The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 31

 “What kind of advice?”

 “Everything from macrobiotic diets and wheatgrass juice to the power of prayer and crystal healing. Quack clinics in Mexico. Getting your blood replaced in Switzerland.”

 “Oh, Jesus.”

 “I forgot him, but his name gets mentioned a lot, too. Everybody knows somebody who was given fifteen days to live and now they’re out chopping wood and running marathons because of some stupid thing they tried that worked. And I’m not even saying they’re full of crap. I be-lieve these things work sometimes. I know miracles happen, too.”

 “There’s a thing you hear around the program—”

 “ ‘Don’t kill yourself five minutes before the miracle.’ I know. I don’t intend to. I believe in miracles, but I also be-lieve I had my quota of miracles when I got sober. I don’t ex-pect another one.”

 “You never know.”

 “Sometimes you know. But here’s what I was getting at. Here are all these people trying to help, each of them bring-ing me something and it’s all useless. And you brought me the one thing I can use.” She picked up the gun again. “Funny, huh? Don’t you think it’s funny?” The sun had been shining that morning, but the sky was clouded over by the time I left Jan’s loft. A week ago I’d had to go home in the rain. At least it wasn’t raining yet.

 Back at my hotel, I had five hours to get through before my dinner date with Jim. I thought of a way to get through them, and looked over at the telephone.

 Like not drinking, I thought. You do it in manageable in-crements, a day at a time, an hour at a time, even a minute at a time when you have to. You don’t pick up the phone, you don’t call her, and you don’t go over there.

 Piece of cake.

 Around two I reached for the phone. I didn’t have to look up the number. While her husband’s taped message ran its course, I thought instead of other words from the grave, those of John McCrae. If ye break faith with us who die . . .

 I said, “It’s Matt, Lisa. Are you there?” She was. “I’d like to come by for a few minutes,” I said. “There are a couple of things I’d like to go over with you.”

 “Oh, good,” she said. I went straight from her apartment to the restaurant. I show-ered first, so I don’t suppose I could actually have been car-rying her scent upon my skin. On my clothes, perhaps. Or on my mind.

 Definitely on my mind, and several times I was on the point of saying something to Jim. I could have. One of the roles a sponsor plays is that of a nonjudgmental confessor. I strangled my grandmother this morning, you might say. She probably had it coming , he would reply, and anyway the im-portant thing is you didn’t drink .

 I didn’t mention it to Mick, either, although I might have if we’d made what he calls a proper night of it. I walked Jim home after the Big Book meeting at St. Clare’s, then dropped by Grogan’s, and one of the first things he told me was that we wouldn’t be able to see the sun up together.

 “Unless you want to drive up to the farm with me,” he said, “for I’ll be on my way in a couple of hours. I have to sit down with O’Mara.”

 “Is something the matter?”

 “Not a thing,” he said, “except that Rosenstein has it in his head that O’Mara might die.”

 Rosenstein is Mick’s lawyer, O’Mara and his wife the co-managers of the country property he owns in Sullivan County. I asked if O’Mara was ill.

 “He is not,” Mick said. “Nor should he be, living the life he does, out in the open air every day, drinking the milk of my cow and eating the eggs of my hens. He’s lived sixty years, has O’Mara, and should be good for sixty more. I said as much to Rosenstein. Ah, says he, but suppose he died, then where are you?”

 “You’d have to hire someone else,” I said. “Oh, wait a minute. Who’s the owner of record?”

 His smile held no joy. “O’Mara himself,” he said. “You know I own nothing.”

 “The clothes on your back.”

 “The clothes on my back,” he agreed, “and nothing else. There’s another man’s name on the lease of Grogan’s, and another that owns the building itself. The car’s not mine ei-ther, not legally. And the farm belongs to O’Mara and his wife. A man can’t own anything or the bastards’ll be after taking it away from him.”

 “You’ve always operated that way,” I said. “At least as long as I’ve known you. You’ve never had any assets.”

