The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 7


 “George threw his gun in the river months ago. One rea-son or another he decides it’s not safe to carry it and he ditches it, and then when they pick him up and ask him what happened to the gun, he says he tossed it. He can’t say when because he doesn’t have that kind of memory. Or here’s an-other possibility—he gets worried after the murder, after he picks up the cartridge casings, and decides he better get rid of the gun, so he goes home and finds it and tosses it. Or here’s another way it could have happened—”

 He went on working out scenarios to fit the evidence while leaving his brother innocent of all charges. Finally he ran out of theories and looked at me and asked me what I thought.

 I said, “What do I think? I think the cops arrested the right man. I think your brother showed you a nine-millimeter pis-tol and said it was a forty-five because they look similar and that was the type of semiautomatic handgun he was familiar with. I think he probably found the gun in a garbage can while he was searching for redeemable cans and bottles. I think there were bullets in the clip when he found it. I think the previous owner used the gun in the commission of a felony and got rid of it afterward, which is generally how guns find their way into garbage cans and Dumpsters and the river.”

 “Jesus,” he said.

 “I think your brother was nodding in a doorway when Glenn Holtzmann went to make his phone call. I think something roused him out of a dream or reverie. Something he saw or heard, on the street or in his dream, convinced him that Holtzmann was a threat. I think he reacted instinctively, drawing the gun and firing three times before he really knew where he was or what he was doing. I think he put the fourth and final bullet in the back of Holtzmann’s neck because that’s how you executed people in Southeast Asia.

 “I think he picked up the casings because he was taught to, and also because they might tie him to the shooting. I think he got rid of the gun for that reason, and I think he would have thrown the casings in after it if he hadn’t forgot-ten they were there, or that he was supposed to get rid of them. I think he has no memory of shooting Holtzmann be-cause he was only partially aware of what he was doing at the time. He was in a dream or a flashback.”

 He sat back, looking as though he’d just taken a stiff right to the solar plexus. “Whew,” he said. “I thought . . . well, never mind what I thought.”

 “Go ahead, Tom.”

 “Well, see, I figured on having to spend a few thousand dollars on a lawyer for George, and it turned out they’d al-ready appointed an attorney, and on account of him being an indigent person the attorney’s fees are paid out of public funds. And the lawyer was as good as anybody I could hire, plus he’d already seen George and had some rapport with him.” He shrugged. “So I’ve got this money I thought I was going to spend, and I thought, you know, maybe I could hire somebody to do a little detective work, find out if maybe George is innocent. Soon as I thought ‘detective’ I thought of you. But if you’re stone certain the man is guilty—”

 “That’s not what I said.”

 “No? That’s what it sounded like.”

 I shook my head. “I said I think he’s guilty. Or that he did it; words like ‘guilty’ seem ill-chosen when the person in-volved may have thought he was executing a sniper some-where north of Saigon. But that’s just what I think, and it’s an opinion based on the existing evidence. I could hardly think anything else, given the data available to me. There may be more data that neither of us knows about, and if it was brought to my attention I might have to revise that opin-ion. So yes, I think he did it, but I also think it’s possible I’m wrong.”

 “Say he didn’t do it. Is there a way to prove it?”

 “You’d have to prove it,” I said, “because I don’t think you could get him off by discrediting the prosecution’s case. Even if you impugned some of the eye-witness testimony, the cartridge casings are solid physical evidence and the next best thing to a smoking gun. Since they’ve got enough to prove him guilty, your only defense is to provide actual proof of innocence, probably by establishing that somebody else did it. Because Holtzmann sure as hell didn’t commit suicide, and if George didn’t kill him somebody else did.”

 “So you’d have to find the real killer.”

 “Not quite. You wouldn’t have to identify him or develop a case against him.”

 “You wouldn’t?”

 “Not really. Say a flying saucer descended from the skies and a Martian hopped out, put four bullets in Holtzmann, got back in his saucer, and took off for outer space. If you can substantiate that, if you can prove it happened, you don’t have to produce the saucer or subpoena the Martian.”

