Authors: Ed McBain
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Series, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedurals
“Raw and realistic…The bad guys are very bad, and the good guys are better.”
Detroit Free Press
“Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series…simply the best police procedurals being written in the United States.”
“The best crime writer in the business.”
“Ed McBain is a national treasure.”
“It’s hard to think of anyone better at what he does. In fact, it’s impossible.”
—Robert B. Parker
“I never read Ed McBain without the awful thought that I still have a lot to learn. And when you think you’re catching up, he gets better.”
“McBain is the unquestioned king…light years ahead of anyone else in the field.”
San Diego Union-Tribune
“McBain tells great stories.”
“Pure prose poetry…It is such writers as McBain who bring the great American urban mythology to life.”
The London Times
“The McBain stamp: sharp dialogue and crisp plotting.”
“You’ll be engrossed by McBain’s fast, lean prose.”
“McBain redefines the American police novel…he can stop you dead in your tracks with a line of dialogue.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The wit, the pacing, his relish for the drama of human diversity [are] what you remember about McBain novels.”
“McBain is a top pro, at the top of his game.”
Los Angeles Daily News
AN 87TH PRECINCT NOVEL
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 1977 Hui Corporation
Republished in 2011
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
This is for Ronnie and Lucille King
The city in these pages is imaginary.
The people, the places are all fictitious.
Only the police routine is based on established investigatory technique.
He thought of the city as a galaxy. A cluster of planets revolving around a brilliant sun. Asteroids and comets streaming through the blackness of space. Behind his eyes, bursts of color sometimes exploded, tracer bullets flashed jaggedly and vanished, skyrockets soared against the nighttime of his sightlessness.
He was blind, but he knew this city.
It sometimes got bitter cold in November, this city. Far as he was concerned, that was the worst month here. Never
keep himself warm in November. Even the dog got to shivering in November. The dog was a black Labrador, trained as a guide dog. The dog’s name was Stanley. He had to laugh when he thought of that dog, a black man with a black dog. Just this morning somebody put a coin in the cup, a quarter by the sound of it, and then asked, “What’s the dog’s name, man?” Knew right off it was a black man talking. He could tell what a person was, what color or what nationality, just by hearing the voice.
“Dog’s called Stanley,” he said. “Hang in there, Stanley-brother,” the man said, and walked off.
Stanley-brother. Dog was black, he automatically got to be a brother. Stanley must’ve looked at the dude like he was crazy. Good old dog, he’d be lost without him. “Right, Stanley?” he said, and patted him on the head. Dog said nothing, hardly ever said a word, old Stanley. Lucky to have that dog. Got home from the war, eyes shot to hell, people on the block chipped in to buy him the dog. Wasn’t a German shepherd, but trained just the same way, took him wherever he wanted to go in this city.
this city. Used to love it when he could see, and
loved it. On the subway tonight, coming uptown, man offered him a seat. Italian from the sound of him. “Hey, buddy, you wanna sit?” Touched his elbow. Must’ve known some blind people, didn’t just reach up and scare hell out of him. Gently touched the elbow, that was all. “Hey buddy, you wanna sit?” Something in the way he said it—he must’ve known blind people, had to be the case. Wasn’t nothing in his voice made it sound like he was talking to an old lady or a cripple. Just man to man, you want the seat you can have it. He’d taken the seat. Would’ve refused it otherwise, but the man wasn’t taking pity, the man was just making things a little easier for him. That was acceptable.
You get to be blind…
You’re twenty years old and you get to be blind, people all of a sudden think of you as an old man. Got home from the war ten years ago, eyes gone, wearing the shades, Mama and Chrissie crying like anything,
Come on, come on
, he’d said,
it ain’t nothin, it ain’t nothin.
Shit, it ain’t nothin. It’s I’m
is what it is.
But then you begin learning how to see again. How to use that old Stanley-dog to take you around where you want to go. How to read Braille and how to write it with a guide slate. Things like tying your own shoelaces, you already know how to do—most people don’t even
when they’re lacing their shoes, so ain’t nothing wrong with being blind when it comes to tying laces. And rattling a few coins in a cup’s an easy job. Get yourself a hand-lettered sign to hang around your neck, and you’re in business for yourself. Free enterprise,
HERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO THEE
. Chrissie lettered the sign for him. Made it on a piece of cardboard, threaded string through a hole in each corner. The sign, the tin cup, Stanley the black Lab, and he was well on his way to making a fortune. He would forever be grateful to the war. Otherwise, how could he have got started in his own business?
That was ten years ago.
