The Last Dance - Page 8

The Last Dance - Page 8

Nellie Brand came to the case with a cool assistant district attorney's eye, ten years of experience in the D.A.'s office, and the hood of a ski parka pulled up over her short blondish hair. That Tuesday morning, when she was about to leave for the office, her husband suggested that perhaps she ought to dress for work a bit more conservatively than blue jeans, a heavy sweater, the ski parka, and boots. She had informed him - somewhat curtly, he thought - that there was slush on every street corner, and she wasn't heading for the Governor's ball, but thanks a lot.

Now - somewhat curtly, Carella thought - she told Lieutenant Byrnes and the detectives gathered in his office that they were premature in looking for a M.u.r.d.e.r One charge against Cynthia Keating, when all they really had on her was maybe Obstructing and . . .

". . . okay, I'll give you Tampering," she said. "She's admitted she moved her father's body, and that's a two-fifteen-forty, if ever I saw one. But do you really want to send her to jail for four years max? Which her attorney'll bargain down to two, anyway, and she'll be out in six, seven months? Less if she gets work release? Is it worth it?"

"We think she hired someone to k.i.l.l the old man," Carella said.

"Who?"

"Some Jamaican from Houston," Meyer said.

"Has he got a name?"

"John Bridges. But the cops down there never heard of him."

"Have you tried the telephone company?"

"They have no listing for him, either."

"There's a second victim we think was maybe done by the same guy," Brown said.

"Girl danced at a go-go joint called The Telephone Company," Carella said.

"Where'd you get the name Bridges?"

"From a tulip works for Gabriel Foster," Brown said.

"He's all over the papers this morning," Nellie said. "Foster."

"We saw. That one's related, too."

"Which one?"

"The pizzeria shooting. Sort of."

Nellie sighed.

"Nobody says they have to be easy," Carella said.

"How is it related?"

"The informer who got killed was working for a Hightown dealer who sold c.o.c.a.i.n.e and 'a lot of designer drugs,' quote, unquote. The killer used Rohypnol in both murders."

"Are you suggesting he got the rope from this Hightown dealer?"

"We don't know."

"Maybe you ought to find out, hm? Be nice to know. Who are you quoting?"

"Betty Young."

"It was our informer who led us to the g.a.y guy, by the way."

"You think that's why he got killed?"

"Not according to Betty Young."

"That's twice."

"Former girlfriend of one of the shooters."

"Which one? The black guy they beat up Saturday night?"

"No, the other one," Kling said. "Home in his own beddie-bye."

"Betty Young, right, I saw her on television. Winner of this week's True-Blue Ex Award. What does she say happened?"

"She says Danny ran off with the boss's coke."

"Who's Danny?"

"Our informer."

"Bad move, stealing the boss's coke."

"Stealing the boss's anything."

"Now he knows," Meyer said.

"In any case, they're not related," Nellie said.

"Except for the rope, maybe."

"Very slender chance that in this great big city . . ."

"Well, we think of them as sort of related."

"You want me to bring 'sort of charges against Cynthia Keating?"

"Way you're sounding," Brown said, "we can't bring any kind of charges."

"You want an indictment or a pass, which?"

"We think there's enough to take to a grand jury."

"They won't agree."

"One," Carella said, "she knew there was a twenty-five-thousand-dollar policy on the old man's . . ."

"Chicken feed."

"Plus," Carella went on, undaunted, "the copyright to a play she knew was being turned into a musical."

"Oh?"

"Yes."

"And she knew this before the old man got killed," Meyer said.

"When did she find out?"

"In September sometime."

"And she sold the rights two weeks after he died," Kling said.

"For how much?"

"Three thousand bucks plus . . ."

"Give me a break."

"Plus six percent of the show's gross, split four ways."

"What does that come to?"

"One and a half percent each," Brown said.

"How do you do that?"

"Smart," Brown said, and tapped his temple.

"How much is the weekly gross?"

"On a hit musical? Enough," Carella said.

"Papa wouldn't let the rights go," Byrnes said. "The producer went to see him three times, finally asked the daughter to step in."

"Still said no."

"Why?"

"Protecting the original playwright."

"Nice."

"Or dumb, depending how you look at it."

"I say nice."

"Anyway," Carella said, "she knew she was going to inherit something that might bring in a whole lot of . . ."

"How do you know she knew?"

"She admitted it."

"So she killed him. You're saying."

"Yes. Well, she hired someone to k.i.l.l him."

"Same thing. How was the old man's health?"

"Two heart attacks in the past eight years."

"Couldn't wait for him to die of natural causes, huh?"

"The show was already in progress. They'd hired a songwriter, a bookwriter . . ."

"She saw the thing slipping away."

"So she hired this Jamaican to k.i.l.l him. You're saying."

"That's what we're saying."

"Went all the way to Houston to hire a hit man, is that it?"

"Well. . ."

"He's from Houston, isn't that what you said?"

"That's our information, yes."

"A Jamaican," Nellie said. "From Houston."

"Yes."

"Didn't know there were any Jamaicans in Houston."

"Apparently, there are."