 “I get it.” He got out a cigarette, lit it with a Zippo. Through a cloud of smoke he said, “Well, what do you think? You want to go looking for that Martian?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “You don’t know?”

 “I may be the wrong person for this,” I said. “See, I was acquainted with Glenn Holtzmann.”

 “You knew him?”

 “Not well,” I said, “but better than I knew your brother. I was up to his apartment once. I’ve met his wife. I talked to him a few times on the street and I had coffee with him once a block from here.” I frowned. “I wouldn’t say we were friends. As a matter of fact, I can’t say I liked him much. But I don’t think I’d be comfortable trying to get his killer off the hook.”

 “Neither would I.”

 “How’s that?”

 “If George did it,” he said, “I don’t want him off the hook either. If he pulled the trigger then he’s a danger to himself and others and he belongs in a locked ward somewhere. I only want him cleared if he didn’t do it, and if that’s the case where’s your conflict? You’d only be helping George if he turns out to be innocent. And you just said it yourself, if he didn’t do it then somebody else did. If George goes away for it, then the real killer’s getting away with it.”

 “I see what you mean.”

 “The fact that you knew the victim,” he said, “to my mind that makes you the perfect man for the job. You knew Holtz-mann, you know George, you know the neighborhood. That gives you a head start, the way it looks to me. If anybody’s got a shot at it, I’d say you do.”

 “I’m not sure that means much,” I said. “I think the chance that your brother didn’t do it is slim, and the likeli-hood of establishing it is slimmer still. I’m afraid you’d be throwing your money away.”

 “It’s my money, Matt.”

 “That’s a point, and I guess you’re entitled to throw it away if you want to. The thing is, it’s my time, and I don’t much like to throw it away even if I’m getting paid for it.”

 “If there’s a chance he’s innocent—”

 “That’s another thing,” I said. “You believe he’s innocent, in part because that’s what you’d prefer to believe. Well, let’s suppose that he is, and that if you just sit back and do nothing he’s going to go away for the rest of his life for a crime he didn’t commit.”

 “That’s the thought that drives me crazy.”

 “Well, is it the worst thing in the world, Tom? You said yourself that he wouldn’t be in a conventional penitentiary, that he’d wind up in some sort of mental facility where his needs would be met and he’d get some sort of help. Even if he’s innocent, even if he got there for the wrong reason, is that so bad? They’ll feed him, they’ll see that he bathes and takes care of himself, he’ll get treatment—”

 “Thorazine’s what he’ll get. They’ll turn him into a fuck-ing zombie.”


 He took off his glasses, pinched the bridge of his nose. “You don’t know my brother,” he said. “You’ve seen him but you don’t know him. He’s not homeless, he’s got a room, but he might as well be homeless for all the time he spends there. He can’t take being cooped up. He’s got a bed that he hardly ever sleeps in. He doesn’t sleep like a normal person, lies down at night and gets up in the morning. He sleeps like an animal, half an hour or an hour at a time, on and off throughout the day and night. He’ll stretch out on a bench or curl up in a doorway and nap like a cat.

 “He likes the open air. Even in the winter he’s out of his room all the time. It’s only the coldest nights’ll drive him in-side. As bitter as it gets he’ll just put on more clothes until he’s got everything he owns stuffed under that army jacket of his. And he’ll walk to keep warm. Hours on end he’ll walk, mile after mile.

 “Day in, day out, he wore that army jacket. I never saw him without it. Well, they took it away from him and they burned it. They took everything he was wearing and tossed it in the incinerator. What else were they gonna do? When I saw him they had him in all clean clothes. They’d bathed him and cleaned him up. They didn’t shave him or cut his hair because they’re not allowed to do that, not without his consent, but that’s Bellevue and Rikers. When he’s in a per-manent facility the rules’ll be different.

 “They burned up his army jacket. Well, what else were they supposed to do with it, the state it was in? But it’s hard to imagine George without it.

