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Authors: Heather Graham

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BOOK: The Death Dealer
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“Joe? You don’t have your car,” she reminded him. “You can take mine. It’s in the garage.”

He was certain that the garage fee in this building was probably more than most Americans paid for an apartment. But he couldn’t take her car. It was time to rescue his own.

“I’ll just grab a cab for now.”

“I can call you a car—”

“And I can run out to the street and snag a cab. I’ll be back soon,” he promised.

 

Genevieve didn’t mind spending a few hours in the apartment. In fact, she loved the apartment and liked killing time there. What she
did
mind was being told that she needed to stay somewhere, anywhere, even though she knew that she should be grateful she had friends who cared.

At least he intended to involve her in the investigation, although he definitely wasn’t happy about how things had played out last night. He was never happy if he wasn’t in control. Not so much of others, but he was the kind of man who wanted to be in control of himself at all times, and getting drunk was anything but.

Restlessly, she paced the room. The morning would go slowly. She was sure of it.

She put a call through to her mother, just to say hello and tell her that she and Joe would be taking her to the meeting that night.

“I’m afraid it won’t be much of a meeting,” Eileen warned. “All they’ll do is talk about poor Thorne.” She hesitated at the other end of the line. “I suppose a lot of them are frightened, after what that psychic said.”

“But you’re not,” Genevieve chided.

“Of course not.” There was another slight silence, then a gasp. “Oh, Genevieve! Perhaps you shouldn’t come.”

“Mother, stop.”

“But, darling, after all you’ve been through, do you really want to be around a bunch of people talking about murder?”

“After all I’ve been through, I take great delight in going wherever I choose to go.”

“But—”

“We’ll pick you up at six-thirty,” Genevieve said.

“Genevieve, I can get there by myself.”

“We’ll pick you up at six-thirty,” Gen repeated.

“At least you’ll be with Joe,” Eileen said.

“Right. At least I’ll be with Joe,” Genevieve agreed, though she was more than a little irritated by her mother’s words. Even her own mother felt she needed protection.

Genevieve rang off and wandered over to her desk, where she brought the front page of the paper up on her computer, curious to see if anything new had been written about Thorne’s murder.

The headline and the main story were on the accident that had taken place on the FDR. She read the story, then clicked a link and watched the video that had been taken by a chance onlooker. Unfortunately, nothing in the story or the video told her anything that Joe hadn’t.

Genevieve drummed her fingers on the desk. Sam Latham had been in that accident.

And so had Joe.

She hesitated, then picked up the phone again. This time she called St. Vincent’s.

Sam was in a regular room and able to see visitors.

Again she hesitated. Then she glanced at the clock. She could get to St. Vincent’s and back in plenty of time. She wouldn’t take her own car. She would have Tim, the morning security guard, call for car service, and the driver could just wait for her while she was at the hospital. She could be back in no time.

Even as she made the arrangements, she felt guilty.

She told herself that she didn’t owe anyone anything, that she was a free woman who could come and go as she pleased. Even so, she felt guilty.

After all, she’d promised.

But it was broad daylight, and she needed to see Sam Latham.

But she had
promised.

As her mind warred with itself, the phone rang. She was going to let the machine get it, but she heard Joe’s voice and picked up.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” he returned. “Listen, I forgot I had an appointment. I’ll be a few hours longer. Is that okay with you?”

“I’m sure I can fill the time somehow,” she told him.

“Okay. Let’s say I’ll be back around two or two-thirty.”

“Perfect,” she told him.

Okay, so she still felt guilty. But, really, the promise had been made during the last conversation, when he wasn’t going to be gone nearly so long. That had to make it null and void. She had said that she would find a way to fill the time, and she would.

She left her apartment, making sure to lock up, and hurried to the elevator.

 

If he’d been blindfolded, he would have known where he was.

No matter how much antiseptic was used, no matter what kind of air filtration was in place, a morgue smelled like a morgue.

Even in the entry rooms.

Joe was grateful to be in good standing with the police. He didn’t even need to show his credentials when he arrived; Judy, at the desk, knew him well.

“Hey, gorgeous,” he said.

“Hey, handsome.”

“You’re too kind.”