"My point is ... this woman's a housewife, right?"

"Yes."

"How the h.e.l.l would she know how to hire a hit man? In Houston, no less."

"Well. . ."

"Yeah, tell me."

"Well. . ."

"I'm listening."

Nobody said anything.

"Tell me about this second murder. You think the housewife arranged that one, too?"

"No."

"Just the first one."

"Yes."

"So tell me about the second one."

"The Jamaican went partying before he flew home," Brown said. "Got into some kind of scuffle with this little girl does occasional tricks at a go-go joint downtown."

"What kind of scuffle?"

"Don't know. But he stabbed her."

"Why?"

"Some kind of scuffle."

"The old man was hanged, right?"

"Right. But Rohypnol figures in both cases. And we've got a witness who saw the girl with this Jamaican. He's got a distinctive knife scar on his face, he's easy to spot."

"So," Nellie said, "what we seem to have here is an old man killed for money, in effect, and a snitch killed for the same thing, in effect, and a go-go girl killed for we don't know what, but if she was turning tricks, we can euphemistically say love, which are two pretty good motives for murder, wouldn't you say, love and money? I would say so."

The detectives said nothing.

"All we need now is a fourth murder," Nellie said.

"Bite your tongue," Meyer said.

"You think the housewife's only behind one of them, huh?"

"Yes."

"She hired this mysterious Jamaican to k.i.l.l her father. . ."

"He's not so mysterious, Nellie. We've got clean descriptions of him from two different people."

"Scar on his face, you said."

"Yes."

They were all wondering who'd tell her about the tattoo on his penis. They let it slide. Carella sort of smiled.

"But you can't find him," Nellie said.

"Not yet."

"Not here, and not in Houston, either."

"That's right. But we've got him linked to the father, and also the go-go dancer."

"He branched out, right? Started free-lancing, so to speak."

"Nobody likes a smart-ass, Nellie."

"Sorry. I'm just trying to see how I can possibly go for an indictment on this without making a fool of myself."

"We think it's strong, Nellie."

"I think it's pie in the sky. I thank you for the journey uptown," she said, and picked up her handbag. "It's always a pleasure to see how the other half lives. But if you want me to bag this lady for you, here's what you'll have to do. One, it would be very nice if you could find the Jamaican with the knife scar and whatever other identifying mark you're all smirking about. But that would be too good to be true. Lacking the trigger man himself - so to speak, since what we're looking for is a hangman and a knifer - I suppose you'll have to find some evidence that shows how a housewife with a lawyer husband, God forbid, could have got in touch with a Jamaican hit man. Did she phone him in Houston? Or perhaps Kingston? Did she pick him off the Internet? Did she pick him up in a bar? Did she write to him in prison? Show me some evidence that ties her to him, whoever he may be - and don't tell me he isn't so mysterious, Steve, I think he is very d.a.m.n mysterious. If you guys really believe he got the rope from this guy in Hightown - and really, that sounds so far-fetched - then find out if he did, and get some better information on him than you already have, something that'll lead you to him. When you have all that, you know where to reach me. Toodle-ooo, fellas," she said, waggling her fingers at them, and then tossed the hood of her parka up over her head and walked out.

Lorraine Riddock could hardly contain her excitement.

She was nineteen years old, a redheaded sophomore at Ladd University, not two miles uptown, working part-time for the Reverend Foster since the beginning of the school term. What she did, mostly, was stuff envelopes and run the postage-meter machine, but she'd taken the job because she was a political science major who strongly believed in the reverend's program of Truth and Justice. During the past two days - ever since the brutal beating of Hector Milagros - Foster had allowed her to sit in on some of the strategy meetings, and so she truly felt she had contributed to the plan he was about to announce this evening.

The three white men on the reverend's tactical committee called themselves "The Token Honkies," which even Foster found amusing, though normally he avoided any expression, white or black, that might be considered racist. There were street blacks who casually tossed around the word "nigger," as if it didn't carry with it centuries of hateful baggage, using it instead as if it were a salutation similar to "brother" or "sister." Here in the offices above the church, however, Lorraine had never once heard that word, certainly not from any of the whites but not from any of the blacks, either. It was a word she herself had never used in her lifetime. She scarcely noticed - and certainly didn't care - which of the men or women here tonight was white or black, misnomers in any case. White was the color of snow. Black was the color of coal. Nobody here even remotely fit either of those descriptions.

"They're ready for you now, Rev," someone said, and Lorraine turned to see Walter Hopwell walking over from the mobile television crew. He was wearing his trademark black jeans and black turtleneck sweater, a tan sports jacket over them. His bald head seemed scarcely less-shiny than the gold earring in his left ear lobe.

"Eleven o'clock news," someone behind her whispered.

Lorraine glanced at her watch. It was now close to nine, so this had to be a taping. Hopwell handed Foster a hair brush, which he turned aside.

"The flowers look a bit wilted, Rev," one of his aides said. "You might want to distance yourself from them."

