Authors: Tim Maleeny
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright © 2008 by Tim Maleeny
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2008937739
ISBN: 1-59058-574-0 Hardcover
ISBN: 9781615951192 ePub
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
For Robert C. Maleeny
Who at my side was ever near
1. to spring clear of the ground or other support by a
sudden muscular effort; to leap:
to jump out a window.
2. to ignore intervening steps or deliberation:
to a conclusion.
3. to enter into an activity with great energy and enthusiasm:
he jumped at the opportunity; she jumped at the chance.
4. (Colloquial) to attack suddenly; to pounce:
he was jumped
in a dark alley.
5. (Film) to change the point of view suddenly, moving from
one scene to another abruptly and without warning.
The scream tore through the building like a pregnant nun on her way to confession. It bounced off the walls, rattled the windows, and woke up everyone in the neighborhood.
Ed Lowry plummeted a hundred feet before he made any noise. The fire escape on the twentieth floor was two hundred feet off the ground, so accelerating at thirty-two feet per second squared, he was falling at nearly forty miles an hour and covered half the distance to the ground before he grasped the real gravity of his situation.
It was probably the sight of the penguin that jolted him back to reality and knocked some air back into his lungs.
The penguin was a sculpture, rising up from a fountain that sat dead center inside the main courtyard of Golden Towers Apartments. Baby penguins nestled on either side of the mommy penguin, who had her head back, beak pointed triumphantly toward the heavens. A soaring symbol of the strength and nobility of motherhood, carved lovingly in marble and bronze. It was conical, shiny, and sharp as a mother’s tongue.
Ed realized he wasn’t merely going to hit the driveway, but was headed straight for the penguins. He let loose a scream that could wake the dead, though it didn’t stop Ed from joining their ranks.
He twisted in midair and struck the penguin back-first with a sickening, wet noise that one witness described as the sound of a whale being dropped from a skyscraper. Ed didn’t look much like a whale when it was all said and done, but he was skewered like a fish by the upraised beak of the penguin. Blood flowed down the marble body of the mother penguin, pooling at the feet of her young, turning the water of the fountain a deep wine red.
Sam McGowan was on the twentieth floor when it happened, so he wasn’t too surprised the cops wanted to talk to him. After all, he’d been a cop himself. He’d worried that he would miss the job when he retired, but so far life as a civilian was full of surprises. Like your landlord taking a header off the top floor of your building.
Sam’s first day of retirement, and already they wanted him back on the job.
Sam could feel his balls getting squeezed and didn’t like the sensation one bit. They weren’t caught in a vise, but the gentle pressure of guilt was gripping each testicle like a hand and making him squirm. After more than two decades as a cop, he was finding it hard to say no to a fellow officer.
“I told you, Rodriguez, I’m retired,” he said for what must have been the fifth time.
The man sitting across from him said nothing, just looked at him with those cop eyes. Unreadable, totally devoid of emotion. For Sam it was like looking in the mirror.
Sam shook his head and pushed himself out of his chair. It was a worn leather recliner, set at an angle so you could face the TV in the corner or the person sitting on the couch to your right. Marie had always spread out on the couch, one pillow under her head, another for her feet, while Sam changed channels and told her about his day.
Sam blinked away the memory and looked down at his uninvited guest. “You want something to drink?”
Danny Rodriguez started to shake his head, then checked his watch before saying, “What’ve you got?”
Sam walked past the short counter into the kitchen, which was really part of the same room, separated by a change in the overhead lighting and the sudden disappearance of the carpet. Sam’s head disappeared behind the counter as he bent down to examine the contents of the refrigerator.
“Orange Juice, iced tea, and Rolling Rock,” he called. “And tap water and ice cubes.”
Rodriguez didn’t take long to decide. “Rolling Rock.”
Sam grabbed two bottles, twisted the caps, and handed one over before reclaiming his chair. The room was large, almost twenty by twenty. The wall behind Rodriguez was made entirely of glass, two sliding doors leading to a short balcony. Tonight you couldn’t see anything besides a layer of fog against the night sky, but during the day Sam had one of the best views in San Francisco, an unbroken vista from the Bay Bridge all the way to Alcatraz.
“This is a nice place, Sam.” Rodriguez raised the beer in acknowledgement before taking a long swig. “Marie do the decorating?”
Sam nodded but didn’t say anything.
“She was a good lady,” said Rodriguez, raising his beer.
“The best,” replied Sam, tilting his own green bottle in acknowledgment but not really inclined to get into it. Almost two years, and still he forgot sometimes that Marie was gone. He’d known other people who had lost someone to cancer, but it always seemed like they had time to prepare. What did they say in the movies?
Get your affairs in order.
