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 (7 page)

BOOK: In the Midst of Death
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"I thought you changed your name."

"Huh? Oh, no, not me. I was born ElaineMardell , baby. Not saying my father didn't change it a while back, but it was already nice andgoyish by the time I came on the scene."

"I might come over later, Elaine."

"Business or pleasure?Let me reword that.Your business or mine?"

I found myself smiling into the telephone. "Maybe a little of both,"

I said. "I have to go out toQueens , but I'll give you a call afterward if I'm coming."

"Call me either way, baby. If you can't come, call. That's why they put- "

"Dimes in condoms.I know."

"Awww, you know all my best jokes," she said. "You're no fun at all."

MY subway car had been decorated by a lunatic with a can of spray paint. He'd had just one message for the world and he had taken pains to inscribe it wherever the opportunity had presented itself, restating his argument over and over again, working in elaborate curlicues and other embellishments.

WE ARE PEOPLE TWO, he informed us. I couldn't decide whether the last word was a simple spelling error or represented some significant drug-inspired insight.

WE ARE PEOPLE TWO.

I had plenty of time to ponder the meaning of the phrase, all the way out toQueens Boulevard and Continental. I got off the train and walked for several blocks, passing streets named after prep schools.

Exeter ,Groton ,Harrow . I eventually got toNansen Street , whereBroadfield and his family lived. I don't know how they namedNansen Street .

TheBroadfield house was a good one, set a ways back on a nicely landscaped lot. An old maple on the strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street left no doubt about what time of year it was. It was all on fire with red and gold.

The house itself was two stories tall and thirty or forty years old. It had aged well. The whole block was composed of similar houses, but they differed sufficiently so that one didn't have the sense of being in a development.

Nor did I have the sense of being within the five boroughs ofNew York . It is hard to remember, living inManhattan , just how high a percentage of New Yorkers inhabit one-family houses on tree-lined streets. Even politicians sometimes have trouble keeping this in mind.

I walked up a flagstone path to the front door and rang the bell. I could hear chimes sounding inside the house. Then footsteps approached the door, and it was drawn open by a slender woman with short dark hair. She wore a lime-green sweater and dark green pants. Green was a good color for her, matching her eyes, pointing up the shy wood-nymph quality she projected. She was attractive and would have been prettier still if she hadn't been crying recently. Her eyes were rimmed with red and her face was drawn.

I told her my name and she invited me inside. She said I would have to excuse her, that everything was a mess because it had been a bad day for her.

I followed her into the living room and took the chair she indicated. Despite what she'd said, nothing seemed to be a mess. The room was immaculate and very tastefully furnished. The decor was conservative and traditional without having a museum feel to it. There were photographs here and there in silver frames. A book of music stood open on the upright piano. She picked it up, closed it, put it away in the piano bench.

"The children are upstairs," she said. "Sara and Jennifer went to school this morning. They left before I heard the news. When they came home from lunch I kept them home. Eric won't start kindergarten until next year, so he's used to being at home. I don't know what they're thinking and I don't know what to say to them. And the telephone keeps ringing. I'd love to take it off the hook, but what if it's something important? I would have missed your call if I'd taken it off the hook. I just wish I knew what to do." She winced and wrung her hands. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice steadier now. "I'm in a state of shock. It's made me numb and jittery at the same time. For two days I didn't know where my husband was. Now I know that he's in a prison cell.And charged with murder." She made herself take a breath.

"Would you like some coffee? I just made a fresh pot. Or I could give you something stronger."

I said that coffee with whiskey in it would be good. She went to the kitchen and came back with two large mugs of coffee. "I don't know what kind of whiskey or how much to put in," she said. "There's the liquor cabinet. Why don't you pick out what you like?"

The cabinet was well stocked with expensive brands. This did not surprise me. I never knew a cop who didn't get a lot of liquor at Christmas. The people who are a little diffident about giving you cash find it easier to give you a bottle or a case of decent booze. I put a healthy slug of Wild Turkey in my cup. I suppose it was a waste. One bourbon tastes pretty much like another when you pour it in coffee.