Foster took a few steps sideward, moving as gracefully as the boxer he once had been, gliding toward where a framed photograph of Martin Luther King hung on the wall. A blonde wearing a dark bluejacket and a gray skirt stepped closer to him, asked her microphone, "Do we need another level?," and then chanted, "One, two, three, hello, hello, hello, okay? Want my advice?" she asked Foster.

"Always welcome," he said.

"Lose King. They'll be looking at his picture instead of you."

"How can we do that?" Foster asked.

"Try this, Will," she said into her microphone. "On me for the intro, then in close on the picture of King, and slide off it to the reverend." She waited a moment, and then asked, "How's that look?" She listened to her ear button, said, "Okay, great," and then told Foster, "You've got both now, Reverend, ain't I smart? Say a few words for a level, could you?"

"One, two, three, four," Foster said.

"Thanks," she said. "I'll do the intro, then we'll pan off King and on to you. Say when, Jimmy," she told somebody.

"Let me put another cake in here," Jimmy said. "We're almost out."

She waited while he changed cassettes, and then said, "Okay, ten seconds, please. Standby, people."

A girl wearing earphones started the countdown out loud, "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six . . ." and then fell silent as she continued counting down the seconds on her fingers, her hand stretched toward the reporter, five, four, three, two, one, and pointed her index finger directly at her as a red light popped on the camera.

"This is Bess MacDougal here at the First Baptist Church in Diamondback, where the Reverend Gabriel Foster has called a press conference."

The camera panned past the King photograph and came to rest on Foster in a medium shot, a solemn somewhat angry look on his face. Rivers of rain ran down the window behind him.

"I don't care what color you are out there," he said, "you have to believe that what the Mayor said today was untruthful and unjust. Truth and justice! That's all there is, and all we need to know!"

"Yes, Rev!" someone shouted.

"The Mayor said that it was not any of his detectives who marched into The Catacombs downtown on Saturday night and beat up Hector Milagros, and that is not truth! The Mayor said that Hector Milagros is a self-confessed murderer and not entitled to the pity of the people of this great city, and that is not justice!"

"Right on!"

"I don't care if you are some kind of belligerent black man, all he needs is a gun . . ."

"Tell 'em, Rev!"

"I don't care if that's the kind of bellicose person you are, or whether you are an abstemious soul goes smiling at white folks and behind their backs wishes they were dead . . ."

"Oh Lordy!"

"Whatever kind of African-American you are, rich or poor, whether you a doctor or a homeboy, whether you clever or dim, whether you a telephone operator or somebody scrubs floors on her hands and knees the way my mama done when I was coming along in Mississippi, I know in my heart and in my soul that there is not a single one of you out there tonight - black or white - who is not appalled by what happened to that man while he was in custody and entitled to protection!"

The cheers were deafening.

Bess MacDougal listened and watched, waiting for her back-to-studio cue.

"So tonight, I am making this promise to you. Starting at eight tomorrow morning, when the shifts change, there will be people marching outside every police precinct in this city! And thousands of us will be marching outside

The Catacombs downtown, to raise our voices in protest, and to demand an investigation that will lead to the arrest of the two detectives responsible for this brutal act against a helpless black man in custody! We will not desist until we know the truth! We will not desist until there is justice! Truth and justice! That's all there is, and all we need to know!"

The girl with the earphones pointed to Bess again.

"You've been listening to the Reverend Gabriel Foster," she said, "here at the First Baptist Church in Diamondback. This is Bess MacDougal. Back to you, Terri and Frank."

There was the sound of laughter, black and white, the sound of the rain lashing the windows, the noisy swagger of the television crew wrapping up. Bess MacDougal told Foster what a lovely, heartfelt speech that was, and shook his hand, and went to join her crew. Lorraine walked over to where a reporter from Ebony was asking Foster if he would mind posing for a photo outside in the rain . . .

"Under an umbrella, of course," she said, smiling up at him. "What I had in mind for the caption was something like 'Let it come down!'"

"Second murderer," Foster said at once. "Macbeth."

"Referring, of course, to the blue wall of silence," the reporter said.

"I realize. Give me ten minutes. I'll meet you downstairs."

Lorraine extended her hand to him.

"That was wonderful," she said,

Foster took her hand between both his.

"Thank you, Lorraine," he said.

Until that moment she hadn't even realized he knew her name. She felt a sudden rush of blood to her face, the telltale curse of being a redhead with a fair complexion. Blushing to her toes, she dropped his hand and backed away. Walter Hopwell called her name, "Lorraine? Some coffee?" One of the television crew called to Bess that, the^y had a breaking, story downtown, and all the TVp people rushed out, leaving only the mere newspaper and magazine reporters, and Foster's people, black and white, and the rain, and the long night ahead.

She was waiting on the corner in the rain, a flimsy umbrella over her head, half the spokes broken, the rain coming down as if it would never stop, when all of a sudden a dark blue automobile pulled up to the curb and the window on her side rolled down.

"Lorraine!" a man's voice called.

"Who's that?" she said, bending to look into the car.

"Me," he said. "Do you need a lift?"

She walked over to the car, peered in more closely.

"Oh. Hi," she said.

"Get in," he said. "I'll drive you home."

"The bus'll be here any minute."

"It's no trouble."

