Authors: Loren D. Estleman
“G'wan with you. How'd you tumble to this so quick? Yako's name didn't go out over the air.”
“His address did. We set him up in that apartment and got him the programming job with the city.”
“Who'd he roll over on?” I asked.
“Big fish in California named Igorov. Yako's real name was Crowley. We let him keep the Yuri; it's common enough in that culture, and cuts down the odds of blowing your cover when somebody calls you by your first name.”
“What's wrong with John Smith?” said Henty. “I don't mean to tell you your business, but isn't it risky to hang a name like Yako on a Ukrainian you're hiding from the Ukrainian mob?”
She looked at me. “You've seen him. Would you try to pass him off as Angus MacLanahan?”
“Don't drag me into it. I'm
She returned her attention to Henty.
“You know how crooks think. Wouldn't you pay a little more attention to every John Smith and Robert Miller you meet, especially when he looks like the love child of Boris Badenov and Miss Kazakhstan 1988? The metro area's crawling with Poles, Albanians, Croats, and Serbs; not to mention third-generation Americans whose great-grandparents skinny-dipped in the Black Sea. If we put him in Topeka he'd stand out like a bowl of borscht at a St. Patrick's Day dinner.”
“Worked out swell, didn't it? I guess Ivan the Ripper read âThe Purloined Letter.'”
“The service can't be held responsible for the bad choices made by its charges. I'm proceeding on the theory Crowley/Yako killed Donald Gates to swing himself a promotion and his old friends in the outfit took him out, either because of old business or to sever any connection with a high-profile murder that could bring it down coast to coast. We could never prove it, but we're sure he did some wet work in California on top of the drug rap the DEA hung on him.”
“You can't prove he did it here either, if that security-camera alibi holds water.” I looked at Henty, who nodded.
“It does. Yuri shows up coming in for his shift and leaving when it was over, after Gates's time of death. Nothing in between.”
“What do they use, disc or tape?”
“Some improvements aren't. He's a computer geek, Lieutenant. Don't you think he could hack into the surveillance program and erase himself from the record, or substitute a recording from another day and change the time-stamp?”
“I didn't. But I do now.”
“The service would like to borrow the discs. We've got some pretty smart cookies in the District who can tell if they've been tampered with.”
“Sure. If I say no you'll just sweet-talk a judge like you're sweet-talking me and come back with a warrant.”
She smiled. “I knew those commendations were for real. Walker.”
“I haven't asked the question yet.”
“I know. I wanted to save the taxpayers time and money.”
“Walker's working for the sheriff's department as a contract laborer,” Henty said. “Running down anonymous tips.”
“Aw. And me with a speech all prepared.”
Thaler said, “I've heard it. Who tipped you Yako was dead?”
“I'm not sure he is dead. I talked to him yesterday. When I called with a follow-up question, the city drone I talked to said he hadn't been in today, so I went to see him at home. I found a nasty linen stain and called the sheriff's substation instead of Martha Stewart. It could be anyone's blood until the whiz kids finish straining and spinning it.”
“You tossed the place without a warrant?”
“I don't have any experience tossing places with one. Anyway, I got the building manager to let me in.”
“Who put you onto Yako in the first place?”
“It was anonymous, like the lieutenant said.”
“I'm not a District dope. Did you forget I worked Felony Homicide for five years in Detroit? We knew who was calling before there was such a thing as caller ID, which by the way anyone can get around by punching star sixty-seven; but not our system. Anonymous is for
” She opened a red leather handbag, extracted a pocket gadget, and diddled the keys. “Was the name Roy Thompson? Maintenance worker in the city traffic building.”
“No.” It was refreshing, telling a cop the truth.
She made a scrolling motion. She kept her nails short, with clear polish. “His wife, then. Carol.”
“Can you play solitaire on that thing?”
“Nice try. It was her, wasn't it?”
“What the hell. It's in the file. Her story's hearsay. You need to talk to Roy if you need evidence. I didn't, just to ask Yako some questions.”
“She's the logical alternative, as next of kin.”
A sheet of ice wrapped itself around my face.
“I never liked that phrase, Deputy. It's like âpersonal effects.' Only the dead have them.”
“Then you won't like where this conversation is going. That's how I got here so quick; I was on my way to talk to his hometown cops when Yako's address came up on the scanner. Roy drove to Detroit last night to drink with some friends. At two this morning, he wandered out of the bar smack in front of a car going far too fast for the conditions. It kept going.”
It had started raining, what we in the rust belt call a “wintry mix”: part monsoon, part blizzard, with a pinch of the Aleutians. Japanese auto engineers traveled across half the world to collect, analyze, and try to duplicate it on their test grounds. All they have to deal with over there are hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves, and Godzilla.
“We invented hit-and-run here,” I said. “First cars, then hit-and-run, then carjacking. Oddly enough, most of them seem to take place just after the bars close.”
“Witnesses said Thompson did most of the weaving. He bounced off walls on both sides of the street, clear up the block, like the ball in a pinball machine.”
I said, “You're too young to know what that is, but okay.”
“I'm older than I look. The car missed him twice, bumping over both curbs, until they connected. The driver was in such a hurry to leave he ran over him for good measure.”
“Any of these witnesses get the plate?”
She scrolled again. I held my breath for no good reason. “Nope.”
I exhaled. Did I think it would start with V-A-L? It's never that tidy. I looked at Henty, releasing his grip on his desk. At least I wasn't alone.
He saw me looking. “We're still running yours. The computer seems to like the letters.”
Thaler looked at me. Her well-shaped eyebrows were a shade darker than her hair, which needed only a light rinse to be blond. Not many would resist the temptation the way she had all these years.
