The Last Dance - Page 9

The Last Dance - Page 9

Chapter Nine

The detectives were waiting in the lobby of Fitness Plus when Connie Lindstrom walked out early Thursday morning, her mink coat flapping open over black tights and Nike running shoes as she sailed past to start her working day. Her eyes opened in surprise when she saw Carella and Brown sitting on the bench. She broke step, stopped, looked at them, shook her head, and said, "What now?"

"Sorry to bother you again," Carella said.

"I'll bet."

"Ever see this?" he asked, and handed her a copy of the letter Shanahan had passed on to him late yesterday afternoon. Connie took it, began reading it, recognized it at once, and handed it back to him.

"Yes," she said. "So?," and hurried past them to the exit door.

They came down the steps and into the street, Connie leading, glancing at her watch, walking quickly to the curb, looking up the avenue for a taxi. It was eight-thirty in the morning on a very cold day, the sky bright and cloudless overhead, the streets heavy with traffic. At this hour, it was almost impossible to catch a free cab, but the buses were packed as well, and getting anywhere was a slow and tedious process. Connie kept waving her hand at approaching taxis, shaking her head as each occupied one flashed by.

"I have to be downtown in ten minutes," she said. "Whatever this is, I'm afraid it'll have to . . ."

"Woman who wrote that letter was murdered," Carella said.

"Jesus, what is this?" Connie said. "The Scottish Play?"

"What's the Scottish Play?" Brown asked.

"We have to talk to you," Carella said. "If you want a lift downtown, we'll be happy to take you."

"In what?" she said. "A police car?"

"Nice Dodge sedan."

"Shotgun on the back seat?"

"In the trunk," Brown said.

"Why not?" Connie said, and they began walking toward where Carella had parked the car, around the corner. She was in good shape; they had to step fast to keep up with her. Carella unlocked the door on the driver's side, clicked open all the other doors, and then threw up the visor with the pink police notice on it. Connie sat beside him on the front seat. Brown climbed into the back.

"Where to?" Carella asked.

"Octagon," she said. "You've been there."

"More auditions?"

"Endless process," she said. "I don't know this woman, you realize. If you're suggesting her m.u.r.d.e.r . . ."

"When did you get her letter, Miss Lindstrom?"

"Last week sometime."

"Before the Meet 'N' Greet?"

"Yes."

"How'd you handle it?"

"Dadier's Nose," she said, and shrugged.

"What's that?"

"Too long a story. Too long a nose, in fact. Suffice it to say that plagiarism victims surface whenever anything smells of success. I turned the letter over to my lawyer."

"Did he contact her?"

"She. I have no idea."

"You didn't ask?"

"Why should I care? We're talking about a play written in 1922!"

"We're also talking about a play that seems to inspire murder."

The car went silent.

Connie turned to him, her face sharp in profile.

"You don't know that for sure," she said.

"Know what?"

"That the two murders are in any way connected. I suppose you'd both take a fit if I smoked."

"Go right ahead," Carella said, surprising Brown.

She fished into her bag, came up with a single cigarette and a lighter. She flicked the lighter into flame, held it to the end of the cigarette. She breathed out a cloud of smoke, sighed in satisfaction. On the back seat, Brown opened a window.

"I know what it looks like," she said. "Hale refuses to sell us the rights, so he gets killed. Woman writes a letter that could seem threatening to the show, and she gets killed. Somebody wanted both of them dead because the show must go on" she said, raising her voice dramatically. "Well, I have news for you. The show doesn't always have to go on. If it gets too difficult or too complicated, it simply does not go on, and that's a fact."

"But the show is going on," Brown said. "And that's a fact, too."

"Yes. But if you think any of the professionals involved in this project would k.i.l.l to insure a production . . ." She shook her head. "No," she said. "I'm sorry."

"How about the amateurs?" Carella asked.

Sometimes it was better to deal with professionals.

A professional knew what he was doing, and if he broke the rules it was only because he understood them so well. The amateur witnessed a m.u.r.d.e.r or two on television, concluded he didn't have to know the rules, he could just jump in cold and do a little m.u.r.d.e.r of his own. The amateur believed that even if he didn't know what he was doing, he could get away with it. The professional believed he had best know what he was doing or he'd get caught. In fact, the professional knew without question that if he didn't get better and better each time out, eventually they'd nail him. The irony was that there were more amateurs than professionals running around loose out there, each and every one of them thriving. Go figure.

The way Carella and Brown figured it, there were four amateurs involved in the musical production of Jenny's Room, and three of them were still here in this busy little city. The fourth was somewhere in Tel Aviv, driving his taxi through crowded streets and hoping a bus bomb wouldn't explode in his path. There was nothing that said an Israeli cab driver couldn't have hired a Jamaican from Houston to hang an old man in his closet and later break an old lady's neck, but that sounded like the kind of stuff a neophyte might devise. Distance also would have disqualified Felicia Carr from Los Angeles and Gerald Palmer from London had they not both been here in the city when Martha Coleridge had her neck snapped.

Cynthia Keating always loomed first and foremost.

Mousy little Cynthia, who'd hoisted her father off that bathroom door hook and lugged him over to the bed. Dear little Cynthia, who'd been worried about a suicide clause depriving her of a lousy twenty-five grand when there were hundreds of thousands to be coined in a hit musical?

