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 (4 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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Even without going to court they'll have a departmental investigation.Except they won't be investigating a damn thing because they already know what conclusion they want to come up with. They'll suspend me immediately and they'll wind up kicking me out of the department."

"I thought you resigned."

He shook his head. "Why would I resign, for Christ's sake? I got better than twelve years, close to thirteen. Why would I quit now? I took a leave of absence when I first decided to get in touch withPrejanian .

You can't be on active duty and play ball with the Special Prosecutor at the same time.

The department would have too many openings to shaft you. But I never even thought about resigning.

When this is over I expect to be back on the force."

I looked at him. If he really meant that last sentence, then he was a whole lot stupider than he looked or acted. I didn't know his angle in helpingPrejanian , but I knew he was finished for life as far as the police department was concerned. He had turned himself into an untouchable and he would wear the caste mark as long as he lived. It didn't matter whether the investigation shook up the department or not. It didn't matter who was forced to put in for early retirement or who went to slam. None of that mattered. Every cop on the force, clean or dirty, straight or bent, would mark JeromeBroadfield lousy for the rest of his life.

And he had to know it. He'd been carrying a badge for over twelve years.

I said, "I don't see where I come in."

"Freshen that drink for you, Matt?"

"No, I'm fine. Where do I come in,Broadfield ?"

He cocked his head, narrowed his eyes. "Simple," he said. "You used to be a cop so you know the moves. And you're a private detective now so you can operate freely. And- "

"I'm not a private detective."

"That's what I heard."

"Detectives take complicated examinations to get their licenses.

They charge fees and keep records and file income tax returns. I don't do any of those things. Sometimes I'll do certain things for certain friends.As a favor. They sometimes give me money.As a favor."

He cocked his head again,then nodded thoughtfully, as if to say that he had known there was a gimmick and that he was happy to know what the gimmick was. Because everybody had an angle and this was mine and he was sharp enough to appreciate it. The boy liked angles.

If he liked angles, what the hell was he doing withAbnerPrejanian

?

"Well," he said. "Detective or not, you could do me a favor. You could see Portia and find out just how tied up in this she wants to be.

You could see what kind of a hold they got on her and how we could maybe break the hold. One big thing would be finding out who it is that's got her filing charges. If we knew the bastard's name, we could figure out how to deal with him."

He went on this way, but I wasn't paying too much attention. When he slowed to take a breath I said,

"They want you to cool it withPrejanian . Get out of town, stop cooperating, something like that."

"That has to be what they want."

"So why don't you?"

He stared at me. "You got to be kidding."

"Why did you tie up withPrejanian in the first place?"

"That's my business, Matt, don't you think? I'm hiring you to do something for me." Maybe the words sounded a little sharp to him. He tried softening them with a smile. "The hell, Matt, it's not like you have to know my date of birth and the amount of change in my pocket in order to help me out.Right?"

"Prejaniandidn't have a thing on you. You just walked in on your own and told him you had information that could shake up the whole department."

"That's right."

"And it's not as though you spent the last twelve years wearing blinders. You're not a choirboy."

"Me?"A big, toothy grin. "Not hardly, Matt."

"Then I don't get it. Where's your angle?"

"Do I have to have an angle?"

"You never walked down the street without one."

He thought about it and decided not to resent the line. Instead he chuckled. "And do you have to know my angle, Matt?"

"Uh-huh."

He sipped his drink and thought it over. I was almost hoping he would tell me to fuck off. I wanted to go away and forget about him. He was a man I'd never like involved in something I couldn't understand. I really didn't want to get mixed up in any of his problems.

Then he said, "You of all people should understand."

I didn't say anything.

"You were on the force fifteen years, Matt.Right? And you got thepromotions, you did pretty good, so youmusta known the score. You had to be a guy who played the game. Am I right?"

"Keep talking."

"So you got fifteen years in and five to go for the meal ticket and you pack it in. Puts you in the same boat as me, doesn't it? You reach a point where you can't hack it anymore.The corruption, the shakedowns, the payoffs. It gets to you. Your case, you just pack it in and get out of it.