Marie came home from her doctor with the news, and three months later she was gone. So sudden it was as if she’d gone on a trip. Sam still woke in the middle of the night, convinced he’d heard her keys in the front door.
He blinked, realizing Rodriguez was saying something.
“Great location, just a couple blocks from the Ferry Building, in the heart of downtown, connected to the shopping center next door by pedestrian bridges. Must set you back a bit each month, no?”
Sam shrugged. He couldn’t really afford it on his pension but their savings and Marie’s insurance made it possible. Besides, he wasn’t ready to move yet. “Rent’s not as bad as you’d think. The place has amazing views, but it’s old. Almost thirty years now. Newer buildings have gone up in the neighborhood, the views just as good. And the landlord, Ed, hasn’t done much to keep it renovated. Always said he would, but never seemed to get around to it.”
“Guess he won’t be getting around to anything,” said Rodriguez. “’cept maybe an interview with Saint Peter.”
“Going to be a short interview.”
“Yeah?” Rodriguez sat up a little straighter on the couch. “This guy was an asshole?”
“Your cards are showing, Danny.”
Rodriguez held up his hands, the half-empty beer still clutched in his right. “I’m off-duty, remember? Just asking.”
Sam took a drink, watching his old friend over the upraised bottle. He nodded as he swallowed.
“The first month we knew Marie had cancer, she got really weak, really fast.” Sam’s eyes turned dark with the memory, his wife unable to lift a carton of milk. “And the front doors to this building are as heavy as anchors, the springs really old. I practically threw my shoulder out just opening the door, and Marie couldn’t budge them but an inch or two.”
“So you talked to Ed?”
“Right, we said something to the landlord. Turns out, a lot of other people had, too, over the years. There’s plenty of older people living here, some over eighty, and they’d all complained about the doors.”
“What did the guy do?”
“Said he’d think about it.”
“How about that?” Sam nodded. “We ask again a week later, and he says it would be
, and there’s no obligation on his part unless the city makes it a requirement.”
“He know Marie was a lawyer?”
“Don’t think he cared.” Sam frowned. “He knew tenant law, and he wasn’t going to spend a dime unless someone forced him to, and who’s got enough money, let alone time to take a guy to court over a door?” That was the one thing he and Marie didn’t have enough of, time.
Rodriguez leaned forward. “But did Mister Ed know you were a cop?”
Sam smiled, but his eyes were hard. “He found out.”
“You get rough?”
“Nah.” Sam shook his head. “He wasn’t worth it. But I did call the local precinct and have his car towed, every day for a week. I heard they scratched it some.”
“By accident, of course.”
“Guess he fixed the doors?”
“Yeah, he got around to it,” replied Sam, his smile fading. That was a good week, in the midst of everything happening with Marie. At least he felt like he was
something. That had been the hardest part, being useless, unable to change or control a damn thing. “Made me real popular with the old ladies around here.”
“I’ll bet.” Rodriguez smiled. “But you were always popular with the ladies, Sam. You could always get them talking, anyway.”
Sam grinned. “I’m a sensitive guy, Danny, you know that.” He looked at a wall clock before he added, “Anything else you want to know?”
Rodriguez drained his beer but didn’t get up to leave. Sam sighed inwardly. The cop dance.
But who’s leading?
Rodriguez spread his arms across the back of the couch. “So I guess he won’t be missed, huh?”
Sam fetched two more beers, handed one across the coffee table. “You’re relentless, you know that?”
“He piss off anyone else?” asked Rodriguez. “More recently?”
Sam shrugged. “Couldn’t tell you, but I doubt he was on anyone’s Christmas card list, not if they lived here. I heard there were at least three lawsuits against him.”
“Don’t know, really—Marie had asked around. Small Claims Court, I think. Refusing to return deposits to people moving out, that sort of thing. Chickenshit stuff.”
“But you’re not sure?”
Sam shook his head. “Nope.”
“You talk to your neighbors much?”
Sam hesitated. “What, you mean about Ed’s little swan dive?”
Rodriguez shook his head. “No, I mean
. How well do you know your neighbors, the other folks living on this floor?”
“What do you think, Danny?”
“Not at all, huh?”
It was what you’d expect from a cop. Sam kept odd hours, leaving for work in the middle of the night, coming home and sleeping while everyone else went to work. Homicide wasn’t a nine-to-five job, and it wasn’t conducive to casual banter in the elevator. Sam didn’t take it personally. Nobody feels comfortable around cops, even the innocent. Especially when the cop in question reeks of death. Most people just nodded at the man in the rumpled suit smelling of formaldehyde.
“Maybe they’ll talk to you now,” said Rodriguez. “You being retired and all.”