They already knew where they could find Cynthia Keating. They knew that Palmer was staying at The Piccadilly because he'd mentioned it at Connie Lindstrom's party. From the ever helpful Norman Zimmer, they learned that Felicia Carr was staying with a girlfriend here in the city. Because both Felicia and Palmer were leaving for their respective homes this weekend and time was running out, they split the legwork into three teams.

Whether a person was guilty or not, he or she always seemed surprised - and a little bit frightened - to find policemen standing on the doorstep. Felicia Carr opened the door to her girlfriend's garden apartment in Majesta, saw two burly men standing there flashing badges, opened her big green eyes wide and asked what seemed to be the trouble, Officers?

"We're investigating a homicide," Meyer said, because that often caused amateurs to wet their pants.

"A double homicide, in fact," Kling said genially. "May we come in, please?"

"Well . . . sure," Felicia said.

They followed her into a spacious, sunny living room overlooking the Majesta Bridge not far in the distance. The furniture was still wearing summer slipcovers, the fabric all abloom with riotous red and yellow and purple flowers against a background of large green leaves. The summery decor, the sun glaring through the big windows made the day outside appear balmy. But the temperature was in the low twenties, and the forecasters had predicted more snow either late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

Felicia told them she was just on her way out. . .

"So much to see here," she explained.

. . . and hoped this wouldn't take too long.

"Though I'm sorry to hear someone got murdered," she added.

"Two people," Kling reminded her.

"Yes, I'm sorry."

"Miss Carr," Meyer said, "can you tell us where you were this past Sunday night?"

"I'm sorry?"

"This past Sunday night," he repeated.

"That would've been the fifth," Kling said helpfully.

"Can you tell us where you were?"

"Well . . . why?"

"This is a homicide investigation," Meyer said, and smiled encouragingly,

"What's that got to do with me?"

"Most likely nothing," Kling said, and nodded regretfully, as if to say / know you had nothing to do with these murders, and you know you had nothing to do with them, but we have to ask these questions, you see, that's our job. But Felicia Carr was from the motion picture capital of the universe. She had seen every cop movie ever made, every cop television show ever broadcast, and she wasn't about to get snowed by a song-and-dance team doing a dog-and-pony act.

"What do you mean, most likelyT she snapped. "Why do you want to know where I was on Sunday night? Is that when someone got killed?"

"Yes, Miss," Kling said, trying to look even more sorrowful, but the lady still wasn't buying.

"What is this?" she said. "Los Angeles? The LAPD Gestapo?"

"Do you know a woman named Martha Coleridge?" Meyer asked. Bad Cop suddenly on the scene. No more smile on his face. Bald head making him look like an executioner with an ax. Arms folded across his chest in unmistakably hostile body language. Blue eyes studying her coldly. Didn't know he was dealing with Wonder Woman here, who'd sold three houses in Westwood only two weeks ago.

"No, who's Martha Coleridge?" she asked. "Is she the person who got killed last Sunday? Is that it?"

"Yes, Miss Carr."

"Well, I don't know her. I never heard of her. Is that enough? I have to leave now."

"Few more questions," Kling said gently. "If you can spare a minute or so."

Good Cop with the flaxen hair and the hazel eyes and the cheeks still glowing from the cold outside, gently and persuasively trying to lead the lady down the garden path, not taking into account that she was from Tinseltown, USA, where if people ever walked anywhere they actually waited on street corners for lights to change.

"I don't think you're allowed to do this," she said. "Barge in here and . . ."

"Miss Carr, have you ever been to Texas?" Meyer asked.

"Yes, I have. Texasl What's Texas got to ... ?"

"Houston, Texas?"

"No. Just Dallas."

"Do you know anyone named Andrew Hale?"

"No. Yes. I never met him, but I know his name. Someone mentioned it."

"Who mentioned it?"

"Cynthia, I think. He was her father, wasn't he?"

"How did she happen to mention it?"

"Something about underlying rights? I really can't remember."

"But you say you don't know anyone named Martha Coleridge."

"That's right."

"Didn't you get a letter from her recently?"

"What?"

"A letter. From a woman named Martha Coleridge. Explaining that she'd written a play called . . ."

"Oh yes. Her. I sent it back to Norman. Are you telling me she's the same person who got killed?"

"Norman Zimmer?"

"Yes. Is she the one . . . ?"

"Why'd you send it to him?"

"I figured he'd know what to do about it. He's the producer, isn't he? What do I know about a crazy old lady who wrote a play in 1922?"

"Excuse me," Kling said politely. "But what do you mean you sent it back to him?"

"Well, it was addressed to me care of his office. He had it messengered to me here. I mailed it back to him."

"Didn't try to contact Miss Coleridge, did you?" Meyer asked.

"No, why would I?"

"Didn't write to her, or try to phone her . . ."

"No."

"Didn't you find her letter at all threatening?"

"Threatening?"

"Yes. All that stuff about starting litigation . . ."

"That has nothing to do with me."

"It doesn't?"

"That's Norman's problem. And Connie's. They're the ones producing the show."

"But if the show got tangled up in litigation . . ."

"That's not my problem."

"It might not get produced," Kling said reasonably.

"So what?"

"Come on, Miss Carr," Meyer said sharply. "There's lots of money involved here."

"I've got a good job in L.A.," Felicia said. "It'll be nice if Jenny's Room happens. But if not, not. Life goes on."

Not if you're Martha Coleridge, Meyer thought.

"So can you tell us where you were Sunday night?" he asked.

"I went to a movie with my girlfriend," Felicia said, sighing. "The woman whose apartment this is. Shirley Lasser."

"What'd you see?" Kling asked casually.

