Authors: JEFFREY COHEN
Tags: #Detective, #funny, #new jersey, #writer, #groucho marx, #aaron tucker, #autism, #stink bomb, #lobbyist, #freelance, #washington, #dc, #jewish, #stinkbomb, #high school, #elementary school
I was about to follow her and get a more detailed
explanation of her mood when the phone rang. The caller ID box
indicated the caller was “Out of Area,” which is really helpful.
But luckily, when I picked the phone up, Mitch Davis was at the
“I don’t care if I am your class correspondent, I
haven’t heard from any Rutgers people,” he began, by way of a
greeting. Mitch is a classic, old-style newspaperman—unkempt, hard
drinking, and outwardly gruff. If he put on a seersucker suit and a
porkpie hat, he’d be Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker.
“I’m not calling about alumni,” I assured him. “I’m
calling to pick your brain on Washington, D.C. police
“This for a story?”
“No. I’ve developed an overwhelming interest in
cities that once busted their own mayor for drug use, and I thought
I’d start at the top.”
“I’m not going to help you on a story,” said Davis.
“Why should I give my sources to the competition? Besides, I
thought you wrote about Palm Pilots and what’s great about New
Jersey. What are you doing talking to cops?”
I filled him in on my
leaving out my ties to Stephanie and Crazy Legs. His voice rose
about an octave when I suggested he let me know who was conducting
the Gibson investigation.
“The biggest cop story to hit D.C. in ten years, and
you want me to hand you the sources? Why don’t you act like a
reporter and get your own, you slacker?” Davis always was one for
“I’m not the competition, you
reject. I’m writing for a monthly that’s not going to publish until
you’ve already moved on to the next scandal inside your Belt
“Whatever. You’re not covering the story yourself,
anyway. Besides, you know as well as I do that I could get all this
information off the Internet in about 20 minutes if I wanted to.
But you’re faster, and more fun to annoy.” College friends were
just made to needle. You didn’t know them in years that were as
embarrassing as your high school friends, but you still have plenty
of blackmail material that their present employers, spouses, or
children would find interesting.
Davis sighed. “Oh, all right. It’s nothing you
wouldn’t get from reading
“Make up your mind.”
“Funny. When you grow up, maybe you can write
comedy. Okay. The chief investigator for the D.C. cops is Francis
Xavier McCloskey, known in these parts as Fax McCloskey because
nobody ever actually sees him—they just get his messages from their
fax machines. Fax works out of the Capitol area headquarters, and
I’ll give you the number once I dig it out. But you won’t get Fax
on the line, anyway.” Once you get Davis going, you don’t have to
work very hard. He does it all for you.
“Who will I get on the line?”
“Sergeant Mason Abrams. You’re better off with him,
anyway. He’s the administrative sergeant in the homicide division,
and he’ll know what’s going on, even if Fax is the one doing the
“So, why don’t I just go to Abrams first?” I
I could hear the condescension in Davis’ voice.
“Because then Fax won’t be able to show you what a busy guy he is
by passing you off to Abrams. Besides, this way you’ll get on his
fax list, and you’ll be getting messages from him when we’re at our
50-year college reunion.”
“Which should be a couple of weeks from now.”
“Awwwwwwwww. Feelin’ kinda down, Aaron?” Davis had
as much tolerance for self-pity as he did for sloppy lead
paragraphs or unattributed quotes.
“Just tired. Thanks for the help, Mitch.”
“We live to serve.”
He gave me the phone numbers I needed, grumbled
again about the state of journalism in America today, and got off
the phone. I hung up and looked in on my children. Ethan had
written his poem, in his barely readable scrawl, and had moved on
to the most important thing in his world, his Play Station. He
would be totally devoted to Play Station 2, but we insist on his
paying for such things himself, and $200 is hard to come by when
your allowance is $5 a week, especially if your parents frequently
forget to pay up.
Leah was bent over the kitchen table, which was
covered with papers. A pencil she had sharpened almost to the point
of a surgical instrument was in her hand. Tears were splashing down
her cheeks, but she was silent.
