The Last Dance - Page 3

The Last Dance - Page 3

Since there were two homicides on the table this Tuesday morning - an unusual circumstance, even for the Eight-Seven - Lieutenant Byrnes told the detectives assembled in his office that he'd be skipping over all the usual s.h.i.t and getting directly to the murders, if nobody had any objections. Andy Parker didn't think the m.u.r.d.e.r of a two-bit stool pigeon should take priority over a drug bust he'd been trying to set up for the past two weeks, but he knew better than to challenge the lieutenant when he was wearing what Parker referred to privately as his "Irish Look."

Hal Willis wasn't too tickled to be passed over, either. He'd caught a burglary yesterday where the perp had left chocolate-covered donuts on his victim's pillow. This looked a lot like what the Cookie Boy used to do, but he'd jumped bail in August and was now only God knew where. So this guy was obviously a copycat, which similarity might have made for a little early morning amusement if the lieutenant hadn't pulled the chain. Like teenagers invited to a party and then requested not to dance, please, the two detectives slouched sourly against the wall, arms folded across their chests in unmistakable body language. They didn't even sniff at the bagels and coffee on the lieutenant's desk, a treat - or more accurately a bribe to encourage punctuality - paid for by the squadroom slush fund every Tuesday.

This was eight o'clock in the morning. A harsh, bright sunlight streamed through Byrnes's corner windows. All told, and including the lieutenant, there were eight detectives in the office. Artie Brown and Bert Kling had responded to the pizzeria shoot-out and were looking for anything they could get on the two shooters. Carella and Meyer wanted to explore the Hale case. The two detectives sulking against the wall didn't care to offer their thoughts on anything. They' d been shut out, and they were miffed, although Byrnes seemed blithely unaware of their annoyance. Cotton Hawes was neutral. His plate was clean at the moment. In fact, he'd been in court testifying all last week. Sitting in a leather easy chair opposite the lieutenant's desk, feeling curiously uninvolved, like a cop visiting from another city, he listened as the lieutenant summarized the two homicide cases, and then asked, "You think they're linked?"

"Maybe," Carella said.

"Meyer?" Byrnes asked.

"Only if they were trying to shut Danny up."

"You sure they weren't after Steve?"

"No, it was Danny," Kling said.

"Neither of them even fired a shot at me."

"Ten, twelve people saw them go straight for Danny," Brown said.

"They'd seen a lot of movies."

"Kept describing it as a gangland execution."

"In broad daylight?" Hawes asked, and shook his head skeptically. He was sitting in sunlight. It caught his red hair, setting it on fire. The single white streak over his left temple looked like a patch of melting snow.

"Nobody says your goons are brain surgeons."

"Black and white, huh?"

"And red all over."

"Could've been an old beef," Hawes suggested. "Finally caught up with him."

"Be a coincidence, the day he's meeting with Steve. But I buy coincidence," Byrnes said. "I've been a cop long enough."

"Coulda been they wanted him before he told Steve whatever it was he had to tell him," Brown said. He was straddling a wooden chair near the bookcases, a huge man with skin the color of a giant grizzly's coat. His shirt collar was open, and he was wearing over it a green sweater. His arms were resting on the chair's top rail.

"Did he tell you anything?" Kling asked. "Before they got him?"

"Not really. He wanted to get paid first."

"Gee, there's a surprise."

"How much was he looking for?" Hawes asked.

"Five grand."

Hawes whistled.

"What'd he promise?" Willis asked, giving in at last to his curiosity. He was the shortest man on the squad, wiry and intense, dark eyes reflecting the day's cold light. Parker turned to him with a sharp look, as if his best friend in the entire world had suddenly moved to Anniston, Alabama, to wallow in pig shit.

"He said he knew the name and address of the guy who did Hale," Carella said.

"Where'd he get thatT Willis asked, totally involved now. Parker stepped a little bit away from him.

"Pal of his was in a poker game with the hitter."

"Let me get this straight," Hawes said. "Danny was in a poker game with the hitter?"

"No, no," Meyer said. "A. friend of Danny's was in the game."

"With the guy who hung Hale from the bathroom door?"

"Hanged him, yeah."

"Yeah, him?"

"The very."

"What is this, a movie?" Willis asked.

"I wish," Carella said.

"Fda paid him on the spot," Parker said suddenly, and then realized with a start that he'd broken his own sullen silence. Everyone turned to him, surprised by the vehemence in his voice, surprised, too, that he'd bothered to shave this morning. "That kind of information," he said, plunging ahead, "Fda asked him to wait while I went to rob a bank."

"I should've," Carella said.

"Who's this pal of his?" Kling asked. He was wearing this morning a brown leather jacket that looked like it had come from Oklahoma or Wyoming, but which he'd bought off a pushcart at a street fair this summer. Blond and hazel-eyed, with a complexion and lashes most women would k.i.l.l for, he projected a country bumpkin air that worked well in Good Cop/Bad Cop scenarios. He was particularly well-paired with Brown, whose perpetual scowl could sometimes be intimidating. "Did Danny give you a clue?"

