Read In the Midst of Death Online

Authors: Lawrence Block

Tags: #Private Investigators, #Police corruption, #Mystery & Detective, #Private investigators - New York (State) - New York, #New York (N.Y.), #Hard-Boiled, #General, #Mystery Fiction, #Fiction, #Scudder; Matt (Fictitious character)

In the Midst of Death (14 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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"Was it before or after you knew who he was?"

"Ah, clever, clever!It was after I knew who he was, so three weeks is probably about right because I became familiar with his name when he first made contact with that investigator, and then I saw his photo in the newspaper, and then he turned up with the Amazon."

"How many times were they here together?"

"At least twice.Maybe three times.That was all within the space of a week. May I replenish that drink for you?" I shook my head. "Then I didn't see the two of them again, but I did see her."

"Alone?"

"Briefly.She came in, sat at a table,ordered a drink."

"When was this?"

"What's today, Friday? This would have been Tuesday night."

"And she was killed Wednesday night."

"Well, don't look at me, lover. I didn't do it."

"I'll take your word for it." I remembered the dimes I had dropped into various phones Tuesday night, calling Portia Carr's number and getting her answering machine. And she had been here then.

"Why did she come here, Kenny?"

"To meet someone."

"Broadfield?"

"That's what I assumed, but the man who ultimately met her was a far cry indeed fromBroadfield . It was hard to believe they were both members of the same species."

"And he was the one she was waiting for?"

"Oh, absolutely.He walked in looking for her, and she had been looking up every time the door opened." He scratched his head for a moment. "I don't know if she knew him or not. By sight, I mean. I have a vague feeling that she didn't, but I'm just guessing. This wasn't long ago, Matt, but I didn't really pay too much attention."

"How long were they together?"

"They were together here for perhaps half an hour.Maybe a little longer than that. Then they left together, so they may have spent hours on end in one another's company. They didn't see fit to take me into their confidence."

"And you don't know who the guy was."

"Never saw him before or since."

"What did he look like, Kenny?"

"Well, he didn't look like much, I'll tell you that. But you want a description rather than a critique, I would suppose. Let me just think."

He closed his eyes, drummed his fingers on thebartop . Without opening his eyes he said, "A small person, Matt. Short, slender.Hollow cheeks.A great deal of forehead and an appalling absence of chin.Wore a rather tentative beard to conceal the lack of chin. No mustache. Heavy horn-rimmed glasses, so I didn't see his eyes and couldn't really swear that he had any, although I would guess that he did, as most people generally do. A left one and a right one, conventionally, although now and then- is something wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong, Ken."

"Do you know him?"

"Yeah.I know him."

I left Kenny's shortly after that. Then there's a stretch of time I don't remember clearly. I probably hit a bar or two. Eventually I found myself in the vestibule of JerryBroadfield's building onBarrow Street .

I don't know what led me there or why I thought I ought to be there. But it must have made some sort of sense to me at the time.

A strip of celluloid popped the inner lock, and did the same job on the door to his apartment. Once inside his apartment, I locked the door and went around turning on lights, making myself at home. I found the bottle of bourbon and poured myself a drink, got a beer from the refrigerator for a chaser. I sat sipping bourbon and chasing it with beer.

After a little while I turned on the radio and found a station that played unobtrusive music.

After some more bourbon and some more beer I took off my suit and hung it neatly in his closet. I got out of the rest of my clothes and found a pair of his pajamas in the bureau drawer. I put them on. I had to turn up the trouser bottoms because they were a little long on me. Aside from that they weren't a bad fit. A little loose, but not a bad fit.

Sometime just before I went to bed I picked up the telephone and dialed a number. I hadn't dialed it in a few days, but I still remembered it.

A deep voice with an English accent."Seven-two-five-five.I am sorry, but no one is at home at the moment. If you will leave your name and number at the sound of the tone, your call will be returned as soon as possible. Thank you."

A gradual process, death.Someone had stabbed her to death forty-eight hours ago in this very apartment, but her voice still answered her telephone.

I called two more times just to hear her voice. I didn't leave any messages. Then I had another can of beer and the rest of the bourbon and crawled into his bed and slept.

