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The Burglar in the Closet
By Lawrence Block
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Lawrence Block
All right reserved.
"Gramercy Park," said Miss Henrietta Tyler, "is an oasis in the middle of a cruel sea, a respite from the slings and arrows of which the Bard has warned us." A sigh escaped her lips, the sort of sigh that follows upon the contemplation of an oasis in the middle of a sea. "Young man," she said, "I do not know what I would do without this blessed green plot. I simply do not know what I would do."
The blessed green plot is a private park tucked into Manhattan's East Twenties. There is a fence around the park, a black wrought-iron fence seven or eight feet high. A locked gate denies access to persons who have no legal right to enter. Only those persons who live in certain buildings surrounding the park and who pay an annual fee toward its maintenance are issued keys that will unlock the iron gate.
Miss Henrietta Tyler, who was seated on the green bench beside me, had such a key. She had told me her name, along with much of her personal history, in the fifteen minutes or so we'd been sitting together. Given time, I was fairly sure she'd tell me everything that had occurred in New York since her birth, which I calculated had taken place just a year or two after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. She was a dear old thing, was Miss Henrietta, and shewore a sweet little hat with a veil. My grandmother used to wear sweet little hats with veils. You don't see them much anymore.
"Absence of dogs," Miss Henrietta was saying. "I'm ever so glad they don't allow dogs in this park. It's the only spot left in the city where one may walk without constantly scanning the pavement beneath one's feet. A disgusting animal, the dog. It leaves its dirt anywhere at all. The cat is infinitely more fastidious, isn't it? Not that I would care to have one underfoot. I've never understood this compulsion people have to bring animals into their houses. Why, I wouldn't even care to have a fur coat. Let that sort of thing stay in the forest where it belongs."
I'm sure Miss Henrietta wouldn't have talked thus to a stranger. But strangers, like dogs, are not to be found in Gramercy Park. My presence in the park indicated that I was decent and respectable, that I had a rewarding occupation or an independent income, that I was one of Us and not one of Them. My clothes had certainly been chosen to reinforce that image. My suit was a tropical worsted, a windowpane check in light and dark gray. My shirt was light blue with a medium-length button-down collar. My tie carried stripes of silver and sky blue on a navy field. The attaché case at my feet was a slim model in cocoa Ultrasuede that had cost someone a pretty penny.
I looked, all in all, like a bachelor taking a breather in the park after a hard day in a stuffy office. Perhaps I'd stopped somewhere for a bracing brace of martinis. Now I was taking some air on this balmy September evening before I trotted on home to my well-appointed apartment, there to pop a TV dinner in the microwave oven and inhale a beer or two while the Mets dropped a squeaker on the tube.
Well, not quite, Miss Henrietta.
No hard day, no stuffy office. No martinis, because I do not permit myself so much as a sniff of the cork when I am about to go to work. And there's no microwave oven in my modest apartment, and no TV dinners either, and I stopped watching the Mets when they traded Seaver. My apartment's on the Upper West Side, several miles from Gramercy Park, and I didn't pay a cent for the Ultrasuede attaché case, having appropriated it some months ago while liberating an absent gentleman's coin collection. I'm sure it had cost him a pretty penny, and God knows it contained any number of pretty pennies when I waltzed out the door with it in hand.
Why, I didn't even have a key to the park. I'd let myself in with a cunning little piece of high-tempered German steel. The lock on the gate is a shockingly simple one to pick. It's surprising more people don't let themselves in when they want to spend an hour away from dogs and strangers.
"This business of running around the park," Miss Henrietta was saying. "There goes one of them now. Look at him, won't you?"
I looked. The chap in question was around my age, somewhere in his middle thirties, but he'd lost a good deal of his hair. Perhaps he'd run out from under it. He was running now, or jogging, or whatever.
"You see them day and night, winter and summer. There's no end to it. On cold days they wear those suits, sweating suits I believe they're called. Unbecoming gray things. On a warm night like tonight they wear cotton shorts. Is it healthy to carry on like that, do you suppose?"
"Why else would anyone do it?"
Miss Henrietta nodded. "But I can't believe it's good for one," she said. "It looks so unpleasant. You don't do anything of the sort, do you?"
"Every once in a while I think it might be good for me. But I just take two aspirin and lie down until the thought passes."
"I believe that's wise. It appears ridiculous, for one thing, and nothing that looks so ridiculous can possibly be good for you." Once more a sigh escaped her lips. "At least they're constrained to do it outside the park," she said, "and not inside the park. We've that to be thankful for."
"Like the dogs."
She looked at me, and her eyes glinted behind the veil. "Why, yes," she said. "Quite like the dogs."
Excerpted from The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block Copyright ©2006 by Lawrence Block. Excerpted by permission.
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