"Somebody named Harpo."

"It is a movie," Willis said.

"Harpo what?"

"Didn't say."

"He's gay," Meyer offered.

"White, black?"

"Didn't say."

"Where'd the card game take place?"

"Lewiston Av."

"The Eight-Eight."

"Yeah."

"Probably black," Parker said. "The Eight-Eight."

Brown looked at him.

"What?" Parker said. "Did I say something bothered you?"

"I don't know what you said."

"I said a card game in the Eight-Eight, you automatically figure black players," Parker said, and shrugged. "Anyway, f.u.c.k you, you're so sensitive."

"What'd I do, look at you?" Brown asked.

"You looked at me cockeyed."

"Break it up, okay?" Byrnes said.

"Just don't be so f.u.c.k.i.n sensitive," Parker said. "Everybody in the world ain't out to shoot you a hundred and twelve times."

"Hey!" Byrnes said. "Did you hear me, or what?"

"I heard you. He's too f.u.c.k.i.n sensitive."

"One more time, Andy," Brown said.

"Hey!" Byrnes shouted.

"All I'm sayin," Parker said, "is if this was a black card game, then Danny's friend Harpo, and the guy who hanged Hale, could both be black, is all I'm sayin."

"Point taken," Brown said.

"Boy," Parker said, and rolled his eyes.

"We finished here?" Byrnes asked.

"If we're finished," Parker said, "I'd like to talk about settin up a bust on a . . ."

"I meant are you two finished with this b.u.l.l.s.h.i.t here?"

"What bullshit?" Parker asked.

"Let it go, Pete," Brown said.

Byrnes glared at both of them. The room was silent for several moments. Hawes cleared his throat.

"It's possible, you know," he said, "that one of the two shooters in the pizzeria was the guy who also did Hale."

"How do you mean?"

"He finds out Harpo told Danny about him, figures he'll take Danny off the board before he spreads the word. That's possible, too, you know."

"A hangman suddenly becomes a shooter?" Parker said.

"It's possible."

"There's a twenty-five grand policy, huh?" Willis said.

"Daughter and son-in-law the sole beneficiaries," Carella said.

"They know about it?"

"Oh yes."

"They're alibied to the hilt," Meyer said.

"So you're figuring a contract job."

"Is what Danny said it was. He said the killer got five grand to do the old man."

"Were those his exact words?" Byrnes asked.

"No, he said the old man had something somebody else wanted real bad and he wouldn't part with it. Something worth a lot of money."

"What'd he say about having him killed?"

"He said somebody was willing to pay five grand to k.i.l.l the old man and make it look like an accident."

"But why?" Willis asked.

"What do you mean why?"

"You said the old man had something somebody else wanted . . ."

"Right."

"So how's this somebody gonna get it if he has the old man killed?"

The detectives fell silent, thinking this over.

"Had to be the insurance money," Hawes said at last.

"Only thing anyone could get by having him killed."

"Which leads right back to the daughter and son-in-law."

"Unless there's something else," Carella said.

"Like what?"

"Was the guy tortured?" Hawes asked.

"No."

"Cause maybe the killer was trying to get whatever it was, and when he couldn't. . ."

"No, he wasn't tortured," Meyer said. "The killer doped him and hanged him. Period."

"Smoked some p.o.t with him, dropped roofers in his drink . . ."

"Which is what the guy in the card game offered Harpo."

"Did these two guys know each other?" Parker asked.

"They met in the card game."

"Not them two. I'm talking about the old man and the guy who killed him."

Again, the room went silent. They were all looking at Parker now. Sometimes a great notion.

"I mean, were they buddies or something? Cause otherwise, how'd he get in the apartment? And how come they were smoking p.o.t together and drinking together? They had to know each other, am I right?"

"I don't see how," Carella said. "Danny told me the killer was a hit man from Houston. Going back there tomorrow."

"Told you everything but what you wanted to know, right?"

"Did the old man ever go to Houston?" Byrnes asked.

"Well, I don't know."

"What do you know about him?"

"Not much. Not yet."

"Find out. And soon."

"Did he leave a will?" Hawes asked.

"Left everything he had to the kids."

"Which was what?"

"Bupkes," Meyer said.

"What's that?" Parker asked.

"Rabbit shit."

"So then what's this something somebody wanted bad enough to k.i.l.l for?"

"The MacGuffin," Hawes said.

"I told you," Willis said. "It's a f.u.c.k.i.n movie."

"Movie, my ass," Byrnes said. "Get some composites made from the witnesses in that pizza joint. Let's at least find two guys who came in blazing in broad daylight, can we? And find out where that poker game took place. There has to be . . ."

"On Lewiston," Carella said. "Up in the . . ."

"Where on Lewiston? Our man's leaving town tomorrow."

The room went silent.