“Alvinus C. Adams,” I said. “The
is for clandestine; another caller after the reward. Day laborer, not laboring anywhere at the moment, not for lack of trying. He was walking his dog past Gates's house when he saw a car loitering suspiciously at the curb. When the driver spotted him, he flipped down his visor, covering his face, and drove off. He got V-A-L off the plate.”
“Talk to Adams before Carol Thompson or after?”
“And you reported this right away?”
“Not right away. He was on the scene the night before New Year's Eve. It was possible he was casing the place, but it wasn't enough to jump on.”
“Half our calls involve strange cars in the neighborhood,” Henty said. “Way less than half of them amount to anything. People get lost, pull over to check maps, bang on the GPS. They're early for an appointment, they stop to burn a butt and kill time. A local buys a second car without consulting the neighbors. This time of year it's a visitor warming his motor up more often than not. But we follow them all up. It's not a priority without proper cause.”
“I know. I didn't say I was an ex-cop just to impress you. Before I leave, can I have a printout on what you've dug up on those V-A-Ls? It won't come to anything. Life's not
Law and Order.
But you know how the brass thinks.”
He smiled his granite smile. “I like how you always ask without using the
word. What about your end?”
“I can't promise anything without clearance. If we turn anything that weighs out as common homicide, I'll share.” She put away her wonder toy in the handbag where she kept her hideout piece. “I have one more favor to ask: Five minutes with Walker; just us two.”
“Aw. Can't I watch?” He got up, grinning. “I'll get that printout.”
Alone with me, Mary Ann Thaler unbuttoned her coat and crossed her legs. I couldn't tell if she wore pantyhose or stockings or just tanning lotion, but her legs hadn't suffered from sitting behind a desk in the McNamara Building.
“Place bugged?” she asked.
“It used to be, but Ray Henty doesn't work that way.”
“Known him long?”
“How long do you have to know a cop before he shows his tusks?”
“Not long, as I recall.” She shrugged one of her square shoulders. I remembered they went with an elegant collarbone, a feature I always looked for in a dress cut low enough. You can't fake that. “Since when do you do gruntwork for the police?”
“I wonder how long it will be,” I said.
I was looking at one of the beige walls. “Before the old undercoat wears through. Ever hear of Lucky Strike Green?”
“It sounds before my time.”
“Before most people's, mine too. Luckies used to come in a green package, but when the Second World War came along, the company donated the dye to the army for uniforms. They got some publicity mileage out of it, running ads in all the magazines showing a pack of cigarettes marching with a tin hat and a rifle: âLucky Strike Green Goes to War.'”
“The advertising business hasn't grown up much since.”
“When the war ended, the government was stuck with thousands of gallons of green dye; which is why most official construction during peacetime wound up painted that tough ugly green. You can paint over it, but sooner or laterâwell.” I took my turn at a shrug.
“And your point?”
“I wonder how long it will be before the old ugly Iroquois Heights works its way through the new improved one.”
“You didn't answer my question.”
“Who's asking, you or Washington?”
“I could find out.”
question. You wouldn't be considering me for a job in the public sector, would you, Deputy? I've been screened before. My jail record's a problem.”
“No. I don't have the clearance to requisition paper clips, let alone recruit staff. If you're hard enough up to cold-call cranks, either the local clientele has cleaned up its act or you fucked up big-time.
“I live in town,” she went on. “I'm not one of those media cheerleaders who put down their pompons at the end of their shift and go home to their gated communities in the 'burbs. The local clientele wouldn't clean out its trunk, let alone its act. Booze?”
The eyebrows lifted.
“Pills,” I said. “I got on them to forget that slug that went through my leg, then forgot just why I got on them in the first place. I got off them, but they're like that green paint.”
“What about now?”
I knocked on the wood of the desk.
“I'm not asking out of concern,” she said. “I need to know if my informants are reliable.”
“So I am being screened.”
“Not for a job. For the privilege of serving your Uncle Sam.”
“I served him when it counted. He never calls, he doesn't write.”
“I'm moonlighting as it is. Someone else has hired me to find out who killed Donald Gates and why.”
“Does Henty know?”
“No, and I'd like to keep it that way for a while. If he gets wind, he might cut off my pipeline to the investigation.”
hard up for money, aren't you?”
“Not really. I'm like that horse whose owner fed him one less oat per day until he was living on air. I think Amelie Gates and her son would sleep better at night if they know why they're shy a husband and father.”
She shook her head. “I forgot what a sentimental slob you are.”
I got out a cigarette and hung it on my lip. I couldn't get away with smoking in that office, but it filled the permanent groove and kept me from leaking oxygen. “See if you still think that when I tell you what I want in return for being your snitch.”
“No can do,” she said. “Letting a civilian in on a federal investigation is the kind of decision I don't get to make.”
“You can at least tell me what you're doing.”
“You first. Tell me about this Alvinus Adams.”
“He looks like he ran into his share of the backs of trains. That could be why he's still looking for work. The dog he was walking is a Chow, he said. It may be a Chinese agent, but they're our creditors now. I gave him a tip on a security job in the old City-County Building in Detroit.”
“Stop it. You're killing me with all this altruism.”
“I'm only telling you where he might be found when he isn't at home, so you can ring him with angels. If Thompson isn't a coincidence, someone's striking witnesses off the list.”
“We'll do what we canâprovided he cooperates. Another thing I'm not authorized to do is hand out rewards for information. Making it a crime to lie to a federal officer is one of those little cost-saving measures you people who care so much about the taxpayers like so much.”
“I didn't know the First Amendment's written on soap.”