The Last Dance - Page 2

The Last Dance - Page 2

It was raining relentlessly on the morning of October thirtieth, a Saturday, the day after the body of Andrew Henry Hale was found dead in his bed in an apartment on Currey and Twelfth. Carella and Meyer came running out of the precinct and into the parking lot behind it, drenched to the b.o.n.e before they'd taken half a dozen steps. Rain banged on the roof of the car. Rain drilled Carella's head as he fumbled the key into the lock on the driver's side, rain smashed his eyes, rain soaked the shoulders of his coat and plastered his hair onto his forehead. Meyer stood patiently hunched and hulking on the passenger side of the car, eyes squinched, drowning in the merciless rain.

"Just take all the time in the world," he suggested.

Carella finally got the key into the lock, twisted it open, hurried inside, and reached across the seat to unlock the other door for Meyer.

"Whoosh!" Meyer said, and pulled the door shut behind him.

Both men sat breathless for a moment, enclosed now in a rattling cocoon, the windshield and windows melting with rain. Behind them, the precinct lights glowed yellow, offering comfort and warmth, odd solace for a place they rarely associated with either. Meyer shifted his weight, reached into his back pants pockets for a handkerchief, and dried his face and the top of his bald head. Carella took several Dunkin' Donuts paper napkins from the side pocket on the door and tried to blot water from his soaked hair. "Boy," he said, and grabbed more napkins from the door.

Together, the two men in their bulky overcoats crowded the front seat of the "company car," as they mockingly called it. They were partnered as often as not, the twin peculiarities of exigency and coincidence frequently determining more effectively than any duty chart exactly who might be in the squadroom when the phone rang. They had caught the Hale squeal together yesterday morning. The case was now theirs until either they made an arrest or retired it in the so-called Open File.

Carella started the car.I Meyer turned on the radio.

The insistent chatter of police calls scratched at the beating rain. It took a while for the ancient heater to throw any real warmth into the car, adding its clanking clatter to the steady drumming of the rain, the drone of the dispatcher's voice, the hissing swish of tires on black asphalt. Cops on the job listened with one ear all the time, waiting to hear the dispatcher specifically calling their car, particularly waiting for the urgent signal that would tell them an officer was down, in which case every car in the vicinity would respond. Meanwhile, as the rain fell and the heater hurled uncertain hot air onto their faces and their feet, they talked idly about Carella's birthday party earlier this month - a subject he'd rather have forgotten since he'd just turned forty - and the trouble Meyer was having with his brother-in-law, who never had liked Meyer and who kept trying to sell him additional life insurance because he was in such a dangerous occupation.

"You think our occupation is dangerous?" he asked.

"Dangerous, no," Carella said. "Hazardous."

"Enough to warrant what he calls combat insurance?"

"No, I don't think so."

"I rented a video last week," Meyer said, "Robin Williams is dead in it, he goes to heaven. One of the worst movies I ever saw in my entire life."

"I never go to movies where somebody dies and goes to heaven," Carella said.

"What you should never do is go to a movie with the word 'Dream' in the title," Meyer said. "Sarah likes these pictures where movie stars die and go walking around so mere mortals can't see them. So you never heard of it, huh?" Meyer said.

"Never," Carella said, and smiled. He was thinking if you worked with a man long enough, you began reading his mind.

"Your kids aren't teenagers yet," Meyer said. "Rophies? Roofies? Rope? R2? Those are all names the kids use for it."

"New one on me," Carella said.

"It used to come in one- and two-milligram tablets," Meyer said. "Hoffman-La Roche - that's the company that manufactures it - recently pulled the two-mill off the retail market in Germany. But it's still available here. That's another name for it, by the way. La Roche. Or even just Roach. How much did Blaney say the old man had dropped?"

"At least two mills."

"Would've knocked him out in half an hour. It's supposed to be ten times stronger than Valium, no taste, no odor. You really never heard of it?"

"Never," Carella said.

"It's also called the Date-Rape drag," Meyer said. "When it first got popular in Texas, kids were using it to boost a h.e.r.o.i.n high or cushion a c.o.c.a.i.n.e crash. Then some cowboy discovered if he dropped a two-mill tab in a girl's beer, it had the same effect as if she drank a six-pack. In ten, twenty minutes, she's feeling no pain. She loses all inhibitions, blacks out, and wakes up the next morning with no memory of what happened."