 “And a good job, too. They had their hands out last year when they were trying to make their RICO case, ready to at-tach any assets they could find. Their fucking case fell apart, thanks to God and Rosenstein, but in the meantime they might have grabbed my holdings and sold them off. If I’d had the misfortune to own anything.”

 “So what’s the problem with O’Mara?”

 “Ah,” he said. “If O’Mara dies, and herself with him, al-though women live forever—”

 Not always, I thought.

 “—then what happens to my farm? The O’Maras have no children. He has a niece and nephew in California, and her-self has a brother, a priest in Providence, Rhode Island. Who stands to inherit depends on which O’Mara outlives the other, but sooner or later my farm’s to be left to the niece and nephew or to the priest. And, Rosenstein wants to know, how do I propose to tell O’Mara’s heirs that the farm is my own, and they’re quite welcome to slop the hogs and collect the eggs, but I’ll have the use of it when I see fit?”

 Rosenstein had suggested ways to safeguard the farm, ranging from an undated and unregistered transfer of owner-ship to a codicil to O’Mara’s will. But any arrangement could be dismissed as a legal fiction if the federal authorities ever took a good look at the situation.

 “So I’ll talk to O’Mara,” he said, “though I don’t know what I’ll say to him. ‘Take care of yourself, man. Stay out of drafts.’ But I know the answer. You must go through life owning nothing.”

 “You’re already doing that.”

 “I am not,” he said. “That’s what Rosenstein called it, a legal fiction. However you own something, on paper or in secret, it can be taken from you.” He looked at the glass in his hand, drank the whiskey. “But if you don’t fucking care,” he said, “then it seems to me you’re all right. For God’s sake, if O’Mara’s fucking nephew gets my farm then I’ll buy it from him. Or buy another one, or get along without one. It’s being attached to bloody things that drags you down, that more than losing them. Here I am ready to drive half the night for fear O’Mara might die, and him not sick a day in his life.”

 “The Indians say men can’t own land, that it all belongs to the Great Spirit. Man only has the use of it.”

 “And what is it we say of beer? You can’t own it, you can only rent it.”

 “True of coffee, too,” I said, getting to my feet.

 “True of all property,” he said. “True of everything.”

 Chapter 20

 It rained all day Monday. It had held off until I got home the night before, but it was coming down hard when I woke up.

 I never left the hotel. When I moved in there was a coffee shop off the lobby, but it went out of business years ago. There had been several tenants in there since then; the cur-rent one sold women’s clothing.

 I called the Morning Star and ordered a big breakfast. The kid who delivered it came to my door looking like a drowned rat. I ate my breakfast and got on the phone, and I stayed on it all day long. I made call after call, and when I wasn’t talking to someone or biding my time on Hold or drumming my fingers waiting for a callback, I was staring out the window and trying to figure out who to call next.

 I spent a lot of time trying to chase down MultiCircle Pro-ductions, the previous owner of the Holtzmann apartment. It took a lot of digging to establish that their corporate charter had been written in the Caymans, which meant there was a veil there I could forget about penetrating.

 The building manager for the condominium didn’t know much about MultiCircle. She had never met anyone con-nected with the company, or indeed anyone who had occu-pied the premises prior to the Holtzmanns. It was her impression that the Holtzmanns had been the first people ac-tually to live there, but she might be wrong about that. Nor had she had anything to do with the sale of the apartment, or of any of the units. The building had had a sales agent who had used one of the unsold apartments as an on-premises of-fice, but of course all the apartments had been sold long ago and the sales agent had moved on. She could probably find out the agent’s name, and a number that might or might not be current. Would I want her to do that?

 The number wasn’t current, as it turned out, but getting the right number wasn’t any harder than calling 411 and ask-ing for it. The hard part came when I tried to find someone at the sales agency who knew anything about the building at Fifty-seventh and Tenth. No one who’d sold space there still worked at the agency.

 “There ought to be someone who can help you,” a cheer-ful young man told me. “Hold on a minute, okay?” I held, and he came back with a name and a number. I called the number and asked for Kerry Vogel, spent a few more min-utes on Hold, and was given another number to call.

