The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 40


 “I don’t know the man. All I have’s his street name, and I never met him because he doesn’t walk down the same mean streets as this girl.”

 “What do they call him?”


 “Zoot,” I said.

 “After the sartorial statement he likes to make, which is far removed from that of the late Mr. Prysock.”

 “He wears a zoot suit.”

 “A genuine zoot suit,” she said, “if you even know what that is. People tend to stick that label to anything really tasteless and flashy, anything that goes with a floppy ma-genta hat and a pink Cadillac with fur upholstery, but the zoot suit was a particular style of the forties.”

 “With a drape shape and a reet pleat,” I said.

 “You astonish me, my darling. It’s tacky of me to say this, but you didn’t strike me as terribly fashion-conscious. And now you turn out to be a veritable historian of the masculine couture.”

 “Not quite,” I said. “Tell me about Zoot. Is he black?”

 “And you never told me you were psychic.”

 “Dark skin tone,” I said. “Long pointed chin, more notice-able in profile than full face. Little button nose.”

 “It sounds as though you know him.”

 “I never met him either,” I said. “But I saw him once wearing a powder-blue zoot suit and wraparound mirrored sunglasses. And a hat.” I closed my eyes and focused. “A straw hat, cocoa brown, very narrow brim. And a very loud hatband.”

 “When did this happen?”

 “A year ago, or maybe it was more like a year and a half. I heard a name for him, but it wasn’t Zoot.”

 “What was he doing?”

 “Sitting at a table with a friend of mine. Then he went away and I took his seat.”

 “And learned his name.”

 “But not his street name.”

 “And now for the big-money question. What color was the hatband?”

 I frowned, concentrating, then shook my head. “Sorry,” I said.

 “Believe me, so am I,” she said, “but it’s not a total loss. You still get to keep the microwave oven and the home-entertainment unit. And thanks for being our guest on Try to Remember.”

 “Nicholson James,” I told Joe Durkin. “He started out in life with the name James Nicholson, and somewhere along the way the name got reversed on some official document. My guess is it was a bench warrant, because that’s the kind of official document he probably saw the most of. Whatever it was, he liked the look of it. As soon as he could he got his name changed legally, which may be the last legal thing he ever did.”

 “And his last illegal act?”

 “Hard to say. He aced a fellow named Roger Prysock over on Park Avenue South, but that was a few nights ago, so he could have committed half a dozen class-A felonies since then. On the other hand, maybe he’s taken holy orders. You never know.”

 “I never do,” he agreed. “I can’t say I care a whole lot, ei-ther, as long as your friend Nick stays the hell out of my precinct. Is that what he calls himself for short? Nick? Or does he prefer Jim?”

 “Some people call him Zoot.”

 “Nice,” he said. “Classy. Of course if he does become a man of the cloth they’ll have to make that Father Zoot. Or maybe Sister Zoot, if he runs off and joins the Poor Clares. Tell me something, will you? What do I care about some asshole with his name on backwards who killed some other asshole in another precinct entirely?”

 “Man he shot was about six-one, one-seventy, dark hair, dark eyes, well dressed, and talking on a public telephone at the time of the shooting. Zoot put a few in his chest and one in the back of his head.”

 He sat up straight. “All right,” he said. “You’ve got my attention.”

 “Two months ago, whenever it was, Nicholson James de-veloped a hard-on for Roger Prysock. I don’t know what the beef was about. Girls or money, probably. One night the Zooter’s taking a ride on Eleventh Avenue. Maybe he’s look-ing for Prysock, maybe he just gets lucky, but there’s the man he wants, talking on a pay phone the way Prysock al-ways does and dressed all Ivy League, the way Prysock likes to dress.”

 “Only it’s not Prysock.”

 “It’s Glenn Holtzmann,” I said, “out for a walk, and very possibly trying to put some scam of his own in motion, only we’ll never know because he never got it off the ground. Zoot hops out of his car, shoots him three times. Holtzmann lands facedown, so if Zoot hasn’t already seen that he got the wrong man, he’s not going to notice it now. Anyway, it’s nighttime, and it’s not too bright.”

 “And neither is Nicholson James.”

 “So he shoots him one more time and goes home,” I went on, “or wherever you go to celebrate a job well done. Mean-while, George Sadecki shuffles out of the shadows and de-cides he’s walking point in the Mekong Delta and he better pick up his brass. Good police work scoops him up with a pocket full of evidence and George can’t even swear he didn’t do it.”

 “And the intended vic?”

 “Roger the Dodger? Like the original Dodgers, he’s skipped to L.A. As a matter of fact, he was probably already out of town when Zoot shot Holtzmann, either that or he was on his way shortly thereafter. George goes to Rikers and off to Bellevue and back to Rikers and gets stabbed to death. The case was already closed, and now there’s not even going to be a trial to stir the ashes.”

 “What about the word on the street? How come nobody knows Holtzmann got in the way of somebody else’s bullets?”