Chapter 12

I woke up confused and disoriented, chasing the traces of a formless dream. For a moment I stood beside his bed in his pajamas and did not know where I was. Then memory flooded back, fully and completely. I took a quick shower, driedoff, put my own clothes back on again. I had a can of beer for breakfast and got out of there, walking out into bright sunlight and feeling like a thief in the night.

I wanted to get moving right away. But I made myself have a big breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast and coffee at Jimmy Day's onSheridan Square and drank a lot of coffee with it and then took the subway uptown.

There was a message waiting for me at my hotel, along with a lot of junk mail that went straight into the wastebasket. The message was fromSeldonWolk , who wanted me to call him at my convenience. I decided it was as convenient as it would ever be, and I called him from the hotel lobby.

His secretary put me through right away. He said, "I saw my client this morning, Mr. Scudder. He wrote out something for me to read to you. May I?"

"Go ahead."

" 'Matt- Don't know anything aboutManch in connection with Portia. Is he a mayoral assistant? She had a few politicians in her book but wouldn't tell me who. I am not holding out on you anymore. I held out aboutFuhrmann and our plans because I didn't see how it mattered and I like to keep things to myself. Forget all that. Thing to concentrate on is two cops who arrested me. How did they know to come to my apartment? Who tipped them? Work that angle.' "

"That's all?"

"That's it, Mr. Scudder. I feel like a messenger service, relaying questions and answers without understanding them. They might as well be in code. I trust the message makes some sense to you?"

"Some. How didBroadfield seem to you? Is he in good spirits?"

"Oh, very much so.Quite confident he'll be acquitted. I think his optimism is justified." And he had a lot to say about various legal maneuvers that would keepBroadfield out of jail, or get his conviction reversed on appeal. I didn't bother listening, and when he slowed down a little I thanked him and said good-bye.

I stopped at the Red Flame for coffee and thought aboutBroadfield's message. His suggestion was all wrong, and after thinking about it for a while I realized why.

He was thinking like a cop. That was understandable- he had spent years learning to think like a cop, and it was hard to reorient yourself immediately. I still thought like a cop a lot of the time myself, and I'd had a few years to unlearn old habits. From a cop's point of view, it made very good sense to tackle the problem the wayBroadfield wanted to. You stayed with hard data and you worked backward, tracking down every possible avenue of approach until you found out who had called in the homicide report. The odds were that the caller was also the murderer.

If not, he'd probably seen something.

And if he hadn't, somebody else had. Someone may have seen Portia Carr enter theBarrow Street building on the night of her death.

She hadn't entered it alone. Someone had seen her walk in arm in arm with the person who subsequently killed her.

And that was the kind of thing a cop could have run down. The police department had two things that made that sort of investigation work for them- the manpower and the authority. And you needed both to bring it off. One man working alone was not going to get anywhere. One man, with not even a junior G-man badge to convince people they ought to talk to him, would not even begin to accomplish anything that way.

Especially when the police would not even cooperate with him in the first place.Especially when they were opposed to any investigation that might getBroadfield out of the hot seat.

So my approach had to be a very different one, and one that no policeman could be expected to approve. I had to find out who had killed her, and then I had to find the facts that might back up what I'd already doped out.

But first I had to find somebody.

A small person, Kenny had said. Short, slender.Hollow cheeks.A great deal of forehead and an appalling absence of chin.A tentative beard. No mustache. Heavy horn-rimmed glasses …

* * *

I dropped by Armstrong's first to check. He wasn't there and hadn't been in yet that morning. I thought about having a drink but decided I could tackle DouglasFuhrmann without one.

Except that I didn't get the chance. I went to his rooming house and rang the bell, and the same slatternly woman answered it. She may have been wearing the same robe and slippers. Once again she told me she was full up and suggested I try three doors down the street.

"DougFuhrmann ," I said.

Her eyes took the trouble to focus on my face. "Fourth floor front,"

she said. She frowned a little. "You were here before.Looking for him."

"That's right."

