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Authors: John Lawrence Reynolds

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“I know, I know,” Donovan muttered. “Just tell Fox to keep his black ass out of my way, that's all. He leaves me to write up the report on my own and now I gotta go down, watch Doitch do the broad's autopsy while he's out suckin' back a beer or something.”

Vance raised his eyebrows. “He didn't tell you where he was going?”

“Not a goddamn word.”

Fat Eddie frowned. “He's gone to talk to McGuire. If he can find him.”

Donovan snapped his head around, the anger about to overflow again. “His old buddy? On his own? What's he doin', talkin' to a number one suspect and not tellin' me?”

Fat Eddie leaned back in his chair. “Did you finish writing your investigation report?”

Donovan nodded, staring off in the distance.

“And did Doitch specifically ask you to be present for a review of the autopsy findings?”

“Naw, that was Fox's idea.”

“Then you needn't go. There's no regulation that says the investigating detectives have to be present for the autopsy, unless there are special circumstances.” Vance opened another desk drawer and removed an unopened bottle of Maalox, keeping it from Donovan's view.

“So what do I do? Sit around here tryin' to guess what model of Louisville Slugger the guy used on her?”

“You've got a solid suspect, haven't you?”

Donovan looked back at Vance, his blue Irish eyes narrowing.

“Put a bulletin out on McGuire if Fox hasn't done it yet,” Vance said. “If Fox finds McGuire on his own, fine. If not, maybe when he gets back, he'll find him here. Either way, you're getting somewhere.”

“That's comin' right from you, huh?”

“You just heard it.”

Donovan stood up. “Tim'll be pissed,” he said. His freckled face was creased with a grin.

“He'll get over it. Besides, Tim has problems being a team player. I've been meaning to mention it to him. Maybe this will make my point.”

“Actually, I thought about doin' that, puttin' out a metro call,” Donovan said, reaching the door in three strides. “Didn't want to, you know, upset things too much. But this way . . . hell, you agree it's a good idea, right?”

Vance nodded. Right. One hand twisted the cap on the bottle. The point of a dagger traced its way along his lower digestive track. When Donovan closed the door, Vance tilted his head back and drank deeply.

The fire escape was crusted with layers of bird droppings accumulated over the years. As he climbed, Tim Fox wrapped his beige Burberry tightly around his body to keep the fabric from becoming soiled. He leaned slightly forward so that if he lost his step he wouldn't fall backward.

At the first landing, he looked up to the door of McGuire's apartment on the top level. From inside the building came the distant
whump-whump-whump
of the strip club's sound system.

On the second landing he paused again to look around and was startled to see an ancient Oriental woman watching him through a grimy window in the adjacent building, her toothless jaw moving in some kind of chewing action, her expression vacant and uncaring.

He began climbing to the third-floor landing, the bird droppings thicker and fresher, layering the soles of his nearly new Florsheims, his heart beating from the effort and from his fear of heights. He hated heights. Sometimes he hated his work. He sure as hell hated his new partner, Acting Lieutenant Philip James Donovan.

But he liked McGuire. He had always liked the snarly bastard somehow. He sure as hell wouldn't be doing this for anybody else.

Fox reached the door, raised a hand to shield the light from his eyes and wiped away a layer of dust that clung, thick as a penny, to the window in the door.

Through the dusty glass he could see an unmade cot, a sink, a long pine table, a shelf crowded with books, a straight-backed wooden chair, a naked light bulb dangling from the ceiling, a battered plastic radio, a low counter with a hot plate and a kettle, and a cheap floor lamp standing at one end of the bed. Fox knocked on the door, looked over his shoulder to see the ancient Oriental woman still watching him and knocked again.

He tried the doorknob. It turned easily in his hand and with one step he was inside the room, inhaling its stale air.

Billie was ready to go on after Mary Lou, standing behind the stage in her pink gown with the pink halter and panties underneath, her silver G-string cutting the skin on her hips, wishing she could get a drink about now, a hit of Scotch maybe, when the door opened and in came Django.