"The new Travolta film."

"Any good?"

"The movie was lousy," Felicia said. "But I like him."

"He's usually very good," Kling said.

"Yes."

"Do you find him handsome?"

"Extremely so."

"What time did the show go on?" Meyer asked, getting back in character.

"Eight o'clock."

"What time did you get home?"

"Around eleven."

"Girlfriend with you all that time?"

"Yes."

"Where can we reach her?"

"She's at work right now."

"Where's that?"

"You guys k.i.l.l me," Felicia said.

The sky was beginning to cloud over as they headed uptown. Decked out for Christmas as she was, the city petulantly demanded snow. Store windows were decorated with fake snow, and there were fake Salvation Army Santas shaking beUs in front of fake chimneys on every other street corner. But this was already the ninth of December and Christmas Day was fast approaching. What the city needed now was a real Santa soaring over the rooftops, real snow falling gently from the sky above. What the city needed was a sign.

"I think she was telling the truth," Kling said.

"I don't," Meyer said.

"Where was she lying?"

"She gets a letter threatening legal action, and she forgets the woman's name?"

"Well . . ."

"Says she never heard of her, quote, unquote. Then all at once, comes the dawn! Oh yes, now 1 recall," he said, doing a pretty fair imitation. "Martha Coleridge! She's the one who wrote a letter that can only deprive me of early retirement." He snapped the niobile phone from its cradle, held it out to Kling. "Call this Shirley Lasser," he said, "tell her we're on the way. Six to five her pal's already been on the pipe, telling her they saw a Travolta movie together last Sunday night."

Kling began dialing.

"I wonder which one it was," he said.

Knowing that Jamaicans slept ten, twelve to a room, F.a.t Ollie Weeks did not consider it beyond the realm of possibility that a Jamaican visitor from Houston, Texas, might have crashed with friends or relatives now residing in this fair city, ah yes. Further knowing that the Jamaican in question had picked up Althea Cleary in a diner in the Eight-Eight, he took a run at the precinct's own Jamaican enclave, The Forbes Houses on Noonan and Crowe - and came up empty. Undaunted, but unwilling to do a door-to-door canvass of the city's six other Jamaican neighborhoods, he headed for the largest of them, downtown in the Three-Two Precinct.

Here in the old city, narrow, twisting little streets with Florida-sounding names like Lime, Hibiscus, Pelican, Manatee, and Heron ran into similarly cramped little lanes and alleys called Goedkoop, Keulen, Sprenkels, and Visser, named by the Dutch when the city was new and masted sailing ships lay in the harbor. Them days was gone forever, Gertie. Running eastward from the Straits of Napoli and Chinatown, Visser Street swerved to the north into what used to be an area of warehouses bordering the River Harb. Too far uptown to be considered Lower Platform, not far enough downtown to be a part of trendy Hopscotch, the newly erected projects here were officially called The Mapes Houses, after James Joseph Mapes, a revered former Governor of the state.

All of the city's projects were rated by the police department on a one-to-five scale ranging from "uncertain" to "chancy" to "risky" to "unsafe" to downright "hazardous." The Mapes Houses were classified a middling three on the Safety Factor scale, although foot patrolmen assigned to the area considered this a conservative ranking. The cops of the Three-Two dubbed the project "Rockfort," after a seventeenth-century moated fortress on the easternmost limits of Kingston, but perhaps that was only because eighty percent of the residents here were Jamaican.

On F.a.t Ollie Weeks's scale of personal safety, Rockfort ranked a dismal eight, which in his lexicon meant shitty, mon. He went in there alone early that Thursday afternoon, but only because it was broad daylight a few weeks before Christmas. Otherwise, he'd have requested backup and a SWAT team. Abandoning his usual swagger, which he felt might be a liability here among the Jamaican brethren, ah yes, his manner became almost obsequious as he went from door to door asking after a man some six foot, two or three inches tall, with a fawn-colored complexion, deep brown eyes, wide shoulders, a narrow waist, a lovely grin, and a melodic Jamaican lilt to his voice. He did not mention the blue star tattooed on the suspect's p.e.n.i.s because many of the people he spoke to were women, and many of the men considered themselves Christians.

He did not strike pay dirt until three that afternoon, by which time it was beginning to snow and the skies above were dark enough to cause him to consider going back uptown.

Cynthia Keating did not seem surprised to find Carella and Brown on her doorstep yet another time. She didn't even threaten calling her lawyer. She asked them to come in, told them they had ten minutes, and then sat opposite them, crossing her legs and folding her arms across her chest. It had begun snowing, and the window behind her was alive with wind-driven flakes.

Carella got directly to the point.

"A woman named Martha Coleridge," he said, "mailed some letters to Norman Zimmer's office, asking that they be forwarded. One of them was addressed to you, as owner of the underlying rights to Jenny's Room. With it was a photocopy of a play Miss Coleridge herself had written. Did you ever receive that play and the accompanying letter?"

"Yes, I did."

Progress, Carella thought.

"How'd you feel about it?"

"Concerned."

"Why?"

"Because it seemed to me there were similarities between her play and Jenny's Room."

"What kind of similarities?"

"Well, the premise, to begin with. An immigrant girl comes to America and falls in love with someone of another faith while at the same time she's falling in love with the city itself - which she finally chooses over the man. That's identical in both plays. And the conceit. We see her love affair with the city through the window of her room, which is really a window to her heart. That's the same, too. Reading it was . . . well . . . alarming."

