The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 26

 Chapter 17

 I found Danny Boy at Poogan’s, a regular spot of his on West Seventy-second Street. He was at his usual table, with an iced bottle of vodka alongside. He had his right leg folded so that the foot was propped up on his left knee, and he was studying his shoe. It was a half-boot, actually, beige in color, with a slight heel.

 “I don’t know about this,” he said. “You recognize the leather?”

 “Ostrich, isn’t it?”

 “It is,” he said, “and that’s what bothers me. Ever see an ostrich?”

 “Years ago at the zoo.”

 “I’ve only seen them on Channel Thirteen. Nature. Na-tional Geographic specials. Spectacular creatures. Can’t fly, but they can run like hell. Imagine killing something like that just so you can skin it and make boots.”

 “I understand they’re doing remarkable things these days with Naugahyde.”

 “It’s not the killing that bothers me,” he said. “It’s the waste. All they use is the outside, for God’s sake. It’d be dif-ferent if they ate the meat, but it can’t be very tasty or they’d have it on the menu all over town.”

 “Ostrich piccata,” I suggested.

 “I was thinking of Ostrich Wellington. But you follow me, don’t you? I have this vision of the flayed corpses of os-triches rotting by the thousands, like buffalo on the Great Plains.”

 “Victims of rapacious ostrich skinners,” I said.

 “Led by the legendary Ostrich Bill Cody. Don’t you agree with me that it’s wasteful?”

 “I suppose so. They’re good-looking boots.”

 “Thank you. Long-wearing, they tell me. Makes a great leather, ostrich. And maybe it’s a good thing we kill them for their hides. Otherwise I suppose we’d be up to here in ostriches. They’d be worse than rats. God knows they’re bigger.”

 “Probably run faster, too.”

 “They’d ruin Jones Beach,” he said. “Be no place to put your towel. Every few yards you’ve got another fucking os-trich with his head in the sand.”

 Maybe he’d seen Jones Beach on Channel Thirteen. It was a sure bet he’d never been there. Danny Boy Bell, short in stature and elegant in dress, is the albino son of black par-ents, and he is no more apt than Dracula to venture out in daylight. At night you can find him at Poogan’s or Mother Goose, drinking Stoly or Finlandia and brokering informa-tion. In the daytime you can’t find him at all.

 I asked him what he’d heard about Glenn Holtzmann. Nothing, he said. All he knew was what he read in the pa-pers, a story of an innocent victim, an armed derelict, and crime-ridden streets. I let out that it might not have hap-pened that way, and that the deceased had handled a lot of cash for someone who got paid by check.

 “Ah,” Danny Boy said. “Lived life off the books, did he? I never heard a word.”

 “Maybe you could ask around.”

 “Maybe I could. And how’s your life, Matthew? How is the beautiful Elaine, and when are you going to make an honest woman of her?”

 “Gee, I was going to ask you that, Danny Boy,” I said. “You’re the man with all the answers.”

 I took a couple of cabs and dropped in on a couple of other people who kept their ears open as assiduously as Danny Boy. They didn’t dress as well or run as engaging a line of small talk, but sometimes they heard things and that made them worth a visit.

 By the time I was finished it was past midnight and I was at the counter at Tiffany’s, not the jeweler on Fifth Avenue but the all-night coffee shop on Sheridan Square. There’s a midnight meeting a short walk from there on Houston Street, in premises occupied for years by the Village’s most notorious after-hours club. I thought about dropping in, but I’d already missed half the meeting. They had a two A.M. meeting, too, but I didn’t want to stay up that late.

 Too late to call Elaine.

 Much too late to call Tom Sadecki, although it was time I let him hear from me. What had originally looked a lot like tilting at windmills was turning out to be a halfway rational mission. The more I thought about it, the more persuaded I was that George Sadecki was innocent of Glenn Holtz-mann’s murder.

 With a little luck I’d be able to prove it. If I turned over Holtzmann’s life I’d find someone with a motive, and that’s half the battle, as often as not. Once you know who did it all you need to do is prove it, and I didn’t need enough proof to get a conviction in a court of law. I just had to persuade peo-ple in a position to get the charges dropped. Then George could go back to his life’s work of being a danger to himself and a nuisance to others.

 I ordered another cup of coffee. A man and woman got up from a front booth and went to the cashier’s desk. The man gave me a nod. I waved back. I recognized him from the Perry Street meeting a few blocks away. I went there some-times when I was in the neighborhood.

 Maybe we ought to move down here, I thought. I’d cer-tainly spent enough time in the Village, working a long hitch out of the Sixth Precinct. That’s where I’d been when Elaine and I first met, all those years ago.