"Sounds like science-fiction," Carella said.

"Small white tablet," Meyer said, "you can either dissolve it in a drink or snort it. Ruffles is another name. The Forget Pill, too. Or Roofenol. Or Rib. Costs three, four bucks a tab."

"Thanks for the input," Carella said.

The men were on their way to Andrew Male's bank.

They were now in possession of a court order authorizing them to open his safe deposit box. Inside that box, by Cynthia Keating's own admission, there was an insurance policy on her father's life. Her husband had also told them that his law firm was in possession of her father's will, which left to husband and wife all of the old man's earthly possessions - which did not amount to a h.e.l.l of a lot. A passbook they'd found in the apartment showed a bank balance of $2,476.12. The old man had also owned a collection of 78 rpm's dating back to the thirties and forties, none of them rare, all of them swing hits of the day - Benny Goodman, Harry James, Glenn Miller - played and replayed over and over again until the shellac was scratched and the grooves worn. There were a few books in the apartment as well, most of them dog-eared paperbacks. There was an eight-piece setting of inexpensive silver plate.

True enough, in a city where a five-dollar bill in a tattered billfold was often cause enough for murder, these belongings alone might have provided motive. But not for two people as well off as the Keatings. Besides, this had not been a case of someone choosing a random victim on the street and then popping him, something that happened all the time. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble here, first drugging the old man and next hanging him. The prize had to be worth the trouble.

Carella pulled the car into a No Parking zone in front of the bank. He flipped down his visor to show the pink police paper that normally warned off any cop on the beat, and then stepped out of the car and dashed through the rain toward the front of the bank, Meyer pounding along behind him.

Their court order opened the dead man's safe deposit box, and sure enough, they found an insurance policy for $25,000, with Andrew Male's daughter and son-in-law listed as sole beneficiaries. The policy did, in fact, contain a suicide exclusion clause: Section 1.5 SUICIDE If the insured dies by suicide within one year from the Date of Issue, the amount payable by the Company will be limited to the premiums paid. But the policy had been issued almost ten years ago.

Thursday night was the night in question.

According to what Cynthia Keating had told them, she'd spoken to her father at nine that night, and had found him hanging dead at nine-thirty or so the next morning. A check with the telephone company confirmed that she had indeed called his number at 9:07 the night before, and had spent two minutes on the phone with him. This did not preclude her later taking the subway across the river and into the trees, going up to his apartment, dropping a few pills in his wine or his b.e.e.r or his bottled water, and then hanging him over a hook.

But -

Cynthia maintained that after having telephoned her father, she had gone to meet her girlfriend Josie at the movie theater a block from her apartment and together they had seen a movie that started around 9:15 and ended around 11:45, after which she and her friend Josie had gone for tea and scones at a little snack bar called Westmore's. She had returned home at around twelve-thirty, and had not left the apartment again until the next morning at around twenty to nine, at which time she had taken the subway across the river, and walked to her father's apartment, only to find Dad, poor Dad, hanging in the closet, and I'm feeling so bad. The movie she'd seen was part of a Kurosawa retrospective. It was titled High and Low, and it was based on a novel by an American who wrote cheap mysteries. A call to the theater confirmed the title of the film and the start and finish times. A call to her girlfriend Josie Gallitano confirmed that she had accompanied Cynthia to the movie and had later enjoyed a cup of tea and a chocolate-covered scone with her. Cynthia's husband, as was to be expected, confirmed that he had found her asleep in bed when he got home from a poker game at around one o'clock. She had not left the apartment again that night.

There had been six other men in that poker game. Keating claimed that the game had started at eight o'clock and ended at around a quarter past midnight. The six other men confirmed that he had been there during the times he'd stated. His wife, as was to be expected, confirmed that he'd come home at around one a.m., and had not left the apartment again that night.

It appeared to the detectives that their two prime suspects had airtight alibis and that whoever had dropped Rohypnol into Andrew Male's drink and draped him over a closet hook was still out there boogying someplace.