"I want you to treat this like a single case with Danny as the connecting link," Byrnes said. "One of the guys in that poker game knew Danny, and another one may have killed Hale. Let's find out who was in the d.a.m.n game. And find out who that old man really was. He didn't exist in a vacuum. Nobody does. If he had something somebody wanted, find out what the h.e.l.l it was. If it was just the insurance policy, then stay with the Keatings till you nail them. I want the four of you who caught the squeals to work this as a team. Split the legwork however you like. But bring me something."

Carella nodded.

"Meyer?"

"Yeah."

"Artie? Bert?"

"We hear you."

"Then do it," Byrnes said.

"What about my dope bust?" Parker asked.

"Stay," Byrnes said, as if he were talking to a pit bull.

There were several training exercises at the academy, each designed to illustrate the unreliability of eye witnesses. Each of them involved a variation on the same theme. During a class lecture, someone would come into the room, interrupting the class, and then go out again. The cops-in-training would later be asked to describe the person who'd entered and departed. In one exercise, the intruder was merely someone who went to one of the windows, opened it, and walked out again. In another, it was a woman who came in with a mop and a pail, quickly mopped a small patch of floor, and went out again just as quickly. In a more vivid exercise, a man came in firing a pistol, and then rushed out at once. In none of these exercises was the intruder accurately described afterward.

Brown, Kling, and the police artist interviewed fourteen people that Tuesday morning. Only one of them - Steve Carella - was a trained observer, but even he had difficulty describing the two shooters who'd marched into the pizzeria at ten minutes past nine the day before. Of all the witnesses who'd been there at the time, only two blacks and four whites remembered anything at all about the men. The white witnesses found it hard to say what the black shooter had looked like. If they'd been asked to tell the difference between Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, and Mike Tyson, there'd have been no problem. Maybe. But when the police artist asked them to choose from representative eyes, noses, mouths, cheeks, chins, and foreheads, all at once all black men looked alike. Then again, they might have had similar difficulty describing an Asian suspect.

In the long run - like many other decisions in America - the result was premised on race. The blacks had better luck describing the black suspect, and the whites had better luck with the white one. The detectives were less than satisfied with what the artist finally delivered. They felt the composite sketches were well . . . sketchy at best.

When Carella and Meyer walked in late that Tuesday morning, F.a.t Ollie Weeks was sitting alone in a booth at the rear of the diner, totally absorbed in his breakfast. Acknowledging their presence with a brief nod, Ollie stabbed a sausage with his fork and hoisted it immediately to his mouth. A ribbon of egg yolk dribbled from the sausage onto Ollie's tie, where it joined a medley of other crusted and hardened remnants of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners devoured in haste. Ollie always ate as if expecting an imminent famine. He picked up his cup, swallowed a huge gulp of coffee, and then smiled in satisfaction and at last looked across the table at the two visiting cops. He did not offer his hand; cops rarely shook hands with each other, even during social encounters.

"So what brings you up here?" he asked.

"The m.u.r.d.e.r yesterday," Carella said.

"What murder?" Ollie asked. Here in Zimbabwe West, as he often referred to his beloved Eighty-eighth Precinct, there were murders every day of the week, every minute of the day.

"An informer named Danny Gimp," Carella said.

"I know him," Ollie said.

"Two shooters marched into Guide's Pizzeria while we were having a conversation," Carella said.

"Maybe they were after you," Ollie suggested.

"No, I'm universally well-liked," Carella said. "They were after Danny, and they got him."

"Where's Guide's?"

"Culver and Sixth."

"That's your turf, man."

"Lewiston isn't."

"Okay, I'll bite."

"A pal of Danny's was in a poker game a week ago Saturday," Meyer said. "On Lewiston Avenue."

"Met a hitter from Houston who later treated him to a little booze, a little pot, some casual sex, and a s.t.r.i.p of roofers."

"Uh-huh," Ollie said, and signaled to the waitress. "So what's that got to do with me?"

"Lewiston is up here in the Eight-Eight."

"So? I'm supposed to know every s.h.i.t.t.y little card game in the precinct?" Ollie said. "Give me another toasted onion bagel with cream cheese," he told the waitress. "You guys want anything?"

"Just coffee," Meyer said.

"The same," Carella said.

"You got that?" Ollie asked the waitress, who nodded and walked off toward the counter. "You think this card game's gonna lead you to the shooters?"

"No, we think it's gonna lead us to the hitter from Houston."

"World's just full of hitters these days, ain't it?" Ollie said philosophically. "You think your Houston hitter and the two pizzeria shooters are connected?"

"No."

"Then what are you . . . ?"

"Don't you work in the Eight-Three?" the waitress asked, and put down Ollie's bagel and the two coffees.

"I used to work in the Eight-Three," Ollie said. "I got transferred."

"You want more coffee?"

"Ah, yes, m'dear," Ollie said, doing his world-famous W. C. Fields imitation. "If it's not too much trouble, ah, yes."

"You like it here better than the Eight-Three?" the waitress asked, pouring.

"I like it better wherever you are, m'little chickadee."

"Sweet talker," she said, and smiled and walked off, shaking her considerable booty.