 “You can say my brother’s crazy, and I guess he is, but he’s been this way all his life and they’re not about to change him now. I’m not saying it’ll kill him to be locked up be-cause maybe it won’t, maybe he’ll just pull himself a little further away from reality and crawl deeper inside his own mind and create his own world in there.”

 He looked straight at me. With his glasses off he looked more vulnerable, but somehow tougher, too.

 He said, “I don’t want to glamorize the life he leads, make him sound like some kind of Noble Savage. It’s a horrible life. He lives like an animal, he lives in fear and torment. If he doesn’t wind up in a locked ward with a Thorazine strait-jacket he’ll fall in front of a subway train or die of exposure, unless he gets really lucky and some teenage sadists set him on fire. Jesus Christ, Matt, I wouldn’t lead his life for the world, but it’s his life, do you follow me? It’s his fucking life so let him fucking live it.”

 Chapter 6

 “So I said I’d look into it,” I told Elaine. “He put a thousand dollars on the table and I picked it up. Don’t ask me why.”

 “Compassion,” she said. “A sense of social responsibility. The need to see justice done.”

 “What else could it be?”

 “Maybe you wanted the money.”

 “I was taught to grab what came my way,” I allowed, “but it’s a hard way to turn a buck. You work overtime trying to give the client his money’s worth and walk away feeling fraudulent because you haven’t accomplished anything. The fact that there was nothing to accomplish ought to carry some weight, but somehow it doesn’t.”

 “You think George did it?”

 “I think so, yes. For all the reasons I gave Tom.”

 “But there’s room for doubt.”

 “Not much room,” I said. “Not much doubt.”

 We had dinner in the Village and hit a couple of jazz clubs on Bleecker Street, then caught a cab back to her place. In the morning she made a pot of strong coffee, toasted a cou-ple of poppy-seed bagels, and cut a papaya in half. Sunlight streamed in through the living-room window, but Elaine, reading the Times we’d picked up on the way home, in-formed me it wouldn’t last. Cloud cover would settle in by midday, with a strong probability of showers in the late af-ternoon and evening. “Clearing tomorrow,” she said. “A lot of good that does me. Tomorrow’s Monday. The museum’s closed.”

 She was taking another photography course, this one called “The Urban Landscape Through the Camera’s Eye.” There was a display uptown at the Museum of the City of New York and she was supposed to see it before her next class.

 “I guess I’ll get rained on,” she said. “What about you?”

 “I think I’ll go walk around my neighborhood.”

 “I figured you might. Hell’s Kitchen or Clinton?”

 “Maybe a little of each. I’ll wear out some shoe leather and start earning the thousand dollars Tom Sadecki gave me. And I want to get to a meeting, and then tonight I’ve got my usual Sunday dinner date with Jim Faber.”

 “Well, I might go to the gym,” she said, “or I might say the hell with it and go straight to the museum. Then I’ll come home and plant myself in front of the television set. How come a television binge doesn’t seem nearly as degen-erate when the programs are British?”

 “It’s the way they talk.”

 “It must be. American Gladiators would feel like an edi-fying experience if they got Alistair Cooke to introduce it. Call me tonight, if you get the chance, or I’ll talk to you in the morning. And say hello to Jim for me.”

 I said I would. I somehow failed to mention my two o’clock date with an old girlfriend. Ages ago, when phone calls cost a dime, you made them from little glassed-in booths with doors that closed against traffic noise and weather. Maybe it’s still that way in other parts of the country, but in New York the phone booths grad-ually evolved out of existence, providing less and less shel-ter with each model change. Now all you get is a phone mounted on a post, and one of these days they’ll get rid of the post.

 The phone I was interested in was on the southwest corner of Eleventh Avenue and West Fifty-fifth Street, and I knew it was the one Glenn Holtzmann had been using on the night he died because it was the only one around. It was about ten-thirty by the time I walked across town from Elaine’s. I looked over at the phone while I waited for the light to change, then crossed the street and took the receiver off the hook. I listened to the dial tone and put it back.

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