The Dancer, Dewey and Grizzly called him, but then Dewey and Grizzly could call people anything they wanted to and usually did. Nobody picked an argument with Dewey or Grizzly except maybe a goddamn platoon of marines and then they'd better be sober and well-armed.

“Here comes the Dancer,” Dewey grinned when he saw Django sidling between the tables, moving in rhythm to the music from the overhead speakers, snapping the fingers of his good hand and holding the other one, the one that was scarred and claw shaped, out to one side. His close-cropped head bobbed, his eyes shone and he flashed his wide grin at everybody in the room, even Dewey. Django was wearing his black leather trench coat and gray tweed stingy-brimmed porkpie hat, the coat open so he could move his legs and feet easier, showing his dance steps, strutting his stuff.

His mother named him Elias for reasons she never explained, and he grew up in Buffalo as Elias Tetherton, just another runty black kid destined for a life in the projects or a death in a gutter, take your pick. Then Elias met Elsie, cute little Elsie who liked his sense of humor and his crazy way of dancing, telling him he made old Michael Jackson look like a tree stump, you come right down to it. Only thing is, Michael Jackson had the drive, the urge, and Elias Tetherton just had the joy, and joy alone gets you nothing but a grin and a nod and maybe a couple of bucks from white people downtown who would smile at his dance steps and broad grin.

The joy didn't get Elias any money for Elsie and him or for the baby boy who came along ten months after they met. Pretty soon they were a family of kids. Elias was eighteen, Elsie was sixteen and the baby was two when Elsie got pregnant the second time and Elias knew he had to do something more for his family than sweep out the pressroom and bundle papers down at the Buffalo
Evening News
.

It had to be something with a bit of risk, something that took a few smarts. Heisting cars, hustling watches on the street wouldn't do it. Had to be something bigger, something you could put your smarts to work on. Elias had smarts he hadn't even used yet and when Elsie's older brother offered Elias a thousand dollars, just take a big brown package down to Boston, don't ask what's inside, ride a gray dog bus along the thruway, Elias saw his chance and he took it and did it and got paid big-time. He decided to stay in Boston, just for a few weeks, get enough money to send home to Elsie and the boys, enough maybe to go to school,
really
exercise his smarts.

But that was nearly two years ago.

When there had been an Elsie to return to.

It was McGuire who named him Django when he first saw the small black man dancing with his crippled left hand extended. Elias's face lit up at the name. Django had a nice lilt, sounded like nothing nobody else was using on the street. People on the street had names like Grizzly and the Gypsy and Heckle and Cracker Jack. McGuire wrote the name out for him with a shaky hand on a piece of paper, telling Django there was once a jazz musician with the same name, some European guy died forty years ago, a brilliant wild man who had a crippled hand just like Elias's and who learned to play guitar in spite of it, learned a style of guitar playing that no one has quite copied since, good left hand or not.

McGuire took to Django right away and not just because Django was the source of McGuire's sole pleasure, the meperidine pressed within the small white pills Django sold for Grizzly. It was Django's insouciance that McGuire admired, the smaller man's inescapable optimism in the face of all the facts that said he was doomed, that he should nourish no dreams whose lives extended beyond a single rotation of the earth. And Django was drawn to McGuire in the way many people with limited power are drawn to those with strength, even when the strength is hidden and unacknowledged and almost broken as it was in McGuire.

They were the oddest of couples to see on the brief occasions they met for business and restricted social encounters, the ex-cop sunken to addiction and the wiry street person moving in dance steps to conceal the deadening effects of his daily life.

“Hey, Django,” McGuire would greet the small man in his guttural whispery voice.

The more McGuire used it, the more Django loved the name. He needed something new, something to make him forget who he was and what he had been before they messed up his hand. “It's Django dancin' time, darlin',” he'd say when he'd see McGuire coming, and he'd move his feet in that nice soft-shoe rhythm, shove
that
up your ass, Michael Jackson.