"Is it good that way?" She was standing beside me, her own mug held in both hands. "Maybe I'll try some. I don't normally drink very much. I've never liked the taste of it. Do you think a drink would relax me?"

"It probably wouldn't hurt."

She held out her mug. "Please?"

I filled her mug and she stirred it with her spoon and took a tentative sip. "Oh, that's good," she said, in what was almost a child's voice. "It's warming, isn't it? Is it very potent?"

"It's about the same strength as a cocktail. And the coffee tends to counteract some of the effects of the alcohol."

"You mean you don't get drunk?"

"You still get drunk eventually. But you don't get tired out en route. Do you normally get drunk on one drink?"

"I can usually feel one drink. I'm afraid I'm not much of a drinker.

But I don't suppose this will hurt me."

She looked at me, and for a short moment we challenged one another with our eyes. I didn't know then and do not know now precisely what happened, but our eyes met and exchanged wordless messages, and something must have been settled on the spot, although we were not consciously aware of the settlement or even of the messages that preceded it.

I broke the stare. I took the note her husband had written from my wallet and handed it to her. She scanned it once quickly,then read it through more carefully. "Twenty-five hundred dollars," she said. "I suppose you'll want that right now, Mr. Scudder."

"I'll probably be having some expenses."

"Certainly."She folded the note in two,then folded it again. "I don't recall Jerry mentioning your name.

Have you known each other for a long time?"

"Not long at all."

"You're on the force. Did you work together?"

"I used to be on the force, Mrs.Broadfield . Now I'm a sort of private detective."

"Just sort of?"

"The unlicensed sort.After all those years in the department I have an aversion to filling out forms."

"An aversion."

"Pardon me?"

"Did I say that aloud?" She smiled suddenly and her whole face brightened. "I don't think I've ever heard a policeman use that word. Oh, they use large words, but of a certain sort, you know. 'Alleged perpetrator' is my favorite phrase of all. And 'miscreant' is a wonderful word. Nobody but a policeman or a reporter ever called anybody a miscreant, and reporters just write it, they never say it out loud."

Our eyes locked again and her smile faded out. "I'm sorry, Mr.

Scudder. I'm babbling again, aren't I?"

"I like the way you babble."

For a second I thought she was going to blush, but she didn't. She took a breath and assured me I would have my money in a moment. I said there was no rush but she said it would be just as easy to get it over and done with. I sat down and worked on my coffee and she left the room and climbed a flight of stairs.

She returned a few minutes later with a sheaf of bills which she handed to me. I fanned them. They were all fifties and hundreds. I put them in my jacket pocket.

"Aren't you going to count them?" I shook my head. "You're very trusting, Mr. Scudder. I'm sure you told me your first name but I don't seem to remember it."

"Matthew."

"Mine is Diana." She picked up her coffee mug and drained it quickly, as if downing strong medicine.

"Will it be helpful if I say my husband was with me last night?"

"He was arrested inNew York , Mrs.Broadfield ."

"I just told you my name. Aren't you going to use it?" Then she remembered what we were talking about and her tone changed. "What time was he arrested?"

"Around two-thirty."

"Where?"

"An apartment in the Village.He'd been staying there ever since Miss Carr brought those charges against him. He was decoyed out of there last night, and while he was out somebody brought the Carr woman to his apartment and killed her there and tipped the police.Or brought her there after she was dead."

"Or Jerry killed her."

"It doesn't make sense that way."

She thought about this,then took up another tack. "Whose apartment was it?"

"I'm not sure."

"Really?It must have been his apartment. Oh, I've always been sure he has one. There are clothes of his I haven't seen in ages, so I gather he keeps part of his wardrobe somewhere in the city." She sighed. "I wonder why he tries to hide things from me. I know so much and he must know that I know, don't you suppose? Does he think I don't know that he has other women? Does he think I care?"

"Don't you?"

