Authors: Lawrence Block
Tags: #Fiction, #Library, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Thrillers, #Rhodenbarr; Bernie (Fictitious character), #General, #New York (N.Y.), #Detective and mystery stories, #Thieves
Here’s a book for MAGGIE GRIFFIN—
great reader, great friend,
webmaven, consigliere, and good right hand
The man,” said my friend Marty Gilmartin, “is an absolute…
A wall safe,” Carolyn Kaiser said. “He was straightening the…
I went back to the bookstore and opened up, and…
I didn’t really have to go home first. I was…
Turning around and walking down the driveway and away from…
On the prowl.
The first place that looked good to me was a…
What a feeling!
I tried not to listen.
If Crandall Oaktree Mapes is a shitheel—”
That’s a nice suit,” I said. “Armani?”
The first time I met Wally Hemphill, I’d just been…
They came to the Poodle Factory,” Carolyn said, “sometime around…
If anybody had been waiting to ambush me, there wouldn’t…
Whoever they were, I guess they must have stocked up…
Since my clean-shaven doorman had put himself back to…
I took less than an hour for lunch, and was…
Okay,” Ray said. “Let’s go over it one more time.”
I was getting ready to close when Ray Kirschmann turned…
By 8:45 I was sitting behind the wheel of a…
We stayed with the West Side Drive while it became…
I hadn’t heard a car, hadn’t heard so much as…
When I got back to Arbor Court, there was a…
The fat man took the book.”
If it’s all the same to you, or even if…
The trouble with Thank God It’s Friday, I’ve occasionally thought…
The rain stopped sometime after midnight Saturday, too late to…
I give up, Bern. Who the hell are these guys?”
It was a little before seven when I mounted the…
A burglar,” she said. “I never met a burglar before.
Monday morning Carolyn and I counted money. We went straight…
The Pretenders have a rule against conducting business on club…
It was after ten when I left Marisol’s apartment. I…
The lock on William Johnson’s front door was nothing special…
Bern, I hate to say it, but you don’t look…
There was a bell, of course, but I used the…
Once upon a time,” I said, “there were three independent…
I liked the phrase enough to say it again. “The long…
Of course we’re speaking hypothetically,” Michael Quattrone said. His eyes…
They weren’t gone long, and when they came back, well…
Thanks, Maxine. You’re a lifesaver, and don’t ask me what…
Once again, it’s my great pleasure to thank Writers Room, of Greenwich Village, where some preliminary work on this book was done, and Ragdale, of Lake Forest, Illinois, where it was written.
A good thing about writing, so they tell me, is that you can do it anywhere. Well, the hell you can. But
can, in these two blessed places, and I am forever grateful to them.
he man,” said my friend Marty Gilmartin, “is an absolute…a complete…an utter and total…” He held out his hands, shook his head, and sighed. “Words fail me.”
“Apparently,” I agreed. “Nouns, anyway. Adjectives seem to be supporting you well enough, but nouns—”
“Help me out, Bernard,” he said. “Who is more qualified to supply
le mot juste
? Words, after all, are your métier.”
“Books are your stock-in-trade,” he said, “and what is a book? Paper and ink and cloth and glue, to be sure, but if a book were nothing more than those mundane components, no one would want to own more than one of them. No, it’s the words that constitute a book, sixty or eighty or a hundred thousand of them.”
“Or two hundred thousand, or even three.” I’d read
recently, and was thinking about the less-than-eminent Victorians George Gissing wrote about, forced by their publishers to grind out interminable three-volume novels for a body of readers who clearly had far too much time on their hands.
“That’s more words than I require,” Marty said. “Just one, Bernie, to sum up”—he glanced around the room, lowered his
Crandall Rountree Mapes like an insect upon a pin.”
“An insect,” I suggested.
“Far too mild.”
“A worm, a rat.” He was shaking his head, so I shifted gears and exited the animal kingdom. “A bounder?”
“That’s closer, Bernie. By God, he
a bounder, but he’s much worse than that.”
I frowned, trying to conjure up a thesaurus spread open before me. A bounder, a cad…
“Oh, that comes close,” he said. “We’ll settle for that if we can’t do any better. It’s just archaic enough, isn’t it? And it’s better than
because it’s clearly not a temporary condition. The corruption is permanent, the man is putrid to the core.” He picked up his glass, breathed in the bouquet of aged cognac. “
comes very close indeed to conveying just what a thoroughgoing shitheel goes by the name of Crandall Rountree Mapes.”