 “How would they know? Not that many people even knew Zoot had a beef with Prysock, and the ones who did couldn’t have attached much weight to it. Pimps flare up at each other all the time. If they don’t act on it right away, generally it blows over. And the people on the street didn’t know that Holtzmann and Prysock looked alike, or that George wasn’t the shooter the way the papers said he was. Hell, Prysock himself didn’t know it was all that serious. He thought it was safe to come back. Nicholson James heard he was in town, drove around until he found the right pay phone and the right man using it, and then he did what he’d done before.”

 We went over it a couple of times. He asked me what I ex-pected him to do.

 “Maybe you could call whoever caught the Prysock homi-cide,” I suggested. “Tell him they might like to check out Nicholson James for it.”

 “Also known as Zoot.” His fingers drummed the desk top.

 “How do I know all this?”

 “One of your snitches gave it to you.”

 “I suppose a little bird told him.”

 “The proverbial little bird,” I said.

 “They probably already got it, you know. Odds are Zoot ran his mouth in a players’ bar on Lenox Avenue and three guys were trampled in the rush for the phone.”

 “It’s possible.”

 “But you don’t think so.”

 “If the word was out,” I said, “there’s a friend of mine who would have heard it. And he hasn’t.”

 “I probably know who you’re talking about.”

 “You probably do.”

 “And he hasn’t heard it? That’s interesting. Still, you could drop the dime yourself. Pick up any phone, just so it’s not on Park or Eleventh Avenue. What do you need me for?”

 “They’ll pay more attention if it comes from you.”

 “ ‘When Durkin talks, people listen.’ Remember that ad, re-member E. F. Hutton? What the hell ever happened to them?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “Maybe people stopped listening.” He frowned. “Matt, what’s the punch line, huh? How does the story wind up?”

 “With luck and good police work,” I said, “Nicholson James goes away for the murder of Roger Prysock.”

 “What about your sleeping dogs?”


 “Holtzmann and Sadecki. It’s a mess if that can of worms gets opened up again. You know Zoot’d skate on the Holtz-mann shooting. In fact opening it up makes it harder to tag him with Prysock. It gives the defense something else to play with.”

 “And I don’t suppose it does the department a lot of good.”

 “I know a couple of guys got commendations for the work they did bagging Sadecki. What I just called him and Holtz-mann, sleeping dogs. Maybe we could let ’em lie. I don’t suppose Zoot’s gonna bring up the subject. He can’t be that stupid.”


 “How about you, Matt? Could you let it be?”

 “It’s up to the client,” I said. “Let’s see if I can sell it to him.”

 I made the call from my hotel room, got Tom Sadecki at his store. I ran it down quickly for him and he listened without interrupting. When I had it all laid out I said, “Here’s where you have to make a decision. As it stands, the shooter may or may not stand trial for the murder of Roger Prysock, and if he does he may or may not be convicted. That depends on how good a case they can make against him. My guess is he’ll either plead or stand trial, because the case is still fresh and they’ve got eyewitnesses, but it’s too early to say for sure what will happen.

 “If we try to connect the killer to Holtzmann and go pub-lic with what we have, it might weaken the case against him for Prysock. The most it could accomplish is to clear your brother’s name. You told me a while ago that didn’t matter, but you’ve got the right to change your mind if you want.”

 “Jesus,” he said. “I thought I was done with all this.”

 “You’re not the only one.”

 “What do you think I should do?”

 “I can’t answer that,” I said. “It’s easier for me if you let it go, and God knows it’s easier for the cops, but the only real consideration is what you want, you and your family.”

 “George didn’t do it? You’re sure of that?”


 “It’s funny,” he said. “Early on it was very important for me to believe that, and then it became important to just let go of it, you know? And now it looks as though I was right in the first place, and I’m glad to know that, but the importance isn’t there anymore. Like the whole business doesn’t have anything to do with George, or with any of us.”

 “I think I know what you mean.”

 “We’d just be putting him through it all over again, wouldn’t we? Clearing his name. He doesn’t need his name cleared. Let the world forget him. We remember him. That’s enough.”

 “Then we’ll just let it lie,” I said. I called Lisa. I said hello and she said hello, and she waited for me to invite myself over.

 Instead I told her how her husband had been shot to death by someone who’d mistaken him for a pimp. “The case won’t be reopened,” I said. “The only person who might have wanted it was George Sadecki’s brother, and he’s de-cided against it. God knows the cops would rather leave well enough alone, and so would we.”

 “So it doesn’t change anything.”

 “It ties off the loose ends,” I said. “And it’s reassuring to know Glenn wasn’t killed by someone he’d informed on, or somebody he was trying to set up. But in practical terms, no, it doesn’t change anything.”

 “It’s funny the way he had a premonition.”

 “If that’s what he had. Maybe he was working on some-thing he thought might get him killed, and maybe it would have if the pimp hadn’t gotten him first.”

 We talked some more. She asked me if I wanted to come over.

 “Not tonight,” I said. “I’m exhausted.”

 “Get some sleep.”

 “I will,” I said. “I’ll call you.”

 I hung up the phone. I walked over to the window and stood looking out of it for a few minutes. Then I picked up the phone and made another call.

 “Hi,” I said. “Okay if I come over?”


 “Did I pick a bad time?”

 “I don’t know,” she said.

 I said, “I really want to see you. I’m exhausted, I haven’t been to bed since the night before last.”

 “Is something the matter?”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies