Authors: William Bayer
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
By William Bayer
First Digital Edition published by Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital
Copyright 2011 by William Bayer
Cover Design by David Dodd
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I had handled cases which opened up gradually like fissures in the firm ground of the present, cleaving far down through the strata of the past.
he air was bad the day of Al
. The sky was pewter
in yellow and there was a noxious smell, an oil-refinery smell, as if the cemetery were in New Jersey instead of Queens. It was one of those August mornings when the streetlights still burned away; perhaps the person who was supposed to turn them off had forgotten or overslept.
looked closely at the others gathered around the grave, recognized a few familiar faces, old detectives, retired cops with sagging jaws. Lou, of course, the widowâshe already had the frantic look that said, Now I have to worry about the mortgage and growing old alone and getting the oil changed. And Dolly, the daughterâher letter had been there on the card table along with the half-finished crossword puzzle and the woodworking tools and that pathetic, half-carved wooden flute. She'd written she'd decided to relocate to Houston and could she park the kids for a while and a lot of selfish crap like that. Maybe Dolly's letter had done it,
thought, or maybe it was something else. It didn't matter. The trigger had been ready. Whatever made Al pull it was meaningless beside the fact that it had been ready waiting to be pulled.
He had imagined the scene: Al sitting at the card table staring into space, the sound of Lou moving around upstairs, sorting out the linens, then scouring the bathroom sink. It was a hot, humid Sunday morning and the front closet smelled like a dry-cleaning shop and the neighborhood was quiet and there was a shiny thirty-eight in the front-hall-table drawer and it took just a couple of seconds to step over there and get it out and stick it in his mouth and pull one off.
Upstairs Lou froze, her sponge poised, the roar of the shot fading slowly, sinking deep, deep into her brain. She knew right away, didn't even have to think. She'd been to the funerals, had heard about these things, knew all about these Sunday-morning things. A year into retirement, the worst time, the time you have to worry most about.
could see her frozen there in the bathroom, not even shaking, standing still as a mannequin until the sound was finally gone. She might have looked half quizzically at her sponge, dropped it into the bowl, then moved to the head of the stairs and peeked down until she could see Al's feet sticking out into the hall.
It would be then, when she saw the worn soles of his shoes, that the bitterness would have come, feelings of despair and betrayal and unfairness too, of how horribly unfair this was. She had worried, prayed, somehow gotten them through the violent risky years only now to have to face the insidious Sunday-morning violence inside. She had known this was coming, had seen it coming for months, was afraid to mention it, afraid he'd blow up if she urged him to see somebody, talk it through and get some help. She tiptoed down, stared at him, made sure he was really dead, then turned into the kitchen and picked up the wall phone and called Frank
because Frank was loyal and Frank would know what to do and Frank would take charge of everythingâgood old trusty Frank.
thought, a drab, lousy, middle-class melodrama. Not even a tragedy, because a cop's guilt is too petty and his honor too ambiguous and his flaws too minor to give him tragic stature. His torment comes from little things, not grandiose schemes to place himself above the gods. And so his self-inflicted death is a whimpering little end, just another hot-August-Sunday-morning-old-cop suicide.
There had been a time,
remembered, when he might have taken that way out, just after he'd killed Terry Flynn and men turned their backs on him and squad rooms turned still when he walked in. It was not remorse over defending himself but for dealing death instead of injury, and the loneliness he'd felt afterward, and the nightmares and the rejection and the endless questions he'd asked himself and the answers he'd never found. Now he wondered how many of the others had thought about suicide, as he looked at the dozen old detectives squeezed together beside Al's grave. They had the heavy-lidded eyes of men who lived by private codes. They stood there thinking about Al and what he'd done on Sunday and whether there wasn't something inside themselves they didn't know about that would come out when there were no more cases left to work, turn upon them and devour.
The priest was muttering.
could barely hear him. The yellow-pewter sky was
by jets and there was a tree in the cemetery choked with blackbirds shrieking out complaint against the heat. Hart was there, Chief of Detectives, his tight little eyes sparkling in his squat and sweaty detective's face. Hart would never shoot himselfâno way, thought
, not Hart. If Hart went mad he'd kill someone else. You did either one thing or the otherâthat's what the police shrinks said. You turned it all against yourself or else you turned it on the world.
