The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 14

 A homicide investigation begins with the victim. From where I stood I could count up twenty-eight stories and look at the victim’s windows, behind which I might well find the victim’s wife. Lisa Holtzmann was beyond question the first person I should be talking to, the one person most likely to have information I needed to know.

 And she was the last person I wanted to talk to. I hadn’t called when she lost her unborn child. I hadn’t called when her husband was killed. I hadn’t spoken to her once since the evening the four of us spent together in April, and I had re-buffed her husband’s overtures of friendship, and I felt un-comfortable about all of that, if not precisely guilty. My discomfort grew geometrically at the thought of disturbing her now, intruding upon her grief with the kind of impolite questions it would be my duty to ask.

 I looked up, counted windows. I knew their apartment— her apartment—was on twenty-eight, but that left me uncer-tain as to how many windows to count, because I hadn’t noticed whether or not the building had a thirteenth floor. Most New York high-rises omit the number, but a few builders over the years had refused to cater to the supersti-tion. (Harmon Ruttenstein, who’d plunged from his terrace a week ago, had been particularly outspoken on the subject, and more than one article had quoted his assertion that life was too short for triskaidekaphobia, which sent people all over town running to their dictionaries. Since he’d lived in one of his own buildings, one of the obituary writers pointed out, his sixty-second floor had actually been on the sixty-second floor, not on the sixty-first as would have been the case in most comparable buildings.)

 Either way, I’d told Elaine, it’s just the last half-inch or so that you have to worry about.

 For all I knew, the Holtzmanns had lived in a Harmon Ruttenstein building, but for all I knew they hadn’t, so I couldn’t really be sure which windows were theirs. I was of course able to narrow it down to two possibilities, and in any case I couldn’t tell whether the apartments in question were lit because the lowering sun was reflected in all the windows on the building’s western face.

 I thought, Jesus, spend a quarter, will you?

 There were two pay phones on the corner but one was out of order and the other wasn’t built to accept coins, just NYNEX calling cards. They offered me a card with every monthly phone bill but I had thus far resisted, seeing it as just one more thing to carry, but if the coin phones keep dis-appearing I suppose I’ll have to get one. Then, as with every-thing else, I’ll wonder how I’d ever got along without it.

 I crossed the street and made the call from Armstrong’s. In my early sobriety I’d made a great point of avoiding the place, having virtually lived there for so many years. In my absence Jimmy had lost his lease and moved the joint from the east side of Ninth just south of Fifty-eighth to its present location. I stayed out of the new place, too, and I also found myself avoiding the establishment that had replaced it, a perfectly innocent Chinese restaurant. (Once, when Jim Faber suggested it for our Sunday dinner, I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea. “I used to drink in that place before it existed,” I explained. He didn’t question either the lan-guage of that sentence or the logic of my argument. Only an-other alcoholic would have understood either.)

 Then one night another friend, also a sober alcoholic, sug-gested Armstrong’s for a late supper, and since then I’d gone there when I had a reason. I had a reason now, but an inner voice challenged it. Weren’t there any other phones in the neighborhood? What was the matter with the one in the cof-fee shop? And why was I looking for an excuse to hang out in a ginmill?

 A mind may be a terrible thing to waste, but it’s an even worse thing to have to listen to. I told mine Thanks for sharing and went ahead and made my phone calls, first to 411 and then to the number I copied down. Lisa Holtzmann’s phone rang four times, and then I got to hear her husband’s recorded voice advising me that no one was home and inviting me to leave my message at the beep. “Now be sure to wait for the beep,” he said. I waited for the beep, all right, and then I hung up.

 It wasn’t the first time I’d listened to a ghost. Years ago an English call girl named Portia Carr got herself killed by a client—her client, not mine—and one night I got drunk enough to call her number, and got sober in a hurry when she answered. But of course it was her machine, and as soon as I figured that out I was able to go back to being drunk again.