I can respect that. Believe me, I can respect it. I considered it myself, but then I decided it wasn't enough for me, the approach wasn't right for me, I couldn't just walk away from something I had twelve years in."

"Going on thirteen."

"Huh?"

"Nothing.You were saying?"

"I was saying I couldn't just turn my back and walk away. I had to do something to make it better. Not all the way better, but maybe just a little bit better, and that means some heads will have to roll, and I'm sorry about that, but it has to be that way."A wide grin, sudden and alarming now on this face that has been so preoccupied with the business of being sincere. "Look, Matt, I'm not some fuckingChrister .

I'm an angle guy, you called me on that and it's true. I know things thatAbner has trouble believing. A guy who's absolutely straight, he's never going to hear these things because the wiseguys'll dummy up when he walks into the room. But a guy like me gets a chance to hear everything." He leaned forward.

"I'll tell you something. Maybe you don't know it, maybe it wasn't quite this bad yet when you were carrying a badge. But this whole fucking city is for sale. You can buy the police force all across the board. Straight on up to Murder One."

"I never heard that."Which wasn't quite true. I'd heard it. I'd just never believed it.

"Not every cop, Matt. Not hardly. But I know two cases- that's two I know for a fact- where guys got caught with their cocks on the block for homicide and they boughttheirselves out from under. And narcotics, fuck, I don't have to tell you about narcotics. That's an open secret.

Every heavy dealer keeps a couple of thou in a special pocket. He won't go out on the street without it. That's calledwalkaway money- you lay it on the cop who busts you and he lets you walk away."

Was it always that way? It seemed to me that it wasn't. There were always cops who took, some who took a little and some who took a lot, some who didn't say no when easy money came their way, others who actually went out and hustled for it. But there were also things that nobody ever did. Nobody took murder money, and nobody took narcotics money.

But things do change.

"So you just got sick of it," I said.

"That's right. And you're the last person I should have to explain it to."

"I didn't leave the force because of corruption."

"Oh?My mistake."

I stood up and walked over to where he'd left the bourbon bottle.

Ifreshened my drink and drank off half of it. Still on my feet I said,

"Corruption never bothered me much. It put a lot of food on my family's table." I was talking as much to myself as toBroadfield . He didn't really care why I left the force any more than I cared whether he knew the right reason or not. "I took what came my way. I didn't walk around with my hand out and I never let a man buy his way out of something I considered a serious crime, but there was never a week when we lived on what the city paid me." I drained my glass.

"You take plenty. The city didn't buy that suit."

"No question."The grin again. I didn't like that grin much. "I took plenty, Matt. No argument. But we all have certain lines we draw, right?

Why did you quit, anyway?"

"I didn't like the hours."

"Seriously."

"That's serious enough."

It was as much as I felt like telling him. For all I knew he already had the whole story, or whatever the back-fence version of it sounded like these days.

What happened was simple enough. A few years back I was having a few drinks in a bar inWashingtonHeights . I was off duty and entitled to drink if I felt like it, and the bar was one where cops could drink on the arm, which may have constituted police corruption but which had never given me a sleepless night.

Then a couple of punks held up the place and shot the bartender dead on their way out. I chased them down the street and emptied my service revolver at them, and I killed one of the bastards and crippled the other, but one bullet didn't go where it was supposed to. It ricocheted off something or other and into the eye of a seven-year-old girl namedEstrellita Rivera, and on through the eye and into the brain, andEstrellita Rivera died and so did a large part of me.

There was a departmental investigation which ended with me being completely exonerated and even awarded a commendation, and a little while after that I resigned from the force and separated from Anita and moved to my hotel onFifty-seventhStreet . I don't know how it all fits together, or if it all fits together, but what it seemed to add up to was that I hadn't enjoyed being a cop anymore. But none of this was any of JerryBroadfield's business, and he wasn't going to hear it from me.

So I said, "I don't really know what I can do for you."

"You can do more than I can. You're not stuck in this lousy apartment."

