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 (9 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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Chapter 7

There were more messages waiting for me at my hotel. Anita had called again and Eddie Koehler had called twice. I walked over to the elevator, then turned and used the pay phone to call Elaine.

"I said I'd call either way," I told her. "I don't think I'm going to drop over tonight.Maybe tomorrow."

"Sure, Matt. Was it anything important?"

"You remember what we were talking about before. If you could find out some more on that subject I'd make it worth your while."

"I don't know," she said. "I don't want to stick my neck out. I like to keep what they call a low profile. I do my work and I save my pennies for my old age."

"Real estate, isn't it?"

"Uh-huh. Apartment houses inQueens ."

"Hard to see you as a landlady."

"The tenants never set eyes on me. This management firm takes care of everything. The guy who handles it for me, I know him professionally."

"Uh-huh. Getting rich?"

"Doing okay.I'm not going to be one of those old Broadway ladies with a dollar a day to feed themselves on.No way."

"Well, you could ask a few questions and make a few dollars.If you're interested."

"I suppose I could try. You'll keep my name out of everything, right? You just want me to come up with something that'll give you an opening."

"That's right."

"Well, I could see what happens."

"Do that, Elaine. I'll drop by tomorrow."

"Call first."

I went upstairs, kicked off my shoes, stretched out on the bed. I closed my eyes for a minute or two. I was just on the verge of sleep when I forced myself to sit up. The bourbon bottle on the bedside table was empty. I dropped it into the wastebasket and checked the closet shelf. There was an unopened pint of Jim Beam just waiting for me. I cracked it and took a short pull from it. It wasn't Wild Turkey but it did get the job done.

Eddie Koehler wanted me to call him but I couldn't see any reason why that conversation couldn't wait a day or two. I could guess what he was going to tell me and it wasn't anything I wanted to hear.

It must have been around a quarter after eight when I picked up the phone and called Anita.

We didn't have too much to say to each other. She told me the bills had been heavy lately, she'd had some root-canal work done and the boys seemed to be outgrowing everything at once, and if I could spare a couple of bucks it would be welcome. I said I'd just landed some work and would get a money order off to her in the morning.

"That would be a big help, Matt. But the reason I kept leaving messages for you, the boys wanted to talk to you."

"Sure."

I talked to Mickey first. He didn't really say much. School wasfine, everything was okay- the usual patter, automatic and mindless. Then he put his older brother on the line.

"Dad?They got this thing in Scouts, like for the Nets' home opener against the Squires? And it's supposed to be a father-son deal, you know? They're getting the tickets through the troop, so everybody'll be sitting together."

"And you and Mickey would like to go?"

"Well, could we?Me and Mick are both Nets fans, and they ought to be good this year."

"Jennifer and I."

"Huh?"

"Nothing."

"The only thing, it's kind of expensive."

"How much is it?"

"Well,it's fifteen dollars a person, but that includes the dinner first and the bus ride out to the Coliseum."

"How much extra do you have to pay if you don't have the dinner?"

"Huh? I don't- oh." He started to giggle. "Hey, that's really neat,"

he said. "Let me tell Mick. Dad wants to know how much extra you have to pay if you don't have the dinner. Don't you get it, stupid?Dad?

How much extra if you don't ride on the bus?"

"That's the idea."

"I bet the dinner's chicken a la king."

"It's always chicken a la king. Look, the cost's no problem, and if the seats are halfway decent it doesn't sound like too bad a deal. When is it?"

"Well, it's a week from tomorrow. Friday night."

"That could be a problem. It's pretty short notice."

"They just told us at the last meeting. Can't we go?"

"I don't know. I've got a case and I don't know how long it'll run.

Or if I can steal a few hours in the middle of it."

"I guess it's a pretty important case, huh?"

"The guy I'm trying to help is charged with murder."

"Did he do it?"

"I don't think so, but that's not the same as knowing how to prove it."

"Can't the police investigate and work it out?"