"Only if it's on your way."

"Get in before you drown," he said, and leaned across the seat to throw open the door. She slid onto the seat, closed the umbrella, swung her legs inside, and then pulled the door shut behind her.

"Boy oh boy," she said.

"Where to?"

"Talbot and Twenty-eighth."

"At your service," he said, and put the car in gear, and pulled it away from the curb. The windshield wipers snicked at the rain. The heater insinuated warm air onto her feet and her face. The car felt as warm and as safe as a cocoon.

"How long were you waiting out there?" he asked.

"Ten minutes, at least."

"This time of night, you never know when a bus is coming."

The digital clock on the dashboard read 10:37.

"I wouldn't mind," she said. "But this weather!"

"Snow, rain," he said, "what's coming next? And it isn't even winter yet."

"Oh, I know" she said.

"How'd you like tonight?"

"It was wonderful."

"I could see you were enjoying yourself."

"I love working for him, don't you?"

"I surely do."

"Did you ever see him do a TV taping before?"

"Once or twice. He's an incredible person."

"I know, oh, I know."

They fell silent, anticipating the precinct protests tomorrow morning, awed by the fact that they both worked for this marvelous human being who was doing so much for race relations in this city. Lorraine had been assigned to a precinct all the way out in Majesta. She wasn't even sure she knew where it was.

"I hope it won't be raining," she said. "Tomorrow."

"Or snowing," he said. "Snow would be even worse."

"Where will you be?"

"The Fifth. Down in The Quarter. Near Ramsey U."

"My building's just up ahead," she said. "On the right."

"Okay."

He eased the car to the curb, looked at the dashboard clock. It read 10:52.

"Damn," he said. "I'm going to miss it."

"I'm sorry?"

"The news. It goes on at eleven. I'm sure he'll be the lead story."

"Oh," she said. "Yes. Oh, that's too bad."

"Well, there'll be other stories."

"Why don't you . . . well. . . would you like to come up? Watch it with me?"

"It's late," he said. "Tomorrow's a big day."

"If we don't hurry, we'll both miss it," she said.

He parked and locked the car, and they dashed through the rain to her building, her spindly umbrella virtually useless now, the rain relentless. Once inside the small apartment, she went immediately to the television set and turned it on, and then asked him if he wanted a b.e.e.r or anything.

"Help yourself, they're in the fridge," she said, and pointed toward the tiny kitchen, and then went into the bathroom across the hall. He took two bottles of b.e.e.r from the refrigerator, found a bottle opener in the top drawer of the kitchen counter, and uncapped both bottles. He found two glasses in the cabinet over the sink, and poured b.e.e.r into each of them. Glancing toward the closed bathroom door, he took a pair of blister-packed white tablets from his jacket pocket, and popped both of them into one of the glasses.

He was sitting on the couch in the living room when she joined him a moment later. The news was just coming on. As he'd suspected, the Gabriel Foster announcement was the lead story. He handed her one of the glasses.

"Thanks," she said.

"This is Bess MacDougal at the First Baptist Church here in Diamondback . . ."

"There it is," she said.

"Cheers," he said.

"There you are! Oh, look, there you are!"

"Cheers," he said again.

"There's me, too! Look!"

". . . has called a press conference."

The pan shot over the photograph of Martin Luther King worked exactly as Foster might have hoped, forging a dramatic pictorial link between the slain civil rights leader and himself. They both fell silent as he began speaking.

"I don't care what color you are out there," he said, "you have to believe that what the Mayor said today was untruthful and unjust. Truth and justice! That's all there is, and all we need to know!"

"Yes, Rev!" someone shouted.

"Look at him," Lorraine said.

"Beautiful."

"The Mayor said that it was not any of his detectives who marched into The Catacombs downtown on Saturday night and beat up Hector Milagros, and that is not truth!"

"Character is what comes through."

"Sincerity."

"Character and sincerity, right."

"The Mayor said that Hector Milagros is a self-confessed murderer and not entitled to the pity of the people of this great city, and that is not justice!"

"Right on!"

"I don't care if you are some kind of belligerent black man, all he needs is a gun . . ."

"Tell 'em, Rev!"

"I don't care if that's the kind of bellicose person you are, or whether you are an abstemious soul goes smiling at white folks and behind their backs wishes they were dead . . ."

"OhLordy!"

"Whatever kind of African-American you are, rich or poor, whether you a doctor or a homeboy, whether you clever or dim ..."

"Cheers," Lorraine said at last, and raised her glass.

"Cheers," he said.

". . . whether you a telephone operator or somebody scrubs floors on her hands and knees . . ."

They clinked glasses and drank.

There were at least three dozen people marching back and forth and chanting in front of the station house when Arthur Brown got to work on Wednesday morning. A black man carrying a sign reading truth and justice gave Brown a d.i.r.t.y look and said, "I wouldn't go in there I was you, brother."

"I work here, brother."

"You should fine another job."

Brown walked right on by, and up the familiar steps, and past the uniformed officer standing on the top step in front of the scarred wooden doors flanked by green globes with the numerals 87 on each. Sergeant Murchison, sitting behind the muster desk said, "They still dancing out there?"