“What’s the matter, Puss?”
“I CAN’T DO IT!” she screamed, and put her head down
amid the papers. I’ve seen this particular soap opera before, so I
adopted my best Robert Young “Father Knows Best
(although I didn’t have time to change into a sweater with patches
on the elbows or learn to smoke a pipe).
“Can’t do what?” I asked, sitting down next to
“THIS!!!!” She waved a worksheet at me. From this
distance, and with the violent shaking she was giving it, I would
have found it easier to read a sheet in ancient Aramaic. But I was
willing to believe it was related to mathematics in some way.
“What are you supposed to do?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” Oh,
. I snatched the
sheet out of her hand when it came by my face again. It contained
all of three word problems.
“Have you read this?”
“YES!” she screamed, and flung her head back in what
she thought was a melodramatic gesture. It looked more like a
supermodel tossing her hair back.
“I’ll bet you didn’t. Look, what do the instructions
say?” I admit it, my teeth were pressed together pretty hard. It’s
easier to maintain my calm with Leah than with Ethan, but a
temper’s a temper. And I have one.
Surprisingly, she decided to give up the soap opera
act and actually do what I’d suggested. “Each of these problems has
a fraction in it,” she read in a singsong voice. “Decide which
number is the denominator and write it in the space below.” Leah’s
eyes widened and she pointed an accusing finger at the paper. “See?
They want me to do fractions!”
“No, they don’t,” I said. “You could if you had to,
but that’s not what they’re asking. They just want to know which
number in the fraction is the denominator.”
“What’s a denominator?”
I sighed. “What did you talk about in class
“The top number and bottom number.”
“What’s the bottom number called?” I said. I’d have
drawn her a diagram, but my artistic skills are roughly on the
“The denominator!” she shouted happily, then
stopped. Her eyes narrowed. “So what do I do?”
“Oh, come on,” I grumbled, walking out of the
kitchen to my office. She followed me, waving the paper. “Daddy!
How do I do this?”
It took me a few more minutes to convince her that
this was the easiest homework assignment in history, and she went
happily to work. So did I, only not as happily.
I started by calling Lt. Francis Xavier McCloskey,
and, sure enough, was told by an actual human police department
employee that Lt. McCloskey was “in a situational meeting about a
case,” but that I could talk to Sgt. Abrams. I asked him to
transfer me, and what do you know, he did. After taking my fax
“Sergeant, my name is Aaron Tucker. I’m working on
an article for
Magazine about the Louis Gibson
case, and I was wondering. . .”
“Everybody’s wondering. Talk to the public
information officer.” Abrams’ voice belied his tough talk. It was
light, even cheerful. And there was no hesitation in his answers—he
wasn’t thinking about what the truth was going to sound like before
he told it to you.
“Come on, Sergeant. I’ve already been blown off by
Lt. McCloskey, and the P.I. officer is just going to tell me it’s
an ongoing investigation. I need to get my feet wet, and I’m behind
everybody else on the story by two and a half days. So how ’bout
just giving me what every other reporter in the whole world already
There was a long pause, and I got the distinct
impression that I could hear Abrams grinning. Straight-talkers
generally appreciate talking to one of their own kind.
“Oh, okay.” The grin broke through his voice again.
“You got a pencil?”
“That’s very amusing. Remind me to include it in my
series on the Wit and Wisdom of the Capital Police.”
“I was going to do you a favor, Tucker. Try and keep
that in mind.”
He was right. “Okay. I’m an idiot. So what were you
going to say back when I was just an annoying reporter?”
Abrams chuckled. “Louis Gibson was killed with a
six-inch kitchen knife to the chest while, um, relaxing in the
apartment of one Ms. Cheri—that’s C-H-E-R-I—Braxton, an
administrative assistant in the human resources office of the
Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
“She’s a secretary for the personnel department at
that,” Abrams replied. “Ms.