I started to say something, but he held up a hand to stop me. “Bernie,” he said, wide-eyed with wonder, “did you hear what I just said?”
“Precisely. That’s perfect, the quintessential summation of the man. And where do you suppose the word came from? Not its derivation, that would seem clear enough, but how did it get into our conversation? No one says
“You just did.”
“I did, and I couldn’t guess the last time I uttered it.” He beamed. “I must have been inspired,” he said, and rewarded himself with a small sip of the venerable brandy. I couldn’t think of anything I’d done to merit a reward, but I had a sip from my own glass just the same. It filled the mouth like liquid gold, slid down the gullet like honey, and warmed every cell of the body even as it exalted the spirit.
I wasn’t going to drive or operate machinery, so what the hell. I had another sip.
We were in the dining room of The Pretenders, a private club on Gramercy Park every bit as venerable as the cognac. The membership ran to actors and writers, men in or on the fringes of the arts, but there was a membership category called Patron of the Theater, and it was through that door that Martin Gilmartin had entered.
“We need members,” he’d told me once, “and the main criterion for membership at this point is the possession of a pulse and a checkbook, though to look around you, you might suspect that some of our members have neither. Would you like to become a member, Bernie? Did you ever see
? If you loved it, you can join as a Patron of the Theater. If you hated it, you can come in as a Critic.”
I’d passed up the chance to join, figuring they might draw the line at prospective members with criminal records. But I rarely turned down an invitation to join Marty there for lunch. The food was passable, the drink first-rate, and the service impeccable, but the half-mile walk from Barnegat Books led me past eight or ten restaurants that could say the same. What they couldn’t provide was the rich atmosphere of the nineteenth-century mansion that housed The Pretenders, and the aura of history and tradition that permeated the place. And then there was Marty’s good company, which I’d be glad of in any surroundings.
He’s an older gentleman, and he’s what fellows who read
want to be when they grow up—tall and slender, with a year-round tan and a full head of hair the color of old silver. He’s always well groomed and freshly barbered, his mustache trimmed, his attire quietly elegant but never foppish. While enjoying a comfortable retirement, he keeps busy managing his investments and dipping a toe in the water when an attractive business venture comes his way.
And, of course, he’s a patron of the theater. As such he goes to quite a few shows, both on and off Broadway, and occasionally
invests a few dollars in a production that strikes his fancy. More to the point, his theatrical patronage has consisted in large part of underwriting the careers of a succession of theatrical ingénues, some of whom have actually demonstrated a certain modicum of talent.
Dramatic talent, that is to say. Their talent in another more private realm is something upon which only Marty could comment, and he wouldn’t. The man is discretion personified.
We met, I would have to say, in highly unlikely circumstances. Marty had assembled a substantial collection of baseball cards, and I stole them.
Except, of course, it was more complicated than that. I hadn’t even known about his card collection, but I did know that he and his wife were going to the theater on a particular evening, so I planned to drop in. I got drunk instead, and Marty (who had cash flow problems) reported his collection as stolen, so that he could collect the insurance. I wound up with the cards—I told you it was complicated—and cleared enough selling them to buy the building that houses my bookstore. That’s remarkable enough, but no more so than the fact that Marty and I wound up friends, and occasional co-conspirators in the commission of a felony.
And felony, it turned out, was very much what Marty had in mind this afternoon. The putative victim, you won’t be surprised to learn, was one Crandall Rountree Mapes, aka
“That shitheel,” Marty said with feeling. “It’s abundantly clear that he doesn’t give a damn about the girl. He doesn’t care about nurturing her talent or fostering her career. His interest is exclusively carnal. He seduced her, he led her astray, the cad, the bounder, the rotter, the…”
“Precisely. My God, Bernie, he’s old enough to be her father.”
“Is he your age, Marty?”
“Oh, I suppose he’s a few years younger than I.”
“The bastard,” I said.
“And did I mention that he’s married?”
“The swine.” Marty himself is married, and living with his wife. I saw no need to point this out.
