the charges?"

"I didn't come right out and say that, did I? And anyway, he must have known that without your digging around. I mean, it's rather obvious, wouldn't you say?"

We went around a little more and didn't accomplish a thing. I don't know what I'd hoped to accomplish or why I had taken five hundred dollars fromBroadfield in the first place. Someone had Portia Carr intimidated a lot more seriously than I was likely to manage, for all my cleverness in sneaking into her apartment. In the meantime we were talking pointlessly, and we were both aware of the pointlessness of it.

"This is silly," she said at one point. "I am going to have another drink. Will you join me?"

I wanted a drink badly. "I'll pass," I said.

She brushed me on the way to the kitchen. I got a strong whiff of a perfume I didn't recognize. I decided I would know it the next time I smelled it. She came back with a drink in her hand and sat on the couch again. "Silly," she said again. "Why don't youcome sit next to me and we will talk of something else.Or of nothing at all."

"You could be in trouble, Portia."

Her face showed alarm. "You mustn't say that."

"You're putting yourself right in the middle. You're a big strong girl, but you might not turn out to be as strong as you think you are."

"Are you threatening me? No, it's not a threat, is it?"

I shook my head. "You don't have to worry about me. But you've got enough to worry about without me."

Her eyes dropped. "I'm so tired of being strong," she said. "I'm good at it, you know."

"I'm sure you are."

"But it's tiring."

"Maybe I could help you."

"I don't think anyone can."

"Oh?"

She studied me briefly,then dropped her eyes. She stood and crossed the room to the window. I could have walked along behind her.

There was something in her stance that suggested she expected me to.

But I stayed where I was.

She said, "There's something there, isn't there?"

"Yes."

"But it's just no good at the moment. The timing's all wrong." She was looking out the window. "Right now neither of us can do the other any good at all."

I didn't say anything.

"You'd better go now."

"All right."

"It's so beautiful outside.The sun, the freshness of the air." She turned to look at me. "Do you like this time of year?"

"Yes.Very much."

"It's my favorite, I think. October, November, the best time of the year. But also the saddest, wouldn't you say?"

"Sad? Why?"

"Oh, very sad," she said."Because winter is coming."

Chapter 2

On my way out I left the passkey with the doorman. He didn't seem any happier now, even though he was getting to see me leave this time. I went over to Johnny Joyce's on Second and sat in a booth. Most of the lunch crowd was gone. The ones who remained were one or two martinis over the line now and probably wouldn't make it back to their offices at all. I had a hamburger and a bottle of Harp,then drank a couple shots of bourbon with my coffee.

I triedBroadfield's number. It rang for a while and no one answered it. I went back to my booth and hadanother bourbon and thought about some things. There were questions I couldn't seem to answer.

Why had I passed up Portia Carr's offer of a drink when I wanted a drink so badly? And why (if it wasn't another version of the same question) had I passed up Portia Carr herself?

I did some more thinking onWestForty-ninth Street , in the actors'

chapel at St.Malachy's . The chapel is below street level, a large understated room which provides a measure of peace and quiet that is otherwise hard to come by in the heart of the Broadway theater district. I took an aisle seat and let my mind wander.

An actress I used to know a long time ago once told me that she came to St.Malachy's every day when she wasn't working. "I wonder if it matters that I'm not a Catholic, Matt. I don't think so. I say my little prayer and I light my little candle and I pray for work. I wonder whether or not it helps. Do you supposeit's okay to ask God for a decent part?"

I must have sat there for close to an hour, running different things through my mind. On the way out I put a couple of bucks in the poor box and lit a few candles. I didn't say any prayers.

I spent most of the evening in Polly's Cage, across the street from my hotel. Chuck was behind the bar and he was in an expansive mood, so much so that the house was buying every other round. I had reached my client late in the afternoon and had given him a brief rundown on my meeting with Carr.

He'd asked me where I was going to go from there, and I'd said I would have to work it out and that I'd get in touch when I had something he ought to know. Nothing in that category came up that night, so I didn't have to call him. Nor did I have any reason to call anyone else. I'd picked up a phone message at my hotel: Anita had called and wanted me to call her, but it was not the sort of night on which I wanted to talk to an ex-wife. I stayed at Polly's and emptied my glass every time Chuck filled it up.