At Hale's funeral on Sunday morning, they listened to a minister who had never met the man telling his sole remaining relatives what a fine and upstanding human being he'd been. Cynthia Keating and her husband Robert listened dry-eyed. It was still raining when the first shovelful of earth was dumped onto Male's simple wooden casket.

It was as if he had never existed.

From home that Sunday night, Carella called Danny Gimp.

"Danny?" he said. "It's Steve."

"Hey, Steve," Danny said. "Whatta ya hear?"

This was a joke. Danny Gimp was an informer. He - and not Carella - was the one who heard things and passed them on. For money. The men didn't exchange any niceties. Carella got right down to business.

"Old guy named Andrew Hale . . ."

"How old?" Danny asked.

"Sixty-eight."

"Ancient," Danny said.

"Got himself aced Thursday night."

"Where?"

"Apartment off Currey Yard."

"What time?"

"ME puts it around midnight. But you know how accurate PMFs are."

"How'd he catch it?"

"Hanged. But first he was doped with a drug called Rohypnol. Ever hear of it?"

"Sure."

"You have?"

"Sure," Danny said.

"Anyway," Carella said, "the only two people who had any reason to want him dead have alibis a mile long. We're wondering if maybe they knew somebody handy with a noose."

"Uh-huh."

"He's a lawyer . . ."

"The dead man?"

"No. One of the suspects."

"A criminal lawyer?"

"No. But he knows criminal lawyers."

"That doesn't mean he knows hit men."

"It means there could've been access."

"Okay."

"Ask around, Danny. There's twenty-five grand in insurance money involved here."

"That ain't a lot."

"I know. But maybe it's enough."

"Well, let me go on the earie, see what's what."

"Get back to me, okay?"

"If I hear anything."

"Even if you don't."

"Okay," Danny said, and hung up.

He did not get back to Carella until the following Sunday night, the seventh of November. By that time, the case was stone cold dead.

Danny came limping into the place he himself had chosen for the meet, a pizzeria on Culver and Sixth. The collar of his threadbare coat was pulled high against the wind and the rain. A long, college-boy, striped muffler was wrapped around his neck, and he was wearing woolen gloves. He peered around the place as if he were a spy coming in with nuclear secrets. Carella signaled to him. A scowl crossed Danny's face.

"You shouldn't do that," he said, sliding into the booth. "Bad enough I'm meeting you in a public place."

Carella was willing to forgive Danny his occasional irritability. He had never forgotten that Danny had come to the hospital when he'd got shot for the first time in his professional life. It had not been an easy thing for Danny to do; police informers do not last long on the job once it is known they are police informers. Danny's eyes were darting all over the place now, checking the perimeter. He himself had chosen the venue, but he seemed disturbed by it now, perhaps because it was unexpectedly crowded at nine a.m. on a Monday morning. Who the h.e.l.l expected people eating pizza for breakfast? But he couldn't go to the station house, and he didn't want Carella to come to his s.h.i.t.t.y little room over on the South Side because to tell the truth, it embarrassed him. Danny had known better times.

He was thinner than Carella had ever seen him, his eyes rheumy, his nose runny. He kept taking paper napkins from the holder on the table, blowing his nose, crumpling the napkins and stuffing them into the pockets of his coat, which he had not yet removed. He did not look healthy. But more than that, he looked unkempt, odd for a man who'd always prided himself on what he considered sartorial elegance. Danny needed a shave. Soiled shirt cuffs showed at the edges of his ragged coat sleeves. His face was dotted with blackheads, his fingernails edged with grime. Sensing Carella's scrutiny, he said in seeming explanation, "The leg's been bothering me."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Yeah, it still bothers me. From when I got shot that time."

"Uh-huh."

Actually, Danny had never been shot in his life. He limped because he'd had polio as a child. But pretending he'd been wounded in a big gang shoot-out gave him a certain street cred he considered essential to the gathering of incidental information. Carella was willing to forgive him the lie.

"You want some pizza?" he asked.

"Coffee might be better," Danny said, and started to rise.

BMiimCi

"Sit," Carella said, "I'll get it. You want anything with it?"

"The pastry looks good," Danny said. "Bring me one of them chocolate things, okay?"

