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Authors: Jeremiah Healy

So Like Sleep

BOOK: So Like Sleep
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So Like Sleep
Jeremiah Healy































Swan Dive


and stared at the roller in the aluminum pan. The door to the hall and both windows in the office were open, but the breezeless May afternoon still sealed in the paint smell. I was wearing a red T-shirt and the khaki shorts I had wine-stained the week before. The edge of the desk was hard on my rear end, the clear plastic drop cloth squeaking each time I squirmed to get comfortable. The landlord had said a two-year lease would be four hundred a month, three-eighty if I painted it myself. My former apartment-office had been burned out, and I decided the time had come to have one of each.

I turned my head and took in the view of the Boston Common, our answer to Central Park, that had hooked me on this place for the office part. At my corner of the Common is the Park Street subway station, a human kaleidoscope. In the early morning you get the rush-hour crowd, lawyers and bankers in two-piece suits, secretaries in half-salary outfits. In late morning come teachers and parent assistants leading field trips of fourth graders, lunchboxes clanking and name-tags fluttering. At midday, young management trainees and salespeople picnic on the grass with sausage sandwiches, fresh fruit, or salads bought from wagoned vendors. At all hours, the Hare Krishnas chant, the past-prime folk singers strum, the bullhorn evangelists exhort. Only the winos are quiet, lying on their sides like half-opened, human jack-knives. All in all, a view that could keep you sane. At least by comparison.

I swallowed another mouthful of the Stroh’s and wondered for the hundredth time what “fire-brewed” means. I looked up at the half-painted walls and down again at the roller and pan. I finished the beer, flexed my rolling arm, and went back to work.

“Good to see a man with a trade.” A deep, familiar voice from the doorway.

“You the guy from the lettering company?” I said without turning. “I’ve decided on ‘John Francis Cuddy, Confidential Investigations.’ ”

He snorted a laugh, rapping a knuckle on the lavatory-glass section of the door. “Maybe you’d do better to leave ‘Avery Stein, Tax Preparer’ up here.”

I laid the roller back into the pan and gestured toward the Lil’ Oscar cooler on the desk. “Have a beer, Lieutenant?”

“No, thanks.” Murphy came slowly into the room, careful of his clothes around the shiny walls. Shorter and heavier than I am, Murphy was the first black lieutenant detective on the force, appointed when an otherwise bigoted city councillor mistook surname for race.

I pulled a drop cloth from one of the chairs I had bid on at a liquidator’s auction. “Sit.”

He lightly touched the arms, seat, and back for wet spots, then settled in. “This is a pretty nice setup.”

“Thank you.”

Murphy fidgeted a bit. I hadn’t known him long, but I had never seen him ill at ease before.

“Can I help you with something, Lieutenant?”

He frowned, rested his elbow on the chair arm, and bothered his teeth with an index finger. “I don’t like asking favors,” he said.

I thought back a few months. “I figure I owe you one.”

“The shotgun thing.”


“I guess you’re right, but I still don’t like asking.”

I shrugged. We waited.

Murphy made up his mind. “A woman I dated a long time ago. Her son is in deep shit, and I want you to check it out.”

“As in ‘get him out’?”

“Or maybe just confirm that he belongs there.”

“In the deep shit.”


“What’s the situation?”

“The name William Daniels mean anything to you?”

“Yes,” I said. “But I don’t place it.”

“About three weeks ago. Young black shoots his white girlfriend, then confesses to their therapy group.”

“The kid under hypnosis.”

“That’s right.”

I thought back to the television reports. The arraignment, Massachusetts allowing cameras in the courtroom for some years now. Daniels, a college student, his mother holding back tears. The dead girl’s father, sitting stoically, his wife back home under sedation. Ironically, the father was a TV station manager who had fought for coverage of court proceedings.

“I remember some of it,” I said. “Daniels had the gun on him, right?”

“The therapy witnesses say he reached into his pocket and laid it on his lap. Papers said Ballistics made it as the murder weapon.”

I thought back again. “The shooting was out in Calem?”


“Meaning Middlesex County.”


“Not your jurisdiction.”

Murphy cleared his throat. “Right again.”

“But you must have official contacts out there?”

“Yeah, and if I got contacts there, why do I need do drag in a PI to tell me what I can find out myself.”

“That’s what I was wondering.”

Murphy leaned forward, elbows on knees, hands working a little on each other. “How many black cops you think work Calem?”

“Maybe one?”

“That’s right. A rookie patrolman. Two, if you count a uniformed dispatcher.”

“So if you call out there, it looks like professional big-city black cop checking up on small-town white cops?”

“To see if they’re ’roading a black defendant through their white, suburban system.” Murphy sat back, not quite relaxed.

“He must have a lawyer by now,” I said.

“Private, but he used to be a Mass Defender”—meaning an attorney from the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, the old name for the Commonwealth’s public defender system.

“I’d have to start with him.”

“Start with the mother instead. She approves of you, she’ll tell William, and he’ll okay it with the lawyer.”