 The neighborhood had gone through changes since then, but all in all it had changed less than the rest of the city. Much of it was an official historic district, its buildings pro-tected as landmarks. There were fewer high-rises, and the crooked streets with their three-story Federal houses were on a more human scale than her present neighborhood, or mine. I’d have plenty of meetings to choose from, Elaine could walk to classes at NYU or the New School, and the SoHo art galleries were ten minutes away.

 Was that what I wanted to do?

 I knew what I wanted to do.

 “It’s Matt,” I told her machine. “It’s late but I, uh, felt like talking if you were awake. I’ll call you in the morning.”

 She picked up. “Hello,” she said.

 “It’s late.”

 “It’s not that late.”

 “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

 “No, and it wouldn’t matter if you did. I was hoping you’d call.”



 “I was thinking,” I said.


 “I was wondering if you felt like company. But I guess it’s too late.”

 “No,” she said. “It’s not that late.”

 My cab took Eighth Avenue uptown, turned left at Fifty-seventh, caught a red light at Ninth just past the entrance to my hotel. In my mind I heard myself tell the driver that this was fine, that I’d get off here. But the words remained un-spoken and the light changed and we went another block west. He made an illegal but not uncommon U-turn and dropped me at my destination.

 The lobby attendant, so suspicious the night before, smiled in recognition this time. He called upstairs anyway, then smiled again and motioned to the elevator. On Twenty-eight, her door opened to my knock. She closed the door af-ter me and put the chain on, then turned to give me a long look from those deep blue eyes.

 She was wearing a robe, dark green with yellow piping. Under it was a nightgown of some sort, something pinky and filmy. Her feet were bare.

 I could smell her perfume, or thought I could. Hard to tell. I’d been smelling it all the way up in the cab.

 She said something and I said something, but I don’t re-member our lines. Then I said something about its being a restless night, and she said she thought maybe the moon was full and went over to the window to look for it.

 I followed her there and stood behind her. I didn’t notice the moon. I wasn’t looking for the moon. Not literally, any-way.

 I put my hands on her shoulders. She sighed and leaned back against me. I felt the warmth of her body through the robe. She turned in my arms and looked up at me, her mouth slack, her eyes enormous. I gazed into them, scared of what I might find.

 And kissed her, scared of what I might miss. Afterward I lay there, feeling the sweat cooling on my skin, listening to the beating of my own heart. I felt glori-ously, joyously alive, and at once filled to overflowing with sorrow and regret.

 I said, “I’d better be going.”


 “It’s late.”

 “You said that when you called,” she said, “and you said that when you got here.”

 “It’s getting truer by the minute. And I’ve got a lot to do tomorrow.”

 “You could stay here.”

 “I don’t think so.”

 “Why not? I’d let you sleep.”

 “Would you?”

 “A little, anyway.” She was lying on her back, her hands folded on her flat stomach, her eyes pointed at the ceiling. There was a faint sheen of perspiration on her upper lip. The silence stretched, and she broke it to say, “I like Elaine very much.”


 “I do.”

 I was propped up on an elbow, looking down at her. “So do I,” I said.

 “I know that, and—”

 “I love Elaine,” I said. “Elaine and I belong to each other. None of this has anything to do with me and Elaine. It doesn’t affect us.”

 “Then what are you doing here, Matt?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “You called me, didn’t you? That was you on the phone, wasn’t it?”


 “So what’s this all about? Is it all just part of the service? ‘Excuse me, honey, I hate to eat and run, but I’ve got to go fuck the client.’ ”

 “Cut it out.”

 “ ‘She’s a widow, and you know how they get. The poor thing’s probably dying for it.’ ”

 “And where would I get an idea like that?”

 She looked at me.

 “You didn’t want me to leave this afternoon,” I said. “You wanted help watching the sunset.”

 “I was lonely.”

 “And that’s all?”

 “No. No, I was attracted to you. And I knew you were at-tracted to me, at least I was pretty sure you were. And I wanted this to happen.”

 “And it did.”

 “And it did. And now you wish I would turn into a pump-kin. Or a pizza, or a puff of smoke. Because you love Elaine.”

 I didn’t say anything.

 “Believe me,” she said. “I don’t want to complicate your life. I don’t want to wear your ring or bear your children. I don’t even want flowers. I’d like you to go on being the de-tective I hired you to be, and I’d like for you to be my friend.”

 “That’s easy.”

 “Is it?”

 “Uh-huh. Except that there’s a potential for conflict be-tween the two roles.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “A detective can’t help taking note when you tell a lie. A friend is supposed to overlook it.”

 “When did I tell you a lie?”

 “Well, it was a pretty fair-skinned lie. When I called, you said you’d been awake. But you had already retired for the night.”

 “What makes you say that?”

 “You can’t fool the Great Detective,” I said. “When I showed up you were wearing a robe and a nightgown.”

 “So I must have been sleeping when you called.”


 “In the nightgown, and when I got up I put on the robe.”

 “Right again.”

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