"Looks like," Brown said, and started up the iron-ranged steps leading to the second-floor squadroom.

Actually, he didn't know how he really felt about those people outside marching and yelling. He knew it was wrong for two detectives to have gone in there and beaten up a prisoner in custody, white or black. But that man down there in The Catacombs worked for a dope dealer and the job he performed for him was the same as what had happened to him: he beat people up. Sometimes killed them, in fact, like he'd done to Danny Nelson. The question Brown had to ask - and this was a question the reverend Foster never asked - was whether the man had been beaten up cause he was black or just cause he was an evil piece of shit. Wasn't no way you could learn the truth of that situation till you found the deuce of d.i.c.k.s who'd gone in there for whatever reason. Way Brown figured it, you let somebody beat up any black man just cause he was black, then next time it could be your own ass. He knew there were white sons of b.i.t.c.h.e.s in this world would think nothing of laying a pipe upside his head just for his color alone, he knew that. But he was a cop. And in his day and time, he had clipped many a black son of a b.i.t.c.h coming at him, and in those instances color'd had nothing to do with anything. Nor had he regretted it. That was the truth. Justice was another story.

First thing he saw on his way into the squadroom was a redheaded girl sitting at Bert Kling's desk.

Meyer told him she was waiting for somebody from the R.a.p.e Squad.

She didn't look like a cop at all, much less someone here to talk to Lorraine about a rape. She was in her mid-thirties, Lorraine guessed, with black wedge-cut hair and brown eyes behind designer eyeglasses, a slender woman of medium height wearing what looked like a naval officer's greatcoat, hatless and gloveless though the temperature outside this morning was in the low twenties and the wind was blowing fiercely. A blue leather shoulder bag dangled from a strap over her left shoulder. Lorraine guessed there'd be a pistol in it if she was a cop, though she didn't look at all like a cop. "Miss Riddock?" she said, and extended her hand, "I'm Detective Annie Rawles." They shook hands briefly. "Let's go down the hall, okay?" she said. "Be a bit more private."

Lorraine nodded and followed her through the gate in the slatted wooden railing, and then down the corridor to a door marked interrogation on its upper frosted-glass panel. There were no windows in the room. They sat at a long table scarred with cigarette burns. A mirror hung on one wall. Lorraine wondered if it was a one-way mirror. She wondered if anyone was watching and listening beyond the smudged apple green wall.

"Want to tell me about it?" Annie said.

The girl did not look like your average r.a.p.e victim. Usually, there was a stunned demeanor, a glazed look to the eyes. Usually, the shoulders were slumped, the fingers interlaced as if in prayer, the knees pressed together defensively, a shamed expression on the face. Instead, Lorraine Riddock's eyes were filled with anger, her mouth a tight little line across her face, her fists clenched. When she spoke, her voice was clear and resonant.

"I was raped," she said.

"When did this happen?"

"Last night."

"What time?"

"I don't know."

"You don't. . ."

"Sometime after eleven o'clock."

"Where, Miss Riddock?"

"My apartment."

"How'd he get in the apartment?"

"I invited him in."

"Was this a date?"

"No. We work together."

"Tell me what happened."

"I don't know what happened."

"You don't. . ."

"I don't remember. But I know I was raped."

"Were you drinking, Miss Riddock?"

"Yes."

"How much did you drink?"

"All I had was a beer. We were drinking b.e.e.r while we watched television. Reverend Foster had done an interview earlier that evening. We were watching it on television."

"Reverend Foster is?"

"Gabriel Foster. Who's protesting all over the city this morning. Don't you know Gabriel Foster? I should be in Majesta right now."

"So you were watching television . . ."

"Yes."

"And what happened?"

"I don't remember."

"But you say you were raped."

"Yes."

"If you can't remember anything . . ."

"There was blood," Lorraine said. "When I woke up this morning. In my bed. On the sheet. I'm not due for two weeks," she said. "It wasn't my period. Anyway, it wasn't that much blood. Someone r.a.p.e.d me," she said.

"Lorraine . . ."

"I'm a virgin," she said. "I was raped."

A female doctor at Morehouse General examined Lorraine and discovered a freshly ruptured septate h.y.m.e.n and multiple genital lacerations indicative of forcible entry. A nurse prepared two vaginal-smear slides, gathered samples of whatever loose hairs she could comb from Lorraine's p.u.b.i.c area, clipped comparison samples of Lorraine's own p.u.b.i.c hair, and then did an acid phos-phatase test on a swab from Lorraine's genital area. The immediate purple reaction indicated presumptive presence of semen. They were still well within the seventy-two-hour testing limit for Rohypnol: they found in her u.r.i.n.e sample the metabolite that indicated exposure to flunitrazepam.

Annie Rawles herself went to make the arrest.

Annie spotted him easily among the forty or so men and women marching in the bitter cold outside the Fifth Precinct. Like all the others, he, too, was carrying a sign that read truth and justice. Like all the others, he, too, was chanting the words over and over again. But he was the only white man in the group. Lorraine Riddock had described Lloyd Burton as a somewhat nerdy type wearing eyeglasses, some five feet, nine or ten inches tall, with brown hair, brown eyes, and a zitty complexion. He fit the picture exactly.