Carella went up to the counter and came back some five minutes later with two chocolate eclairs and two cups of coffee. Danny was blowing on his hands, trying to warm them. A constant flow of traffic through the entrance doors and past the counter kept bringing in the cold from outside. He picked up his coffee cup, warmed his hands on that for a while. Carella bit into his chocolate eclair. Danny bit into his. "Oh, Jesus," he said, "that is delicious," and took another bite. "Oh, Jesus," he said again.

"So what've you got?" Carella asked.

$25,000 was a big-enough prize in a city where you could buy anyone's dead a.s.s for a subway token. If Robert Keating and his wife Cynthia had been otherwise engaged while her father was being hoisted and hanged, the possibility existed that they'd hired someone to do the job for them. In this city, you could get anything done to anybody for a price. You want somebody's eyeglasses smashed? You want his fingernails pulled out? His legs broken? You want him more seriously injured? You want him hurt so he's an invalid the rest of his life? You want him skinned, you want him burned, you want him - don't even mention it in a whisper - killed! It can be done. Let me talk to someone. It can be done.

"I've got quite a lot, actually," Danny said, seemingly more involved in his eclair than in doing business. "Oh really?" Carella said.

On the phone last night, Danny had said only that he'd come up with something interesting. This morning, it seemed to be more than that. But perhaps this was just the prelude to negotiation.

Actually, Danny knew that what he had was very good stuff. So good, in fact, that it might be worth more money than Carella was used to paying. He hated negotiating with someone he considered an old friend, though he was never quite sure Carella shared the sentiment. At the same time, he didn't want to pass on information that could conceivably lead to a bust in a m.u.r.d.e.r case, and then have Carella toss fifty bucks or so across the table. This was too good for that kind of chump change.

"I know who did it," he said, flat out.

Carella looked surprised.

"Yeah, I got lucky," Danny said, and grinned. His teeth looked bad, too. He was clearly not taking good care of himself.

"So let me hear it," Carella said.

"I think this is worth at least what the killer got," Danny said, lowering his voice.

"And how much is that?"

"Five grand," Danny said.

"You're joking, right?"

"You think so?" Danny said.

Carella did not think so.

"I'd have to clear that kind of money with the lieutenant," he said.

"Sure, clear it. But I don't think this guy's gonna hang around very long."

"What can I tell him?"

"Who?"

"My lieutenant."

Five thousand was a lot of money to hand over to an informer. The squadroom slush fund sometimes rose higher than that, depending on what contributions went into it in any given month. Nobody asked questions about a few bucks that disappeared during drug busts hither and yon, provided the money went into what was euphemistically called "The War Chest". But a big drug intercept on the docks downtown had slowed traffic in the precinct these past two months, and Carella wondered now if there was that much contingency cash lying around. He further wondered if the lieutenant would turn over that kind of money to a stoolie. Danny's information would have to be pure gold to justify such an outlay.

"Tell him I know who did it and I know where he is," he said. "If that ain't worth five grand, I'm in the wrong business."

"How'd you get this?" Carella asked.

"Fellow I know."

"How'd he get it?"

"Straight from the horse's mouth."

"Give me something I can run with."

"Sure," Danny said. "Your man was in a poker game."

"You talking about Robert Keating?" Carella said, surprised.

"No. Who's Robert Keating?"

"Then who do you mean?"

"The guy you're looking for," Danny said. "He was in a poker game this past Saturday night."

"Okay."

"Who's Robert Keating?" Danny asked again.

"Nobody," Carella said. "What about this game?"

"Your man was betting big."

"How big?"

"Thousand-dollar pots. Came in with a five-grand stake, worked it up to twenty before the night was through. Big winner."

"Is he a gambler?"

"No, he's a hit man who just likes to gamble."

"He from this city?"

"Houston, Texas. And heading back there."

"When?"

"Sometime this Wednesday. You want him, you better move fast. Funny about Houston, ain't it?"

Carella did not think there was anything funny about Houston.

"It must drive foreigners crazy," Danny said. "The way words are spelled the same, but pronounced different. In English, I mean."

"How does this guy spell his name?" Carella asked, fishing.

"Ho ho," Danny said. "There's a street in New York, you know, it's spelled exactly the same as the city in Texas, but it's pronounced House-ton Street. Instead, we say Youse-ton, Texas, after Sam Youse-ton, is the way he pronounced his name. Which is peculiar, don't you think?"