"People ask me that all the time," Ollie said. "Don't you work in the Eight-Three? As if I don't know where the f.u.c.k I work. As if I'm making a f.u.c.k.i.n mistake about where I work. The world's full of people playin Gotchal They got nothin to do with their time but look for mistakes. Ain't your middle name Lloyd? Hell, no, it's Wendell. Oliver Wendell Weeks, I don't know my own f.u.c.k.i.n middle name? If I told you once it was Lloyd or Frank or Ralph, I was lying, it was all part of my f.u.c.k.i.n cover."

A faint effluvial odor seemed to rise from Ollie whenever he became agitated, as he was now. Ignoring his own b.o.d.i.l.y emanations, he picked up the bagel and bit into it, his gnashing teeth unleashing a gush of cream cheese that spilled onto the right lapel of his jacket.

"Has this guy got a name?" he asked. "The f.a.g was in the card game with your hitter?"

"Harpo," Carella said.

"Works at the First Bap?" Ollie said.

Both detectives looked at him.

"Only Harpo I know up here," Ollie said. "I'm surprised he was in a card game, though. If it's the same guy."

"Harpo what?" Meyer asked.

"His square handle is Walter Hopwell, don't ask me how it got to be Harpo. I never knew he was q.u.e.e.r till you guys mentioned it just now. Goes to show, don't it? Ain't you hungry?" he asked, and signaled to the waitress again. "Bring my friends here some more coffee," he said, "they're famous sleuths from a neighboring precinct. And I'll have one of them croissants there." He pronounced the word as if he were fluent in French, but it was only his stomach talking. "Thing I'm askin myself," he said, "is how come a white stoolie is pals with a N.e.g.r.o fag?"

Ollie liked using the word "Negro" every now and then because he believed it showed how tolerant he was, even though he realized it p.i.s.s.e.d off persons of color who preferred being called either blacks or African-Americans. But it had taken him long enough to learn how to say "Negro," so if they wanted to keep changing it on him all the time, they could go f.u.c.k themselves.

"Would he be at the church now?" Carella asked.

"Should be. They got a regular office setup on the top floor."

"Let's go," Meyer said.

"You wanna start a race riot?" Ollie asked, and grinned as if he relished the prospect. "The First Bap's listed as a sensitive location. I was you, I'd look up Mr Hopwell in the phone book, go see him when he gets home from work."

"Our man's leaving town tomorrow," Carella said.

"In that case, darlings, let me finish my breakfast," Ollie said. "Then we can all go to church."

Brown's mother used to call her "The Barber's Wife." This was another name for the neighborhood gossip. The theory was that a guy went to get a haircut or a shave, he was captive in the barber's chair for an hour or so, he told the barber everything on his mind. The barber went home that night, and over supper told his wife everything he'd heard from all his customers all day long. The Barber's Wife knew more about what was happening in any neighborhood than any cop on the beat. What Brown and Kling wanted to do now was find The Barber's Wife in Andrew Bale's building.

There were six stories in the building, three tenants to each floor. When they got there that morning at a little past ten, most of the tenants were off to work. They knocked on six doors before they got an answer, and then another two before they found the woman they were looking for. Her apartment was on the same floor as Andrew Hale's. She lived at the far end of the hall, in apartment 3C. When she asked them to come in, please, they hesitated on the door sill because she was cooking something that smelled unspeakably vile.

The stench was coming from a big aluminum p.o.t on the kitchen stove. When she lifted the lid to stir whatever was inside the pot, noxious clouds filled the air, and Kling caught sight of a bubbling liquid that appeared viscous and black. He wondered whether there was eye of newt in the pot. He wanted to go outside in the hall again, to throw up. But the woman invited them into a small living room where, mercifully, there was an open window that rendered the stink less offensive. They sat on a sofa with lace doilies on the arms and back. The woman had false teeth, but she smiled a lot nonetheless. Smiling, she told them her name was Katherine Kipp, and that she had been a neighbor of Mr Hale's for the past seven years. They guessed she was in her sixties, but they didn't ask because they were both gentlemen, sure. She told them her husband had worked in the railroad yards up in Riverhead till he had an accident one day that killed him. She did not elaborate on what the accident might have been, and they did not ask. Kling wondered if the late Mr Kipp had possibly sampled some of the black brew boiling on the kitchen stove.

They asked her first about the night of October twenty-eighth, because this was the night someone had been in Hale's apartment boozing it up and smoking dope and everything, and incidentally hanging Hale from a hook on the bathroom door. Had Mrs Kipp seen anything? Heard anything?

"No," she said.

"How about anytime before that night?" Brown asked. "See anybody going in or out of his apartment?"

"How do you mean?" Mrs Kipp asked.

"Anyone who might've visited Mr Hale. A friend, an acquaintance ... a relative?"

"Well, his daughter used to stop by every now and then. Cynthia. She visited him every so often."

"You didn't see her on the night of the twenty-eighth, did you?" Kling asked.

"No, I did not."

"How about anyone else?"

"That night, do you mean?"