By now I had a good idea where the story was going, but I let Marty tell it at his own pace. In the course of it our cognac vanished, and our waiter, an aging cherub with glossy black curls and a bulging waistcoat, took away our empty glasses and brought them back replenished. The minutes ticked away, the lunch crowd thinned out, and Marty went on telling me how Marisol (“A lovely name, don’t you think, Bernie? It’s Spanish, of course, and comes from
mar y sol,
meaning sea and sun. Her mother’s Puerto Rican, her father from one of those charming little countries on the Baltic. Sea and sun indeed!”) was indeed abundantly talented, and quite beautiful, with an aura of genuine innocence about her that could break one’s heart. He’d seen her in a showcase presentation of Chekhov’s
The Three Sisters,
of which the less said the better, but her performance and her incandescent stage presence drew him as he had not been drawn in years.
And so he’d gone backstage, and took her to lunch the next day to discuss her career, and squired her to a play he felt she simply must see, and, well, you can imagine the rest. A small monthly check, barely a blip on his own financial radar, meant she could quit waitressing and have more time for auditions and classes and, not incidentally, Marty, who took to visiting her Hell’s Kitchen apartment at the day’s end, for what the French call a
cinq à sept,
or a little earlier, for what New Yorkers call a nooner.
“She was living in South Brooklyn,” he said, “which meant a long subway ride. Now she’s a five-minute walk from a few dozen theaters.” Her new digs were also a short cab ride from Marty’s apartment and an even shorter one from his office, which made the arrangement convenient all around.
He was besotted with her, and she seemed equally impassioned. With the shades drawn in the West 46th Street walk-up, he’d shown her a few refinements her younger lovers had never introduced, and he was pleased to report that the vigor and energy of youth was no match for the art and sophistication of experience.
It was a veritable Eden, that apartment he’d found for her, and all it lacked was a serpent, which soon appeared in the person of that acknowledged shitheel, Crandall Mapes. I’ll spare you the details, which is more than Marty did for me; suffice it to say that a sobbing Marisol had told a heartbroken Martin Gilmartin that she couldn’t see him anymore, that she would always be grateful to him for his generosity, and not least of all for the gift of himself, but that she had lost her heart to the man with whom she knew she was destined to spend the rest of her life, and possibly all eternity as well.
And that man, Marty was shattered to learn, was the shitheel himself. “She thinks he’s going to leave his wife for her,” he said. “He has a new girl every six months, Bernie. Once in a while one of them lasts a full year. They all think he’s going to leave his wife, and one of these days he will actually leave her, but not the way they think. He’ll leave her a rich widow, when a heart attack does what I’d like to do and takes him out of the game for good.”
If Marty was unusually bitter, it was explained in part by the fact that Mapes was not an entirely faceless rival. Marty knew the man, and had more than a nodding acquaintance with him. He’d run into him at shows and backers’ auditions, and he and Edna had actually been to the Mapes home, a fieldstone mansion in Riverdale. The occasion was a benefit for Everett Quinton’s Ridiculous Theater Company, which was looking for a new home after having lost its longtime house on Sheridan Square. “You paid a couple of hundred dollars for dinner and an intimate performance,” he recalled, “and then they did what they could to persuade you to write out a check for another thousand or two. Dinner was all right, though the wines were no more than passable, but Quinton’s a genius and I’d have made a contribution in any case. And Edna was glad for a look at their house. We all got the grand tour. They didn’t show us the basement or the attic, but they did drag us through all the bedrooms, and there was a painting in the master bedroom, a seascape.”
“I don’t suppose it was a Turner.”
He shook his head. “It was just passable,” he said, “like the wine. Your basic generic sailing ship. The only thing significant about the painting is that it was tilted.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’m not compulsive about it,” he said, “but it bothers me to see a picture hung at an angle. It goes against the order of things. Even so, I’m not ordinarily the type to go around straightening the paintings in other people’s houses.”
“But this time you did.”
“I was the last one to leave the room, Bernie, and something made me stop and return to the painting. You know that line of Coleridge? ‘As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean.’ ”
I recognized the line—two lines, actually—as from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a poem which, unlike most of the other imperishable works we’d had to read in high school English, I’d actually liked. “ ‘Water, water, everywhere,’ ” I quoted back, “ ‘And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.’ ”
He nodded approvingly. “Most people think the last line is ‘And not a drop to drink.’ ”
“Most people are wrong,” I said, “most of the time, about most things. Was the painted ship silent, upon its painted ocean?”
“It was,” said Martin Gilmartin. “But what was behind it spoke volumes.”