Braxton is very adamant about being an administrative assistant in
the human resources office of the Department of Housing and Urban
“I’ll try to keep that in mind. I’m also willing to
speculate that Mr. Gibson was not, um,
Braxton’s spacious living room. And I’ll bet my last dollar she’s a
“You would be correct, both times. He was in the
bed, and the only thing he was wearing was an appalling
“And a six-inch kitchen knife,” I reminded him.
“Which, I’ll go out on another limb, did not have any fingerprints
Abrams voice reflected his admiration. “Your
instincts are amazing, Tucker,” he said. “How have the police
managed to get by without your penetrating insights?”
“Please,” I said. “I’m blushing.”
“Thank god I don’t have videophone. Now. Ms. Braxton
did not hear or see the attack, she says, because she was in the
shower when it happened.”
“Could the cops confirm that?” I asked.
on the scene couldn’t
pinpoint the time of death that closely, but they did confirm that
she was wearing a bathrobe when they got there, and she was
unquestionably naked and wet underneath it,” said Abrams.
My eyebrows shot up, giving Abrams another reason to
be glad he didn’t have videophone. “They checked?”
“They didn’t have to. She hadn’t bothered to close
the robe when they arrived.”
“That’s what they tell me. There are no suspects at
this time, and yes, this is an ongoing investigation, so there’s a
limit to the amount of information I can give you. Any other
“Just one. Is Ms. Braxton a real blonde?”
“Funny,” Abrams said, “it isn’t in the reports.”
hat night, we were
experimenting with the idea of the whole family eating dinner
together, and it was going swimmingly, except for Ethan’s palpable
anxiety that he would miss the opening credits of
rerun that started at seven. He practically broke a
sweat shoveling food into his mouth with one eye on the digital
Leah, meanwhile, was giving us a sneak preview of
what she’ll be like as an adolescent, rolling her eyes every time
we asked a question and
emphasizing every word she spoke
us when she’d deign to grace the conversation with her chirpy
“May I please be excused?” Ethan asked, eyeballs
nearly popping out of his head with anticipation. Problem was, his
mouth was still full, so it came out “maya pease be estude?”
Luckily, Abby speaks fluent gibberish. She’s been living with me a
“Not just yet,” she said. “Chew and swallow your
food first, wash it down with some water, and wipe your mouth with
a napkin.” Asperger’s kids, generally speaking, don’t like to watch
people eat, and they don’t see much point in sitting at the table
after they’ve finished eating. Not to mention, Bart Simpson,
Ethan’s role model, was about to start writing on that blackboard
to signal the seventeenth rerun of an episode Ethan still doesn’t
He grumbled a little, but that was muffled by
macaroni and cheese, so it was easy to ignore. Ethan did follow his
mother’s instructions to the letter, though. As with many autism
spectrum children, Asperger’s kids tend to be very specific about
doing what they’re told, and do not vary in the least from
instructions. He chewed, swallowed, drank, and wiped, an inch from
may I please be excused?”
Abigail nodded wearily. I try to stay away from such
conversations whenever possible, and was staring down at my plate
to avoid having to look at Leah, an adorable little girl who has
the table manners of a rhinoceros. Ethan leapt up and started to
run for the living room, before Abby reminded him to clear his
plate from the table. With mere seconds to spare, he made it to the
television, and Nirvana.
“So, did you have a lot of homework today?” Abby
asked Leah, who was chewing so slowly it was impossible to tell if
she was still alive.
you!” she shouted. “I had
“You didn’t tell
,” Abigail said with no
outward trace of tension.
!” Leah pointed at me.
“Him?” I looked down at myself. “
? I used
to be ‘Daddy.’”
She rolled her eyes and exhaled. Parents can be so
Abby’s eyes had a faraway look, which meant she was
trying not to scream. “All right, young lady, just exactly what has
put you into such a mood that. . .”
The front door flung itself open, and Leah’s best
friend Melissa flung herself through it. Most of the people we know
have given up on the formality of ringing the doorbell or knocking,
and Melissa is through that door so many times a day I’ve been
thinking of putting in a turnstile.