"So what'd you do?"

"I called Todd. He . . ."

"Todd Alexander?"

"Yes. My lawyer. He advised me to forget about it."

"And is that what you did?"

She hesitated for the briefest tick of time. Carella caught the hesitation, and so did Brown. Their eyes revealed nothing, but they had caught it. Her fleeting inner debate apparently led to a decision to tell the truth.

"No, I did not forget about it," she said.

But the truth inevitably led to another question.

"What did you do instead?" Brown asked.

Again, the slight hesitation.

"I went to see her," Cynthia said.

The detectives did not know why she was telling the truth - if indeed this was the truth. The woman they were here to inquire about was dead, and anything that had transpired between her and Cynthia Keating could neither be confirmed nor contradicted. But the path of evident truth was the one Cynthia seemed to have chosen, and they thanked God for small favors and plunged ahead regardless.

"When was this?" Carella asked.

"The day after I received the play. I called her, and we arranged to meet."

"And when was that?"

"The Thursday before Connie's party."

"Where'd this meeting take place?" Brown asked.

"Her apartment. Downtown on Sinclair."

"What'd you talk about?"

"Her letter. The play. I wanted to find out exactly what she had in mind."

"How do you mean?"

"Her letter said she was looking for 'appropriate compensation.' I wanted to know what she considered appropriate."

"You went there expecting to deal, is that it?"

"As I told you, I was concerned. Her play couldn't have been a fake, she'd sent us a program with the name of the theater on it, the date the play opened, how could she have faked all that? And if she wasn't faking, then her play was the model for Jenny's Room. There was no question in my mind about that."

"So you went there to deal?"

"To explore a deal."

"Even though your lawyer advised against it."

"Well, lawyers," she said, and dismissed the entire legal profession with a wave of her hand.

"What did she have in mind exactly?" Brown asked.

"A cash settlement of one million dollars."

"She asked you for a million dollars?"

"That was the total sum she wanted from all of us. The ten people she'd sent the letter to. A hundred thousand from each of us."

"What'd you tell her?"

"I told her I couldn't speak for the others, but that I'd give it some thought and get back to her. I had no intention of doing that. I thought her demand was absurd. Todd was right. I shouldn't have gone there in the first place."

"Did she seem serious about that price?"

"Non-negotiable, she told me. One million dollars."

"Did you talk to any of the others about this?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"Norman Zimmer and Connie Lindstrom. They're our producers. I should have turned it over to them from the beginning."

"What'd they say?"

"Forget it. Same as Todd."

"How about the others who received the letter? Did you talk to any of them?"

"No."

"None of the creative team?"

"No."

"The other rights holders?"

"Felicia and Gerry? No."

"Didn't mention it to them at the Meet 'N' Greet?"

"No."

"Even though you'd met with Miss Coleridge just a few days earlier?"

"I didn't see any need to."

"How come?" Brown asked.

"I told you. I'd been advised to forget about it. So I forgot about it." She shrugged airily. "Besides, it was a party. The h.e.l.l with her."

"What'd you expect would happen?"

"I had no idea. If she sued, she sued. But I wasn't about to hand her a hundred thousand dollars I didn't even have."

"Ever see her again after that Thursday?"

"No."

"Didn't go back to talk to her again?"

"No."

"Didn't call her?"

"No."

"Had no further contact with her, right?"

"Right."

"Do you know she's dead?"

Cynthia was either stunned into silence or else was hesitating again, debating whether or not to tell the truth.

"No," she said at last. "I didn't know that."

"It was in the papers," Brown said.

"I didn't see it."

"On television, too," he said.

"So that's why you're here," she said.

"That's why we're here." "You still think . . ." She shook her head, fell silent. "You're wrong," she said. Maybe they were.

"The one with the scar, yes," the woman said.

It came out "Dee wan wid dee scah, yes."

"You know him?" Ollie said, astonished. He'd been pounding leather for close to two hours now.

"I seed him here dee projec," the woman said. "But I doan know him cept for dat."

The woman was frying bananas at the kitchen stove, tilting the frying pan from one side to the other to spread the butter. A p.o.t of greens in garlic and oil was simmering on another burner. Something succulent was roasting in the oven, too. The woman was barefoot, wearing a loose-fitting smock with a floral design, a matching pink kerchief on her head. The kitchen was small and tidy, the cooking smells overpowering. Ollie was suddenly very hungry.

"What's his name, would you know?"

"Never heerd his name," the woman said.

"Where'd you see him?"

"Aroun dee projec, like I say."

"What are those?" he asked. "Fried bananas?"

"Yes, mon, fried bananas, wot you tink?"

"How do they taste?"

"Mon?"

"Them fried bananas."

"You lak to taste one?"

"They sure look good."

"They be done soon," she said.

Ollie watched the butter bubbling around them in the pan. His mouth was watering.

"Any idea where in the project?" he asked.

"Playin dee saxophone," she said. "You wann summa dis now?"

She moved the pan to an unlighted burner, forked one of the bananas onto a dish and handed fork and dish to Ollie. He speared the banana, swallowed it almost whole. Hands on her hips, smiling in satisfaction, she watched him.

"That's really good," he said.

"Yah," she said. "Still later, they be mo better. I serves em wid vanilla ice cream."

He was hoping she'd offer him another one, with or without ice cream, hot or cold, but she didn't. He put the disk back on the counter, wiped the back of his hand across his lips, and said, "He's a musician, huh?"

"No, but he play dee saxophone," the woman said, and laughed.