After all, he had many reasons to change his name, reasons more than just hating the name his mama had given him.

Elias. Shit, who ever heard of a man with smarts named Elias? But Django, yeah, a nice touch. Man named Django had to have smarts, you could tell.

“Got a ‘D',” Django said when he saw the name written by McGuire and McGuire told him, “Yeah, but you don't pronounce it, it's silent.”

“The D don't talk,” Django nodded. “Spread that word, man. The D don't talk, it don't say
nothin'
it ain't supposed to.”

And so he became Django to everyone but Dewey, who Django never trusted and rarely spoke to, and Grizzly, who Django talked to every day, nodding his head in agreement because nobody ever disagreed with Grizzly, nobody ever told Grizz what to call nobody else, and the name created a special bond between Django and McGuire.

MaryLou finished her number and was standing there buck naked with her legs wrapped around the pole in the middle of the stage, trying not to yawn. She smiled across the room and waved at Django who waved back with his good hand.

Billie walked across the room, cut Django off before he reached the bar. Seeing her coming, Django threw her one of his big grins, the gold in a front tooth gleaming.

“Lady Day, Lady Day,” he said in that voice of his that was always ready to laugh.

Django had dubbed Billie “Lady Day,” which Billie later discovered was the nickname for Billie Holiday, which fit because that's who Billie's mother named her for. Billie liked her name until she was a teenager and found out that the singer named Billie Holiday had been a black junkie who had once hooked for a living, and then it didn't seem to be such a goddamn compliment.

“You seen McGuire?” Billie hissed at Django. The guys at the tables were pushing their hands together, giving MaryLou some half-assed applause while she stumbled around the stage picking up her clothes and blanket, looking forward to a hit of coke in the back room to get her through the day.

“Jolt?” Django said. His eyebrows, thick as steel wool, slid up and made his high forehead look like a black shiny washboard. “No, Lady. Ain't seen the man but I 'spec to see him soon. Man be needin' a few beats a Django's tune.” As he spoke, Django moved from side to side, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

“A cop was lookin' for him, few minutes ago,” Billie said. “He could be in deep shit. You might want to let him know, okay?”

“True, true I will, darlin'.” Django threw a smile into the far corner, furthest from the stage, where a guy in a canvas hat and gray walrus mustache, kind of antsy looking, had been trying to catch Django's eye, nodding his head, his lips sort of puckered. Django had some business.

“You're on, bitch,” MaryLou said to Billie, walking past, her clothes and blanket over one arm.

“And now, for your continuous pleasure, gentlemen . . .” Dewey drawled into the P.A. system from behind the bar.

Billie climbed the steps to the elevated stage, the lights flashing red and blue. Her music tape started playing, thump-thump.

“. . . the Flamingo Club is proud to present the elegant and voluptuous
Shana
!”
Django was side-stepping toward the customer in the corner. MaryLou stumbled once on her way to the dressing room, almost fell.

Break your fucking neck, Billie said silently, and she began to dance, moving her body for the men but keeping her mind in a different place, far away.

Chapter Three

Tim Fox took barely a minute to skim McGuire's flat. No telephone, no TV, not even a refrigerator. The bathroom was barely bigger than a phone booth with just a toilet and a plastic shower enclosure. The books on the shelf above the bed were paperback biographies and histories, the food in the cupboard consisted of instant coffee and crackers, and even the clothing hanging on the back of the door was minimal: thick sweater, lightweight jacket, denim shirt, gray wool trousers, two blue button-down shirts.

Tim Fox dropped his card next to the hotplate on the chipped enamelled table and left, closing the door behind him.

What happened to the poor son of a bitch? he wondered, descending the fire escape while the old Oriental woman watched him from across the landing.

He wandered through what remained of the city's Combat Zone for almost an hour, peering through the windows of video shops, bookstores, Vietnamese restaurants and Chinese grocery stores where Peking ducks hung in the windows, their skin mahogany red and their smiling beaks encrusted with baked sugar.

