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Authors: Jeremiah Healy

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BOOK: So Like Sleep
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“I try to,” I said, dropping my hand and sitting back down.

“What you didn’t say was that my mama’s pig friend asked you to check me out so you could tell her I’m guilty.”

“You’re smart enough to know that the more help you get, the better off you are.”

Daniels laughed. “Yeah, right. Well, let me save you a lot of your freely given time. I did it. I remember doing it. And I’m glad I did it.” He didn’t look glad.

“Look, I—”

“So just leave it, huh? Just leave it and me be!”

His voice rose enough at the end for the guard to come forward two steps. I shook my head, and the guard withdrew cautiously.

Daniels’ expression was sullen, pouty. “Would it hurt anything,” I said, “for you to tell me what happened?”

“You know, I don’t have to talk with you at all. I can just stand up and walk, anytime.”

“I know. You can walk over to the officer there, who’ll take you back to protective custody or general population or wherever it is they stack you. Then you’ll wait for Rothenberg to try to grovel a reduction in charge. Maybe he can even parlay it into a sentence that’ll get you a shot at parole, like around the turn of the century.”

“The fuck do you know about it?”

“Not much. That’s why I’m here.”

Daniels turned his face down a notch. “Look, you’re wastin’ your time. They got me. Every which way. My girl, my gun, fuckin’ roomful of witnesses. Shit, they put this one on TV, the show’d be canceled. No drama.”

“I don’t think you’ve gotten the idea,” I said gently. “See, you’re supposed to tell me your side of it, then I dig around and—”

“Aw, man, what kinda shit you slingin’? My side is their side. I done it, man. They got me and they know it. And no smilin’ Irish face gonna change that.”

“William …” I started, but he had already stood and turned away from me, motioning to the guard that he was finished.

As I rode the subway back into Boston, I tried to make up my mind about what I should do. Easiest was to call Murphy, tell him I had confirmed William’s guilt, then break the news of my exit to Mrs. Daniels. The more I thought about it, the less easy that path appeared. All I had done was read a few reports, talk with a disappointed defense attorney, and bungle a client interview. Not exactly a thorough, professional effort.

On the other hand, I could spend three or four days chasing after the names in the report. Then I could check each one off as he or she substantiated what everybody but Mrs. Daniels believed. That her son shot Jennifer Creasey.

While our train was stopped inexplicably in a tunnel, I decided to call Murphy and tell him the kid wouldn’t talk to me. Then Murphy could try to get Mrs. Daniels to persuade William again. If that failed, I’d be off the hook.

I felt better and looked at my watch. Eleven-twenty. Plenty of time to pick up the car and visit before calling Murphy.

“I don’t know if I like the green paper as well.” The roses were yellow, small but open flowers, sharp but widely spaced thorns. I bent over and laid them lengthwise to her.

“Mrs. Feeney says the company that manufactured the white tissue went bust, and the new outfit would charge her fifty percent more for the white.”

I smoothed the paper down. It crinkled. The old paper, the white, sort of whispered.

Don’t worry about it, said Beth. What do you think you’re doing, working a toilet paper commercial?

I laughed. I looked past her stone to the Daugherty plot. His monument was granite, not marble, and some of the blood from last March was still dried dark on it. I stopped smiling and repressed a shudder.

Have you heard from Nancy?

“No. I thought about calling her, but …”

You’re probably right not to push it.

“I know.”

She needs time, John.

“I know that, too.”

There was nothing more to say on that subject. The sky was overcast, the air still. No sailboats in our part of the harbor. Two Boston Whalers raced on a near-collision course, both heading toward an anchored third, already bucking, its fishing rods bending.

“New case, Beth. Son of a friend of the police lieutenant who covered for me last time. They say the son shot his girlfriend.”

Who says?

“That’s the problem. Everybody. The son included.”

What do you say?

“I don’t know. He isn’t helping me very much.”

How old is he?

“Only twenty, but a smart kid. Goreham College.”

Is that where he met the girlfriend?

“I think so.”

Why would a rich Goreham boy want to kill a rich girl?

“Well, to start with, he’s not rich. He’s a black, scholarship student. Her family, a white family, seems pretty well off, though.”