Annie fell into step beside him.

"Mr Burton?" she said.

He turned, startled.

"Yes?" he said.

"Lloyd Burton?"

"Yes?"

Their breaths clouded the brittle air between them.

"You're under arrest, sir," she said.

A black woman marching behind him said, "You goan 'rest him, you better 'rest me, too."

"Not unless you committed rape, ma'am,' Annie said, and yanked a pair of cuffs from her shoulder bag, and began reciting Miranda.

She questioned him in the same room where three hours earlier Lorraine Riddock had described him. He had a somewhat reedy, high-pitched voice that resonated irri-tatingly in the small windowless space. In the adjoining room, Lieutenant Albert Genetti, Annie's immediate superior on the R.a.p.e Squad, watched through the one-way mirror, listening intently.

"Where were you last night at eleven o'clock?" she asked Burton.

"Home watching television," he said.

"Where's home?"

"637 South Third."

"Anyone with you?"

"No, I live alone."

"Sure you weren't up here on Talbot and Twenty-eighth?"

"Positive."

"1271 Talbot?"

"No."

"Apartment 3D?"

"Don't know it."

"Watching television with a girl named Lorraine Riddock?"

"No, I wasn't. I was home alone."

"You know Lorraine, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. But I wasn't with her last night."

"Well, you were with her at the First Baptist Church, weren't you?"

"Yes, but not later. Not at eleven o'clock, which is what you asked me."

"You were present at Gabriel Foster's press conference, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was."

"The television tape substantiates that."

"I know. I saw it."

"Lorraine's standing right there next to you. On the tape."

"I know."

"Where'd you see it? The tape."

"On the news that night. At home."

"Didn't you drive Lorraine home after the press conference?"

"Yes, I did."

"Didn't you go up to her apartment at a little before eleven last night?"

"No, I dropped her off downstairs."

"Didn't you go up to her apartment to watch the eleven o'clock news?"

"No, I went home to watch it."

"Didn't you sit drinking b.e.e.r with her while you watched the news?"

"No, I went home to watch it."

"Didn't drink b.e.e.r with her?"

"No."

"Didn't drop two tabs of rope in her beer?"

"I don't know what that is, rope."

"Where'd you get the rope, Mr Burton?"

"I don't know what rope is."

"Mr Burton, you know we're permitted to take your fingerprints, don't you?"

"Well, no, I don't think you are. If you plan to do that, I want to change my mind about having a lawyer here."

"You can have a lawyer anytime you want, but it won't change the fact that we're allowed to take your fingerprints. If you want to call your lawyer . . ."

"Truth and Justice has its own lawyers."

"Good, go call one of them. You want to make this a political issue, fine. All / want to do is charge you with first-degree rape."

"Then I'd better call a lawyer right now."

"Good, I'll get you a phone. And if it'll make you feel more comfortable, I won't take your prints till he gets here. What I'd like to do, you see . . ."

"You already told me. You'd like to charge me with first-degree rape."

Yes, you r.a.p.i.s.t bastard, Annie thought.

"That's the plan," she said. "But first I want to compare your prints against whatever we get from a pair of b.e.e.r bottles in Lorraine Riddock's kitchen."

Burton's face went pale.

"Forget something?" she asked.

Junius Craig was one of a staff of five black attorneys employed by Truth and Justice. Alone with Burton, he informed him that "engaging in s.e.x.u.a.l i.n.t.e.r.c.o.u.r.s.e with a female incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless" constituted violation of Section 130.35 of the Penal Law, defined as R.a.p.e in the First Degree, a Class-B felony punishable by a minimum of three to six and a max of six to twenty-five. He suggested that if Burton for a moment believed his fingerprints might match the latents on the b.e.e.r bottles in the victim's kitchen, or if he thought for a further moment that samples of his p.u.b.i.c hair might match anything they'd recovered from the girl's p.u.b.i.c area, or if - as yet another possibility - he felt DNA testing might come up with a positive match between his s.e.m.e.n and anything they'd swabbed from the girl's v.a.g.i.n.a . . .

"And make no mistake," he warned, "they are going to get those samples from you. My guess is they'll seek a court order . . ."

"Make them get a court order for my fingerprints, too," Burton said.

"They won't need one. In fact, under Miranda they won't need one for the samples, either. But they'll play it safe because they snatched you from a line of civil rights marchers. So what do you say?"

"About what?"

"About any of these possibilities."

Burton did not answer.

"Because if you think any of them are possibilities, I suggest we start shopping a deal right now. Twenty-five in a state pen is a long time."

"She wanted it as much as I did," Burton said.

"You're lucky you're white," Craig said.

"Anyway, Walter Hopwell gave me the rope," Burton said.

They had him so doped up he couldn't even remember his own name, but oh how sweet was the release. One swift kick of the needle and all the throbbing pain in his thigh disappeared, and all at once he was floating far far away on clouds of sweet contentment, floating. He tried to remember how long he'd been a cop, but he couldn't even remember how he'd got shot tonight. Last night?