 Machines were scarcer then. Now everybody’s got one— everybody but me—and we’re used to voices that outlive their owners. Not long ago I called a friend and Humphrey Bogart answered his phone. I called him again a week later and got Tallulah Bankhead. There was a tape you could buy, a triumph of modern technology which allowed long-dead celebrities to answer your phone. “Here’s looking at you, shweetheart. My pal Jerry Palmieri can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave your number he’ll get back to you when we round up the usual suspects.”

 Glenn Holtzmann’s voice was less of a shock than Portia Carr’s and no more of a surprise than Tallulah’s. But I was a little off-balance to begin with, making a call I was loath to make from a joint I didn’t want to be in, and I’d jump at any excuse to short-circuit the process and get out of there. Un-der the circumstances, I’d have hung up on John Wayne.

 Back at my hotel, I took another stab at it, but by the time I’d heard him again I’d talked myself out of leaving a mes-sage. Speaking to her was one thing, leaving word for her to call me was another. Once again I listened to the beep, and once again I left it unanswered.

 I called Elaine and told her I couldn’t remember if we had anything planned for the evening. She said we didn’t. “But I’d love to see you,” she said. “Only I don’t really feel like leaving the house.”

 “Neither do I.”

 “That’s going to make it tough for us to get together,” she said. “Unless we spend the whole night on the phone, and that could really burn up the old message units.”

 We got that sorted out. “I don’t mind leaving my house,” I said. “I just don’t want to leave yours.”

 “Well, you never have to,” she said. “Mí casa es su casa. Come over anytime, I’ll cook or we’ll order in, and we’ll spend a quiet evening at home.”

 “At su casa.”

 “Yeah, chez moi. I’ve got some reading and paperwork to do, but it won’t take me forever. You know what? Pick up a movie on the way over.”

 “Anything special?”

 “No, surprise me. Nothing with monsters, that’s all I ask.”

 “We get enough of those in real life.”

 “You said it. What time should I expect you?”

 “I could catch an early meeting and get over there around eight. How does that sound?”

 “As a matter of fact,” she said, “it sounds terrific.”

 Chapter 11

 We spent a quiet evening at home. We had curry, delivered by an Indian restaurant that had just recently opened on First Avenue. According to Elaine, there was a key advantage to eating Indian food at home.

 “In every Indian restaurant I have ever been to,” she said, “there is one waiter whose last bath was in the Ganges, and when he comes near your table you could die.”

 I tried Lisa Holtzmann after dinner and rang off without a word when her machine answered. Elaine spent twenty min-utes on paperwork and then popped a cassette in the VCR. I’d picked up The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, with Lee Marvin playing the titular villain and John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart playing themselves.

 Elaine said, “When I was a kid my parents would watch old movies on the late show. ‘My God, look how young Franchot Tone is!’ Or Janet Gaynor, or George Arliss, or whoever they were watching. It used to drive me crazy. And now I’m doing it. Throughout the whole movie all I could think of was how young Lee Marvin was.”

 “I know.”

 “But I didn’t come out and say it until the picture had ended. I think I showed commendable restraint.”

 The phone rang and she answered it. “Oh, hi,” she said. “How’s it going? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

 I tried not to hang on the words, even as the usual faint wave of jealousy rolled over me. Elaine still got calls now and then from former clients, and felt it was simpler to spend ten seconds announcing her retirement than go to the trouble of changing her number. I understood, but all the same I’d have preferred them to call when I was somewhere else.

 “Just a minute,” she said. “He’s right here.”

 I took the phone and TJ said, “Man, I been to your hotel room. That room is small with just you in it. You shouldn’t be bringin’ a nice lady there.”

 “That was no nice lady,” I said. “That was Elaine.”

 “Think I don’t know that? Oh, now I get it. You ain’t at your hotel.”

 “I knew you’d figure it out.”

 “You at her house. You got the whatchacall on. Call For-warding.”