Did he love her?

“He didn’t say.” I thought for a minute. “No question that he caught a lot of flak from his neighborhood kids—black kids—about her, and he seems pretty intense, so yeah, I’d say he must have loved her to put up with it.”

You said he wasn’t helping you much.

“That’s right.”

If you had lost me when you were twenty, and everybody said you were at fault, would you be much help to you?

I swallowed. “I lost you when I was a lot older than twenty, and I knew the cancer wasn’t my fault, and I still wasn’t much help to anybody.”

Beth waited a moment.
See?

I saw. “Her name was Jennifer Creasey,” I said.

I’ll watch for her.

Six

W
HEN YOU NEED
information, talk to someone who gathers it for a living. The
Boston Herald
’s newsroom was noisy, in a muted sort of way. The screaming of editors and clattering of standard typewriters had yielded to the squawking of intercoms and the burping of computer terminals. I preferred the old atmosphere myself, and I know Mo Katzen did too.

He was in his office, as always, in the ill-fitting vest and trousers of a three-piece suit, as always.

“Mo, how can you be a reporter, yet never be out on a story?”

“Hah, tell me about it,” he said, teeth clamped on a comatose cigar. He gestured toward the aged Remington that he still insisted on using. “You know what I’m writing about?”

“No, Mo. I—”

“A desk.” The top of his own desk looked like the step-off point of a ticker-tape parade. He took the cigar from his mouth. “A fifty-year-old desk that Mayor Curley supposedly had—there’s no supposed about it; I saw him perched on it often enough with these.” He pointed the index and middle fingers of his free hand at his eyes. “But no, the lawyers say we got to say ‘supposedly.’ Anyway, I’m writing about this desk that Curley supposedly had, that through the regimes Mayor White supposedly received, and that Mayor Flynn now wants to sit behind—no supposing there. Flynn really wants the desk. And guess what?”

“Nobody can find it?”

“On the button, John,” he said, inhaling as he futilely tried to get a throwaway lighter to fire his stogie. “Nobody can find a carved wood desk that’s got maybe thirty pounds on the
Andrea Doria
.”

“Mo, I—”

“Goddamn thing,” said Mo, pitching the lighter toward his wastebasket but missing. “You’re supposed to write with their pens, and shave with their razors, and you can’t get their goddamned lighters to spark enough to fry a moth.”

“Mo—”

“Getting back to the desk, though. There’s got to be five hundred—no, call it five thousand desks in City Hall. Every brother-in-law who’s on the payroll eventually gets a promotion into some created slot to free up
his
spot for the next brother-in-law. And if you promote the guy, you’ve gotta give him a desk, right?”

“Right.”

“Of course, right. I mean, the raise in pay, the change in title, those aren’t enough. The expansion of duties and responsibilities sure can’t carry it. What’s two times zero? Zero, am I right?”

“Math always was your strong—”

“But with these five thousand desks and five thousand brothers-in-law, the city’s crack investigators can’t find Hizzoner’s desk. You know they’re turning City Hall upside down? Looking at everybody’s desk. Looking inside the things, for God’s sake. Like Curley’s desk was maybe a stolen racehorse, and somebody rubbed on shoe polish to cover the star on its forehead. I tell you, John, it makes me sick.”

“Sick is right, Mo. I—”

“And you’d think, wouldn’t you, you’d think that the new administration would have the sense to do all this hush-hush? I mean, between Proposition Two and a Half wrecking the budget, and busing wrecking the schools, and potholes wrecking anything with wheels, you’d think that the administration wouldn’t want to advertise that it’s got more guys on this desk thing than the city did on the Boston Strangler. But no, they’ve got to let the media in on it, which means TV covered it last night, which means I got to have this ready by … Oh, I’m telling you, John, every time I think about it, I get sick.”

“Mo, before I call for an ambulance—”

“Ambulance?”

“Before I—”

“Who said anything about an ambulance?”

“Nobody did, Mo. It—”

“You better watch yourself, John.” He pointed the cigar at me. “I think your mind’s beginning to wander.”