Not when they don't want to, I thought. I said, "Well, they think my friend is guilty and they're not bothering to look any further. That's why he has me working for him." I rubbed my temple where a pulse was starting to throb. "Look, here's how we'll do it. Why don't you go ahead and make the arrangements, all right? I'm sending your mother some money tomorrow and I'll send an extra forty-five bucks for the tickets. If I can't make it I'll let you know and you can just give one ticket away and tag along with somebody else. How does that sound?"

There was a pause. "The thing is,Jack said he would take us if you couldn't."

"Jack?"

"He's Mom's friend."

"Uh-huh."

"But you know, it's supposed to be a father-son thing, and he's not our father."

"Right.Hang on a second, will you?" I didn't actually need a drink, but I couldn't see how it would hurt me. I capped the bottle and said,

"How do you get along with Jack?"

"Oh, he's okay."

"That's good. Well, see how this sounds. I'll take you if I possibly can. If not, you can use my ticket and take Jack. Okay?"

That's how we left it.

IN Armstrong's I nodded to four or five people but didn't find the man I was looking for. I sat down at my table. When Trina came over I asked her if DougFuhrmann had been in.

"You're an hour late," she said. "He dropped in, drank one beer, cashed a check and split."

"Do you happen to know where he lives?"

She shook her head. "In the neighborhood, but I couldn't tell you where. Why?"

"I wanted to get in touch with him."

"I'll ask Don."

But Don didn't know either. I had a bowl of pea soup and a hamburger. When Trina brought my coffee she sat down across from me and rested her little pointed chin on the back of her hand. "You're in a funny mood," she said.

"I'm always in a funny mood."

"Funny for you, I mean. Either you're working or you're uptight about something."

"Maybe both."

"Are you working?"

"Uh-huh."

"Is that why you're looking for DougFuhrmann ? Are you working for him?"

"For a friend of his."

"Did you try the telephone book?"

I touched my index finger to the tip of her little nose. "You ought to be a detective," I said. "Probably do a lot better at it thanme. "

Except that he wasn't in the book.

There were around two dozenFuhrmanns in theManhattan directory, twice that number ofFurmans , and a handful ofFermans andFermins . I established all this closeted in my hotel room with a phone book, and then I placed my calls from the booth downstairs, stopping periodically to get more dimes fromVinnie . Calls from my room cost double and it's annoying enough to waste dimes to no purpose. I tried all theFuhrmanns , however spelled, within a two-mile radius of Armstrong's, and I talked to a lot of people with the same last name as my writer friend and a few with the same first name as well, but I didn't reach anybody who knew him and it took a lot of dimes before I gave up.

I went back to Armstrong's around eleven, maybe a little later. A couple of nurses had my regular table so I took one over on the side. I gave the bar crowd a fast glance just to make sureFuhrmann wasn't there, and then Trina scurried over and said, "Don't look or anything, but there's somebody at the bar who's been asking about you."

"I didn't know you could talk without moving your lips."

"About three stools from the front. Big guy, he was wearing a hat, but I don't know if he still is."

"He is."

"You know him?"

"You could always quit this grind and become a ventriloquist," I suggested. "Or you could act in one of those old prison movies. If they still make them. He can't read your lips, kid. You've got your back to him."

"Do you know who he is?"

"Uh-huh. It's all right."

"Should I tell him you're here?"

"You don't have to. He's on his way over here. Find out what he's drinking from Don and bring him a refill. And I'll have my usual."

I watched as Eddie Koehler came over, pulled a chair back, settledhimself on it. We looked at each other, careful appraising looks.

He took a cigar from his jacket pocket andunwrapped it, then patted his pockets until he found a toothpick to puncture its end. He spent a lot of time lighting the cigar, turning it in the flame to get it burning evenly.

We still hadn't spoken when Trina came back with the drinks. His looked to be scotch and water. She asked if he wanted it mixed and he nodded. She mixed it and put it on the table in front of him, then served me my cup of coffee and my double shot of bourbon. I took a short sip of the bourbon neat and poured the rest of it into my coffee.

Eddie said, "You're tough to get hold of. I left you a couple of messages. I guess you never got over to your hotel to pickem up."

"I picked them up."

