Table of Contents
About the Author
A journalist and documentary film maker, Reggie Nadelson is a New Yorker who also makes her home in London. She is the author of seven novels featuring the detective Artie Cohen (âthe detective every woman would like to find in her bed'
), most recently
. Her non-fiction book
, the story of the American who became the biggest rock star in the history of the Soviet Union, is to be made into a film starring Tom Hanks.
Also available by Reggie Nadelson
Red Mercury Blues
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN: 9781409007593
Published in the United Kingdom by Arrow Books, 2006
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright Â© Reggie Nadelson 1997
Reggie Nadelson has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of
the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living
or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated
without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
First published in the United Kingdom in 1997 by
Faber and Faber, London.
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For Paulette Goldenhar
With many thanks for telling me the stories (and for being the good guys) to Detective William Oldham and Inspector George Lee
The fresh cold snow slapped my face around and when I licked some off my mouth it tasted like a blast of gin right out of the freezer. It was the morning I found the snapshot of the dead girl near her body. In the picture she stood next to a big white Caddy convertible, wearing a hot pink jacket and grinning fit to die. In real life, if you could call it that, she lay on the floor of my friend Hillel's place in the diamond district, dead, naked and white. Not white like the snow; more the color of asbestos.
I'd been in bed with Lily Hanes when the phone rang around dawn. I groped for it on the floorâI hate the goddamn cellphone, always going off somewhere you can't see it, like your heart ringingâand Lily switched on the TV. She's an event freak like all reporters. Taking in the news of the blizzard, Lily smiled. “I love the sense of impending disaster,” she said, then she kissed me, turned over and went back to sleep. I threw on my clothes and left, and Lily's tousled red hair and her bare freckled back were the last warm things I saw.
It was like walking into a meat locker when I got to Hillel Abramsky's, or maybe like walking into hell, if hell froze over. Even before I got inside, a snake of chemical cold curled out from under the door, and I knew it was much worse than Hillel had let on when he called me at Lily's. Why would you put on air conditioning when it's snowing out unless there's something putrid in your place, something you figure is going to stink?
The cold made my skin pucker up like an old persimmon. The hairs on my arm went rigid. The thing on the floor made me hang back in the doorway. In my pants pocket, I scrabbled for cigarettes.
“I'm glad you're here, Artie. I need you.”
I had to squint to make out that it was Hillel talking. Then I saw him. He was kneeling on the floor under the window. Black hat on the back of his head, beard spread over his shirt front, he was lit from behind like one of those Jesus pictures by the thick milky light that was coming up outside. From somewhere I could hear the grind and whine of the garbage truck eating bottles and a radio playing Frank Sinatra. “I've got the World on a String”, Frank sang. I scratched the wall for a light. A fluorescent bar blinked on and made everything look hard and flat.
“You got to look, Artie. Please. It's why I got you out of bed. Please.” Hillel said again and pulled back the coat to show me the body. She lay on her back, tiny and dead. The nakedness embarrassed me.
“She's Chinese.” Hillel clenched his fists when he said it. “I got enough trouble. What's she doing up here on 47th Street, anyhow? What's she doing outside Chinatown?”
Chinese, and her scrawny legs were splayed at skewed angles. Bruises covered her arms. Everywhere else, as far as I could see, there were lacerations, scratches, stab wounds. Rigor had set in and her tiny hands seemed to clutch at something: life, maybe.
I bent over. Her face appeared to have been slashed with some kind of rake, a knife with multiple blades. The flesh looked like rats had clawed it over and over.
“Jesus Christ,” I said and sat on the edge of the cot in the corner to keep from shaking.
“Drink that,” Hillel said, reaching for a paper bag and extracting a carton of coffee. He dumped in some sugar. “Drink it.”
The coffee was cold and it tasted of cardboard, but the sugar and caffeine gave me the buzz I needed.
Hillel put his coat back over the body and I should have stopped him. It would contaminate the scene, but I kept my mouth shut and Hillel, nimble for such a tall man, got up and put his hand on my shoulder. He's forty like me, but the black clothes make him seem a lot older. Also, Hillel has seen a lot more of life. He already has six kids.
“You want to turn the air off, Hil. It's gonna freeze up and bust if you don't.” I looked at the body. “It's OK. She's not going to stink or anything. Turn it off. You called 911?”
“I called you, Artie. I don't want trouble. This woman, she's Chinese,” he repeated himself. Bullets of sweat seemed to freeze on his forehead and hang there.
“You have to call the cops, Hil. I'm out of it. I'm not on the job. They call this extended leave without pay, but it means it's over. I'm a civilian.”
“You're the only cop I can trust,” he said.
“I'm not a cop. I quit.”
Hillel looked exhausted. “Fine. You're not a cop any more. You're an ex-cop. What's the difference? You're my friend.”
He sat down heavily on the cot next to me. Bent over himself like a hollow giant, he sat on the edge of that cot and picked at the floor. He pulled up a wood splinter and examined it, then tossed it away and leaned his elbows on his knees. “Give me a cigarette, Artie,” he said, then added sheepishly, “I was supposed to quit.”
For a minute we sat and sucked at the cigarettes; the nicotine helped.
“I'm grateful you came.” He gestured at the dead woman. “I don't want trouble with the Chinese. We already got plenty trouble in Crown Heights. We sold the place in Flushing because the Chinese came in. We sold the place on Canal Street when Chinatown ate up the neighborhood downtown. We were trapped, they had all these fights going on between themselves, different factions, different everything, Fujianese, Cantonese, what do I know from all this, except we got caught in the middle and these people are eating us up.”
“I didn't know the Chinese went in for diamonds.” I picked up the phone to call 911. Hillel took it away from me.
“Diamonds are big in Hong Kong. They got their own set-up. Sources in London, Russia also. They don't play by our rules.”
Hillel pulled on the cigarette. “There was a kid. Errand boy from one of my suppliers. He was OK. Then he gets nosy. Wants to learn the business, he says. I figure he wants a taste. I tell him, we're only family here. I tell his boss, keep him away, but they don't like it. He wants protection money. So I change suppliers.”
“What kind of supplier?”
“Toilet paper.” Hillel laughed without any humor. “Paper towels. Cleaning supplies. I told him to beat it.”
“Anything else I should know about this kid?”
“He was a kid, nineteen, twenty. Gold necklaces. Petulant. Weak mouth. So skinny, he stooped like an old man. Weird hair. Red.”
“What kind of weird?”
“More orange than red. You know, dyed. Like a lot of gang kids. And big in front. You know what I'm saying?”
I went to the door. No one had touched the locks. Only Hillel has keys, it's practically a religion with him.
I've known Hillel Abramsky a long time. He helped me with diamond district stuff when I was on the job. In a few hours, he would have been running back and forth to his uncle's building next door; the men cut the stones there in a room where diamond dust seems to float in motes of sunlight. Once, Hilly showed me what good diamonds look like, made me look through his loupe at them, beautiful, icy, unfeeling things that people kill for. Hil is not a material guy but I had seen how much the diamonds excited him.