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)
I didn't say anything.
His voice rose, verging on hysteria. "I didn't do it. Why would I kill thecunt ? And leave her in my apartment? It doesn't make any sense, Matt, but it doesn't have to make any sense because the whole fucking thing is a frame and they can make it stick. Matt, they'regonna make it stick!"
Silence.I pictured him gritting his teeth, forcing his emotions back under control like an animal trainer cracking his whip at acageful of lions and tigers. "Right," hesaid, the voice crisp again. "I'm exhausted and it's starting to get to me. Matt, I'm going to need help on this one.From you, Matt. I can pay you whatever you ask."
I told him to hang on for a minute. I had been asleep for maybe three hours and I was finally becoming awake enough to realize just how rotten I felt. I put the phone down and went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. I was careful not to look in the mirror because I had a fair idea what the face that glowered back at me might look like. There was about an inch of bourbon left in the quart on my dresser. I took a slug of it straight from the bottle, shuddered, sat down on the bed again and picked up the phone.
I asked him if he'd been booked.
"Just now.For homicide.Once they booked me they couldn't keep me away from a phone any longer.
You know what they did? They informed me of my rights when they arrested me. That whole speech, Miranda-Escobedo, how many times do you figure I read out thatgoddam little set piece to some fucking crook? And they had to read it out to me word for word."
"You've got a lawyer to call?"
"Yeah.Guy who's supposed to be good, but there's no way he can do it all."
"Well, I don't know what I can do for you."
"Can you come down here? Not now, I can't see anybody right now. Hang on a minute." He must have turned away from the phone, but I could hear him asking someone when he could have visitors. "Ten o'clock," he told me. "Could you get here between ten and noon?"
"I suppose so."
"I got a lot of things to tell you, Matt, but I can't do it over the phone."
I told him I'd see him sometime after ten. I cradled the phone and tapped the bourbon bottle for another small taste. My head ached dully and I suspected that bourbon was probably not the best thing in the world for it, but I couldn't think of anything better. I got back into bed and pulled the blankets over me.
I needed sleep and knew I wasn't going to get any, but at least I could stay horizontal for another hour or two and get a little rest.
Then I remembered the dream I'd been yanked out of by his call. I remembered it, got a clean, vivid flash of it, and started to shake.
It had started two days earlier, on a crisply cold Tuesday afternoon.
I was getting the day started at Armstrong's, doing my usual balancing act with coffee and bourbon, coffee to speed things up and bourbon to slow them down. I was reading the Post and I was sufficiently involved in what I was reading so that I didn't even notice when he pulled back the chair opposite mine and dropped into it.
Then he cleared his throat and I looked up at him.
He was a little guy with a lot of curly black hair. His cheeks were sunken, his forehead very prominent.
He wore a goatee but kept his upper lip clean shaven. His eyes, magnified by thick glasses, were dark brown and highly animated.
He said, "Busy, Matt?"
"I wanted to talk to you for a minute."
I knew him, but not terribly well. His name was DouglasFuhrmann and he was a regular at Armstrong's. He didn't drink a hell of a lot, but he was apt to drop in four or five times a week, sometimes with a girlfriend, sometimes on his own. He'd generally nurse a beer and talk for a while about sports or politics or whatever conversational topic was on the agenda. He was a writer, as I understood it, although I didn't recall having heard him discuss his work. But he evidently did well enough so that he didn't have to hold a job.
I asked what was on his mind.
"A fellow I know wants to see you, Matt."
"I think he'd like to hire you."
"Bring him around."
"That's not possible."
He started to say something,then stopped because Trina was on her way to find out what he wanted to drink. He ordered a beer and we sat there awkwardly while she went for the beer, brought it, and went away again.
Then he said, "It's complicated. He can't be seen in public. He's, well, hiding out."
"Who is he?"
"This is confidential." I gave him a look. "Well, all right. If that's today's Post, maybe you read about him. You would have read about him anyway, he's been all over the papers the past few weeks."