When he returned to the Berkeley Street headquarters, Stu Cauley, on duty at the downstairs desk, called him over. “You're supposed to go downstairs,” Cauley said. “Donovan's down there, him and a couple a uniforms. They brought him in, maybe half an hour ago, they're workin' through it down there.”

“Through what?” Fox said.

“That case, broad got beat to death on Newbury Street. Yours, right? Everybody knows about it. Hell of a thing. Anyway they found him. Brought him in on it and he's down in the hole.”

Fox swore and turned toward the stairs.

“Christ, does he look bad, Timmy,” Cauley said sadly. “Looks like a barrel of yesterday's shit.”

“Okay, maybe you're not drunk but you sure as hell look hungover.”

Phil Donovan sat on a metal folding chair turned backwards, his tie askew, collar button undone. One of the uniformed cops, a young guy just two years out of the academy, watched from the far corner, his chair tilted back, a plastic cup of coffee in his hand.

Between them, a middle-aged man sat in a straight-backed wooden chair, bent from the waist, his elbows on his knees, his fingertips stroking his temples, looking like another street bum waiting on a bench in the Public Garden, hoping for a handout. Which was where two cops found him, staring blankly across Charles Street. The uniformed police officers didn't recognize him at first sight but one of them thought, What the hell, it could be him.

He admitted his name and right away one of the cops, the older one, started acting almost polite, practically invited him to get in the cruiser and come back with them to Berkeley Street. And he got in, not wondering why, just asking if he could have a couple of aspirin and a coffee when they got there.

“Still got your headache?” Donovan asked, grinning like he thought it was funny.

“I'm not a drunk,” the man said.

“Naw, you're not a drunk. You just like to marinate your fuckin' liver,” Donovan said. He glanced over at the young whistle in the corner who was smiling at the detective's humor. “Christ, look at yourself. You're a bum, you're worse than a bum. The bums in the Garden, most of them never had much of a break, never amounted to a hell of a lot in their lives. But
you
. . .”

The door behind Donovan burst open and Tim Fox stood there, his hand gripping the knob, breathing hard not from the effort of trotting downstairs but from anger. “I want to talk to you, Donovan,” Fox said, the words escaping from his lips like steam from a pressure valve. “Out here. Now.”

Donovan twisted in the chair and grinned over his shoulder at his partner. “Sure thing, Timmy,” he said, standing up. “Don't go away now,” he smiled at the middle-aged man, who lifted his head at the sight of Fox.

“Hello, Timmy,” the man said to Fox.

“How you doing, McGuire?” Fox asked, and the other man smiled tightly and nodded.

Tim Fox strode past Donovan and down the basement corridor taking long quick steps like he was a whistle working Washington Avenue again, hustling to break up a street fight, ready to wade in with a billy club, cutting the air with it like Yastrzemski chasing a high and outside fast ball. Donovan tagged behind, his hands in his pockets, a smirk on his face.

“The fuck you think you're doin'?” Fox said, pulling up near the coffee machine and swinging around to face the younger detective, pointing his finger at him like it was a Smith & Wesson.

Donovan held his hands up, palms facing Fox. “Easy, buddy . . .” he said.

“Don't buddy me, asshole.” Fox shook with anger and Donovan's grin grew wider at the sight of spittle forming at the corners of the black detective's lips. “You don't bring somebody like McGuire in and drop him in the I.R. like he's a piece of shit you picked up on the street.”

“But, Timmy,” Donovan said, “he
is
a piece of shit we picked up on the street. In the Public Garden, sitting on a bench, for Christ's sake, dressed like that.”

“He's the best goddamn cop who ever walked into this dump,” Fox replied. “Him and Ollie Schantz . . .”

