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19 Purchase Street
By Gerald A. Browne
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Bright Star Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved.
He had made it twice every week since the weather had allowed.
Thirty-two times counting this time, so, by now, at practically any point along the way he knew how much farther he had to go.
A hand-painted municipal sign hung over the edge of the road said Town of Harrison 1696 in Colonial-style lettering, and up ahead coming into sight was the final intersection where Anderson Hill crossed Purchase Street. In his mind that marked three-quarters of a mile exactly to Number 19.
He was tempted to pedal faster, to get there and have it done with again. But hurry would be out of character, he knew. Better that he keep on at the typical indolent pace.
If needed, he had proof for the name Tyrone Wilson and could give a White Plains address.
Grocery deliverer. Nothing more than that from the looks of him. He wore a gray work-out jersey with its sleeves ripped off at the armhole seams. A white handkerchief tied for a sweatband around his head. High-top sneakers with most of their canvas sections cut out, exposing his bare feet. Trousers bound by twine in place of bicycle clips.
Also, in keeping, a two hundred dollar portable cassette player was up on his left shoulder. Matte black, serious-looking stereo with numerous indicators and switches. The volume of it was turned all the way up so he couldn't hear anything but Donna Summer. His left hand kept her balanced close to his ear while his other hand steered.
It wasn't truly a bicycle he was riding. It had three wheels, two in front. A shop at Yonkers made and serviced delivery bikes of this sort for Gristede's, Grand Union and other grocery markets. Between its two front wheels a specially constructed frame provided support for a welded metal compartment about two feet by three feet and thirty inches deep. To contain the groceries. It had a hinged lid held closed by a hasp and a padlock. Ordinarily, for such a purpose an inexpensive lightweight padlock would have been sufficient, just enough to keep anyone from getting easily into it whenever the bike was left unattended. However, the compartment on this bike of Tyrone Wilson's was protected by an unpickable American HT-15 padlock with case-hardened shackle and body.
By now he had reached the intersection, was stopped alone there with second thoughts about having obeyed the traffic light. A minor thing, but it would have been more natural if he'd gone on through the red. To cover himself he placed his feet up on the handlebars and brought the cassette player down to rest on his thighs. He popped Donna Summer out and was turning her over when a car pulled up close beside him. Too close considering the width of the road there.
Wilson pretended not to notice.
The car's window lowered.
Wilson's hand went up in under his jersey, ostensibly to scratch his chest. At the same time he glanced at the car, took it all in. Brown Buick. One person. Man in a gray suit. Thin-haired man wearing rimless eyeglasses. Average looking, as, of course, he would be.
Wilson slowly rolled his head back, looked up at the traffic light. Long goddamn light.
"How do I get to Old Lake Street?" the man asked.
Wilson's immediate thought was to not answer, act as though he hadn't heard, turn up Donna Summer. He didn't know any Old Lake Street, although as a delivery boy he should. He relaxed his eyelids, took all the quickness from his eyes before turning his head to the man, right at him. He hardly moved his tongue or lips so as to have his words come out appropriately sluggish. Said Old Lake was two lights down that way and three blocks over, and the man believed him.
The light had already changed.
The Buick pulled away.
Wilson brought his hand out from beneath his jersey, put Donna Summer back upon his shoulder and began pedaling again, going north on Purchase Street, bound for Number 19.
It was the last of July, and so hot the asphalt had gone gummy. Even along those stretches where the branches of maples vaulted and shaded the way. The houses, especially those set back from the street, seemed to be cowering. Insects were moved to transmit what sounded like a sizzle, as though underscoring the temperature.
A similar sibilance was in Mary Beth Pullman's ears, even though she was entirely enclosed in her Chrysler sedan. Headed down the drive of Old Oaks Country Club.
For some reason the steering wheel felt thick in her hands and the windshield glass appeared somewhat fogged. Mary Beth gave the blame to the two gin and tonics she'd had on top of lunch. She wouldn't have indulged if Alice Woodson's husband hadn't sat and talked. Nor would she have eaten such a heavy meal, chicken a la king in a pastry shell and all that, if she hadn't worked up to it—played twenty-seven holes, taking advantage of there being practically no one on the course because of the heat.
Mary Beth often played in the cold or the rain for that same reason: not to have anyone snickering at the way her swing was more of a chop at the ball because her shoulders and upper arms were so fat. She weighed at least sixty over. If she lost forty she'd be just average heavy and, then, if she were four inches taller and larger boned she'd be able to carry it off. But as she was ... No matter, she believed she enjoyed golf, would not give it up as long as she was able to tee up a ball. Several times she had sunk incredible putts.