Full disability pension. Tin cup. Rattle, rattle the coins in it, listen for the sound of more coins. Add them up at the end of the day. Take them home to Isabel and add them up together. Sit at the kitchen table, spread the coins on the oilcloth cover, her hands and his hands feeling the coins, separating them, feeling, feeling. He’d met Isabel in a bar on The Stem six years ago. He was a pretty good beggar by then, shuffling along behind old Stanley, listening to the hum of the city around him, picking out sounds in the air, entertaining himself with the sounds as he moved slowly along the sidewalk, jingling the coins in the cup, sign around his neck—a new one lettered by a man who ran a shop on South Twelfth—right hand holding onto Stanley’s harness. He’d had a good day, he stopped in the bar for a drink, this must’ve been about four in the afternoon. Woman sitting next to him. The scent of perfume and whiskey. Jukebox going at the back of the bar.
“What’ll it be, Jimmy?” the bartender asked.
“Bourbon and water.”
“My daddy used to drink bourbon and water,” the woman said.
White woman by her voice. Southerner.
“Yes. Bourbon and branch water’s a big thing down home. I’m from Tennessee.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Here you go, Jimmy.”
The sound of the glass being placed on the bar top. His hand moved forward exploringly, found the glass, “Cheers,” he said, and drank.
“Cheers,” the woman said. “My name’s Isabel Cartwright.”
“I’m Jimmy Harris.”
“Nice to know you.”
“Are you white?” he asked.
“Don’t you know?”
“I’m blind,” he said.
She laughed softly. “So am I,” she said.
Married her six months later. Blind as bats, both of them. Took an apartment on Seventh near Mason, didn’t want to be living in Diamondback uptown, not because he had himself a white wife now, but only because Diamondback was bad news for blacks
whites. Named by the blacks themselves, supposed to be sarcastic and comical, was just about as funny as a rattler itself, and every bit as deadly. Her father came up from Tennessee for the wedding. They’d been living together six months by then, wouldn’t have mattered if the old man yelled and hollered, they’d have told him to go back home and drown in his bourbon and branch water. Nice old man, though, said he knew his daughter would be well looked after. Marrying a man who couldn’t see his own hand in front of his own black face, but sure, he’d look after her.
Well, he had.
They danced together sometimes.
Put on the radio, danced to it. He used to be some dancer before the war. Secret music, he heard secret music all the time. Same as the lights that flashed. Used to think being blind meant darkness all the time. Wasn’t so. Lights flashing. Electrical impulses from the brain, memory images, whatever. Lots of action in his head all the time. Couldn’t see nothing in front of his eyes, but saw plenty behind them. Touched her face. Beautiful face. Blonde hair, she said. Old Jimmy Harris got himself a honky chick, loved her to death. Rattled that old cup for her, rattled her bones in bed, too.
He was, by his calculation, two blocks from the building he lived in on Seventh Street. He had taken the subway uptown to Fourth, and was now crossing Hannon Square, where the statue of the World War I general on a horse dominated a small grassy patch overhung with chestnut trees. Weren’t no horses in
damn war. Punji sticks and vill sweeps, surround the village, go right through it—that had been
war. Leave your eyes on the floor of a jungle.
Nice work, Jimmy. You got him.
His M-16 was still on automatic, he’d sprayed the bushes on the right side of the trail, where the sudden machine-gun fire had started. There was stillness now. The sergeant’s voice.
Nice work, Jimmy. You got him.
He was wearing a fiberglass flak jacket over his cotton jungle shirt and field pants, leather-soled, canvas-topped jungle boots with holes for water drainage, black nylon socks, a helmet liner, and a steel pot with a camouflage cover over it. Hanging from his belt suspender straps was a first aid kit containing gauze, salt tablets, and foot powder; an ammo pouch containing magazines for his automatic rifle; a Claymore pouch containing six M-26 fragmentation grenades and two smoke grenades; a bayonet, a protective mask, and two canteens of water. He crouched in the underbrush, waiting, listening. He could hear their RTO radioing back to Bravo for help.
The grenade came from somewhere far over on the right. One of the men in Alpha yelled a warning too late. He turned to see the grenade flickering through the dappled jungle heat like a rare tropical bird. He was about to throw himself away from it, flat into the bushes behind him, when it exploded some four feet above his head. Lucky it didn’t blow his whole head off. Opened his forehead, made scrambled eggs of his eyes. Doctor at the base hospital told him he was lucky he was alive. That was after Bravo came to the rescue. Hadn’t seen a thing since that day. December the fourteenth. Eleven days before Christmas, ten years ago. Blind since then.
The chestnut trees in Hannon Square were leafless now in November. He could hear the wind keening through their naked branches. He was approaching the statue—there were things a blind person could sense, objects that bounced back echoes or warmth, movements that caused changes in the air pressure to be felt on the face. Somewhere up on Culver Avenue, he heard a bus grinding into gear. There was the smell of snow in the air. He hoped it would not snow. Snow made it difficult to—
Stanley suddenly stopped.