“So
what is he now?” Donovan spat back, the smile erased. He showed Fox a hand, the fingers folded down, and he popped them up one at a time as he spoke. “He's a has-been, he's a drunk, he's a bum and he's a suspect in a murder one. You seen the preliminary on that Lorenzo broad, Doitch's report?” He waved the question away before Fox could reply. “Deep penetrating wound through her gut. Plus severe concussion, cracked vertebrae, three broken ribs, broken jaw, two fingers snapped when she put her hand up to defend herself from that old favourite we've all come to know and love, a blunt fucking instrument.” He arched his eyebrows. “She was one tough cookie to survive an ass-kicking like that as long as she did.”

“Where's the weapon?” Fox demanded. “Where's the motive, the opportunity, the eyewitness, the forensics, to make McGuire an A-number-one?”

“I didn't say—”

“I was in his room, Donovan . . .”

Over Donovan's shoulder Fox saw two uniforms watching them from the far end of the hall, eavesdropping on a face-to-face between a couple of hot-shot detectives, picking up some trash to spread through the cruiser network later in the day. “Should've seen Fox and Donovan going at it in Berkeley,” they'd be saying. “Hammer and tongs, like street scum, two suits, two de
tec
tives.” Rumour would feed rumour until, by the end of the day, the story would have Fox and Donovan rolling on the floor, squeezing each other's jugulars.

“You guys wanta find some traffic tickets to hand out or something?” Fox shouted down the hall to them, and the whistles muttered to each other and wandered around the corner toward the elevator.

“I was in his room,” Fox began again, this time in a hoarse whisper, poking Donovan in the chest with a finger, “and there's nothing. No blood on the clothes, no sign of a weapon, not even a telephone.”

“He was pissed enough to do it or to get somebody else to,” Donovan said, his hands in his trouser pockets again. “Point is—”

“The fucking point is,” Tim Fox said, raising his voice, “I'm the senior louie and if I say I'll deal with a suspect first, you keep your—”

“Fat Eddie gave me the go-ahead,” Donovan said. The smirk was back.

Tim Fox froze his expression, except for his eyes which shifted sideways. “Who?”

“Vance.” Donovan adjusted his tie, fastened his collar button. “Gave him a rundown, told him you were out lookin' for McGuire and Eddie said put some muscle on it, back you up. They bring him in, I take him downstairs, give the poor bastard some coffee, help him get over the shakes, read him his Miranda and be his buddy.” He raised his hands again, palms open. “See? No rubber hose.” Turning to leave, he said, “Now, you want to bitch to somebody, you go bitch to Fat Eddie. Otherwise, while we're runnin' up each other's tails here, we got a murder one gettin' cold.”

“What do you need, Joe?”

Tim Fox sat on the same metal chair Donovan had occupied, facing McGuire. Donovan had retreated to the far corner of the interrogation room where the young whistle had been slouching until Fox entered and told him to get the hell out and stay out of the observation room too, he and Donovan would handle this on their own.

McGuire lifted his head to smile back at Fox. “I, uh . . .” he began in that low voice of his, the sound textured like a wet gravel road. “Nothing, Timmy,” he said, shaking his head. “I'm okay.”

He wore a faded cotton sweater, once white but now the colour of dishwater, the frayed collar and cuffs of a blue oxford-cloth shirt visible beneath it. His denim jeans were oversized, the bottoms rolled above a tattered pair of Reeboks worn with no socks. A three-day growth of beard grew among the folds of a face as shrunken and bony as the rest of his body.

McGuire looked perhaps twenty pounds lighter and twenty years older than the last time Fox had seen him, less than a year and a half earlier.

“Donovan tell you about the woman on Newbury Street?” Fox asked.

McGuire nodded.

“We've got your voice on her answering machine tape, Joe,” Timmy said. “Threatening the murder victim.”

“So I hear.”

“What got you so pissed at her?”

“Not sure.”

“You on a drunk?”

McGuire thought about it for a moment. “No,” he said finally. “Not yesterday.”

“Where were you last night?”

“Beats the heck out of me.”

“Where'd you wake up this morning?”