"What's his name?"
"Is that right?"
"He's very hot right now,"Fuhrmann said. "Ever since the English girl filed charges against him he's been hiding out. But he can't hide forever."
"Where's he hiding?"
"An apartment he has. He wants you to see him there."
"Where is it?"
I picked up my cup of coffee and looked into it as if it was going to tell me something."Why me?" I said. "What does he think I can do for him? I don't get it."
"He wants me to take you there,"Fuhrmann said. "There's some money in it for you, Matt.How about it?"
WE took a cab downNinth Avenue and wound up onBarrow Street nearBedford . I letFuhrmann pay for the cab. We went into the vestibule of a five-story walkup. More than half the doorbells lacked identifying labels. Either the building was being vacated prefatory to demolition orBroadfield's fellow tenants shared his desire for anonymity.Fuhrmann rang one of the unlabeled bells, pushed the button three times, waited, pushed it once,then pushed it three times again.
"It's a code," he said.
"One if by land and two if by sea."
There was a buzz and he shoved the door open. "You go on up," he said."The D apartment on the third floor."
"You're not coming?"
"He wants to see you alone."
I was halfway up one flight before it occurred to me that this was a cute way to set me up for something.Fuhrmann had taken himself out of the picture, and there was no way of knowing what I'd find in apartment 3D. But there was also no one I could think of with a particularly good reason for wanting to do me substantial harm. I stopped halfway up the stairs to think it over, my curiosity fighting a successful battle against my more sensible desire to turn around and go home and stay out of it. I walked on up to the third floor and knocked three-one-three on the appropriate door. It opened almost before I'd finished knocking.
He looked just like his photographs. He'd been all over the papers for the past few weeks, ever since he'd begun cooperating withAbnerPrejanian's investigation of corruption in the New York Police Department. But the news photos didn't give you the sense of height. He stood six-four easy and was built to scale, broad in the shoulders, massive in the chest. He was starting to thicken in the gut as well; he was in his early thirtiesnow, and in another ten years he'd add on another forty or fifty pounds and he'd need every inch of his height to carry it well.
If he lived another ten years.
He said, "Where's Doug?"
"He left me at the door.Said you wanted to see me alone."
"Yeah, but the knock, I thought it was him."
"I cracked the code."
"Huh? Oh." He grinned suddenly, and it really did light up the room. He had a lot of teeth and he let me look at them, but the grin did more than that. It brightened his whole face. "So you're Matt Scudder,"
he said. "Come on in, Matt. It's not much but it's better than a jail cell."
"Can they put you in jail?"
"They can try. They're damn well trying."
"What have they got on you?"
"They've got a crazy Englishcunt that somebody's got a hold on.
How much do you know about what's going on?"
"Just what I read in the papers."
And I hadn't paid all that much attention to the papers. So I knew his name was JeromeBroadfield and he was a cop. He'd been on the force a dozen years. Six or seven years ago he made plainclothes, and a couple of years after that he made detective third, which was where he had stayed. Then a matter of weeks ago he threw his shield in a drawer and started helpingPrejanian stand the NYPD on its ear.
I stood around while he bolted the door. I was taking the measure of the place. It looked as though the landlord had leased it furnished, and nothing about the apartment held any clues to the nature of its tenant.
"The papers," he said. "Well, they're close. They say Portia Carr was a whore. Well, they're right about that. They say I knew her. That's true, too."
"And they say you were shaking her down."
"Wrong. They say she says I was shaking her down."
"No. Here, sit down, Matt. Make yourself comfortable.How about a drink, huh?"
"I got scotch, I got vodka, I got bourbon, and I think there's a little brandy."
He made drinks.Neat bourbon for me, a long scotch and soda for himself. I sat on a tufted green print couch and he sat on a matching club chair. I sipped bourbon. He got a pack ofWinstons out of the breast pocket of his suit jacket and offered me one. I shook my head and he lit it for himself. The lighter he used was a Dunhill, either gold-plated or solid gold. The suit looked custom made, and the shirt was definitely made to measure, with his monogram gracing the breast pocket.
