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 (6 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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"That's the truth."

He whistled softly. He was in his late fifties, jowly and round-shouldered, with liver spots on the backs of his hands. His voice had been roughened by years of whiskey and tobacco.

"Figure to get him off?"

"I'm no lawyer. If I can turn up some evidence, maybe his lawyer can get him off. Why?"

"Just thinking.If hedon't get off, he's apt to wish they still had capital punishment."

"Why's that?"

"He's a cop,ain't he?"

"So?"

"Well, you just think on it. The present time, we got him in a cell by his lonesome. Awaiting trial and all of that,wearin 'his own clothes,keepin ' tohisself . But let's just say he's convicted and he's sent up to, say,Attica . And there he is in a prison full to overflowing with criminals who got no use at all for thepolice, andbetter'n half of

'emcoons who was born hating the police. Now thereis all kinds of ways to do time, but do you know any harder time than that poor bastard is going to serve?"

"I hadn't thought of that."

The guard clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Why, he'll never have a minute when he won't have to beworryin ' about some black bastardcomin ' at him with a homemade knife. They steal spoons from the mess hall and grind 'emdown in the machine shop, you know. I workedAttica some yearsago, I know how they do things there. You recall the big riot? When they seized the hostages and all? I was long out of there by that time, but I knew two of the guards who was taken as hostages and killed. That's a hell of a place, thatAttica . Your buddyBroadfield getshisself sentthere, I'd say he's lucky if he's alive after two years."

We walked the rest of the way in silence. As he was about to leave me he said, "Hardest kind of time in the world is the time a cop serves in a prison. But I got to say the bastard deserves it if anybody does."

"Maybe he didn't kill the girl."

"Oh, shoot," he said. "Who cares a damn if he killed her? He went and turned on his own kind, didn't he? He's a traitor to his badge, ain't he? I don't care a damn about some filthy prostitute and who killed her or didn't kill her. That bastard in there deserves whatever he gets."

Chapter 5

I went there first because of the location. The Tombs is on White at Centre, andAbnerPrejanian and his eager beavers had a suite of offices four blocks away on Worth between Church and Broadway. The building was a narrow yellowbrickfront whichPrejanian shared with a couple of accountants, a photocopying service, some import-export people, and, on the ground floor, a shop that repaired shoes andreblocked hats. I climbed steep stairs that squeaked, and too many of them; if he'd been a flight higher I might have given up and turned around. But I got to his floor and a door was open and I walked in.

On Tuesday, after my first meeting with JerryBroadfield , I had spent almost two dollars' worth of dimes trying to reach Portia Carr. Not all at once, of course, but a dime at a time. She had had an answering machine, and when you reach an answering machine from a public phone you usually lose your dime. If you hang up fast enough, and if you're lucky and your reflexes are good, you get your dime back. As the day wears on, this happens less and less frequently.

When I wasn't wasting dimes that day I tried a few otherapproaches, and one of them involved a girl named ElaineMardell .

She was in the same line of work as Portia Carr and lived in the same neighborhood. I went over to see Elaine, and she managed to tell me a few things about Portia. Nothing firsthand- she hadn't known her personally- but some gossip she had heard at one time or other. That Portia had specialized in SM fantasy fulfillment, that she was supposedly turning down dates lately, and that she had a "special friend"

who was prominent or notorious or influential or something.

The girl inPrejanian's office looked enough like Elaine to be her sister. She frowned at me and I realized that I was staring at her. A second glance showed me that she didn't really resemble Elaine that closely. The similarity was mostly in the eyes. She had the same dark deep-set Jewish eyes and they dominated her entire face in much the same way.

She asked if she could help me. I said I wanted to see Mr.

Prejanian and she asked if I had an appointment. I admitted I didn't, and she said he was out to lunch, as was most of his staff. I decided not to assume she was a secretary just because she was a woman, and started to tell her what I wanted.

"I'm just a secretary," she said. "Do you want to wait until Mr.

Prejanian gets back? Or there's Mr.Lorbeer . I believe he's in his office."

"Who's Mr.Lorbeer ?"