Around eleven-thirty a couple of kids came in and started playing nothing but country and western on the jukebox. I can usually stomach that as well as anything else, but for some reason or other it wasn't what I wanted to hear just then. I settled my tab and went around the corner to Armstrong's, where Don had the radio set to WNCN. They were playing Mozart, and the crowd was so thin you could actually hear the music.

"They sold the station," Don said. "The new owners are switching to a pop-rock format. Another rock station is just what the city needs."

"Things always deteriorate."

"I can't argue the point. There's a protest movement to force them to continue a classical music policy.

I don't suppose it'll do any good, do you?"

I shook my head. "Nothing ever does any good."

"Well, you're in a beautiful mood tonight. I'm glad you decided to spread sweetness and light here instead of staying cooped up in your room."

I poured bourbon into my coffee and gave it a stir. I was in a foul mood and I couldn't figure out exactly why. It is bad enough when you know what it is that is bothering you. When the demons plaguing you are invisible, it is that much more difficult to contend with them.

IT was a strange dream.

I don't dream much. Alcohol has this effect of making you sleep at a deeper level, below the plane on which dreams occur. I am told that DTs represent the psyche's insistence upon having its chance to dream; unable to dream while asleep, one has one's dreams upon awakening.

But I haven't had DTs yet and am grateful for my generally dreamless sleep. There was a time when this, in and of itself, was a sufficient argument for drinking.

But that night I dreamed, and the dream struck me as strange. She was in it.Portia, with her size and her striking beauty and her deep voice and her good English accent. And we were sitting and talking, she and I, but not in her apartment. We were in a police station. I don't know what precinct it might have been but remember that I felt at home there, so perhaps it was a place where I had been stationed once.

There were uniformed cops walking around, and citizens filing complaints, and all of the extras playing the same roles in my dream that they play in similar scenes in cops-and-robbers movies.

And we were in the midst of all this, Portia and I, and we were naked. We were going to make love, but we had to establish something first through conversation. I don't recall what it was that had to be established, but our conversation went on and on, getting ever more abstract, and we got no closer to the bedroom, and then the telephone rang and Portia reached out and answered it in the voice of her answering machine.

Except that it went on ringing.

My phone, of course.I had incorporated its ring into my dream. If it hadn't awakened me with its ringing I'm sure I would ultimately have forgotten the dream entirely. Instead I shook myself awake while shaking off the vestiges of the dream. I fumbled for the phone and got the receiver to my ear.

"Hello?"

"Matt, I'm sorry as hell if I woke you. I- "

"Who is this?"

"Jerry. JerryBroadfield ."

I usually put my watch on the bedside table when I turn in. I groped around for it now but couldn't find it. I said, "Broadfield?"

"I guess you were sleeping. Look, Matt- "

"What time is it?"

"A few minutes after six.I just- "

"Christ!"

"Matt, are you awake?"

"Yeah, damn it, I'm awake. Christ. I said call me, but I didn't say call me in the middle of the night."

"Look, it's an emergency. Will you just let me talk?" For the first time I was aware of the band of tension in his voice. It must have been there all along, but I hadn't noticed it before. "I'm sorry I woke you," he was saying, "but I finally got a chance to make a phone call and I don't know how long they'll let me stay on. Just let me talk for a minute."

"Where the hell are you?"

"Men's House of Detention."

"The Tombs?"

"That's right, the Tombs." He was talking quickly now, as if to get it all out before I could interrupt again. "They were waiting for me.At the apartment.Barrow Street , they were waiting for me. I got back there about two-thirty and they were waiting for me and this is the first chance I've had to get to a phone. As soon as I finish with you I'm calling a lawyer. But I'm going to need more than a lawyer, Matt. They got the deck stacked toogood for anybody to straighten things out in front of a jury. They got me by the balls."

"What are you talking about?"

"Portia."

"What about her?"

"Somebody killed her last night. Strangled her or something, dumped her in my apartment, then tipped the cops. I don't know all the details. They booked me for it. Matt, I didn't do it."

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
8.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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