"That night, or any other time. Someone he might have felt comfortable enough to sit with, talk to, have a drink or two, like that."

"He didn't have many visitors," Mrs Kipp said.

"Never saw anyone going in or out, hm?" Brown said.

"Well, yes. But not on a regular basis."

"I'm not sure I understand you, Mrs Kipp."

"Well, you said a friend or an acquaintance . . ."

"That's right, but . . ."

"I'm assuming you meant someone who came to see Mr Hale on a regular basis. A friend. You know. An acquaintance."

"We meant anyone" Kling said. "Anyone who came here to see Mr Hale. However many times."

"Well, yes," Mrs Kipp said. "There was someone who came to see him."

"How often?" Brown asked.

"Three times."

"When?"

"In September."

It began raining again just as Carella swung the sedan into the curb in front of the First Baptist Church. They waited for five or six minutes, hoping the rain might lei up. When it appeared hopeless, they piled out of the car, and ran for the front doors of the church. Ollie pushed a doorbell button to the right of the jamb.

The church was housed in a white clapboard structure wedged between a pair of six-story tenements whose red-brick facades had been recently sandblasted. There were sections of Diamondback that long ago had been s.u.c.k.e.d into the quagmire of hopeless poverty, where any thoughts of gentrification were mere pipe dreams. But St Sebastian Avenue, here in the Double-Eight between Seventeenth and Twenty-first, was the hub of a thriving mini-community not unlike a self-contained small town. Along this stretch of avenue, you could find good restaurants, markets brimming with prime cuts of meat and fresh produce, clothing stores selling designer labels, repair shops for shoes, bicycles, or umbrellas, a new movie complex with six screens, even a fitness center.

Ollie rang the doorbell again. Lightning flashed behind the low buildings across the avenue. Thunder boomed. The middle of the three doors opened. The man standing there, peering out at the detectives and the rain, was some six feet, two or three inches tall, Carella guessed, with the wide shoulders and broad chest of a heavyweight boxer, which in fact the Reverend Gabriel Foster once had been. His eyebrows were still ridged with scars, the result of too much stubborn resistance against superior opponents when he was club-fighting all over the country. At forty-eight, he still looked mean and dangerous. Wearing a moss-green corduroy suit over a black turtleneck sweater, black loafers and black socks, a massive gold ring on the pinky of his left hand, he stood just inside the arched middle door to his church while the detectives stood in the rain outside.

"You brought the rain," he said.

According to police files, Foster's birth name was Gabriel Foster Jones, but he'd changed it to Rhino Jones when he started boxing, and then to Gabriel Foster when he began preaching. Foster considered himself a civil rights activist. The police considered him a rabble-rouser, an opportunistic self-promoter, and a race racketeer. Which was why his church was listed in the files as a sensitive location. "Sensitive location" was departmental code for anyplace where the uninvited presence of the police might cause a race riot. In Carella's experience, most of these locations were churches.

The detectives kept standing in the teeming rain on the wide front steps of the church, waiting for the preacher to invite them in. He showed no sign of offering any such hospitality.

"Detective Carella," Carella said, "Eighty-seventh Squad. We're looking for a man named Walter Hopwell, we understand he works here."

"He does indeed," Foster said.

The rain kept battering them.

"Apparently he knew a man named Daniel Nelson, who was killed yesterday morning," Meyer said.

"Yes, I saw the news."

"Is Mr Hopwell here now?" Carella asked.

"Why do you want to see him?"

"We think he may have information pertaining to a case we're investigating."

"You're the man who shot and killed Sonny Cole, aren't you?" Foster said.

Carella looked at him.

"What's that got to do with the price of fish?" Ollie asked.

"Everything," Foster said. "The officer here shot and killed a brother in cold blood."

A brother, Ollie thought.

"The officer here shot the individual who killed his father," Ollie said. "Which has nothing to do with Walter Hopwell."

Rain was running down his cheekbones and over his jaw. He stood sopping wet in the rain, looking in at the dry comfort of the preacher inside, hating the son of a b.i.t.c.h for being dry and being black and looking so f.u.c.k.i.n.g smug.

"You're not welcome here," Foster said.

"Well, gee, then here's what we'll have to do," Ollie said.

"Let it go, Ollie," Carella said.

"Oh no way," Ollie said, and turned back to Foster again. "We'll ask the D.A. to subpoena Hopwell as a witness in a m.u.r.d.e.r investigation. We'll come back with a grand-jury subpoena for Walter Hopwell, alias Harpo Hopwell, and we'll stand in the rain here outside your pretty little church here and ask anyone who comes out, 'Are you Walter Hopwell, sir?' If the answer is yes, or if the answer is no answer at all, we'll hand him the subpoena to appear before the grand jury at nine-thirty tomorrow morning. Now if he goes before a grand jury, it might take them all day to ask him the same questions we could ask in half an hour if you let us in out of the rain. What do you say, Rhino? It's your call."

