The Staked Goat - Jeremiah Healy

BOOK: The Staked Goat - Jeremiah Healy
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The Staked Goat

Jeremiah Healy
1986

For
Evelyn
and
Virginia

One
-•-

I SWATTED THE SNOOZE BUTTON ON MY CLOCK RADIO twice.
The ringing noise didn't stop, so I picked up the telephone.

"Yeah?" I said.

"Shou1dn't you be answering 'John Francis Cuddy,
private detective'?" A gruff, hearty male voice.

I blinked at the time. "Not at 7:05 A.M. Who is
this?"

"Or, at least, 'John Francis Cuddy, Captain,
United States Army, retired'?"

"In a minute you'l1 be talking to yourself, my
friend. Who is this?"

"Christ, John," said the voice through a
deep laugh, "you always were a pleasure to wake up in the
morning."

My head began to clear. "Al? Al Sachs?"

"The one and on1y."

"Al, it's been . . ."

"Actually, that's not true, not anymore. You
know Martha and me got married four years ago. Well, I'm no longer
the one and only, being the proud father of Alan G. Sachs, Junior,
age two-point-eight years."

"Al," I said, getting upright and rubbing
the sleep from my eyes, "you're Jewish. You're not supposed to
be naming your children after somebody still living. It's bad luck."

"Yeah, I know," said Al, "but Martha,
she's Lutheran and my folks are all gone and I'll bet you've been to
temple more than I have. Hey, remember that time in 'Nam, when you
were going to some feast-day Mass to get out of being duty officer? I
went to tag along and when the old man tried to stop me, you told him
I was your technical advisor on the Old Testament readings." Al
laughed for me. Kind of nervously, I thought.

"So what are you doing in Boston?"

"Making my fortune, John, making my fortune. I
had a lotta luck with the Bs last night."

I had watched the game on television. "Al,
you're crazy to bet on hockey in this town, even in favor of the
Bruins."

Another nervous laugh. "Yeah, yeah, you're
right. Listen, John-boy, I'm a manufacturer's rep now for Straun
Steel. They're a Pittsburgh outfit that fabricates little steel
gizmos for building construction, and I gotta go, I got an
eight-fifteen appointment at a job site. Listen, whatsay we roll for
drinks and dinner tonight, maybe eight-thirty, nine o'clock?"

"Where are you staying?"

"A place called the Midtown Motor Inn. On
Hunterton Avenue."

"That's Huntington Avenue, Al. Also, it's a
Tuesday, and Boston tends to close down early during the week. Want
to make it seven?"

A quick cough and again that nervous edge in his
voice. "No, no, can't. Got another appointment. Can you swing by
my motel at eight-thirty?"

"Sure, Al, I'll see you then."

"Oh, and John?"

"Yeah?"

"Remember 13 Rue Madeleine." He hung up.

13 Rue Madeleine. As I put down the receiver,
memories of Al bubbled back to me. The best, if also the oddest, guy
I knew from the service. We went through military police training
together. Not an altogether easy time. The Jew from CCNY and the Harp
from Holy Cross. Tossed in with fifty or so Ivy Leaguers, West
Pointers, and Old South military school graduates. At first, Al and I
were more ignored than actively hated. Then we started to win a
couple of friends by sheer force of personality, in which many of our
classmates were sorely lacking. Our newfound acceptance wore thin on
some hardliners who picked a fight with me one day in the TV lounge
of the bachelor officers' quarters. I had decked a Yalie when a
Virginia lad, who I later found out had prepped with the Yalie, swung
a chair ungentlemanly close to the back of my head. The Virginian
missed because Al had clouted him on the upper arm with the edge of
his hand, thereby breaking a bone above the swinger's elbow. The
battle was joined, as they say, with a West Pointer named J. T.
Kivens siding with us. The real MPs eventually arrived, and the
official box score went Yale/Virginia. Al, J.T., and I eventually
found ourselves as street MP officers in Saigon. I heard that Yale
and Virginia ended up guarding VIPs in some appropriately front-page
battle sectors and conferences.

Al and J .T. had preceded me to Saigon by about eight
weeks. Al was billeted in a former hotel converted into a bachelor
officers' quarters. The connecting bedroom shared his bath and was
available, so I moved in.

Beth and I weren't married then, and Al and I did our
best to keep each other alive and sane. When we got back from the
service, he was terrific about staying in touch. When we didn't
reciprocate his happy-holiday card the year Beth died, he called me.

He must have called every few weeks after that. He
also called me after Empire Insurance fired me for refusing to
falsify a jewelry claim, after I started to sink into the bottle, and
again after I began to pull myself back out with my own private
detective business. Then I stopped hearing from him, which I now
realized I found surprising.

Al. He was the oddest guy I knew because you could
never figure him out. One day he ran around literally putting tacks
on everyone's chairs. When I asked him why, he said it was something
he suddenly remembered he had wanted to do since grade school.

Another time, on an R-and-R in Hawaii, he spent fully
two and a half hours of our precious time going through a Honolulu
telephone directory looking up the names of his CCNY classmates just
in case one might have moved six thousand miles southwest. A third
time, in Saigon, he broke down crying at the sight of a bunch of
street orphans in rags because he said they were posed like a
photograph he had seen of the starving Jewish defenders of the Warsaw
ghetto.