“Your guys didn’t make the rounds?” Sam already knew the answer but wanted to see how Danny handled it.
“’course we did,” replied Rodriguez a little defensively. “Everybody was home. Everyone heard the scream, but nobody
“That was your story, too, right?”
Sam nodded. “Heard the scream, then yelling from the courtyard. Few minutes later, I saw the flashing lights through the window, bouncing off my ceiling. Took the elevator downstairs just as the meat truck arrived.”
“Pretty gruesome, huh?”
Sam shrugged. “We’ve seen worse.”
“But not that dramatic,” said Rodriguez. “
You think the penguin happened on purpose?”
Sam looked at his friend, feeling the pressure build, wondering when he was going to get to the point. “Danny, would
aim for the penguin, if you decided to jump?”
“But?” prompted Sam.
“But I might try for it, you know, if I was throwing the
off the fire escape.”
“So that’s your theory?”
Rodriguez shrugged. “Just an idea. Not a theory yet.”
“So check it out.” Sam thought,
here we go
“How long you been retired, Sam?”
Sam looked at his watch. “Not counting the weekend? Maybe twenty-four hours.”
Rodriguez nodded. “Right. So last time you were on the job, what was the Mayor doing?”
“Busting our balls.” Sam replied without hesitation. It was all over the papers. The new mayor of San Francisco was a press-magnet—young, good looking, and opinionated. His latest crusade for the papers was fixing the “dismal” rate of homicide closures. Never mind budget cuts that had slashed the size of the force. Forget that most of the deaths were gang-related, occurring in parts of town that the Mayor’s administration had turned its back on, in terms of manpower. There were too many suspects, no help from the courts, and no witnesses. The local residents didn’t trust the cops, because the force was spread too thin to have any real presence in the neighborhood. But those were cop problems, not the Mayor’s.
The press took the bait like sharks to chum, and now the police were second-guessed on every investigation, no matter what they did. They were under a microscope until a case was closed. It was a catch-22. No more funding until the closure rate improves, but without more funding, they couldn’t get the manpower to work the cases they already had.
.” Rodriguez nodded sagely. “Nothing has changed since you retired. Our balls are getting busted by that pretty-boy asshole, so a new case just means more pressure. And I must tell you, my friend, my balls can’t take much more pressure.”
Sam shifted in his chair as the pressure got passed across the room, invisible but insistent. His friend was asking him for help, and his conscience was telling him to say yes. He drained the last of his beer.
“You think the guy got some help,” he said noncommittally. “Maybe a little push.”
Rodriguez spread his hands. “I’m just saying it’s a possibility.” He smiled sheepishly. “I say more than that, then I gotta write it up as a potential homicide. Start an investigation.”
“But if you leave it alone…” Sam let his voice trail off.
“No paperwork,” said Rodriguez. “Not for me, at least. Just another jumper with second thoughts.”
“And bad aim.”
“Maybe, but I got my doubts.”
“The body tell you anything?” It was too soon for the autopsy results, but the crew at a crime scene usually had some theories before they bagged the body.
“No, and it probably won’t,” replied Rodriguez. “You saw it, remember?”
Sam nodded. The penguin hadn’t left much evidence. As thorough as the guys in the meat truck had been, he suspected there were still bits and pieces of Ed hanging off the trees and bushes in the courtyard. He eyed his empty bottle before looking Rodriguez in the eye.
“So what exactly do you want me to do, Danny?”
Rodriguez drank off the last of his beer and set it down on the table, leaning both elbows on his knees. “Say it was murder.”
Sam shrugged. “OK, it was murder.”
“Easy to say, right? But you and me, we know there’s no case without establishing
“But to do that, I gotta start asking questions. You know, all that cop stuff.”
Sam nodded. “And if the case is open, but you can’t close it…”
“I’m fucked,” said Rodriguez. “Even if I can’t close it as a homicide because we discover the asshole jumped, I’m still fucked.”
Sam smiled at the perversity of the situation. “The mayor and the press will say you’re just trying to cover up your incompetence by changing your story, claiming it was a suicide.”
“So what do you want me to do?” Sam repeated half-heartedly. “I’m retired.”
“The guy fell from this floor,” said Rodriguez. “And there’re six apartments on this floor, right?”
“So that’s where I’d start.”
Sam asked the question, just to hear the words. “Start what, Danny?”
“Getting to know your neighbors.”
Sam sighed. “There’s a problem with your theory.”
Rodriguez frowned. “What?”
Sam held Danny’s eyes for a long moment before answering.
“What if I killed him?”
For an instant Rodriguez didn’t react, just stared at Sam with those cop eyes, but then his broad face broke into his trademark grin. “Then I guess it’ll be a short investigation.”