We looked at each other over our drinks. He had a large, square-jawed face, prominent brows over blue eyes, one of the eyebrows bisected by an old scar. His hair was sand-colored and just a shade too short to be aggressively fashionable. The face looked open and honest, but after I'd been looking at it for a while I decided it was just a pose. He knew how to use his face to his advantage.
He watched the smoke rise from his cigarette as if it had something to tell him. He said, "The newspapers make me look pretty bad, don't they? Smart-ass cop finks on the whole department, and then it turns out he's scoring off some poor little hooker. Hell, you were on the force.
How many years was it?"
"So you know about newspapers. The press doesn't necessarily get everything right. They're in business to sell papers."
"So reading the papers you got to get one of two impressions of me. Either I'm a crook who let the Special Prosecutor's office get some kind of hammerlock on me or else I'm some kind of a nut."
"Which is right?"
He flashed a grin. "Neither. Christ,I been on the force going on thirteen years. I didn't just figure out yesterday that a couple of guys are maybe taking a dollar now and then. And nobody had anything on me at all.They been issuing denials out ofPrejanian's office left and right. They said all along I was cooperating voluntarily, that I had come to them unasked, the whole number. Look, Matt, they're human. If they managed to set me up and turn me around on their own they'd be bragging about it, not denying it. But they're as much as saying I walked in and handed it all to them on a platter."
"So it's the truth. That's all."
Did he think I was a priest? I didn't care whether he was a nut or a crook or both or neither. I didn't want to hear his confession. He had had me brought here, presumably for a purpose, and now he was justifying himself to me.
No man has to justify himself to me. I have trouble enough justifying myself to myself.
"Matt, I got a problem."
"You said they don't have anything on you."
"This Portia Carr.She's saying I was shaking her down. I demanded a hundred a week or I was going to bust her."
"But it's not true."
"No, it's not."
"So she can't prove it."
"No. She can't prove shit."
"Then what's the problem?"
"She also says I was fucking her."
"Yeah.I don't know if she can prove that part of it, but hell, it's the truth. It was no big deal, you know.
I was never a saint. Now it's all over the papers and there's this extortion bullshit, and all of a sudden I don't know whether I'm coming or going. My marriage is a little shaky to begin with, and all my wife needs is stories for her friends and family to read about how I'm shacking up with this Englishcunt .
You married, Matt?"
"I used to be."
"I got two girls and a boy." He sipped his drink, ducked ash from his cigarette. "I don't know, maybe you like being divorced. I don't want any part of it. And the extortion charge, that's breaking my balls.
I'm scared to leave this fucking apartment."
"Whose place is it? I always thoughtFuhrmann lived in my neighborhood."
"He's in the West Fifties. That your neighborhood?" I nodded.
"Well, this place is mine, Matt. I've had it a little over a year. I got the house out inForest Hills and I figured it'd be nice to have a place in town in case I needed one."
"Who knows about this place?"
"Nobody."He leaned over, stubbed out his cigarette. "There's a story they tell about these politicians,"
he said. "This one guy, the polls show he's in trouble, his opponent is wiping the floor with him. So his campaign manager says, 'Okay, what we'll do, we'll spread a story about him. We'll tell everybody he fucks pigs.' So the candidate asks if it's true, and the campaign manager says it's not. 'So we'll let him deny it,' he says. 'We'll let him deny it.' "
"I follow you."
"Throw enough mud and some of it sticks. Some fucking cop is leaning on Portia, that's what's happening. He wants me to stop working withPrejanian and in return she'll drop the charges. That's what it's all about."
"Do you know who's doing it?"
"No. But I can't break it off withAbner . And I want those charges dropped. They can't do anything to me in court, but that's not the point.