"How does this hit man pronounce his name?"

"Ho, ho, ho," Danny said, and shook his finger.

"Who hired him?" Carella said. "Can you tell me that?"

"I don't know who hired him."

"Why was the old man killed?"

"Somebody wanted what he had and he wouldn't turn it over. So they took him out of the picture."

"They?"

"Whoever."

"More than one person?"

"I don't know that for sure."

"You said 'they.'"

"Just an expression. All I know is the only way to get what they wanted was to have him dusted."

"The old man didn't have a p.o.t to p.i.s.s in, Danny."

"I'm telling you what I heard."

"From who?"

"My friend. Who got it straight from the hitter."

"He told your friend he killed somebody?"

"Of course not."

"I didn't think so."

"But he told him enough."

"Like what?"

"Drunk talk. Suppose this, suppose that."

"Suppose what, Danny?"

"Okay, suppose there's this old f.a.r.t got something somebody else wants real bad and he won't part with it? And suppose this something is worth a lotta money? And suppose . . ."

"This is our man talking?"

"This is him. Suppose somebody's willing to pay a person five large to get rid of the old man and make it look like an accident? And suppose . . ."

"Did he use that word? Accident?"

"Yeah."

"And the price was five grand?"

"The same five he brought into the poker game."

"When did he tell your friend all this?"

"Saturday night. After the game. They went back to his hotel room, had a few drinks, smoked a few joints."

"Who supplied them?"

"The drinks?"

"The drinks, the pot."

"The hitter. It was his party. I gotta tell you something, Steve. When a guy makes a big score, and then he quadruples it in a card game, he wants to talk about it, you dig? He's proud of it. That's the way these guys' minds work. They want to tell you how great they are. My friend lost his shirt in that game Saturday night. Well, winners like to s.h.i.t all over losers. So your hitter took pity on my friend, asked him to share a bottle and a couple of joints with him so he could tell him how f.u.c.k.i.n terrific he is, gettin five grand to dust an old fart."

"But he didn't tell him that."

"The five grand, yes. The actual dusting, no."

"Then you've got nothing to sell."

"Oh, I've got plenty to sell. Remember what you told me on the phone? You asked did I hear anything on this old man got doped with R2 before somebody hung him in the closet. That ain't the kind of detail a person forgets, Steve. Well, before my friend left the hotel room - I think they had sex, by the way. My friend and the hitter. He's gay, my friend. Anyway, the hitter handed him a little present. A gift for the loser, you know? A consolation prize. Said it'd help his s.e.x life. Grinning, right? It'll help your s.e.x life, Harpo, give it a try. That's my friend's name, Harpo. So Harpo figured the guy was laying a V.i.a.g.r.a cap on him. But instead, it was this." Danny reached into his coat pocket. He opened his hand. A blister-pack s.t.r.i.p of white tablets was on the palm, the word Roche echoing over and again across its face. "Roach," Danny said. "Same as your hangman used."

"Who gave you that?"

"Harpo."

"Harpo what?"

"Marx," Danny said, and grinned like a barracuda.

"Let me get this straight."

"Sure."

"Poker game Saturday night . . ."

"Right on Lewiston Avenue."

"Guy who killed Andrew Hale comes into the game with five grand, leaves it with twenty. Invites your friend Harpo up for a drink, some pot, a little sex, starts boasting about the hit, lays a s.t.r.i.p of roach on him before they part company."

"You've got it."

"And you say the hitter's leaving town the day after tomorrow?"

"From what I understand."

"This isn't any high-pressured bullshit, is it, Danny?"

"Me? High-pressured?"

"I mean, he really is going back to Houston this Wednesday?"

"Is what Harpo told me."

"And he also told you the guy's name . . ."

"He did."

". . . and where he's staying."

"That's right."

"Out of the goodness of his heart."

"He's a friend. Also, I'll probably pass a little something on to him if your lieutenant comes through."

"I'll have to get back to you on this," Carella said.

"Sure, take your time," Danny said. "You got till Wednesday."