"Where'd you hear him play?"

"Dee rec room," she said.

Gerry Palmer was packing for London when they got to his hotel room at four that Thursday afternoon.

"Not leaving till Sunday night," he said, "but I like to be ready well in advance."

The room was on the tenth floor of The Piccadilly, far less fashionable than the hotels in the sidestreets off Jefferson Avenue, and not close enough to The Stem to be considered convenient to restaurants or shows. Carella had some dim recollection that the place used to be a riding academy in the not-too-distant past, before the new mayor started cracking down on hookers using hot-bed hotels for their swift transactions. The place still had a look of seedy weariness about it, the drapes and matching bedspread a trifle shabby, the arms on both easy chairs beginning to look a bit threadbare. Carella sat in one of those chairs, Brown in the other. Palmer stood on the far side of the bed, facing them, carrying clothes from the dresser and the closet to his open suitcase on the bed.

A brown suit, a canary-colored shirt with a white collar, a fresh pair of Jockey shorts, brown socks, and a brown silk tie were laid out neatly on the bed. Palmer explained that he'd set them aside for when he went out to dinner and a play tonight. He named the play - which neither of the detectives had seen, or even heard of - and explained that Norman Zimmer had arranged for house seats at the Ferguson Theater, all of this in the Cockney accent that made him sound like a bad imitation of an Englishman.

"So to what do I owe the honor of this visit?" he asked.

"Know a woman named Martha Coleridge?" Brown said.

"Know of her," Palmer said, "but I can't say I've had the pleasure."

"Did you receive a letter from her recently?"

"Oh indeed I did."

"Accompanying a play called My Room, and a copy of the opening night program?"

"Yes. All that. Indeed."

"What'd you think of it?" Carella asked.

"Can't say I read the play. But I thought the letter quite interesting."

"What'd you do about it?"

Palmer was carrying some five or six folded shirts from the dresser to the bed. He stopped, looked across the bed at the detectives, and said, "Do about it? Was I supposed to do something about it?"

"Didn't the letter seem threatening to you?"

"Well, no, actually. I simply took her for a barmy old lady," Palmer said, and began arranging the shirts in the suitcase.

"Didn't find her at all threatening, huh?"

"Was I supposed to find her threatening?" Palmer said, and managed to look surprised, and amused, and at the same time somehow challenging, like a kid making a cute face for grandma and grandpa, his blue eyes opening wide, his mouth curling into an impish little grin. Again, Carella had the feeling he was imitating someone, perhaps a comic he'd seen on a music hall stage, perhaps a silly comedian in a movie. Or perhaps he was merely stupid.

"Did you call her or anything?" Brown asked.

"Lord, no!" Palmer said.

"Didn't think it was worth a call, huh?"

"Certainly not."

"Did you talk to either Cynthia Keating or Felicia Carr about it?"

"No. I didn't."

"Mention it to Mr Zimmer? Or his partner?"

"I may have, yes."

"When was that?"

"That I mentioned it to them? At the party, I would imagine."

"Didn't call either of them before the party, huh?"

"No. Was I supposed to ring them?"

"No, but how come you didn't?"

"Well, let me see. The material was forwarded to me from Mr Zimmer's office, you know. So I assumed he already knew what it was about. In which case, there was no need to call him, was there?"

Again the impish, somewhat insulting raised eyebrows and grin that said, Now, really, this is all quite elementary stuff, isn't it, chaps? So why are we getting all in a dither about it, eh? Brown felt like smacking him right in the eye.

"Didn't you feel this woman was endangering the show?"

"Of course I did!"

"And a possible future windfall?"

"Of coursel" Palmer said. "But she wanted a hundred thousand dollars from each of us! A hundred thousand! She could just as easily have asked for a hundred million. I shouldn't have been able to give her either sum, don't you see? Do you know how much I earn in the post room at Martins and Grenville? Seven thousand pounds a year. That's a far shout from a hundred thousand dollars."

Again the raised eyebrows. The wide blue eyes. The lopsided grin. Brown was doing the arithmetic. He figured seven thousand pounds came to about ten-five a year in dollars.

"So you just let it drop," he said.

"I just let it..." A shrug. "Drop, yes. As you put it." A pursing of the lips. "I simply ignored it."

"And now she's dead," Brown said, and watched him.

"I know," Palmer said. "I saw the news in one of your tabloids."

No widening of the big blue eyes this time. No look of surprise. If anything, there was instead a somewhat exaggerated expression of sorrow. More and more, Carella felt the man was acting a part, pretending to be someone a lot smarter, a lot more sophisticated than the underpaid mailroom clerk he actually was.

"How'd you feel when you read the story?" he asked.

"Well, I shouldn't have wanted the woman to die, certainly," Palmer said. "But I must admit we're all much better off this way." And raised his eyebrows again, and widened his eyes, no grin this time, just a look that said Well, don't you agree? He closed the lid on his suitcase, jiggled the numbers on the combination lock, and dusted his hands in dismissal.

"There," he said.

"What time do you leave on Sunday?" Brown asked.

"The eight o'clock flight." "Then there's still time." "Oh? For what?" To nail you, Brown thought.

"Catch a matinee," he said. "Lots of Saturday matinees here."

"London, too," Palmer said, almost wistfully.