Foster looked at Ollie as if deciding whether to punch him in the gut or drop him instead with an uppercut to the jaw. Ollie didn't give blacks too much credit for profound thinking, but if he was Foster, he'd be figuring Carella here had indeed slain a no-good murderer who merely happened to be of the same color as the reverend himself - but was this a good enough reason to take a substantial position at this juncture in time? This past August was already ancient history. Was the slain brother, who'd incidentally been stalking Carella with a nine-millimeter pistol, reason enough to precipitate a major confrontation at this late date? Ollie was no mind reader, but he guessed maybe Rhino here was thinking along those lines.

The Last Dance "Come in," Foster said at last.

She had heard them arguing.

"The walls are paper thin in this building," she said. "You can hear everything. Well, just listen," she said. "Let's not talk for a minute or so, you'll understand what I mean. Let's just be still, shall we?"

The detectives did not wish to be still, not when Mrs Kipp had just told them that the normally reclusive Andrew Hale had been visited by someone three times during the month of September. But they fell silent nonetheless, listening intently. Someone flushed a toilet. A telephone rang. They could hear, faintly, what sounded like voices on a television soap opera.

"Do you see what I mean?" she asked.

Hear what you mean, Kling thought, but did not say.

"Was this a man or a woman?" Brown asked. "This person who visited Mr Hale."

"A man."

"Did you see him?"

"Oh yes. But only once. The first time he was here. I knocked on Mr Hale's door to ask if he needed anything at the grocery store. I was going down to the grocery store, you see . . ."

The way Katherine Kipp remembers it, she first hears the visitor shouting as she comes out into the hallway and is locking her door. The voice is a trained voice, an actor's voice, an opera singer's voice, a radio announcer's voice, something of that sort, thundering through the closed door to Mr Hale's apartment and roaring down the hallway.

She can make out words as she approaches the door to 3A. Mr Hale's visitor is shouting something about the chance of a lifetime. He is telling Mr Hale that only a fool would pass up this opportunity, this is something that is coming his way by sheer coincidence, he should thank his lucky stars. You can make millions, the man shouts. You're being a g.o.d.d.a.m.n jackass!

She is standing just outside Mr Male's door now.

She is almost afraid of knocking, the man sounds so violent. At the same time, she is afraid not to knock. Suppose he does something to Mr Hale? He sounds apoplectic. Suppose he hurts Mr Hale?

The voice stops abruptly the moment she knocks on the door.

"Yes?"

"Mr Hale? It's me. Katherine Kipp."

"Just a second, Mrs Kipp."

The door opens. Mr Hale is wearing a cardigan sweater over an open-throat shirt and corduroy trousers. The man sitting at the kitchen table is drinking a cup of coffee.

"Do you know Mr Hale's son-in-law?" Kling asked.

"Yes, I do."

"Was that who the man was?"

"Oh no."

"Do you know who the man was?"

"No. Well, I'd recognize him if I saw him again. But no, I don't know him."

"Mr Hale didn't introduce him or anything?"

"No."

"What'd he look like?" Kling asked.

Walter Hopwell worked with at least a dozen other people on the top floor of the church. These people had nothing to do with church hierarchy. Up here, there were no deacons, no trustees, no pastor's aides, no church secretaries or announcement clerks. Instead, these men and women were all employees hired by Foster to generate the personal publicity, promotion, and propaganda that had kept him in the public eye and the political arena for the past ten years. Except for three young white men and a white woman, all of them were black.

Here in Hopwell's small private office, a room hung with photographs of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, its windows dripping rainsnakes, Carella and Meyer talked to Hopwell while F.a.t Ollie stood by with a somewhat supercilious smirk on his face, as if certain that the man they were questioning was an ax murderer at best or a serial killer at worst. Hopwell looked like neither. A slender man with finely sculpted features and a head shaved as bald as Meyer's, he wore black jeans, a black turtleneck sweater, and a fringed suede vest. A small gold earring pierced his left ear lobe. Ollie figured this was some kind of signal to other faggots. Or was that the right ear?

"Danny Nelson was killed yesterday morning, did you know that?" Carella asked.

"Yes, I saw it on television," Hopwell said.

"How'd you happen to know him?" Meyer asked.

"He did some work for me."

"Oh?"

"What kind of work?" Carella asked.

"Research," Hopwell said.

Ollie rolled his eyes.

"What sort of research?" Meyer asked.

"Information on people who've been critical of Reverend Foster."

A f.u.c.k.i.n snitch researcher, Ollie thought.

"How long was he doing this for you?"

"Six months or so."

"You knew him for six months?"

"Yes."

"Came here to the church, did he?"

"Yes. With his reports."

"What'd you do with these reports?"

"I used them to combat false rumors and specious innuendoes."

"How?"

"In our printed material. And in the reverend's radio addresses."

"When I met with Danny yesterday morning," Carella said, "he mentioned a card game you'd been in . . ."

"Yes."

". . . with a man from Houston."

"Yes."

"Who won a lot of money."

"Yes, he did."

"Did you have a conversation with this man afterward?"