There was someone else at the burial and she didn't fit in with the widow and the daughter and the Chief and the old detectives who had come to pay respects to Al. She was a tall, lean young woman in her early thirties, with very good legs and an expensive camera hanging from her shoulder. Her light-brown hair was layer-cut, she was dressed very well, her face was beautiful and she stood still and very straight.
studied her, then he squinted as he recalled Lou's words on Sunday after they had taken Al away:
"... he was working on something, Frank. That's why none of this makes sense. He said it was an old case, one of those old ones that gnawed away at him, and he had some new ideas about it now that he had so much time to think. He said he was going to go back over things, check some things he'd forgotten at the time. He went out afternoons. Sometimes he'd stay out till nine or ten. He was working. I could tell. I hadn't seen him like that in years. He came alive, you know, the way he used to be in the old days when he was onto something and closing in. MaybeâI don't know. Maybe it was important. Maybe if he found something, Frankâyou see, that might explain ..."
had nodded, though he hadn't thought Al's actions needed explanation; the scene in the house that morning, he thought, had just about said it all. But Lou was convinced Al had been working and there was always the possibility that he had, so
had said he'd check it out when he had the time and Lou should save everything, any papers Al might have left around the house or in his clothes, and even then it had occurred to him that maybe Al had had something going on the side. But not a girl with legs like this, a
on her shoulder, expensive shoes, clutching an expensive purse. She looked like a model; she wouldn't have noticed Al, wouldn't have bothered with him if she had. Who was she? Why was she here? Why was she standing as if she wanted to be here and, also, apart?
decided to talk to her after the burial. If she left too fast he could catch up with her at the gate or by the cars.
The priest was finished. They were lowering the coffin. The blackbirds were shrieking even more. Lou still had that frozen, frantic widow's look and Dolly was sniffling and Hart was looking straight at
while he whispered to a uniformed sergeant at his side. The sergeant stepped back to detach himself from the group.
did the same; he wanted to edge closer to the girl. A second later the sergeant was at his side. He laid his hand on
"Chief asks if you'll ride back with him." It was Sweeney, guardian of the portals, who sat at the desk outside Hart's office directing trafficâdetectives, journalists, politicians, supplicants.
whispered. "I got my car."
"Give me the keys."
"I'll drive it in for you. Give it back to you downtown."
"I wasn't going downtown."
"You are now, Lieutenant." Sweeney shook his head and smiled. How funny, his smile seemed to sayâ
didn't understand; years in the department and still he didn't know an invitation to ride with the CD was nothing less than a command.
The gathering was breaking up.
hurried toward the girl. She smiled softly when he introduced himself. Her forehead was damp and her eyes were brown and moist. "Al mentioned you," she said. "He trusted you a lot."
"I'd like to talk to you about that." She stared at him curiously. "Could I have your number?"
She studied him a moment. "Sure." She reached into her purse and handed him a card.
ir's bad," said Hart. "Like breathing fumes." He rubbed the back of his neck and peered out the window with disgust. They were on the
Bridge; girders were whipping
. Hart's ears stuck out and his gray hair was shaven practically to his scalp. The big black car was air-conditioned. They sat in the back; the driver was a cop.
turned, saw his own car driven by Sweeney trailing them at fifty feet. "Didn't know you knew Al."
Hart turned to him slowly. His small cold blue eyes twinkled like freezing little stars. "I try to get to these things even if I didn't know the guy.
was a detective after all."
"He was a close friend."
"Your rabbiâyeah, I heard. Well, it's a lousy thing, Frank. Ought to take away their guns. Never bought this idea they should keep them. Look what they do with them. Eat them for Sunday brunch." The Chief shook his head, tightened his lips, about as sensitive an expression,
knew, as Hart could bring himself to make. It was a major effort for Hart to pretend to be a human being. Still
wondered why he had bothered to attend the burial.
"...Not working on anything important you couldn't dump now if you wanted to?"
So that was it. Hart hadn't come to pay respects to Al but to talk to
on the way back into town.
"Got something for you, Frank. You have to take it over right away. Your kind of case. Psychological." Hart winked as if he'd made some kind of private little joke.