I asked Mo if I could see the paper’s morgue information on the Creasey case. The
Herald’
s got the best criminal coverage in the city, but after an hour’s reading, the only new information I found was that the Federal Communications Commission was leaning against renewing the license of the television station run by the dead girl’s father. Some days you get the peanuts, some days you get the shells.

Seven

I
STOPPED AT A
push-button pay phone and dialed my own home number. I waited for the ringing to stop and the outgoing tape to start. I punched in my code number and heard two messages whir backward in Donald Duck talk. The first message was from Mrs. Daniels, asking me to call her at home that evening. The second was from Murphy, telling me to call him at home that evening.

I pressed a few more buttons to reset the tape machine, then checked in with my answering service. Same two messages.

I hung up and tried Dr. Clifford Marek. I told his receptionist that I had read about his work with hypnosis and hoped he could help me with “my problem.” She said ordinarily two weeks’ notice would be necessary but reluctantly admitted a fortuitous cancellation for 3:30 P.M. I accepted with what I hoped were sufficient sounds of gratitude.

I had a burger and two beers at a pub around the corner from the
Herald
. Then I drove out to Calem.

I didn’t know the town well, but Marek’s address was right at the edge of the municipal center and recessed from the road. The building was four stories high, yellow brick. The lobby was simple and empty. The directory listed a group dental practice on the first floor, two podiatrists on the second, three pediatricians on the third, and just Marek on the fourth. Nice suburban professional atmosphere. There was a STAIRS door to the left of the directory. I walked over and tried the knob. The door opened, and I slipped through it onto a concrete staircase with blue metal railing. It appeared to lead up to the offices and down to the basement.

I went down fifteen steps to a second door, also unlocked, but marked BASEMENT—NO ADMISSION. Behind the second door was a hallway with three doors on the left side, spaced equidistantly. An elevator and two other doors occupied the right side. Four of the five doors said STORAGE and were secured. The fifth door said HVAC, short for “Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning.” The “boiler room.” It was ajar and music drifted through the opening. I walked quietly to it.

A man in a brown maintenance worker’s jumpsuit was fiddling at the base of some machinery against one wall. A small and battered transistor radio managed to spew an instrumental piece that was supposed to be “easy listening.” The man clanged a tool against a pipe and cursed.

“This where the girl died?” I said.

The guy jumped, startled. He was maybe fifty, five-six, and one-seventy or so. I started to apologize, but he cut me off.

“What’re you doin’ here? It says ‘No Admittance,’ y’know.”

“My mother’s upstairs. At the dentist’s. The drilling noise drives me nuts. I had to get away from it.”

“Huh,” said the guy, giving a half laugh, wiping his perspiring face with the back of his hand. “Try workin’ here. Cleaning the floor, you can’t get away from it through three closed doors. Fuckin’ bastard built this building, he didn’t care about soundproofing. Down here, it’s solid, quiet. Up there, a madhouse. You’d think the dentists’d complain.”

“They probably don’t notice it.”

“Huh.” The half laugh again. “You’re probably right. Never thought about that. They wouldn’t, would they?”

“The girl from the TV, the shrink case—this where she was killed?”

“Christ,” said the guy, crossing himself, “don’t remind me, huh. It gives me the creeps just bein’ in here. That’s why the radio. Fuckin’ music’s shit, but at least it’s noise.”

“Were you here when it happened?”

“Naw. Happened at night. I knock off at four. I got another building to cover for the management company. They’d have me doing ten buildings if they could, save a dime.” He gestured toward a corner where the floor was both more stained and more freshly scrubbed. There were patch marks on the cement wall above it, as if someone had spackled over nail holes left by the previous tenant. “Over there’s where she got it. Stupid cunt. Playin’ around with a nigger. She was good family, shoulda known better.”

I let his comment pass and said, “You do the floor?”

“Yeah, once the cops okayed it. The walls too, ’count of the bullets. The floor, huh, company said it wanted it to look the same. I ask you, you ever try to clean blood offa concrete?”

“No.”

“Well, it don’t. It don’t ever clean. It’s like God never meant for it to go away.” He looked back over toward it, almost reverently. “Never’ll look right.”

“You knew her?”

“Who?”

“The girl. Did you know her?”

“No.”

“You said she was from a good family. I thought maybe …”

BOOK: So Like Sleep
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