"We had a drink together, yes. And shared some conversation."

"Did he mention having killed someone?"

Gee, that's subtle, Ollie thought.

"No, he didn't say he'd killed anyone."

"What did he say?"

"Am I getting involved in something here?" Hopwell asked.

"We're trying to locate this man," Meyer said.

"I don't see how I can help you do that."

"We understand you know where he is."

"No, I don't."

"Danny said you know this man's name . . ."

"Yes, I do."

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

"Well, I know where he was on Saturday night. I don't know if he's there now. I haven't seen him since last Saturday night."

"What's his name?" Carella asked.

"John Bridges was what he told me."

"Where was he staying? Where'd you go that night?"

"The President Hotel. Downtown. On Jefferson."

"What'd he look like? Describe him."

"A tall man, six two or three, with curly black hair and pale, blue-green eyes. Wide shoulders, narrow waist, a lovely grin," Hopwell said, and grinned a lovely grin himself.

"White or black?"

"A very light-skinned Jamaican," Hopwell said. "With that charming lilt they have, you know? In their speech?"

"He was white," Mrs Kipp said. "About forty-five, I would say, with dark hair and blue eyes. Big. A big man."

"How big?" Brown asked.

"Very big. About your size," she said, appraising him.

Brown was six feet two inches tall and weighed in at a buck ninety-five. Some people thought he looked like a cargo ship. For sure, he was not a ballet dancer.

"Any scars, tattoos, other identifying marks?" he asked.

"None that I noticed."

"You said you only saw him the first time he was here. How do you know it was the same man the next two times?"

"His voice. I recognized his voice. He had a very distinctive voice. Whenever he got agitated, the voice just boomed out of him."

"Was he agitated the next two times as well?"

"Oh dear yes."

"Shouting again?"

"Yes."

"About what?"

"Well, the same thing again, it seemed to me. He kept yelling that Mr Hale was a g.o.d.d.a.m.n fool, or words to that effect. Told him he was offering real money here, and there'd be more to come down the line . . ."

"More money to come?"

"Yes. Down the line."

"More money later on?"

"Yes. Year after year, he said."

"What was it he wanted?" Brown asked.

"I have no idea."

"But you got the impression . . ."

"Yes."

". . . that Mr Hale had something this man wanted."

"Oh yes. Very definitely."

"That this man had come to see Mr Hale three times in a row . . ."

"Well, not in a row. He came once at the beginning of September, again around the fifteenth, and the third time about a week later."

"To make an offer for whatever it was Mr Hale had."

"Yes."

"Three times."

"Yes. Was my impression from what I heard."

"And Mr Hale kept refusing to give him whatever this was."

"Told the man to stop bothering him."

"How did the man react to this?"

"He threatened Mr Hale."

"When was this?"

"The last time he was here."

"Which was when? Can you give us some idea of the date?"

"I know it was a holiday."

Brown was already looking at his calendar.

"Not Labor Day," he said.

"No, no, much later."

"Only other holiday in September was Yom Kippur."

"Then that's when it was," Mrs Kipp said.

"September twentieth."

"That's the last time he came here."

The room went silent. Again, as Mrs Kipp had promised, they could hear all the noises of the building, unseen, secret, almost furtive. In the silence, they became aware again of the baneful stink from the p.o.t boiling on the kitchen stove.

"And you say he threatened Mr Hale?" Brown asked.

"Told him he'd be sorry, yes. Said they'd get what they wanted one way or another."

"'They'? Was that the word he used? 'They'?"

"Pardon?"

"'They'd' get what they wanted?"

"Yes. I'm pretty sure he said 'they.'"

"What was it he wanted?" Brown said again.

"Well, I'm sure I don't know," Mrs Kipp said, and got up to go stir her p.o.t again.

"Danny told me this man was boasting about having received five grand," Carella said.

"Oh, I think he was making all that up," Hopwell said.

"Making what up?"

"The five thousand dollars."

"Why would he do that?"

"To impress me."

"Told you somebody had given him five thousand dollars . . ."

"Well, yes, but he was making it up."

"Five thousand dollars to k.i.l.l somebody."

"No, he didn't say that."

"What did he say?"

"I hardly remember. We were drinking a lot."

"Did he tell you there was an old man . . ."

"Yes."

"Who had something somebody else wanted . . ."

"Well, yes, but that was all make-believe."

"The old man was make-believe?"

"Oh, I think so."

"Someone wanting him dead was make-believe?"

"John had an active imagination."

"Someone willing to pay five thousand dollars to k.i.l.l this old man and make it look like an accident . . ."

"I didn't believe a word of it."

"But it's what he told you, isn't it?"

"Yes, to impress me."

"I see. To impress you. Did he give you a s.t.r.i.p of roofers when you left the hotel?"

"As a matter of fact, he did. But roofers aren't a controlled substance."

"Mr Hopwell, if I told you that an old man was drugged with Rohypnol and later hanged to make it look like a suicide, would you still believe John Bridges was trying to impress you when he told you he'd been paid five thousand . . ."