The person in charge of giving out the keys to the project's recreation room was an old black man who introduced himself solely as Michael, no last name. People seemed to have no last names these days, Ollie noticed, not that he gave a damn. But it seemed to him a person should be proud of his last name, which was for Chrissake only his heritage. Instead, you got only first names from every j.a.c.k.a.s.s in every doctor's office and bank. And now this keeper of the keys here, telling him his name was Michael, served him right he'd been born a shuffling old darkie.

"I'm looking for a Jamaican got a knife scar down his face, a tattooed star on his pecker, that plays the saxophone," Ollie said.

The old man burst out laughing.

"It ain't funny," Ollie said. "He maybe killed two people."

"That ain't funny, all right," Michael agreed, sobering.

"See him around here? Some lady told me he played his saxophone in here."

"You mean the guy from London?" Michael asked.

They were all sitting in the squadroom, around Carella's desk, drinking the coffee Alf Miscolo had brewed in the Clerical Office. Ollie was the only one there who thought the coffee tasted vile. Over the years, the others had come

"And a possible future windfall?"

"Of coursel" Palmer said. "But she wanted a hundred thousand dollars from each of us! A hundred thousand! She could just as easily have asked for a hundred million. I shouldn't have been able to give her either sum, don't you see? Do you know how much I earn in the post room at Martins and Grenville? Seven thousand pounds a year. That's a far shout from a hundred thousand dollars."

Again the raised eyebrows. The wide blue eyes. The lopsided grin. Brown was doing the arithmetic. He figured seven thousand pounds came to about ten-five a year in dollars.

"So you just let it drop," he said.

"I just let it..." A shrug. "Drop, yes. As you put it." A pursing of the lips. "I simply ignored it."

"And now she's dead," Brown said, and watched him.

"I know," Palmer said. "I saw the news in one of your tabloids."

No widening of the big blue eyes this time. No look of surprise. If anything, there was instead a somewhat exaggerated expression of sorrow. More and more, Carella felt the man was acting a part, pretending to be someone a lot smarter, a lot more sophisticated than the underpaid mailroom clerk he actually was.

"How'd you feel when you read the story?" he asked.

"Well, I shouldn't have wanted the woman to die, certainly," Palmer said. "But I must admit we're all much better off this way." And raised his eyebrows again, and widened his eyes, no grin this time, just a look that said Well, don't you agree? He closed the lid on his suitcase, jiggled the numbers on the combination lock, and dusted his hands in dismissal.

"There," he said.

"What time do you leave on Sunday?" Brown asked.

"The eight o'clock flight." "Then there's still time." "Oh? For what?" To nail you, Brown thought. "Catch a matinee," he said. "Lots of Saturday matinees here."

"London, too," Palmer said, almost wistfully.

The person in charge of giving out the keys to the project's recreation room was an old black man who introduced himself solely as Michael, no last name. People seemed to have no last names these days, Ollie noticed, not that he gave a damn. But it seemed to him a person should be proud of his last name, which was for Chrissake only his heritage. Instead, you got only first names from every j.a.c.k.a.s.s in every doctor's office and bank. And now this keeper of the keys here, telling him his name was Michael, served him right he'd been born a shuffling old darkie.

"I'm looking for a Jamaican got a knife scar down his face, a tattooed star on his pecker, that plays the saxophone," Ollie said.

The old man burst out laughing.

"It ain't funny," Ollie said. "He maybe killed two people."

"That ain't funny, all right," Michael agreed, sobering.

"See him around here? Some lady told me he played his saxophone in here."

"You mean the guy from London?" Michael asked.

They were all sitting in the squadroom, around Carella' s desk, drinking the coffee Alf Miscolo had brewed in the Clerical Office. Ollie was the only one there who thought the coffee tasted vile. Over the years, the others had come to believe the coffee didn't taste too bad at all, was in fact the sort of gourmet coffee one might find in little sidewalk cafes in Paris or Seattle. Ollie almost spit out his first sip.

He was there to tell them what he had learned downtown at Rockfort. The four detectives listening to him were Carella, Brown, Meyer, and Kling, who'd been d.o.g.g.i.n.g various aspects of this case for what seemed forever but was in actuality only since October 29. Ollie felt somewhat like a guest on a talk show. Carella was the host, and the others were earlier guests who'd moved over to make room for Ollie when he'd come on to exuberant whistling and thunderous applause. Brown and Meyer were sitting on chairs they'd pulled over from their own desks. Kling was sitting on one corner of Carella's desk.

This was a nice cozy little talk show here, with the temperature outside hovering at somewhere between twenty and twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit, which came to six or seven below zero Celsius, more or less, good to be inside on a night like tonight. The clock on the squadroom wall read a quarter past five, or 1715, depending on your point of view. Ollie had called from downtown right after he'd spoken to Mr Michael and then again to the lady who'd offered him another banana, asking Carella to wait for him, he'd be right there. That had been at ten to four. The snow had delayed Ollie, what can you do, an act of God, he explained. It was still snowing, the flying flakes spattering against the squadroom windows like ghosts desperately seeking entrance.

"The way I understood it," Ollie said, "Bridges was there with his cousin for a week or so at the beginning of November. Rec room guy remembers him coming in to practice his saxophone. I figure this was after he done the Hale m.u.r.d.e.r and before he flew back home."

"The rec room guy told you all this?"

"Not about the murder, that's my surmise. He didn't know anything about that."

"Then what?"

"The cousin, the sax, him flying back home."

"Did you talk to the cousin?"

"Knocked on the door, no answer. But I figured this was important enough to get moving on it right away. Which is why I'm here."

"Who told you the sax player's name was John Bridges?"

"The rec room guy."