“My place.”

“The room over the Flamingo.”

“Home sweet home.”

“I was there.” Fox smiled. “You should lock your door.”

“Nothing to steal. Besides,” McGuire grinned, “it's never locked. Gets used when I'm not in.”

“Girls from the club taking johns up there?”

McGuire ran a hand through his hair, longish, growing gray, the curls tighter than ever. “Pays the rent. Keeps the kids off the streets.”

“Jesus Christ,” Donovan muttered from the corner. McGuire looked at him without expression.

“You don't remember calling this Lorenzo woman?” Fox said.

McGuire turned back to Fox, shook his head.

“Can you remember why you were so angry with her?”

Another shake.

“How'd you know her?” Donovan called from the corner. “You bang her a few times maybe? Or were you just pimping for her?”

Tim Fox glared across at Donovan.

McGuire smiled and moved his lips.

“What's that?” Tim Fox asked, leaning forward and narrowing his eyes.

“Used to be related,” McGuire said, loud enough this time for Fox to hear. He rubbed the back of his neck. “My ex-wife's sister.”

Fox straightened up. Donovan pulled his notebook from his jacket pocket and began scribbling in it. “When was the last time you saw her?” Fox asked.

McGuire shrugged. “Not for years. Until . . .” He frowned, staring down at his feet. “Until a week, maybe two weeks ago. I was, uh . . .” He pinched the bridge of his nose, stared up at the ceiling for a moment and nodded as though agreeing with himself. “I was over in the Esplanade one day. Just waiting, looking . . . looking for somebody. There were these women in fur coats and a photographer and a bunch of other people near the band shell and one of them kept looking at me, and then she came over and started talking to me. And I recognized her, I saw it was Heather. The photographer, he was one of her clients or whatever she called them, fashion photographers.”

He sat back in the chair, raised his chin, spoke to the ceiling. “She, uh, she laughed at the way I looked, what I was doing. Said she knew who I was going to meet, what I wanted to see him for. Heard about me doing doing what I was doing. Thought it was funny . . .”

“Who were you going to meet?” Fox asked.

McGuire pondered the answer. “A friend. Just a friend.”

“He got a name?” Donovan asked.

“Django,” McGuire said. “Just Django. And, uh, she asked where I lived and I told her over the Flamingo, and she thought that was even funnier, and I was, uh . . . if I'd felt better I might have hit her then and there . . .” McGuire grinned at Fox. “Jesus, Timmy, I just handed you an incriminating statement then, didn't I?”

“Sure as shit did,” Donovan said from the corner. “Keep talkin' like that, we'll have your whole history nailed down.”

McGuire shrugged. “My life is an open pamphlet.”

“You didn't hit her?” Tim Fox asked.

“No. But I wanted to.”

“What stopped you?”

“Guess I'm out of shape.”

“So what'd you do?”

“Got up and walked away and she went back to the photographer and the models.”

“Eddie Vance could use that statement to build a charge against you.”

“Let him.”

“You don't seem worried about it.”

“I'm not. Nothing Eddie can do'll worry me.”

Fox grinned. “Yeah, well, Fat Eddie's his own worst enemy.”

McGuire arched his eyebrows and smiled. “Not while I'm around.”

There was a knock at the door and a uniformed sergeant leaned into the room. “Got a message for you guys,” he said, speaking to Fox and Donovan but unable to keep his eyes from the shrunken figure of McGuire.

Tim Fox looked at Donovan and angled his head. Donovan sighed and followed the sergeant out of the room and into the hall. When the door closed Fox stood up, took a step closer to McGuire, leaned from the waist and asked, “So what happened to you, Joe?”

McGuire sighed and allowed himself a smile. “I screwed up.”

Fox shook his head sadly. “Last I heard you were down in the Bahamas mixing Martinis, living the good life. When we got the word about you, bunch of us up here, we figured you scored a big one, you lucked out.”

BOOK: Solitary Dancer
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