She was a big woman, round and rosy-cheeked, fiftysomething and always pleasant. She was the perfect person to meet the public in such a place.

“Hey,” she said, laughing. “The living always look handsome to me.”

“Ah, shucks, be careful or all these compliments will go to my head.”

“Better be careful—your head could swell up like a balloon if I really got going,” she teased. “But you’re not here to flirt.”

“No. Judy, ’fraid not. I need to know who was on the Thorne Bigelow autopsy.”

“Oh, that was Frankie.”

Not many people could have used such a casual reference. Frankie was Dr. Francis Arbitter, one of the most renowned members of the medical examiner’s office. He was a down-to-earth guy, but his expertise had earned him a reverence over the years that made most people speak of him with awe.

“Is he available?”

“I’m sure he’ll see you.”

A phone call sent him through the double doors and down the hallway to autopsy room number four.

Francis Arbitter was alone. There was a corpse on a Gurney, but a sheet covered the torso and limbs. There was a huge gash on the head of the middle-aged, bearded man who lay there, but there was no sign of blood. The body had been washed for the exam that was about to take place.

Frank was at his desk, munching on what appeared to be a ham and cheese on rye. “Joe!” he called with a smile, and he rose. He was a tall, well-muscled man who looked like he should have been playing fullback instead of solving mysteries at a morgue. But his tousled, thinning hair and Coke-bottle glasses gave him a little bit of the mad-scientist look that was more befitting to his chosen calling.

“Sit, sit,” he said, drawing up a chair from behind one of the other clinically clean desks in the room.

Joe took a seat. He’d been in plenty of morgues, but he never became as accustomed to working with the dead as Frank, who got right to the point.

“If you just wanted to shoot the breeze, you’d have called to meet for a beer somewhere. So what’s up? I’m guessing it’s the Thorne Bigelow murder.”

“Good deduction,” Joe said.

“Well, speaking as Dr. Watson here, I’d have to say I learned something from Holmes,” Frank said shrewdly. “You’ve worked for Eileen Brideswell before. She knew Thorne, so I assume she intends to use her resources to help the police find the murderer. After all, she has a lot at stake.”

Joe decided not to correct him and explain that he wasn’t working for Eileen but had been pretty much forced to take the case by Genevieve. He wasn’t surprised that Frank had made the assumption that his appearance had to do with the case, but he
was
surprised that Frank seemed to think that Eileen had a lot at stake.

He nodded, watching Frank. “Yes, I’m here about Bigelow.”

“His son picked up the body the other day. Personally. What with the Bigelow money, he certainly didn’t have to do it, but the kid came in here crying like a baby. Well, hell, he’s not a kid, really. He’s got to be about thirty.”

“I guess you never get so old that you don’t feel the loss of a parent.”

“No.” Frank shrugged. “I talked to him. He’s on the warpath himself, wants to know who killed his father, and why.”

Joe stared at Frank, and Frank grinned and shrugged.

“Okay, you and I both know that the Bigelow money and power drew lots of enemies. But, hey, I’m not a cop. I turn over my findings, and the cops take it from there.”

“And what did you find?”

“That the man’s love for a good glass of wine did him in.”

“So his wine was definitely poisoned?”

“Definitely. He hadn’t eaten in hours. From the timing, I got the impression he was probably about to go out for dinner. That it was the aperitif before the meal.”

“What was it?”

“Rosencraft 1858. A very rare burgundy,” Frank said.

Joe almost smiled. “I meant the poison.”

“Arsenic.”

“I thought arsenic poisoners usually dosed their victims more slowly?”

“Arsenic poisoning was popular in the past. Centuries ago. People got sick, and eventually they died. But a large dose is just as effective—and quicker.”

“Was there anything else? Any sign of a struggle? Bruises, gashes, defensive wounds?”

“Not a thing,” Frank told him.

Joe was silent. Frank shrugged. “‘Quoth the raven—die.’”

“There’s nothing about poisoning in ‘The Raven,’ is there?”

“No, but there is in both ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’”

“I do the autopsy, Joe. That’s it. After that, I let the cops do their work.”

“Who caught the case?” Joe asked.