She power-steered the Chrysler down the easy grade and around the turn that ran between the permanent caddies' living quarters and the sixteenth fairway. Normally, there were two or three off-duty caddies relaxing on the steps but evidently today was too hot for them. Also, Mary Beth noticed, the sixteenth was deserted. That made her feel superior. She'd played the long uphill sixteenth twice that day and had broken ladies' par both times. Her only regret was she'd worn a skirt instead of culottes, had thought a skirt would be cooler. All that walking and perspiring. The insides of her thighs were chafed raw from rubbing together.
The country club drive became a straightaway that ran between two dozen high-trunked trees, spaced evenly apart like an honor guard, leading to a pair of identical imposing gatehouses. Beyond lay Purchase Street.
At that moment it occurred to Mary Beth that something was wrong. With her. Then she realized what it was.
She had no special knowledge of anatomy, knew practically nothing about the intricacies of her physical system. Yet, in that fraction of time, either in complaint or warning or explanation, her brain transmitted what was happening to it.
What was happening was that the occipital artery had dialated. Two centimeters above where it passed across the internal carotid artery. When Mary Beth was finishing her second after-lunch gin and tonic, holding an ice cube in her mouth and ejecting it back into the empty glass, a tiny bubble had formed on the arterial wall. The layer of muscle tissue there was less than half normal thickness in the first place, and the heat of the day, the twenty-seven holes and the food and alcohol had caused her bloodstream to put a strain on that weak spot.
The linings of the artery were not intended to take such pressure. Nor could it be expected that the outer connective tissue would withstand it, although those muscle fibers did try to hold, bulged until they were nearly unmeasurably thin.
Now, they ruptured.
Blood escaped from its course.
The hemorrhage was massive. At once it invaded the surrounding areas, congested the cerebellum, crammed the tenth cranial nerve.
Mary Beth's head snapped back as though she'd been uppercutted. Her cheeks puffed and her face became intense red, going to purple. Breaths like short snores came from her. Her eyes went wide, the black pupils dilated to the circumference of the irises.
Her legs stiffened, locked at the knees. Her right food jammed down the accelerator pedal.
Tyrone Wilson on the grocery delivery bike had no chance. No time to get out of the way even if he'd seen it coming. The Chrysler was like a three thousand pound metal bull charging at seventy-some miles an hour out of the gateway of Old Oaks. Caught Wilson and the bike flush, smashed against Wilson's left side. Tore all the left leg from him and heaved the rest of him up and thirty feet off to one side of Purchase Street. He landed on the back of his neck. Had it been the only sound at that moment, the fracture would have been clearly heard.
The Chrysler continued across Purchase at full speed, shot off the shoulder and over the ditch and slammed into the embankment. Front end up, rear wheels spinning, it bucked and tried to climb the slope. Its tires ate at the grass and topsoil, dug until its underparts were jammed in.
The first officials to arrive at the scene were two state troopers. They saw immediately that Wilson was dead, searched him for identification, found it in his damp worn wallet. Also beneath his gray jersey they found a .32 caliber revolver in a shoulder holster harnessed next to his bare skin. It didn't surprise them. Wilson was a black.
One of the troopers hurried to the Chrysler and found no life in Mary Beth. With the car nosed up so steeply she was practically horizontal, her pelvis pressed up hard against the steering wheel. The car's engine was still racing. The trooper turned it off.
By the time the Harrison town police arrived the troopers had the collision accurately interpreted. No tire marks. The mangled delivery bike. The final position of the Chrysler. An accidental death caused by a natural death was the conclusion.
It didn't cause much of a traffic tie-up, and surely there would have been more spectators if it hadn't been for the heat. Among the few who hung around were three boys of ten. They stood off to the side near as anyone to Wilson's contorted one-legged corpse. They didn't try to conceal their fascination. It was their first exposure to genuine death. Blood looked different, they thought, more oily, on black skin. Each of the boys privately expected to see a wispy, transparent likeness rise from Wilson and probably float straight up. They remained silent until a trooper covered the body.
An ambulance. On its way at unavailing high speed, taking futile chances. When it arrived Mary Beth was removed. It wasn't a matter of just opening the car door and lifting her out. The deadweight bulk of her was rigidly wedged against the steering wheel. The steering wheel had to be cut away, her grip pried from it before she could be transferred onto a stretcher. She was strapped on and covered entirely with a fresh sheet.
Yellow chalk was used to outline the position of Wilson, his severed leg and the delivery bike. Then Wilson and the leg were put into a bloodproof body bag and the bike was moved to the side of the road.