 When I reached her, Kerry Vogel had every bit as cheerful a voice and manner as the fellow who’d steered me to her. I have a feeling it’s part of the job description. She remem-bered the building vividly, as well she might; she’d lived in it for a year and a half.

 “We’re gypsies,” she said. “All of us in this business. It’s a crazy life and not everybody can stay in it. You get a build-ing and you pick an apartment. That’s one of the perks, free rent, and it means you’re there all the time, you can easily make appointments to fit the prospect’s schedule. Also you’re encouraged to pick one of the nicest units and fix it up attractively, because it’s good psychology, your prospect right away sees himself living there. You rent good furniture, hang some nice art on the walls, and have the cleaning ser-vice come in once a week. And you’d be surprised how many times you’ll take the person all over the building and they wind up, like, I want your apartment. So you write up the sale and you move.”

 She had occupied five different apartments in the Holtz-mann building, three of them in the same vertical line as the Holtzmann apartment, each of them in turn sold out from under her. She had trouble recalling the name MultiCircle Productions, but she remembered the apartment. I don’t know what there was to remember, since she hadn’t lived in it and since it was substantially identical to the ones above and below it, but then I’m not in that business.

 She remembered now. A man had come by himself to look at apartments. He looked foreign, but he could have been European or South American, she couldn’t tell which. He was tall and slim and dark and he hardly said a word. She’d rushed the sales pitch and didn’t show him everything because he made her nervous.

 And you had to follow your instincts, because the job was a dangerous one. For a woman, anyway. Because men were hitting on you all the time, and that was okay, it got to be a nuisance but you learned to live with it. But sometimes it wasn’t just hitting on you, it didn’t stay verbal, it turned physical. Sometimes it was rape.

 Because it was easy for them. You were alone, you were in your own apartment, there was even a bed there to help them get the idea. And the building was generally half-empty at the very least, so there was no one around to hear you scream. Not that they could hear you anyway because that was a big selling point of the better new buildings. They were completely soundproof, and wasn’t that a great thing to tell a potential rapist?

 She’d been lucky so far, but she knew women who hadn’t. This guy had spooked her some, so quiet and watchful and all, but nothing happened, he never hit on her at all. And when he left she was sure she would never see him again.

 Which was true, actually, because she didn’t. From then on the only person she saw was his lawyer, who was His-panic. He didn’t have an accent but his name was Spanish, and no, she couldn’t remember it. Garcia? Rodriguez? It was a common Spanish name, that was all she remembered. She didn’t remember the buyer’s name, either, and she had a hunch she had never heard it, or else she probably would have known whether he was South American or European, wouldn’t she? From the name?

 She was pretty sure all anybody ever told her was Multi-Circle Productions, whatever that was. See, anybody could buy a condo. With a co-op you had to go before the tenants’ board and satisfy them that you were a decent person and you wouldn’t be giving loud parties or being an unwelcome presence in the building. They could turn you down for any reason at all, or for no reason. They could discriminate in ways that were illegal for either a landlord or a private seller. Why, there was one East Side co-op that turned down Richard Nixon, for heaven’s sake!

 Condos were different. If you had a pulse and your check was good, you could buy a condo, and the other tenants couldn’t keep you out. And once you had it you could sublet it, which a lot of co-ops didn’t allow. So the luxury condos were very popular with foreigners who wanted a safe invest-ment in the United States. And buyers of that sort were in turn quite popular with people selling condos, because they didn’t expect you to finance their purchase, nor did they want a clause in the sales contract making the sale contin-gent upon their getting a mortgage. They generally wrote out a check and paid the full sum in cash.

 Which was what this buyer had done. She remembered the closing, because nobody showed up for it, not even Multi-Circle’s lawyer. He sent the check by messenger.

 Come to think of it, had she ever met the lawyer? They’d spoken on the phone several times, and she had this mental picture of him that looked like the lieutenant on Miami Vice, but had she ever seen him?

 She didn’t remember the selling price, but she could ball-park it. All the apartments on a line varied in price—the higher you went, the more you had to pay—and that floor on that line would be, let’s see, three-twenty? Well, give or take ten or fifteen thousand dollars, but that was close, any-way.

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