“Raif Green and Thomas Dooley. They’re both good guys. Neither one is green. They’ve been working murders together for almost ten years.”

“Yeah, I know them both,” Joe said. He knew them well, and he liked them both. That was a relief. Neither was the type of hothead to get antsy because a P. I. was on the case. They were both workhorses who had come up through the ranks, seen everything, grown weary and kept at it anyway. Good cops, they were constrained by the department’s budget and tended to be pleased when someone like him could throw some private citizen’s funds at a case.

“There’s a break for you,” Frank said.

“Yeah, thanks, I’ll give Raif a call. I know him best,” Joe said as he rose. “We’ll have to grab a beer soon, Frank. I don’t want to keep you from your work now, though.”

“Don’t worry. Old Hank isn’t going to get any deader,” Frank told him.

Joe glanced over at the body on the Gurney. If it weren’t for the gash, “Old Hank” could have been sleeping.

“A fall?” he asked skeptically.

“Oh, yeah. You bet. He
fell
right into his buddy’s broken-off whiskey bottle.”

“Sad,” Joe said.

“It’s always sad,” Frank said. “That’s the thing—death is sad. Except…”

Curiously, Joe turned back to him. “Except?”

Frank shrugged. “Every once in a while, I get someone in here who was dying of cancer or something. I cut them open, and it’s horrifying what disease does to them on the inside. But on the outside, hell, sometimes it’s as if they’re actually smiling. Like death was a release from god-awful pain.” He shrugged. “You get used to it. Then again—hell, you should know this—you
never
get used to it. And if you did, you’d suck at your job.”

“Dr. Arbitter?”

A young woman was standing in the open door.

“Connie?” Frank said.

“They need you in reception.”

“Be right back,” Frank told Joe.

Joe started to protest. He needed to get going. But Frank had already gone to see to whatever business had summoned him away.

Joe looked over at the body, and suddenly the corpse’s head turned, and the grizzled old man opened his eyes.
Hey, you. Yeah, you, buddy. You can see me, and you can hear me. You tell Vinny I said
fuck you!
You tell him he’s going to get his. He can get that crack-freak friend of his to pay his bail, but he’s going to go down out on the streets. You tell him. He ain’t going to have a moment’s peace. You tell him, you hear me? Damn you, you hear me?

Joe felt frozen, staring at the corpse.

This was bullshit.

It was all in his mind.

Hell, he must have had even more to drink last night than he’d thought.

The door behind him swung open again. He spun around. Frank had returned, muttering. “With all today’s technology, these clerks still can’t spell. Who the hell mistakes the word
breast
for
beast?

Joe looked back at the body.

It was just a corpse again.

Old Hank couldn’t get any deader.

“Joe? You all right?” Frank asked. “Hell, man, you’re as white as if you’d seen a ghost.”

Joe forced a laugh. “Like you said, Frank. Old Hank can’t get any deader. I take it the cops have whoever did this to him?”

“Dead to rights. A low-life drug dealer. Not that Hank was your model citizen. He bought it during a barroom fight with a guy named Vincent Cenzo.”

He’d just had to ask, Joe thought.

“So, Joe. I’m sorry, where were we?” Frank asked.

“Finished,” Joe said, offering his hand.

“Beers are on me,” Frank said as they shook.

“Sounds good. See you soon.”

“You bet. You need anything else, don’t hesitate to call.”

Call. Yup. Next time, he would just call.

“See you, Frank. Thanks.”

He felt like a swimmer who had seen a shark and needed to stay calm. He tried like hell not to go running out of the autopsy room.

He managed to push his way through the doors like a normal person, then walked quickly down the hall. He even managed a goodbye and thanks for Judy at the desk.

Then he burst out into the light of day and joined the throng of people rushing around in the Saturday afternoon sunshine.

He was almost running…

And then he stopped.

Because there was no way for a man to run away from his own mind.

 

What a beautiful day.

He walked and walked, wishing he had a hat to tip to passersby. It was nearly summer, but the usual heat and humidity weren’t plaguing the city today. No rain clouds marred the heavens. No unhealthy miasma hung around the buildings, and a pleasant breeze swept through the giant forests of concrete and steel. It was simply a perfect day.

BOOK: The Death Dealer
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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