When the ambulance went off with the dead, nothing that remained was interesting enough to hold the spectators. Traffic began to pass at nearly normal speed. The state troopers left, and so did all but two of the local police.
Officers Lyle and McCatty.
They were to wait for the wrecker. They were also to make up the report.
McCatty, who was in his forties, had a stripe. He'd been on the Harrison force for five years, which was not enough seniority to take him out of range of any deep cutback. Lyle was new and much younger, had in less than a year's duty and, if all went as he hoped, no more than a year to go. He never let anyone, not even McCatty, know what he really wanted and had been saving for was a ski and tennis equipment shop.
Lyle took measurements and diagrammed the accident in the proper space on a report sheet. McCatty, meanwhile, nosed around the Chrysler. He knew they had taken Mary Beth's purse along with her. As though she'd need it. He tried the glove compartment, removed the key from the ignition to get into it. There was nothing in there worth having, and the only thing in the trunk was a wool blanket that appeared good but when McCatty held it up, he saw it had several moth holes. He tossed it back in and shut the trunk lid hard. Seemed there'd be no dividends this time.
The delivery bike.
It was so badly smashed it looked like a John Chamberlain sculpting at the Whitney. That would have been his wife's thought, not his. The frame of it was split, nearly folded in two, and all three of its wheels were bent lopsided oval. However, its metal compartment was intact. That thirty-inch-deep carrying box was dented and more scarred than before but its seams had held.
McCatty examined the compartment and its formidable padlock. He got a steel T-bar from the patrol car.
He worked on the hasp, jammed the T-bar in along the edge where the hasp was attached and got under enough to pry. He applied steady pressure with all his might. Finally the hasp snapped away.
McCatty opened the lid and saw the compartment contained two cardboard cartons of groceries. There wasn't a customer's name or an address on them. The cartons were so well packed only a few of the items on the very top had been knocked about by the collision. McCatty noticed the stamped price sticker on a small package of wild rice that said $4.95 and a jar of Tiptree peach preserves imported from England for $3.80. Anyway, not just Wonder bread and Ivory Snow. He transferred the cartons to the back seat of the patrol car. No one would ever know or ask. Besides, the bike could just as well have been returning from a delivery rather than making one.
The wrecker arrived.
The Chrysler was pulled to the road and hoisted into position. The delivery bike was thrown like a piece of junk onto the bed of the truck where it was secured to the hoist.
That part of it done, McCatty and Lyle drove off in the patrol car. It wasn't much out of their way to stop and leave one carton of groceries at McCatty's, the other at Lyle's. When they got to headquarters they went right to work on the official paperwork. McCatty disliked typing and Lyle wasn't good at it, an unsure, pecking typist who misspelled, X'd out too much and often omitted details important enough to get hell for later. With Lyle at the keys the report would take at least an hour.
They were ten minutes into it when McCatty's wife Connie called. She'd just gotten home. McCatty told her he was off duty but had the report to do. She wanted him home now, insisted. That wasn't like her, McCatty thought. Ordinarily she just lived with his hours. Also, there seemed to be something else to her tone, as though just below her words was something exciting that she couldn't come straight out with. It occurred to McCatty that it might be some sexual thing, a little specialty she'd decided to open up to and was impatient about. They'd enjoyed some of that not too long ago, and, he thought, this had the same ring to it. She kept insisting.
McCatty pulled the unfinished report from the typewriter and signed it in advance.
When he arrived home, the back door was locked. Connie had to let him in. She was in her stocking feet and her dark and gray hair looked as though her hands had been running through it. Her lipstick was nearly chewed away. Not a sexy sight. McCatty was disappointed enough to get grouchy.
The kitchen shades were drawn for some reason, so a light was on over the island counter. It shined down on the carton of groceries McCatty had placed there earlier.
Connie asked if the groceries were theirs.
He told her.
She had unpacked and packed the carton a half dozen times since she'd come home. Now she had him do it.
Even before he had everything out and on the counter he realized the false bottom. Not elaborate, merely a piece of similar brown cardboard cut to size and dropped in. He removed it.
Hundred dollar bills.
Bound by wide rubber bands into packets, about two inches thick.
Twenty such packets layered the entire bottom of the carton.
Connie had hardly touched the money, only enough to prove her eyes weren't lying.
McCatty didn't react to it. He removed one of the packets, sort of weighed it in his hand and riffled through it.
Connie asked how much.
A million was his estimate.
"It's ours," Connie said
McCatty put the packet of hundreds back into place in the carton.
"It's ours," Connie repeated emphatically.
Excerpted from 19 Purchase Street by Gerald A. Browne. Copyright © 1982 Bright Star Productions, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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