Two nights ago? What case had they been working? He tried to remember how many cases the Eight-Seven had worked over the years, but he couldn't even remember where the precinct was. He lay in his hospital bed smiling, trying to remember, conjuring victims and villains alike, cataloguing the cases by their key characteristics, then arranging them alphabetically to achieve some semblance of order, smiling as he worked it through, pleased with what a smart detective he was, even though he'd got himself shot - until he lost his place and had to start all over again. Well, okay, how many had there been? Ten, twenty? Who knows, he thought, easy come, easy go. Forty maybe? Who's counting? Who remembers, who even cares, I got shotl I deserve a medal or something just for being here. Two medals if I die.

I remember Marilyn Hollis.

I remember loving Marilyn Hollis. I remember poison, I remember those sons of b.i.t.c.h.e.s shooting the love of my life, killing Marilyn Hollis. If I should die here in this place in this minute in this bed . . .

There must be fifty at least, don't you think?

At least.

Let's dance, Marilyn.

Marilyn?

Would you care to dance?

May I have this last dance with you?

Bryan Shanahan, the detective who'd caught the Martha Coleridge m.u.r.d.e.r downtown, could find no indication that anything had been stolen from the old lady's apartment. So he had to assume someone had broken in there looking for something to steal and - when he hadn't found anything - had turned on the old lady in rage. That sometimes happened. Not all your burglars were gents. Matter of fact, in Shanahan's experience, not any burglars were gents.

He went back to the apartment that Wednesday afternoon without his partner, first of all because he didn' t want the burden of answering a rookie detective's interminable questions, and second because he thought better when he was alone. This wasn't what he would categorize as a difficult case, some j.u.n.k.i.e burglar breaking in and messing up. At the same time, it wasn't a simple one because the killer - whoever he was - hadn't left anything for them to go with. No latents, no stray fibers or hairs - which in any case wouldn't have done them any good unless they caught somebody to run comparisons on.

Maybe he went back alone because it annoyed him that somebody had killed a lady old enough to die without any outside help. Or maybe he went back alone because while he was reading Martha Coleridge's play he'd fallen half in love with the farm girl who'd migrated to America from England's East Midlands. Maybe her play had given him a little insight into age and aging, death and dying. Looking down at the fragile old lady with the broken neck, he'd never once considered that once, a long time ago, she might have been a spirited and beautiful nineteen-year-old who' d come to this city and discovered a world beyond her bedroom window. For a long time now, a corpse had been only a dead body to Bryan Shanahan. All at once, reading Martha's play, a corpse became a human being.

So he went through the apartment yet another time, alone this time, savoring his aloneness, searching for the young girl in the old lady's belongings, hunting for brown photographs or handkerchiefs lined with lace, mementos from Brighton or Battersea Park. On a shelf at the back of her closet, he found a satin-covered box that once might have contained sachets, the fabric faded and threadbare, the little k.n.o.b on the lid dangerously loose to the touch. There were letters in the box, all tied with a faded red ribbon. He loosened the bow and began reading.

The letters had been written by someone named Louis Aronowitz. The ink had turned brown over the years, and the writing paper was brittle. Shanahan almost feared turning pages, lest they would snap as easily as had the old lady's neck. The letters had all been written in 1921, two years after Louis returned to New York from the war, a year after Martha sailed from Southampton to America. The letters chronicled a love affair that started in April of that year and ended in December, just before Christmas. It was Martha who'd ended it. Quoting her in a letter dated December 21, Aronowitz wrote, "How can you say you see no future in a relationship between a Christian girl and a Jew? I love you! That is the future, my darling!" His last letter was written on New Year's Eve. It told her that he was going back to Berlin, where his parents had been born, and where "a Jew can call himself a Jew without fear of being judged different from any other man. I will love you always, my Martha. I will love you to my very death."

Clearly, the letters formed the basis of the love story Martha used in her play the following year. But juxtaposed to her heart-wrenching tale of a doomed love was the contrapuntal story of a young girl finding a new life in a rich and vibrant city: the world beyond the windows in her room. Shanahan gently closed the lid on the brittle, fading box. There had been nothing in it that told him who might have killed the old lady.

But there was another letter.

He found it in a folder of paid bills. The letter was typewritten. Shanahan sat in an easy chair under a lamp with a fringed shade, and read it in the fading light of the afternoon.

My name is Martha Coleridge, author of a play titled My Room, which I wrote in 1922, and which was performed for one week only at the Little Theater Playhouse on Randall Square in September of that year. I am enclosing a copy of the program. I am also enclosing a copy of the play itself for your perusal. I do not know your separate personal addresses, so I am sending all of this to Mr Norman Zimmer's office for forwarding.

I recently learned from an article in Daily Variety, the theatrical and motion picture journal, that a musical based on a play titled Jenny's Room is being readied for production next season. Your name was listed among the others involved in one way or another with the pending production.