“You know the kid?”

“Met him once in a supermarket, maybe ten years ago.”

I didn’t ask the follow-up question, but Murphy answered it for me.

“Yeah, I think he did it. But I want Willa to think so too.”

“Willa’s his mother?”


“You have her address and telephone?”

He pulled a folded paper from inside his coat and handed it to me. Willa Daniels, home and work. Robert J. Murphy, home and work.

“Thanks, Cuddy,” said Murphy, rising.



“Why me?”

“Why you?”

“Yeah. I can’t be the only private detective you know.”

“Cuddy, you’re the only white private detective I know who owes me a favor. I hate asking for favors. I hate owing them even more.”

He slammed “Avery Stein, Tax Preparer” on the way out.


my sports jacket on the coat tree. Rather than wipe my spattered hands, I leaned out the window. The clock on the Park Street Church tower said 2:20 P.M. It was typically five minutes slow. I already had a phone in the office, but I decided to finish the paint job and call Mrs. Daniels later.

By four-thirty, I was in the men’s, scrubbing my fingers with a small brush and turpentine. A white-collar worker came in, relieved himself, and thought better of telling me I was in an executive washroom. He left without rinsing his hands.

By four forty-five, I was out of the painting clothes and back into my buttoned-down yellow shirt, tweed coat, and khaki pants. I made sure I had the piece of paper Murphy had given me and used the stairs down to the street.

I crossed Tremont and slipped sideways through the crush of federal and state employees beating everyone else’s office workers to the subway entrance. Once I was past the station, the Common sprawled green in front of me. I walked toward home.

The case that destroyed my old apartment had landed me in the hospital. After I got out, a friend suggested I call his sister. The sister, a doctor, was taking a two-year program in Chicago and needed a tenant for her condominium in Back Bay. Fortunately, the case also provided me with a chunk of money, which, when added to the insurance proceeds from the fire, allowed me to afford the rents on both the condo and the office. I could afford time, too. Time to think about Nancy Meagher.

Nancy was an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, basically meaning Boston. She was also the first woman I’d felt close to, felt anything for, since my wife, Beth, died of cancer.

At Charles Street I took the Commonwealth Avenue extension through the Public Garden. The Common is for ball-playing and dog-running. The Garden is for swan-boating and love-walking. Nancy and I hadn’t walked through the Garden yet. I hoped we would. But first she would have to call me. At the hospital, Nancy had said she needed time to think, as well. Time to think about having killed a man.

I started up Commonwealth for two blocks, shifting to Marlborough for two more, and then onto Beacon for the last block to Fairfield. If there is a better way of commuting than walking through an historic neighborhood to and from work, I can’t imagine it.

The condo is one of eight one-bedroom units in an old, corner brownstone. It occupies the rear of the second floor on the left-hand side of the street, which means southern exposure. The living room has seven stained-glass windows across its south wall and a polished oak-front fireplace along its east wall. High-ceilinged and airy, it’s the nicest place I ever lived in alone.

I took off my sports jacket and glanced at the new telephone tape machine. The Calls window displayed a fluorescent green “0,” meaning no messages.

Fishing out Murphy’s paper, I called Willa Daniels at both work and home. No answer at either.

I popped a steak into the broiler and took a half-full bottle of cabernet sauvignon out of the fridge to warm back down to room temperature. As dinner cooked, I drank some ice water with a twist of lime while I read most of the
New York Times
, which I had delivered each morning but usually didn’t read until evening.

After I ate, I got Mrs. Daniels at home. She asked if I could come right over. She gave me an address in Roxbury and detailed directions. I said I would see her in half an hour.

I usually wear a handgun over my right buttock, but that night I undid my belt and slipped on a holstered Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special so that it rode at my left front. A car carrying whites had been stoned at a traffic light in Roxbury the prior week, and if necessary, I wanted to be able to cross-draw easily.

I followed Tremont Street deep into Roxbury, making the two right and one left turns to Millrose Street. On the Danielses’ block were four beautifully kept houses, three burned-out shells, and six that fell in between. The Daniels house was an in-betweener.

I spotted a parking space and maneuvered my old Fiat 124 around some barely identifiable trash and intact but empty wine bottles. The container law in Massachusetts rewards scavengers a nickel for each beer or tonic receptacle, whether glass, plastic, or aluminum, but nothing for wine jugs. A pity.

As I got out of the car, I saw three young blacks on a stoop between me and the Daniels house. All wore sleeveless athletic shirts, racing-stripe gym shorts, and sneakers. Two had socks, one didn’t. They had a blaster radio turned down low on an R-and-B tune I didn’t recognize.

As I drew even with them, the biggest of the three stood up and took a step toward me. Not threatening. Just an approach.

“Five bucks,” he said.

“Five bucks?”

“To watch your car, man.”

“So no harm comes to it?”

“That’s right.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m doing a favor tonight. Ms. Daniels’ son is in some trouble, and I told a friend I’d stop by and try to help.”

BOOK: So Like Sleep
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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