He jerked at the harness. The dog would not move.
“What is it?” he asked.
The dog was growling.
“Stanley?” he said.
Silence except for the dog still growling.
“Who’s there?” he said.
He smelled something he identified at once. From when they’d operated on him back at the base hospital. Smelled it carried on the November wind. Chloroform. He could feel the dog’s tenseness vibrating up through the leather harness in his hand. And then suddenly the dog began to whimper. The scent of the chloroform was overpowering. He turned his head away from it, and felt the weight of the dog tugging on the harness. Stanley was falling to the sidewalk. He tried to keep the dog on his feet. Struggled. He bent over to his right, leaning into the wind. The dog was on the sidewalk now. Above, he heard the crackle of the swaying limbs of the chestnut tree. He was suddenly lost. He did not want to let go of the harness because he felt, irrationally, that if he did so he would be truly blind; the dog was his eyes. But he knew that Stanley was unconscious, knew the dog had been chloroformed. His hand opened. He let go of the harness as though he were letting go of a lifeline. He backed away from the dog. The November wind roared against his ears. He could hear no footfalls.
“Where are you?” he said.
Silence. The wind.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
He was seized suddenly from behind. He felt his chin caught in the crook of someone’s elbow, felt his head being jerked back, his jaw raised. And then pain. A searing line of fire across his throat. The collar of his shirt was suddenly wet. Warm. The widespread fingers of his left hand pushed spasmodically against the air. He coughed, choked, gasped for breath. In a moment he fell to the pavement beside the dog. Blood gushed from his slit throat, ran in bright red rivulets to the base of the statue, and around the base, and then slanted across the pavement to disappear into the barberry bushes.
The woman who found the body at ten minutes to 8:00 that Thursday night was a Puerto Rican lady who spoke no English. She looked down at the man and the dog and thought they both were dead, and then realized the dog was breathing. At first she thought to forget the entire matter; it did not pay to involve oneself in another’s business, especially when there was a man on the sidewalk with the insides of his neck showing. She realized then that the dog was a seeing-eye dog, and she felt at once enormous pity for the dead man. Shaking her head, clucking her tongue, she went to the phone booth across the street, inserted a coin into the slot, and dialed 911. She knew how to dial 911 because all the advertisements for the number were in both English and in Spanish, and in this part of the city it was a good idea to know how to dial the police in an emergency. The man who answered the telephone understood Spanish. He, too, was of Hispanic background, his family having come from Mayagüez during the great influx following World War II. He was twelve years old then. He now spoke English without a trace of accent; if anything, it was his Spanish that was somewhat faulty. He was able to gather from the woman’s excited babble that she had found a dead blind man near the statue in Hannon Square. When he asked her what her name was, the woman hung up.
He understood that completely; this was the city.
A radio motor patrol car was angle-parked into the curb when Detectives Carella and Meyer arrived at the scene. Behind that was a black sedan that looked like a hearse. Carella guessed it belonged to Homicide.
“Well, well,” Monoghan said, “look who’s here.”
“Well, well,” Monroe said.
The two Homicide detectives stood with their hands in their pockets, one on either side of the man who lay crookedly on the pavement. They were dressed almost identically, each wearing black overcoat and gray fedora, blue woolen muffler. Both of them were sturdily built, with wide shoulders and beefy chests and thighs, craggy faces and eyes that were used to seeing dead men, blind or otherwise. Monoghan and Monroe looked exactly like hit men for the mob.
“We been here ten minutes already,” Monoghan said at once.
“Twelve,” Monroe said, checking his watch.
“We’re a little shorthanded tonight,” Carella said.
“We radioed for a meat wagon already,” Monoghan said.
“And the ME is on his way.”
“Lab boys, too.”
“You can thank us,” Monroe said.
“Thank you,” Carella said, and looked down at the body.
“Guy’s dead as a doornail,” Monoghan said.
“Somebody opened his throat nice,” Monroe said.
“Look at them tubes in there.”
“Makes you want to puke.”
In the city for which these men worked, the appearance of Homicide cops at the scene of a murder was mandatory, even though the subsequent investigation was handled by the precinct detectives catching the squeal. In rare instances, and presumably because they were specialists serving in a supervisory and advisory capacity, the Homicide detectives would come up with an idea or a piece of information that helped expedite the solution to a case. More often than not, they simply got underfoot. Monoghan and Monroe had already confused the issue by calling for an ambulance
the ME was on the scene. This was a cold night. Nobody liked dancing a jig when the temperature was hovering near the freezing point. And the hospital team would not be able to move the body till the ME checked it out.