"Staff assistant to Mr.Prejanian ."

That still didn't tell me a great deal, but I asked to see him. She invited me to have a seat, pointing to a wooden folding chair that looked about as inviting as the bed inBroadfield's cell. I stayed on my feet.

A few minutes later I was sitting across an old oak veneer desk from ClaudeLorbeer . When I was a kid, every schoolroom I was ever in had a desk just like that for the teacher. I'd had only female teachers except for gym and shop, but if I'd had a male classroom teacher he might have looked something likeLorbeer , who certainly looked at home behind that desk. He had short, dark brown hair and a narrow mouth with deeply etched lines like paired parentheses on either side of it. His hands were plump with short, stubby fingers. They were pale and looked soft. He wore a white shirt and a solid maroon tie and he had his shirt-sleeves rolled up. Something about him made me feel as though I must have done something wrong, and that my not knowing what it might be was no excuse at all.

"Mr. Scudder," he said. "I suppose you're the officer I spoke to over the telephone this morning. I can only repeat what I said earlier.

Mr.Prejanian has no information to make available to the police.

Anycriminous action which Mr.Broadfield may have performed is beyond the scope of this investigation and surely not in any way known to this office. We have not yet spoken to members of the press but will of course take the same tack with them. We will decline to comment and will stress that Mr.Broadfield had volunteered to make certain information available to us but that we had taken no action in respect to information furnished by him nor dowe anticipate so doing while Mr.Broadfield's legal status is undefined as it is at present."

He said all of this as though he was reading it from a prepared text.

Most people have trouble speaking in sentences.Lorbeer spoke in paragraphs, structurally complicated paragraphs, and he delivered his little speech with his pale eyes fixed on the tip of my left shoulder.

I said, "I think you've jumped to a conclusion. I'm not a cop."

"You're from the press? I thought- "

"I used to be a cop. I left the force a couple of years ago."

His face took on an interesting cast at this news. There was some calculation in it. I got a rush of déjà vu looking at him, and it took me a minute to put it in place. He reminded me ofBroadfield at our first meeting, head cocked to the side and face screwed up in concentration.

LikeBroadfield ,Lorbeer wanted to know what my angle was. He might be a reformer, he might be working for Mr. Clean himself, but in his own way he was as much on the make as a cop looking for a handout.

"I've just been to seeBroadfield ," I said. "I'm working for him. He says he didn't kill the Carr woman."

"Naturally he'd say that, wouldn't he? I understand her body was found in his apartment."

I nodded. "He figures he was deliberately framed for her murder.

He wants me to try and find out who framed him."

"I see." He was somewhat less interested in me now since I was just trying to solve a murder. He'd been hoping I was going to help him louse up an entire police department. "Well. I'm not certain how our office would be involved."

"Maybe you're not. I just want a fuller picture. I don't knowBroadfieldwell, I just met him the first time Tuesday. He's a tricky customer. I can't always tell when he's lying to me."

A trace of a smile appeared on ClaudeLorbeer's lips. It looked out of place there. "I like the way you put it," he said. "He is a subtle liar, isn't he?"

"That's what's hard to tell. How subtle is he, and how much does he lie? He says he just came over and volunteered his services to you people. That you didn't have to force him into it."

"That's quite true."

"It's hard to believe."

Lorbeermade a tent of his fingertips. "No harder for you than for us," he said. "Broadfieldjust walked in off the street. He didn't even call first to tell us he was coming. We'd never heard of him before he barged in offering us the earth and asking nothing in return."

"That doesn't make sense."

"I know it." He leaned forward, his expression one of great concentration. I suppose he was about twenty-eight. His manner put extra years on him, but when he grew intense those years dropped away and you realized how young he was underneath it all. "That's what makes it so difficult to place credence in anything the man says, Mr.

Scudder. One can see no possible motivation for him. Oh, he asked for immunity from prosecution for anything he might disclose that implicatedhimself , but we grant that automatically. But he didn't want anything beyond that."

"Then why did he come here?"