She looked long and hard at me. I didn't think she was going to answer the question, but then she did.

"Of course I care," she said. "Of course I care." She looked down at her coffee mug and seemed dismayed to see that it was empty. "I'm going to have some more coffee," she said. "Would you like some, Matthew?"

"Thank you."

She carried the mugs to the kitchen. On the way back she stopped at the liquor cabinet to doctor them both. She had a generous hand with the Wild Turkey bottle, making my drink at least twice as strong as the one I'd made for myself.

She sat on the couch again, but this time she placed herself closer to my chair. She sipped her coffee and looked at me over the top of her mug. "What time was that girl killed?"

"According to the last news I heard, they're estimating the time of death at midnight."

"And he was arrested around two-thirty?"

"Around that time, yes."

"Well, that makes it simple, doesn't it? I'll say that he came home just after the children went to sleep.

He wanted to see me and change his clothing. And he was with me, watching television from eleven o'clock until theCarson show went off, and then he went back toNew York and got there just in time to get arrested. What's the matter?"

"It won't do any good, Diana."

"Why not?"

"Nobody'llbuy it. The only kind of alibi that'd do your husband any good would be an ironclad one, and the uncorroborated word of his wife- no, it wouldn't do any good."

"I suppose I must have known that."

"Sure."

"Did he kill her, Matthew?"

"He says he didn't."

"Do you believe him?"

I nodded. "I believe someone else killed her.And deliberately framed him for it."

"Why?"

"To stop the investigation into the police department.Or for private reasons- if someone had cause to kill Portia Carr, your husband certainly made a perfect fall guy."

"That's not what I meant. What makes you believe he's innocent?"

I thought about it. I had some fairly good reasons- among them the fact that he was too bright to commit murder in quite so stupid a fashion.

He might kill the woman in his own apartment, but he wouldn't leave her there and spend a couple of hours drifting around without even establishing an alibi.

But none of my reasons really mattered all that much and they weren't worth repeating to her.

"I just don't believe he did it. I was a cop for a long time. You develop instincts, intuition. Things have a certain feel to them, and if you're any good you know how to pick up on them."

"I'll bet you were good."

"I wasn't bad. I had the moves, I had the instincts. And I was so involved in what I was doing that I wound up using a lot of myself in my work. That makes a difference. It becomes much easier to be good at something that you're really caught up in."

"And then you left the force?"

"Yes.A few years ago."

"Voluntarily?"She colored and put a hand to her lips. "I'm very sorry," she said. "That's a stupid question and it's none of my business."

"It's not stupid. Yes, I left voluntarily."

"Why? Not that that's any of my business, either."

"Private reasons."

"Of course.I'm terriblysorry, I think I am feeling this whiskey.

Forgive me?"

"Nothing to forgive.The reasons are private, that's all. Maybe I'll like telling you about it someday."

"Maybe you will, Matthew."

And our eyes got connected again and stayed locked until she abruptly drew a breath and finished the liquid in her coffee mug.

She said, "Did you take money? I mean, when you were on the force."

"Some. I didn't get rich at it, and I didn't go out looking for it, but I took what came my way. We never lived on my salary."

"You're married?"

"Oh, because I said we.I'm divorced."

"Sometimes I think about divorce. I can't think about it now, of course. Now it is incumbent upon the faithful, long-suffering wife to remain at her husband's side in his hour of need. Why are you smiling?"

"I'll trade you three aversions for one incumbent."

"It's a trade." She lowered her eyes. "Jerry takes a lot of money,"

she said.

"So I've gathered."

"That money I gave you.Twenty-five hundred dollars. Imagine having so much money around the house. All I did, I just went upstairs and counted it out. There's a great deal more left in the strongbox.

I don't know how much he has there. I've never counted it."

I didn't say anything. She was sitting with her legs crossed at the knee and her hands folded neatly in her lap. Dark green pants on her long legs, bright green sweater,cool mint-green eyes.Sensitive hands with long slender fingers and closely trimmed unpolished nails.

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