"Yeah, I thought I seen you before." She rubbed her forefinger across her nose, wiped it on her robe. "I don't know if he's in or not. You want to knock on his door, go ahead."

"All right."

"Don't mess with his door, though. He's got this burglar alarm set up, makes all kinds of noise. I can't even go in there to clean for him. He does his own cleaning, imagine that."

"He's probably been with you longer than most."

"Listen, he's been here longer than me.I been working here what?A year? Two years?" If she didn't know, I couldn't help her out. "He's been here years and years."

"I guess you know him pretty well."

"Don't know him at all. Don't know any of 'em. I got no time to get to know people, mister. I got problems of my own, you can believe it."

I believed it, but that didn't make me want to know what they were.

She evidently wasn't going to be able to tell me anything aboutFuhrmann , and I wasn't interested in whatever else she might tell me. I moved past her and climbed the stairs.

He wasn't in. I tried the knob, and the door was locked. It probably would have been easy enough to slip the bolt, but I didn't want to set the alarm off. I wonder if I would have remembered it if the old woman hadn't reminded me.

I wrote a note to the effect that it was important he get in touch with me immediately. I signed my name, added my telephone number, slipped the piece of paper under his door. Then I went downstairs and let myself out.

THERE was aLeonManch listed in theBrooklyn book. The address was onPierrepontStreet , which would put him inBrooklynHeights . I decided that was as good a place as any for a toilet slave to live. I dialed his number, and the phone rang a dozen times before I gave up.

I triedPrejanian's office. No one answered. Even crusaders only work a five-day week. I tried City Hall, wondering ifManch might have gone to the office. At least there was someone around there to answer the phone, even if there wasn't anyone present named LeonManch .

The phone book hadAbnerPrejanian listed at 444Central Park West. I had his number half-dialed when it struck me as pointless. He didn't know me from Adam and would hardly be inclined to cooperate with a total stranger over the telephone. I broke the connection, retrieved my dime, and looked up ClaudeLorbeer . There was only oneLorbeer inManhattan , a J.Lorbeer onWest End Avenue . I tried the number, and when a woman answered I asked for Claude. When he came to the phone I asked him if he had had any contact with a man named DouglasFuhrmann .

"I don't believe I've heard the name.In what context?"

"He's an associate ofBroadfield's ."

"A policeman?I don't believe I've heard the name."

"Maybe your boss did. I was going to call him, but he doesn't know me."

"Oh, I'm glad you called me instead. I could call Mr.Prejanian and ask him for you, and then I could get back to you. Anything else you'd want me to ask him?"

"Find out if the name LeonManch rings any kind of a bell with him. In connection withBroadfield , that is."

"Certainly.And I'll get right back to you, Mr. Scudder."

He rang back within five minutes. "I just spoke to Mr.Prejanian .

Neither of the names you mentionedwere familiar to him.Uh, Mr.

Scudder? I'd avoid any direct confrontation with Mr.Prejanian if I were you."

"Oh?"

"He wasn't precisely thrilled that I was cooperating with you. He didn't say so right out, but I think you understand what I'm getting at.

He'd prefer that his staff pursue a policy of benign neglect, if I can revive that phrase. Of course you'll keep it between us that I said as much, won't you?"

"Of course."

"You still remain convinced thatBroadfield is innocent?"

"More now than ever."

"And this manFuhrmann holds the key?"

"He might. Things are starting to come together."

"It sounds fascinating," he said. "Well, I won't keep you. If there's anything I can do, just give me a ring, but do let's keep it confidential, shall we?"

A little later I called Diana. We arranged to meet at eight-thirty at a French restaurant onNinth Avenue

, the Brittany duSoir . It is a quiet and private place where we would have a chance to be quiet and private people.

"I'll see you at eight-thirty then," she said. "Have you been making any headway? Oh, you can tell me when you see me."

"Right."

"I've done so much thinking, Matthew. I wonder if you know what it's like. I've spent so much time not thinking, almost willing myself not to think, and it's as though something has been unleashed. I shouldn't say all this. I'll just frighten you."

"Don't worry about it."

"That's what's strange. I'm not worried. Wouldn't you say that was strange?"

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