I wish you to know that in 1923, when the play Jenny's Room opened to spectacular success, I wrote to its alleged author, a Miss Jessica Miles, and warned her that I would bring suit against her on charges of plagiarism unless I was substantially rewarded for the work from which her play had derived, namely my play, enclosed. She never replied to my letter and I did not have the means at that time to pursue the matter further.

However, since reading the Variety piece, I have contacted several lawyers who seem interested in taking the case on a contingency basis, and I am writing to all of you now in the hope that together or separately you will wish to make appropriate compensation to the true creator of the work that will be engaging you all in the weeks and months to come. Otherwise, I shall be forced to initiate litigation.

I close in the spirit of artistic endeavor that embraces us all.

Cordially,

Martha Coleridge Playwright

Martha Coleridge's letter had been written on November 26, the day after Thanksgiving. Stapled to it was a copying service bill dated November 27. There was another bill on that same date, from Mail Boxes, Etc. who had packed and mailed all the material to Norman Zimmer. A separate sheet of paper with his mailing address on it was stapled to a list of names and addresses to whom copies of the material were to be forwarded. The names on that list were:

Constance Lindstrom, Co-Producer Cynthia Keating, Underlying Rights Gerald Palmer, Book Rights Felicia Carr, Lyrics Rights Avrum Zarim, Music Rights Clarence Hull, Bookwriter Randy Flynn, Composer Rowland Chapp, Director Naomi Janus, Choreographer

When Norman Zimmer's secretary told him two detectives were here to see him, he expected Carella and Brown again. Instead, there was a big redheaded cop named Bryan Shanahan and his shorter curly-haired partner named Jefferson Long, both of whom worked out of the Two-Oh precinct downtown. Shanahan did all of the talking. He told Zimmer they were investigating the m.u.r.d.e.r of a woman named Martha Coleridge, and then they showed him the letter she'd written and asked if he had received a copy of it. Zimmer looked at the letter and said, "A crank."

"Did you receive a copy of this letter?" Shanahan asked.

"Yes, I did."

"When, sir?"

"I don't remember the exact date. It was after Thanksgiving sometime."

"Did you respond to it?"

"No, I did not. I told you. The woman's a crank."

"If you didn't contact her, how can you know that for sure, sir?" Shanahan asked.

Zimmer was beginning to get the measure of the man. One of those bulldog types who came in with a preconceived notion and would not let go of it. But he'd said they were investigating the woman's homicide. So attention had to be paid.

"Whenever there's a hit play," he said, "or movie, or novel - or poem for all I know - someone comes out of the woodwork claiming it was stolen from an obscure, unpublished, unproduced, undistinguished piece of c.r.a.p scribbled on the back of a napkin. It's Dadier's Nose all over again."

"Sir?"

"Le Nez de Dadier, a play written by a Parisian scissors grinder named Henri Clavere, in the year 1893, four years before Edmond de Rostand's play opened. Cyrano de Bergerac, hmm? Well, Clavere brought suit for plagiarism. He lost the case and drowned himself in the Seine. If I responded to every lunatic who feels his or her work was later appropriated, I wouldn't be able to do anything else."

"But you are, in fact, producing a show called 'Jenny's Room', aren't you?" Shanahan asked.

Jaws clamped tight on the idea already formed in his mind, whatever that idea might be. His partner standing by deadpanned, listening, learning. Zimmer wanted to kick both of them out on their asses.

"Yes," he said patiently, but unwilling to conceal the faintest of sighs. "I am co-producing a show titled 'Jenny' s Room', that is a fact, yes. It is also a fact that the show has nothing to do with this pathetic woman's play."

"Have you read her play, sir?"

"No, I have not. Nor do I intend to."

"Then how do you know there are no similarities between her play and the play 'Jenny's Room', upon which your musical. . ."

"First of all, the play wasn't even called 'Jenny's Room' when it was written. It was called 'Jessie's Room'.

And 'Jessie's Room' was a highly autobiographical play written by a woman named Jessica Miles . . ."

"So I understand."

". . . and not anyone named Margaret Coleridge."

"Martha Coleri. . ."

"Whatever her name is."

"Whose play is also highly autobiographical."

"Oh, is it?"

"Yes. My Room. The play she wrote. Which she claims was stolen by Jessica Miles."

"How do you know it's autobiographical?"

"I read it."

"I see. Did you know this woman?"

"Not until I read her play," Shanahan said.

"You knew her when she was alive?"

"No, sir, I did not," Shanahan said. "I got to know her after I read her play. It's a very good play."

"I see. You're a theater critic, are you?"

"There's no need to get snotty, sir," Shanahan said, and his partner blinked. "A woman was killed."

"I'm sorry about that," Zimmer said. "But I'm getting tired of detectives coming in here with their questions. What the h.e.l.l am I producing? The Scottish Play?"

"What detectives?" Shanahan asked, surprised.

"What's the Scottish play?" his partner asked.

"To ask about Martha Coleridge?"

"No, to ask about Andrew Hale."

"I'm sorry, who's . . . ?"

"Tell you what," Zimmer said. "Go talk to your colleagues, okay? Carella and Brown. The Eighty-seventh Precinct."

"What's the Scottish play?" Long asked again.

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