"And told you he'd flown back home to Houston?"

"Yes and no," Ollie said, and grinned.

"Let us guess, okay?"

"He did not fly home to Houston, Texas."

"Then where did he go?"

"Euston, England. Sounds the same, ah yes, but it's spelled different. E-U-S-T-O-N. That's a locality, is what they call it in London. I went back to my lady who cooks fried bananas . . ."

"Huh?" Carella said.

"A lady in the project, her name is Sarah Crawford, she cooks great fried bananas."

Ollie felt he now had their complete attention.

"She's Jamaican, she told me all about Euston and also King's Cross - which is a nearby ward, is what they call it in London - where there are lots of hookers, drug dealers, and train stations. She didn't know Bridges personally, but his cousin told her he lived in Euston. So that's it, ah yes," Ollie said. "You know anybody else from London?"

They were waiting outside the Ferguson Theater when Gerald Palmer showed up for the eight o'clock performance that night. He was wearing a dark blue overcoat over the brown suit, canary-colored, white-collared shirt, and brown silk tie they'd seen on his bed earlier that day. His hair and the shoulders of the coat were dusted with snow. He opened his blue eyes wide when he saw Carella and Brown standing there near the ticket taker, waiting for him. There was a blond woman on his arm. She looked puzzled when the detectives approached.

"Mr Palmer," Carella said, "would you mind coming along with us?"

"What for?" he asked.

"Few questions we'd like to ask you."

As if trying to impress the blonde - or perhaps because he was merely s.t.u.p.i.d - Palmer assumed the same wide-eyed, smirky, defiant look they'd seen on his face earlier.

"Awfully sorry," he said. "I have other plans."

"So do we," Brown said.

The blonde accepted Palmer's gracious offer to go see the play alone while he took care of this "silly business," as he called it, still playing the Prime Minister dealing with a pair of cheeky reporters. All the way uptown, he kept complaining about the police in this city, telling them they had no right treating a foreigner this way, which of course they had every right in the world to do, the law applying equally to citizens and visitors alike unless they had diplomatic immunity. They read him his rights the moment he was in custody. These were vastly different from those mandated in the UK, but he had no familiarity with either, as he explained to them, never having been in trouble with the law in his life. In fact, he could not understand why he seemed to be in police custody now, which was the same old song they'd heard over the centuries from ax murderers and machine-gun Kellys alike.

Out of deference to his foreign status, they sat him down in the lieutenant's office, which was more comfortable than the interrogation room, and offered him some of Miscolo's coffee, or a cup of tea, if that was his preference. In response, he affected his Eyes Wide Open, Eyebrows Raised, Lips Pursed in Indignation look again, and told them there was no need to presume stereotypical behavior, in that he rarely drank tea and in fact much preferred coffee as his beverage of preference, redundantly sounding exactly like the sort of Englishman he was trying not to sound like.

"So tell us, Mr Palmer," Carella said. "Do you know anyone named John Bridges?"

"No. Who is he?"

"We think he may have killed Andrew Hale."

"I'm sorry, am I supposed to know who Andrew Hale is?"

"You're supposed to know only what you know," Carella said.

"Ah, brilliant," Palmer said.

"He's from Euston."

"Andrew Hale?"

"John Bridges. Do you know where Euston is?"

"Of course I do."

"Know anyone from Euston?"

"No."

"Or King's Cross?"

"Those aren't neighborhoods I ordinarily frequent," Palmer said.

"Know any Jamaicans in London?"

"No."

"When did you first learn Andrew Hale was being difficult?"

"I don't know anyone named Andrew Hale."

"He's Cynthia Keating's father. Did you know he once owned the underlying rights to Jenny's Room."

"I don't know anything about him or any rights he may have owned."

"No one ever informed you of that?"

"Not a soul."

"Then you're learning it for the first time this very minute, is that right?"

"Well ... no. Not precisely this very minute."

"Then you knew it before now."

"Yes, I suppose I did. Come to think of it."

"When did you learn about it?"

"I really can't remember."

"Would it have been before October twenty-ninth?"

"Who can remember such a long time ago?"

"Do you remember how you learned about it?"

"I probably read it in a newspaper."

"Which newspaper, do you recall?"

"I'm sorry, I don't."

"Do you remember when that might have been?"

"I'm sorry, no."

"Was it a British newspaper?"

"Oh, I'm certain not."

"Then it was an American paper, is that right?"

"I really don't know what sort of paper it was. It might have been British, I'm sure I don't know."

"But you said it wasn't."

"Yes, but I really don't remember."

"How well do you know Cynthia Keating?"

"Hardly at all. We met for the first time a week ago."

"Where was that?"

"At Connie's party."

"The Meet 'N' Greet?"

"Why, yes."

"Never talked to her before then?"

"Never. Am I supposed to have spoken to her?"

"We were just wondering."

"Oh? About what?"

"About when you first spoke to her."

"I told you . . ."

"You see, after we learned Mr Bridges was from London . . ."

"Big city, you realize."

"Yes, we know that."

"If you're suggesting he and I might have known each other, that is."

"But you said you didn't."

"That's right. I'm saying the population is even larger than it is here. So if you're suggesting I might have known a Jamaican, no less, from Euston or King's Cross . . ."

"But you don't."

"That's right."

"And you never met Cynthia Keating, either . . ."

"Well, not until . . ."

"The party at Connie Lindstrom's, right."

"That's correct."

"Never even spoke to her before then."

"Never."