"Yeah, that's what the clerk said earlier when I checked. So I guess my line mustof been busy when you tried to call me."

"I didn't call."

"That so?"

"I had things to do, Eddie."

"No time to call an old friend, huh?"

"I figured to call you in the morning."

"Uh-huh."

"Sometime tomorrow, anyway."

"Uh-huh. Tonight you were busy."

"That's right."

He seemed to notice his drink for the first time. He looked at it as if it was the first one he had ever seen. He switched his cigar to his left hand and lifted the glass with his right. He sniffed it and looked at me.

"Smells like what I been drinking," he said.

"I told her to bring you another of the same."

"It's nothing fancy.Seagram's. Same asI been drinking for years."

"That's right, that's what you always used to have."

He nodded." 'Course , it's rare for me to havemore'n two, three in a day. Two, three drinks- I guess that's just about what you have for breakfast, huh, Matt?"

"Oh, it's not quite that bad, Eddie."

"No? Glad to hear it. You hear things around, you know. Be amazed what you hear around."

"I can imagine."

"Sure you can. Well, what do you want to drink to, anyhow?Any special toast?"

"Nothing special."

"Speaking of special, how about the Special Prosecutor? You got any objection to drinking to Mr.Abner L.Prejanian ?"

"Whatever you say."

"Fine."He raised his glass. "ToPrejanian , may he drop dead and may he rot."

I touched my cup to his glass and we drank.

"You got no objection to drinking to that toast, huh?"

I shrugged. "Not if it makes you happy. I don't know the man we're drinking to."

"You never met the son of a bitch?"

"No."

"I did. Greasy little cocksucker." He took another sip of his drink, then shook his head with annoyance and put his glass on the table. "Aw, fuck this, Matt. How long we known each other?"

"It's been a few years, Eddie."

"I guess it has. What the fuck are you doing with ashithead likeBroadfield , will you tell me that? What the fuck are you doing playing games with him?"

"He hired me."

"To do what?"

"Find evidence that will clear him."

"Find a way for him to beat a murder charge, that's what he wants you to do. Do you know what a son of a bitch he is? Do you have any fucking idea?"

"I have a pretty good idea."

"He'sgonna try to give the entire department the shaft, that's all he's trying to do. He'sgonna help thatshitkicker of a rug peddler expose corruption in high places. Christ, I hate that candy-ass son of a bitch. He was as corrupt a cop as you'd ever want to see. I mean he went out hunting for it, Matt. Not just taking everything they handed him. He hunted it. He would go out and detect like crazy, looking for crap games and smack dealers and everything else.But not to arrest them. Only if they weren't holding money, then they might make the trip to the station house. But he was in business for himself.

His badge was a license to steal."

"I know all that."

"You know all that and yet you're working for him."

"What if he didn't kill the girl, Eddie?"

"She was stone dead in his apartment."

"And you think he's stupid enough to kill her and leave her there?"

"Oh, shit." He puffed on his cigar and the end glowed red. "He got out of there and dumped the murder weapons. Whatever he hit her with and whatever he stabbed her with. Say he went down to the river and dumped them. Then he stopped somewhere to have a couple of beers because he's a cocky son of a bitch and he's a little bit crazy. Then he came back for the body. He was going to dump her someplace but by then we got men on the scene and they're laying for him."

"So he walked right into their arms."

"So?"

I shook my head. "It doesn't make sense. He may be a little crazy but he's certainly not stupid and you're arguing that he acted like an idiot. How did your boys know to go to that apartment in the first place?

The papers said you got a telephone tip. Is that right?"

"It's right."

"Anonymous?"

"Yeah.So?"

"That's very handy. Who would know to tip you? Did she scream?

Anybody else hear her? Where did the tip come from?"

"What's the difference? Maybe somebody looked in a window.

Whoever called said there was a woman murdered in such-and-such an apartment, and a couple of the boys went there and found a woman with a bump on her head and a knife wound in her back and she was dead.

Who cares how the tipster knew she was there?"

"It might make a difference.If he put her there, for instance."

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
2.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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