 “Good thinking.”

 “If you had a beeper,” he said, “you wouldn’t need stuff like that, confuse people when somebody else answers your phone. Why I called, I been hangin’ out with the Captain.”

 “Captain Flanders.”

 “That’s my man. Hey, the park changes some when the sun goes down, the park and the street both. Got a whole bunch of folks buyin’ and sellin’.”

 “You’ve got that in the daytime,” I said, “but then they’re mostly buying and selling Hondas.”

 “Different shit now,” he said. “Lotta crack. You see the empty vials on the ground. Just about anything you want, there be somebody here sell it to you. Lot of girls, too, an’ some of ’em lookin’ real fine. ’Cept they ain’t girls. You know what they call ’em?”


 “ ‘Chicks with dicks’ is what you hear people say. Say the other word again.” I did, and he repeated it after me. “Trans-sexuals. I know there’s people call ’em sex changes, but that’s after they has the operation. Up until then they chicks with dicks. You happen to know if they born that way?”

 “I’m fairly sure they’re born with dicks.”

 “Gimme a break, Jake. You know what I mean.”

 The transsexuals I’d known all said they’d been that way as far back as they could remember. “I guess they’re born that way,” I said.

 “How do they get the titties? It don’t hardly come natural. What do they get, hormone shots? Implants?”

 “Both, I think.”

 “An’ then they hustlin’, savin’ up for the big operation. What they all want, get the operation so you can’t tell ’em from a real woman, ’cept they standin’ six-two and got big hands an’ feet, which might give somebody a clue.”

 “Not all of them want the surgery.”

 “You mean they want to have it both ways? Why’s that?”

 “I don’t know.”

 A pause, and then he said, “Just tryin’ to feature myself walkin’ down the street with titties bouncin’ under my shirt. Weird.”

 “I guess.”

 “Get a headache thinkin’ about it. You recollect what I told you first time I met you? When you was walkin’ on the Deuce an’ I couldn’t get you to say what you was lookin’ for?”

 “I remember.”

 “I told you everybody got a jones. You can take that to the bank, Frank. Truest thing I ever said.”

 I said, “I wonder if Glenn Holtzmann had a jones.”

 “Nothin’ to wonder. If he had a pulse he had a jones. Maybe we get lucky, find out what it was.”

 Elaine had caught enough key words to be interested, and I filled her in on the rest. “TJ’s wonderful,” she said. “One minute he’s utterly hip slick and cool, and then his inno-cence peeks through. At that age the whole notion of trans-sexuals has to be disturbing.”

 “But not unfamiliar, not where he hangs out.”

 “I guess. I just hope he doesn’t turn up with tits one of these days. I don’t think I’m ready for that.”

 “I don’t think TJ is, either.”

 “Good. You figure Glenn Holtzmann had a jones?”

 “TJ says everybody does. That reminds me.” I looked at my watch and decided it wasn’t too late to call Holtzmann’s widow, especially since she wasn’t likely to be home. Nor was she. This time, though, I didn’t listen dutifully to her late husband’s voice. As soon as the machine picked up, I broke the connection.

 I said, “Something took him to Eleventh Avenue. He could have been stretching his legs, but why stretch them in that direction? It could have been coincidence, or he could have been looking for something that Eleventh Avenue had to offer.”

 “He didn’t strike me as the crackhead type.”

 “No, but he wouldn’t be the first yuppie who ever did lines of coke.”

 “Do people like him buy it on the street?”

 “Not usually, no. Maybe he had a sex jones, maybe he was looking for love in all the wrong places.”

 “With a wife like that at home?”

 “ ‘A neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land.’ But what’s that got to do with it?”

 “Not much,” she said. “Most men have wives at home, and they can’t all be bowwows. Maybe he just got the urge for something different.”

 “Maybe he was partial to tall girls with big hands and feet.”

 “And dicks. He was taking a big chance, picking up a streetwalker.”

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