"He didn't say exactly that. You're putting words in my mouth."

What'd he put in your mouth? Ollie wondered.

"What did he say, exactly?" Meyer asked.

"He was telling a story. He was saying suppose a person had been offered a certain amount of money . . ."

"Five thousand dollars."

"Yes, he mentioned that sum. But it was all supposition. He was making up a story."

"A story about someone who was offered five grand to k.i.l.l someone . . ."

"He never used that word. He never said the word 'kill.' I'd have been out of there in a minute. He was just bragging. To impress me."

"What word did he use?"

"I don't know, but it wasn't the word 'kill,' he never said anything about killing anyone. Listen, who remembers what he said? We were drinking a lot."

"And smoking a lot of pot, too, is that right?"

"Well, a little."

"Which is a controlled substance."

"Haven't you ever smoked pot, Detective?"

"Did he mention any names?" Meyer asked.

"No."

"Didn't say which old man he'd been hired to . . ."

"It was just a story."

"Didn't say who had hired him to k.i.l.l this old man?"

"A good story, that was all."

"Didn't say who had given him the five grand he later used as his stake in the poker game . . ."

"He was just a terrific storyteller," Hopwell said.

"You didn't think you should call the police after you heard this terrific story, huh?" Carella said.

"No, I didn't."

"Don't you read the papers, Mr Hopwell?"

"Only for items about the reverend."

"How about television? Don't you watch television?"

"Again, only to . . ."

"So when John Bridges told you he'd been paid five thousand dollars to k.i.l.l an old man and make it look like . . ."

"He never used the word 'kill.' I told you that."

"Whatever word or words he used, you never made a connection between what he was saying and a man named Andrew Hale, who'd been all over television that week?"

"Never. I still don't make any connection. I don't know anything about this old man you say was killed. Look, I told you John's name, I told you where he was staying. If he did something wrong, you'll have to take that up with him."

"What else can you tell us about him?"

"He had a scar down the left-hand side of his face."

"What kind of scar?"

"It looked like a knife scar."

"You're just remembering a knife scar?" Ollie said. "Guy has a f.u.c.k.i.n knife scar on his face, and it's the last thing you mention about him?"

"I try not to notice deformities or infirmities," Hopwell said.

"Do you remember any other deformities or infirmities?"

"No."

"How about identifying marks or tattoos? Like a mole, for example, or a birth . . ."

"Well, yes, a tattoo," Hopwell said, and hesitated. "A blue star on the head of his penis."

There was no one named John Bridges registered at the President Hotel. Nor had there been anyone registered under that name on the night of November sixth. When they gave the manager the description Hopwell had given them, he said he couldn't recall anyone who'd looked or sounded Jamaican, but this was a big hotel with thousands of guests weekly, and it was possible there'd been any number of Jamaicans registered on the night in question.

They checked the register for anyone from Houston, Texas. There'd been a guest from Fort Worth who'd checked in on the fourth and out the next night, and another from Austin, who was here with his wife and two kids; they did not bother him. Their computer showed no outstanding warrants for anyone named John Bridges. Neither was anyone listed under that name in the Houston telephone directory.

Carella called Houston Central and talked to a man who identified himself as Detective Jack Walman. He told Carella he'd been a cop for almost twelve years now and knew most of the people doing mischief ir this town, but he'd never run across one had a knife scar down the left-hand side of his face and a blue stai tattooed on his pecker.

"That does beat all," he said. "What's the star stand for? The lone star state?"

"Could be," Carella said.

"What I'll do," he said, "I'll run it through the computer. But that's an unusual combination, ain't it. and I'd sure remember something peculiar like that il I'd ever seen it. Unless, what coulda happened, he mighta got the knife scar before he got the tattoo. Lots of these guys get jailhouse tattoos, you know. In which case, there wouldn't be both of them on the computer, you follow? We get plenty knife scars down here. Is your man Chicano?"

"No. A Jamaican named John Bridges."

"Well, we got something like two thousand Jamaicans here, too, so who knows? What'd he do, this dude?"

"Maybe killed two people."

"Bad, huh?"

"Bad, yes."

"Musta hurt, don't you think?" Walman said. "Gettin tattooed that way?"

He called back an hour later to say he'd searched the system - city and state - for any felon named John Bridges and had come up blank. As he'd mentioned earlier, there were plenty f.a.c.i.a.l scars in the state of Texas, and if Carella wanted him to fax printouts on each and every felon who had one, he'd be happy to oblige. But none of the f.a.c.i.a.l scars came joined to tattooed dongs. One of the old-timers here at the station, though, remembered a guy one time had a little American flag tattooed on his wiener, if that was any help, it waved in the breeze whenever he got an erection. But he thought the guy was doing time at Angola, over Louisiana way. Aside from that, Walman was sorry he couldn't be of greater assistance. Carella asked him to please fax the facial-scar printouts, and thanked him for his time.

They were right back where they'd been on the morning of October twenty-ninth, when they'd first caught the squeal.

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