"Which is what made us wonder. When we were going over our notes. After we learned Mr Bridges . . ."

"Oh, you take notes, do you? How clever."

"Mr Palmer," Carella said, "it might go better for you if you stopped being such a wise ass."

"I didn't realize it was going badly" Palmer said, and raised his eyebrows and opened his eyes wide and smiled impishly. "I was merely trying to point out that scads of people are from London, that's all."

"Yes, but not all of them are linked to Cynthia Keating's father."

"I never met Andrew Hale in my life. And I'm certainly not linked to him, as you're suggesting."

"Mr Palmer," Carella said, "how did you know Martha Coleridge wanted a hundred thousand dollars from each of you?"

The blue eyes went wide again. The eyebrows arched. The lips pursed.

"Well ... let me think," he said.

They waited.

"Mr Palmer?" Carella said.

"Someone must have told me."

"Yes, who?"

"I can't remember."

"You didn't talk to Miss Coleridge herself, did you?"

"Of course not. I never even met the woman!"

"Then who told you?"

"I have no idea."

"Was it Cynthia Keating?"

Palmer did not answer.

"Mr Palmer? It was Cynthia Keating, wasn't it?"

He still said nothing.

"Did she also tell you her father owned the underlying rights to the play?"

Palmer folded his arms across his chest.

"And was refusing to part with them?"

Palmer's look said his carriage had just run over an urchin in the cobbled streets and he was ordering his coachman to move on regardless.

"I guess that's it, huh?" Carella said.

Palmer took an enameled s.n.u.f.f box from the pocket of his brocaded waistcoat, disdainfully opened the box, and sniffed a pinch of s.n.u.f.f into each nostril.

Or so it seemed to the assembled flatfoots.

They called Nellie Brand and spelled out what they thought they had. At the very least, they figured they were cool with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Nellie advised them to pick up Cynthia Keating and bring her in. She herself got there in half an hour. It was seven thirty-five on the face of the squadroom clock, and it was still snowing outside.

They brought Cynthia in ten minutes later. Todd Alexander came to the party at ten past eight. He promptly informed them that his client would not answer any questions and he warned them that unless they charged her with something at once she was marching right out of there.

It now remained to see who would blink first.

"I wouldn't be so hasty, Todd," Nellie said. "You stand to make a lot of money here."

"Oh? How do you figure that?"

"I plan to consolidate the two murders. This'll be a very long trial. I hope your client has a gazillion dollars."

"Which two murders are you talking about?" Alexander asked.

"First off, the m.u.r.d.e.r for hire of Mrs Keating's father . . ."

"Oh, I see, m.u.r.d.e.r for hire." He turned to Cynthia and said, "Murder for hire is first-degree murder."

"Tell her what she's looking at, Todd."

"Why waste my breath? Is that what you're charging her with? M.u.r.d.e.r One? If so, do it."

"What's your hurry? Don't you want to hear me out? I can save your life," Nellie said, turning to Cynthia. "I can also save you a lot of money."

"Thanks," Cynthia said, "but my life's not in danger ..."

"Don't kid your . . ."

". . . and I'll be rich once Jenny's . . ."

"The penalty for M.u.r.d.e.r One is lethal injection," Nellie said. "I'm offering you a real bargain discount."

"What exactly do you think you have?" Alexander asked.

"I've got an old man standing in the way of what your client perceives as a fortune. I've got a bird brain in London who looks at it the same way. The two conspire to . . ."

"Mrs Keating and somebody in London, are you saying?"

"A specific somebody named Gerald Palmer. Who also stands to make a fortune if this show is a hit."

"And they conspired to k.i.l.l Mrs Keating' s father, are you saying?"

"That's our surmise, Todd."

"A wild one."

"The Brits have been known," Nellie said.

"Sure, Richard the Second."

"Even more recently."

"You're saying . . ."

"I'm saying the pair of them found a Jamaican hit man named John Bridges, brought him here to America . . ."

"Oh, please, Nellie."

"The Metropolitan Police are checking his pedigree this very minute. Once they get back to us . . ."

"Ah, Sherlock Holmes now."

"No, just a detective named Frank Beaton."

"This is all nonsense," Cynthia said.

"Fine, take your chances," Nellie said.

"What do you want from her?"

"Her partner and the hit man."

"That's everybody."

"No, that's only two people."

"What do you give her in return?"

"Is this me you're talking about?" Cynthia asked.

"Just a second, Cyn," Alexander said.

"Never mind just a second. If she had anything, she wouldn't be trying to strike a deal here."

"You think so, huh?" Nellie said.

"What can you give us?" Alexander asked.

"She rats them out, I drop the charge to M.u.r.d.e.r Two. Twenty to life as opposed to the V.a.l.i.u.m cocktail."

"Go to fifteen," Alexander said.

"Twenty. With a recommendation for parole."

"Come on, at least give me the minimum."

"Fifteen can come and go without parole," Nellie said. "And then twenty, and thirty, and forty, and still no parole. Before you know it, your lady's in there for the rest of her life. Take my advice. Twenty with a recommendation."

"She'd be sixty when she got out!"

"Fifty-seven," Cynthia corrected.

But she was thinking.

"On the other hand, you can always roll the dice. Just remember, you're looking at the death penalty. You'll sit on death row for five, six years while you exhaust all your appeals - and that'll be it."

"Recommend parole after fifteen," Alexander said.

"I can't do that."

"Twenty just isn't sweet enough."

"How sweet is the cocktail?" Nellie asked.

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