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Once again in Brooklyn Noir 2, each story is set in a distinct Brooklyn neighborhood and mixes masters of genre with some of the best literary fiction writers to ever set foot in the borough. These brilliant and chilling stories see crime striking in communities of Russians, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Irish, and many other ethnicities--in the most diverse urban location on the planet.
Contributors:H.P. Lovecraft, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Pete Hamill, Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, Carolyn Wheat, Thomas Wolfe, Hubert Selby, Jr., Stanley Ellin, Gilbert Sorrentino, Maggie Estep, Salvatore La Puma, and Irwin Shaw.
Detective Abraham Levine of Brooklyn's Forty-Third Precinct chewed on his pencil and glowered at the report he'd just written. He didn't like it, he didn't like it at all. It just didn't feel right, and the more he thought about it the stronger the feeling became.
Levine was a short and stocky man, baggily-dressed from plain pipe racks. His face was sensitive, topped by salt-and-pepper gray hair chopped short in a military crewcut. At fifty-three, he had twenty-four years of duty on the police force, and was halfway through the heart-attack age range, a fact that had been bothering him for some time now. Every time he was reminded of death, he thought worriedly about the aging heart pumping away inside his chest.
And in his job, the reminders of death came often. Natural death, accidental death, and violent death.
This one was a violent death, and to Levine it felt wrong somewhere. He and his partner, Jack Crawley, had taken the call just after lunch. It was from one of the patrolmen in Prospect Park, a patrolman named Tanner. A man giving his name as Larry Perkins had walked up to Tanner in the park and announced that he had just poisoned his best friend. Tanner went with him, found a dead body in the apartment Perkins had led him to, and called in. Levine and Crawley, having just walked into the station after lunch, were given thecall. They turned around and walked back out again.
Crawley drove their car, an unmarked '56 Chevy, while Levine sat beside him and worried about death. At least this would be one of the neat ones. No knives or bombs or broken beer bottles. Just poison, that was all. The victim would look as though he were sleeping, unless it had been one of those poisons causing muscle spasms before death. But it would still be neater than a knife or a bomb or a broken beer bottle, and the victim wouldn't look quite so completely dead.
Crawley drove leisurely, without the siren. He was a big man in his forties, somewhat overweight, square-faced and heavy jowled, and he looked meaner than he actually was. The Chevy tooled up Eighth Avenue, the late spring sun shining on its hood. They were headed for an address on Garfield Place, the block between Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West. They had to circle the block, because Garfield was a one-way street. That particular block on Garfield Place is a double row of chipped brownstones, the street running down between two rows of high stone stoops, the buildings cut and chopped inside into thousands of apartments, crannies and cubbyholes, niches and box-like caves, where the subway riders sleep at night. The subway to Manhattan is six blocks away, up at Grand Army Plaza, across the way from the main library.
At one p.m. on this Wednesday in late May, the sidewalks were deserted, the buildings had the look of long abandoned dwellings. Only the cars parked along the left side of the street indicated present occupancy.
The number they wanted was in the middle of the block, on the right-hand side. There was no parking allowed on that side, so there was room directly in front of the address for Crawley to stop the Chevy. He flipped the sun visor down, with the official business card showing through the windshield, and followed Levine across the sidewalk and down the two steps to the basement door, under the stoop. The door was propped open with a battered garbage can. Levine and Crawley walked inside. It was dim in there, after the bright sunlight, and it took Levine's eyes a few seconds to get used to the change. Then he made out the figures of two men standing at the other end of the hallway, in front of a closed door. One was the patrolman, Tanner, young, just over six foot, with a square and impersonal face. The other was Larry Perkins.
Levine and Crawley moved down the hallway to the two men waiting for them. In the seven years they had been partners, they had established a division of labor that satisfied them both. Crawley asked the questions, and Levine listened to the answers. Now, Crawley introduced himself to Tanner, who said, "This is Larry Perkins of 294 Fourth Street."
"Body in there?" asked Crawley, pointing at the closed door.
"Yes, sir," said Tanner.
"Let's go inside," said Crawley. "You keep an eye on the pigeon. See he doesn't fly away."
"I've got some stuff to go to the library," said Perkins suddenly. His voice was young and soft.
They stared at him. Crawley said, "It'll keep."
Levine looked at Perkins, trying to get to know him. It was a technique he used, most of it unconsciously. First, he tried to fit Perkins into a type or category, some sort of general stereotype. Then he would look for small and individual ways in which Perkins differed from the general type, and he would probably wind up with a surprisingly complete mental picture, which would also be surprisingly accurate.
The general stereotype was easy. Perkins, in his black wool sweater and belt-in-the-back khakis and scuffed brown loafers without socks, was "arty." What were they calling them this year? They were "hip" last year, but this year they, were-"beat." That was it. For a general stereotype, Larry Perkins was a beatnik. The individual differences would show up soon, in Perkins's talk and mannerisms and attitudes. Crawley said again, "Let's go inside," and the four of them trooped into the room where the corpse lay. The apartment was one large room, plus a closet-size kitchenette and an even smaller bathroom. A Murphy bed stood open, covered with zebra-striped material. The rest of the furniture consisted of a battered dresser, a couple of armchairs and lamps, and a record player sitting on a table beside a huge stack of long-playing records. Everything except the record player looked faded and worn and secondhand, including the thin maroon rug on the floor and the soiled flower-pattern wallpaper. Two windows looked out on a narrow cement enclosure and the back of another brownstone. It was a sunny day outside, but no sun managed to get down into this room.