But 13 Rue Madeleine. An old World War II movie with
Jimmy Cagney. Contrary to popular belief, we did not always get
first-run (or even second-run) films in Vietnam. One night Al and I
saw it. I remembered Cagney as an American secret agent caught by the
Nazis in Europe and tortured for information. They were going to just
dump him on the road as though he had been hit by a car or mugged.
Cagney has the last laugh, though, because intelligence that he
relayed out before his capture results in an Allied bombing raid that
destroys the German headquarters in which he is being held.

After the movie, Al and I were drinking back in his
room. A1 said to me, "John-boy, if I'm ever captured by the
other side, like Cagney was, and I figure they're going to fake my
death, like an accident, you know, what I'll do is break my little
finger, and then you'll know I was killed by them."

"Christ, Al," I replied, "what other
side is going to be interested in a pissy-ass MP lieutenant like you
who doesn't even deal with combat intelligence?"

Al went on as though he hadn't heard me. "Yup,
I'll break my little finger so you'll know, and then you'll go after
them for me like I'd go after them for you. To square things."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Evening things up. A repayment for all we've
been through together. I get them if they get you, you get them if
they get me. See?"

I told him I saw. I changed the subject, and I could
not remember it coming up again.

Till his phone call.
 
 

TWO
-•-

I HAD TO TESTIFY AT THE D'AMICO TRIAL THE MORNING
that A1 called me, so I did my best to push our dinner out of my
mind. When Empire fired me, I was quickly blackballed in Boston
insurance circles. Then I received some pretty good press from a case
I worked on involving a judge and his missing son. Thereafter, a few
heads of claims investigation began to call me for special
assignments.

About six months ago, a worried fire and casualty
company contacted me. They had been tipped that one of their insureds
had hired an arsonist to torch a warehouse containing obsolete
merchandise. The only problem was they did not know when. The Boston
arson squad is professional but limited in personnel. It simply
cannot stake out indefinitely a building where one act of arson might
occur, while being crucified by the media for not nailing the
perpetrators of twenty definite arsons that have occurred.
Accordingly, the company asked me to watch the warehouse from 8 P.M.
to 4 A.M., the most likely
arson period.

Since the warehouse owner, one Harvey Weeks,
obviously could not be let in on the surveillance, I checked through
the neighborhood until I found a nice elderly couple whose house
backed on an empty lot behind the warehouse. I was frank with them,
and they swore that they would not tell anyone why I was there. Their
name was Cooper. Jesse was black, Emily was white. They came north
from Alabama to escape racist remarks, slashed tires, and occasional
beatings. I suppressed a desire to ask if things proved better for
them in Boston. They hated violence of any kind, and they agreed to
let me use one of their closed-off back bedrooms that faced the
warehouse grounds. It wasn't perfect, but no one observer can watch
all four sides of a building except while hovering in a helicopter
above it. The Coopers insisted on leaving me food and fixing the old
daybed in the room. I goosed the head of claims investigation for
twenty dollars more per week than he wanted to spend on them.

The first seven nights passed without incident. The
arson squad had run a discreet check on the night-watchman. His name
was Craigie. He was seventy-one, nearsighted, and straight as an
arrow. With my binoculars, I could see him outlined in the reflection
of his battery lantern, the warehouse owner being too cheap to use
floodlighting. Craigie was as punctual as a steeple clock, and I
began to feel that I knew him as well as I knew the Coopers.

My hosts extended their bedtime so they could have
tea with me before I went upstairs. They both wore cardigans off the
2-for-$5 rack at Zayre's. Jesse was one of the first black marines in
combat in World War II, losing most of one hand to a Japanese
grenade. Emily had retired from teaching fourth grade in a
non-Catholic parochial school. The whole time we talked, rarely more
than twenty minutes a night, Emily would hold Jesse's good hand. I
did my best not to think about the times Beth and I had kidded about
what we would be like when we grew old.

On the eighth night, Craigie made his nine, ten, and
eleven o'clock circuits, lantern bobbing. No lantern at 12:00, or
12:05, or 12:10. At 12:15, I was dropping over the security fence at
the back of the warehouse. I had a highbeam penlight in my hip
pocket, and a .38 Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpiece in my right
hand. I followed the perimeter of the warehouse until I found a
window ajar. The owner was no more lavish on alarm systems than he
was on searchlights. I edged the window up and stepped through, into
the warehouse. I tried to slide the window back down, but at the
first squeak I stopped. While my eyes were adjusting to the darkness,
my ears picked up a soft, flapping noise above the industrial hum all
large buildings, however vacant, produce. The flapping sound grew
closer, the sound of running feet. He might have had me if he hadn't
tripped over a wooden pallet some forklift operator had failed to
stack. He cursed and stumbled just as my adjusting eyes picked him
up, fifty feet to my left.

"Freeze!" I yelled, dropping to one knee.

He said something as he let fly two quick shots. In
the quiet darkness of the warehouse, the firing sounded and looked
like atomic bombs launched by a flamethrower. One slug thumped
harmlessly into a bale of something three feet from me. The second
ricocheted two or three times, whining crazily through the dead air
above our heads.

I pulled the trigger of the already cocked weapon. I
cocked and fired again before his scream from the first registered on
my ears. I thought I heard the skittering clatter of a lost weapon,
too. Just to be sure, though, I circled around and came in on him
from ninety degrees off where I had fired.

He was curled like a fetus on the cold floor, rocking
side to side with his left hand high on his right shoulder, and his
right hand on his thigh. He was moaning, "Jesus, Jesus." I
flicked on my penlight and caught the dark outline of his revolver
ten feet away from him.

BOOK: The Staked Goat - Jeremiah Healy
13.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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