"Who brings you your food?"

"My food?Oh.I been getting out for a bite and like that.But not much and not often. And I'm careful that nobody's watching when I leave the building or come back into it."

"Sooner or later somebody's going to tag you."

"Hell, I know that." He lit another cigarette. The gold Dunhill was just a flat sliver of metal, lost in his large hand. "I'm just trying to buy myself a couple of days," he said. "That's about all. She splashed herself all over the papers yesterday.I been here since then. I figure I can last the week if I get lucky, a quiet neighborhood like this. By then maybe you can pinch her fuse."

"Or maybe I can't do a thing."

"Will you try, Matt?"

I didn't really want to. I was running low on money, but that didn't bother me too much. It was the beginning of the month and my rent was paid through the end of the month and I had enough cash on hand to keep me in bourbon and coffee, with a little left over for luxuries like food.

I didn't like the big cocky son of a bitch. But that didn't get in the way. As a matter of fact, I generally prefer to work for men I neither like nor respect. It pains me less to give them poor value.

So it didn't matter that I didn't likeBroadfield . Or that I didn't believe that more than 20 percent of what he had told me was the truth.

And I wasn't even sure which 20 percent to believe.

That last may have been what made my decision for me. Because I evidently wanted to find out what was true and what was false about JeromeBroadfield . And why he had wound up in bed withAbnerPrejanian , and just where Portia Carr fit into the picture, and who was setting him up, and how and why. I don't know why I wanted to know all this, but evidently I did.

"Okay," I said.

"You'll take a shot at it?"

I nodded.

"You'll want some money."

I nodded again.

"How much?"

I never know how to set a fee. It didn't sound as though it would take too much time- I'd either find a way to help him or I wouldn't, and either way I'd know soon enough. But I didn't want to price myself cheap.Because I didn't like him. Because he was slick and he wore expensive clothes and he lit his cigarettes with a gold Dunhill.

"Five hundred dollars."

He thought it seemed pretty steep. I told him he could find somebody else if he wanted. He was quick to assure me he hadn't meant anything of the sort, and he took a wallet from his inside breast pocket and counted out twenties and fifties. There was still a lot left in the wallet after he'd piled five hundred dollars on the table in front of him.

"Hope you don't mind cash," he said.

I told him cash was fine.

"Not too many people mind," he said, and he gave me the grin again. I just sat there for a minute or two looking at him. Then I leaned over and picked up the money.

Chapter 4

Its official name is the Manhattan House of Detention for Men, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone call it that. Everybody calls it the Tombs. I don't know why. But the name somehow fits the washed-out, bottomed-out, burned-out feeling of the structure and its inhabitants.

It's onWhite Street at Centre, conveniently located near Police Headquarters and the Criminal Courts Building. Every once in a while it gets into the papers and the television news because there's a riot there.

Then the citizenry is treated to a report on the appalling conditions, and a lot of good people sign petitions, and someone appoints an investigative commission, and a lot of politicians call press conferences, and the guards ask for a pay increase, and after a few weeks it all blows over.

I don't suppose it's much worse than most urban jails. The suicide rate is high, but that's in part a result of the propensity of Puerto Rican males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five to hang themselves in their cells for no particular reason- unless you call being Puerto Rican and in a cell adequate reason to kill yourself. Blacks and whites in that age group and those circumstances also kill themselves, but thePRs have a much higher rate, andNew York has more of them than most cities.

Another thing that boosts the rate is that the guards at the Tombs wouldn't lose any sleep if every Puerto Rican inAmerica wound up swinging from the light fixtures.

I got to the Tombs around ten-thirty after spending a few hours not getting back to sleep and not coming entirely awake either. I'd grabbed some breakfast and read the Times and the News without learning anything very exciting aboutBroadfield or the girl he was supposed to have killed. The News at least had the story, and of course they'd given it the headline and a big splash on page three. Portia Carr had not been strangled if I was to believe the newspaper; instead someone had brained her with something heavy and then stuck her in the heart with something sharp.

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