"I have no idea. I'll tell you something. I distrusted him immediately. Not because he's crooked. We deal with crooks all the time. We have to deal with crooks, but at least they are rational crooks, and his behavior was irrational. I told Mr.Prejanian that I didn't trustBroadfield . I said I felt he was a kook, an oddball. I didn't want to get involved with him at all."

"And you said as much toPrejanian ."

"Yes, I did. I would have been happy to believe thatBroadfield had had some sort of religious experience and turned into a completely new person. Perhaps that sort of thing happens. Not very often, I don't suppose."

"Probably not."

"But he didn't even pretend that was the case. He was the same man he'd been before, cynical and breezy and very much the operator."

He sighed."Now Mr.Prejanian agrees with me. He's sorry we ever got involved withBroadfield . The man's evidently committed a murder, and, oh, even before that there was the unfortunate publicity which resulted from the charges that woman brought against him. It could all put us in something of a delicate position. We didn't do anything, you know, but the publicity can hardly work to our advantage."

I nodded. "AboutBroadfield ," I said. "Did you see him often?"

"Not very often.He worked directly with Mr.Prejanian ."

"Did he ever bring anyone to this office?A woman?"

"No, he was always alone."

"DidPrejanian or anyone from this office ever meet him elsewhere?"

"No, he always came here."

"Do you know where his apartment was?"

"Barrow Street, wasn't it?" I perked up at that, but then he said, "I didn't even know he had an apartment inNew York , but there was something about it in the newspaper, wasn't there? I think it was someplace inGreenwich Village ."

"Did Portia Carr's name ever come up?"

"That's the woman he murdered, isn't it?"

"That's the woman who was murdered."

He managed a smile. "I stand corrected. I suppose one cannot jump to conclusions, however obvious they seem. No, I'm sure I never heard her name before that item appeared in Monday's newspaper."

I showed him Portia's photo, torn from the morning's News. I added some verbal description. But he had never seen her before.

"Let me see if I have it all straight," he said. "He was extorting money from this woman. A hundred dollars a week, I believe it was?

And she exposed him Monday, and last night she was murdered in his apartment."

"She said he was extorting money from her. I met her and she told me the same story. I think she was lying."

"Why would she lie?"

"To discreditBroadfield ."

He seemed genuinely puzzled. "But why would she want to do that? She was a prostitute, wasn't she?

Why should a prostitute try to impede our crusade against police corruption? And why would someone else murder a prostitute inBroadfield's apartment? It's all very confusing."

"Well, I won't argue with you on that."

"Terribly confusing," he said. "I can't even understand whyBroadfield came to us in the first place."

I could. At least I had a good idea now. But I decided to keep it to myself.

Chapter 6

I stopped at my hotel long enough to take a quick shower and run an electric razor over my face. There were three messages in my pigeonhole, three callers who wanted to be called back. Anita had called again, and a police lieutenant named Eddie Koehler.And MissMardell .

I decided that Anita and Eddie could wait. I called Elaine from the pay phone in the lobby. It wasn't a call I wanted to route through the hotel switchboard. Maybe they don't listen in, but then again maybe they do.

When she answered I said, "Hello. Do you know who this is?"

"I think so."

"I'm returning your call."

"Uh-huh.Thought so. You got phone troubles?"

"I'm in a booth, but how about you?"

"This phone's supposed to be clean. I pay this little Hawaiian cat to come over once a week and check for bugs. So far he hasn't found any, but maybe he doesn't know how to look. How would I know? He's really a very little cat. I think he must be completely transistorized."

"You're a funny lady."

"Well, where are we without a sense of humor, huh? But we might as well be reasonably cool on the phone. You can probably guess what I called about."

"Uh-huh."

"The questions you were asking the other day, and I'm a girl who reads the paper every morning, and what I was wondering was, can any of this lead back to me? Is that something I should start worrying about?"

"Not a chance."

"Is that straight?"

"Absolutely.Unless some of the calls you made to find things out can work back toward you. You talked to some people."

"I already thought of that and sealed it off. If you say I got nothing to worry about, then I don't, and that's the way Mrs.Mardell's little girl likes it."

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