"I'll let you know," Carella said, and started to move out of the booth, suddenly remembering how cold it was outside on this eighth day of November. You got to be forty, and suddenly it was cold out there. He was sliding across the leatherette seat, swinging his legs out, starting to rise, Danny doing the same thing on the other side of the table, when the first shot pierced the din of the abnormally crowded room, silencing it in an instant. Even before the second shot sounded, people were diving under tables. It took a moment for Carella to spot the two gunmen advancing swiftly toward the booth, one black, one white, equal opportunity employment. It took another moment for him to realize Danny Gimp was their target.

His coat was already unbuttoned, he reached across his waist for a cross-body draw, the nine-millimeter Clock snapping out of its holster with a spring-assisted click. There were more shots. Someone screamed. Danny was scrambling across the floor on his hands and knees, trailing blood. A man running for the entrance doors knocked over one of the serving counters, and pizza toppings spilled all over the floor, tomato sauce running into anchovies and mushrooms and grated cheese and slippery slices of pepperoni. Carella upended a table, and ducked behind it. There was more screaming, two more shots very close by, footsteps pounding. He raised his head in time to see the gunmen running toward the front of the place, leaped to his feet, began chasing after them. There was still too much background for him to risk firing. He followed them out into the street, thought he had a clear shot, but they turned the corner in that instant and were gone. Shit, he thought.

The last two shots Carella heard had been fired at close range into Danny's head. The shot near his cheek was fired with the muzzle of the gun almost touching the skin; there was a cluster of soot on the flesh but hardly any gunpowder around the wound itself. The shot closer to Danny's c.h.i.n was fired from a few inches away; gunpowder particles were diffused over a two-inch diameter and the wound was encircled by a small area of soot. Danny was already dead when Carella knelt beside him.

A patrolman pounded into the pizzeria with his gun drawn, scaring the patrons even further, yelling "Stand back, everybody keep back," like an extra in an action-adventure movie. Tables and chairs had been overturned in the mad rush that virtually cleared the place of customers. But many of the patrons still lingered, either curious to see what a bleeding body looked like close up, or else hoping to wave to the television cameras if and when they got here. There was nothing j.a.c.k.a.s.s.e.s liked better than to grin and wave at the camera while tragedy was unfolding in the foreground.

"I'm on the job," Carella told the patrolman. "Get an ambulance here."

A second patrolman entered the place now, his gun also drawn, his eyes wide, his face pale. He had never seen a dead body before except for that time in a funeral home when his uncle Pete died of sclerosis of the liver.

The first patrolman, similarly inexperienced, was already on his mobile phone, telling Sergeant Murchison at the Eight-Seven that there'd been a shoot-out in the pizzeria on Culver and Sixth, Guide's, the place was called. "There's one person down, better send a meat wagon," he actually called it, causing Murchison to wince.

The television cameras arrived some five minutes before either the ambulance or a second car from adjoining Charlie Sector angled into the curb. A woman wearing a fake fur that looked fake told the roving reporter that all at once these two big guys came in and started shooting at the man lying on the floor over there, at which point the camera operator panned over to where Danny was lying in an ocean of slippery pizza toppings, blood and tomato sauce mingling to create an op-art camera op. The second patrolman told everybody to keep back; he was wondering if he should put up some of those yellow crime scene tapes he had in the trunk of the patrol car. Two teenagers wearing woolen watch caps, ski parkas, and baggy pants tried to position themselves behind the victim so they could grin and wave at the camera, but they were too late. The camera operator had already turned to the entrance door, where a pair of detectives from the Eight-Seven were walking in looking very official and busy, shields pinned to their overcoats, faces raw from the biting cold outside. Behind them, an ambulance was pulling in, which made for another good shot, the detectives with long strides and flapping overcoats, the flashing red lights on the ambulance, this was the camera operator's lucky day.

Arthur Brown, one of the responding detectives, would later tell everyone in the squadroom that even before Carella informed him, he knew the guy laying on the floor there was dead. The detective with Brown was Bert Kling. The minute he spotted Carella, he went over to him and asked, "What happened?"

"Two hitters nailed Danny Gimp," Carella said, and got to his feet, his coat sleeve stained with blood from Danny's wounds, the knees of his trousers soiled from all the pizza s.h.i.t on the floor.

They all stood around while the stretchers came in.

The paramedics realized at once that there wasn't any urgency about getting Danny aboard.

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