In the middle of the room stood a card table, with a typewriter and two stacks of paper on it. Before the card table was a folding chair, and in the chair sat the dead man. He was slumped forward, his arms flung out and crumpling the stacks of paper, his head resting on the typewriter. His face was turned toward the door, and his eyes were closed, his facial muscles relaxed. It had been a peaceful death, at least, and Levine was grateful for that.
Crawley looked at the body, grunted, and turned to Perkins. "Okay," he said. "Tell us about it."
"I put the poison in his beer," said Perkins simply. He didn't talk like a beatnik at any rate. "He asked me to open a can of beer for him. When I poured it into a glass, I put the poison in, too. When he was dead, I went and talked to the patrolman here."
"And that's all there was to it?"
Levine asked, "Why did you kill him?"
Perkins looked over at Levine. "Because he was a pompous ass."
"Look at me," Crawley told him.
Perkins immediately looked away from Levine, but before he did so, Levine caught a flicker of emotion in the boy's eyes, what emotion he couldn't tell. Levine glanced around the room, at the faded furniture and the card table and the body, and at young Perkins, dressed like a beatnik but talking like the politest of polite young men, outwardly calm but hiding some strong emotion inside his eyes. What was it Levine had seen there? Terror? Rage? Or pleading?
"Tell us about this guy," said Crawley, motioning at the body. "His name, where you knew him from, the whole thing."
"His name is Al Gruber. He got out of the Army about eight months ago. He's living on his savings and the GI Bill. I mean, he was."
"He was a college student?"
"More or less. He was taking a few courses at Columbia, nights. He wasn't a full-time student."
Crawley said, "What was he, full-time?"
Perkins shrugged. "Not much of anything. A writer. An undiscovered writer. Like me."
Levine asked, "Did he make much money from his writing?"
"None," said Perkins. This time he didn't turn to look at Levine, but kept watching Crawley while he answered. "He got something accepted by one of the quarterlies once," he said, "but I don't think they ever published it. And they don't pay anything anyway."
"So he was broke?" asked Crawley.
"Very broke. I know the feeling well."
"You in the same boat?"
"Same life story completely," said Perkins. He glanced at the body of Al Gruber and said, "Well, almost. I write, too. And I don't get any money for it. And I'm living on the GI Bill and savings and a few home-typing jobs, and going to Columbia nights."
People came into the room then, the medical examiner and the boys from the lab, and Levine and Crawley, bracketing Perkins between them, waited and watched for a while. When they could see that the M.E. had completed his first examination, they left Perkins in Tanner's charge and went over to talk to him.
Crawley, as usual, asked the questions. "Hi, Doc," he said. "What's it look like to you?"
"Pretty straightforward case," said the M.E. "On the surface, anyway. Our man here was poisoned, felt the effects coming on, went to the typewriter to tell us who'd done it to him, and died. A used glass and a small medicine bottle were on the dresser. We'll check them out, but they almost certainly did the job."
"Did he manage to do any typing before he died?" asked Crawley.
The M.E. shook his head. "Not a word. The paper was in the machine kind of crooked, as though he'd been in a hurry, but he just wasn't fast enough."
"He wasted his time," said Crawley. "The guy confessed right away."
"The one over there with the patrolman?"
"Seems odd, doesn't it?" said the M.E. "Take the trouble to poison someone, and then run out and confess to the first cop you see."
Crawley shrugged. "You can never figure," he said.
"I'll get the report to you soon's I can," said the M.E.
"Thanks, Doc. Come on, Abe, let's take our pigeon to his nest."
"Okay," said Levine, abstractedly. Already it felt wrong. It had been feeling wrong, vaguely, ever since he'd caught that glimpse of something in Perkins's eyes. And the feeling of wrongness was getting stronger by the minute, without getting any clearer.
They walked back to Tanner and Perkins, and Crawley said, "Okay, Perkins, let's go for a ride."
They walked back to Tanner.
"You're going to book me?" asked Perkins. He sounded oddly eager.
"Just come along," said Crawley. He didn't believe in answering extraneous questions.
"All right," said Perkins. He turned to Tanner. "Would you mind taking my books and records back to the library? They're due today. They're the ones on that chair. And there's a couple more over in the stack of Al's records."
"Sure," said Tanner. He was gazing at Perkins with a troubled look on his face, and Levine wondered if Tanner felt the same wrongness that was plaguing him.
"Let's go," said Crawley impatiently, and Perkins moved toward the door.
"I'll be right along," said Levine. As Crawley and Perkins left the apartment, Levine glanced at the titles of the books and record albums Perkins had wanted returned to the library. Two of the books were collections of Elizabethan plays, one was the New Arts Writing Annual, and the other two were books on criminology. The records were mainly folk songs, of the bloodier type.
Levine frowned and went over to Tanner. He asked, "What were you and Perkins talking about before we got here?"
Tanner's face was still creased in a puzzled frown. "The stupidity of the criminal mind," he said. "There's something goofy here, Lieutenant."
"You may be right," Levine told him. He walked on down the hall and joined the other two at the door.
All three got into the front seat of the Chevy, Crawley driving again and Perkins sitting in the middle. They rode in silence, Crawley busy driving, Perkins studying the complex array of the dashboard, with its extra knobs and switches and the mike hooked beneath the radio, and Levine trying to figure out what was wrong.
Excerpted from Brooklyn Noir 2: The Classics Excerpted by permission.
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|The horror at Red Hook||17|
|Only the dead know Brooklyn||46|
|Borough of cemeteries||53|
|The all-night bodega of souls||99|
|The only good judge||114|
|Luck be a lady||134|
|By the dawn's early light||151|
|The best-friend murder||174|
|The men in black raincoats||206|
|The day of the bullet||216|
|The boys of Bensonhurst||266|