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The Dead File
By Vincent Murano, Richard Hammer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1996 Vincent Murano and Richard Hammer
All rights reserved.
It was just a little story buried deep inside the Los Angeles Times, on a page full of ads for retailers selling everything at low-low prices. If Ben Rogers hadn't been on the red-eye, winging his way across the country through an endless night sky, he never would have seen it. He'd bought the paper at the airport, and since he could never sleep on a plane, he read everything in it but the thick classified section.
The story never would have made the papers back east, and even now, he didn't do more than skim it with half-seeing eyes until he came on a name in the final paragraph.
In one of those small villages a little south of the Monterey Peninsula, where the locals and the vacationers maintained an uneasy truce, a thirty-five-year-old woman named Francine McCauley had taken a gun and killed first her fifteen-year-old daughter and then herself in the early hours of the morning. Only the day before, Francine McCauley had been released from a mental hospital, where she had spent most of the years since her daughter's birth.
According to the story, Francine, who had never married, and her mother, Constance, had arrived in the town about twenty years ago, Constance opening a shop selling natural foods just as the health food market was beginning to boom. The McCauleys had been in the town about five years when Francine had her baby. She never named the father, nor was anybody ever able even to make a guess. Soon after the birth of her daughter, Jennifer, Francine suffered what was described as a nervous collapse and was hospitalized. From then until the end of her life, she was in and out of institutions. Constance McCauley told her few confidantes that she was certain the real cause of the breakdown was that Francine had never recovered from the sudden death of her adored older brother, Justin. He, Constance McCauley said, had been a New York City policeman who was killed in the line of duty.
The story ended there. No more details. Not why the mother had killed her daughter and herself. Nothing more about her brother. Rogers searched his memory. It must have been before the time he joined the department when this Justin McCauley was killed. Even so, the death of a cop, especially one killed in the line of duty, was engraved on the brain and memory of every cop. Yet Rogers could not recall the name McCauley. He leaned back in the seat and began to recite silently the names of the cops, Jones and Piagentina, Foster and Laurie, and a lot more who had been killed during those early years, just before and since he'd signed on. The name Justin McCauley was not one of them. Maybe he had forgotten, though that was unlikely. It was intriguing. Maybe, if he had time, he'd look into it.
It gave him pause. Things have a way of coming around, Rogers thought. Maybe nothing is ever finished. He closed the paper, put it on the empty seat beside him, shut off the overhead light and tried to sleep the rest of the way back to New York, tried to think about his girl, Melissa Redburn. They'd had a week together in California, after being apart for three months while he did the things John Morrison, New York's reform mayor, asked, and she did whatever movie actresses do when they're just at the beginning of a career and have been thrown a part that if not huge was one that was going to advance a new career. The distance between them was spreading now, and he was feeling emptier and lonelier with every mile.CHAPTER 2
He caught a cab in from JFK. The cabby fought his way through the early morning rush hour traffic, which didn't improve Rogers' mood. The cab's air conditioner seemed to be working more like a heater, and the inside was like a steam bath on this late July day. Despite the no smoking sign on the Plexiglas shield, there were butts overflowing the ashtrays and litter all over the floor. The cab smelled, looked, and felt like it hadn't been cleaned since it had come out of the showroom.
Twenty-five bucks later, the cab dropped him off at City Hall. He went down the stairs to his small office, hardly even a cubicle, in the basement. The phone was ringing as he unlocked and opened the door. He ignored it, dropped his suitcase just inside and crossed to the ancient air conditioner in the window. Switching it on, he heard the creaking groans and felt the shuddering as the compressor debated whether to catch or not, and finally he stood in the sudden rush of air that gradually got colder. He felt the sweat begin to dry on his forehead and across the back of his shirt. The L.A. papers had said New York was suffering a blistering heat wave, a Bermuda high having descended on the city with no signs of lifting. The L.A. papers were right. They didn't know how right they were.
The phone stopped ringing, the ring replaced by the sound of his own voice on the answering machine, telling the caller to leave a message and he'd get back whenever he got in. The caller began to leave a message. Harry Gondolian, an old reporter from one of the tabloids who'd been around City Hall since before memory. Would Rogers please give him a call? It was important. It always was. And he always said please. More often than not, Gondolian had something Rogers could use. The only thing was, he usually wanted a fair exchange. But then the stuff Gondolian had and was willing to share was usually worth the price.
Rogers sighed. When he'd been working in Internal Affairs out of that rat-and-roach infested headquarters in Brooklyn, reporters never called. Hell, they didn't even know who he was. He liked it better that way. He walked over to the machine, pressed a button, listened to the whine as the tape rewound, and then played back the week's messages. The tape was nearly filled. It didn't matter. He'd picked up most of the messages on the remote while he was away, answered some, ignored or filed away the rest. He fast forwarded until he reached the latest ones, from over the weekend. Half a dozen people had called since Friday. Gondolian twice. Two from an informant named Max who still kept the lines open even though Rogers wasn't strictly working on police business these days. One from a guy he knew in homicide, Carlos Rodriguez, just social, just give a call when you've got a minute and let's have lunch or something. One from Thomas X. Scanlon, an old-time pol, a power broker, member of the City Council, demanding an immediate response. Rogers had a pretty good idea what Scanlon wanted.
He sat in his old, creaking wooden chair, rubbing the grit out of his eyes. The office, the floors, the overflowing wastebasket, even the desk were just as he had left them; the cleaners had never passed through the door. On the desk there was even an old paper coffee container, the bottom thick with dregs and something growing that probably could have cured anything you might contract. He should have gone home to sleep instead of coming to the office. He picked up the phone and called Scanlon. When he identified himself, he was put right through.
"It's about time," Scanlon said. "I've been trying to reach you all week. You didn't return my calls."
Rogers said nothing. He waited.
"You've been asking questions," Scanlon said, "the kind that could get you into a lot of trouble."
"People are always saying that," Rogers said.
"You got questions about me, ask me direct, not other people who don't know their asses from a hole in the wall."
"Where do you want me to begin?" Rogers said. "You want to talk about condemnations? You want to talk about off-shore bank accounts, condos in Florida, vacation retreats up in Vermont?"
"Fuck you," Scanlon said. "And you can tell Morrison to shove it." The phone went dead. He could imagine Scanlon slamming it into the cradle.
Rogers grinned. Some guys are just too transparent. Hogs at the trough who didn't know when to stop. All you had to do was look in the right barnyard and you'd find the sty, especially if you asked for the right directions from the right people, if you made them think you had a road map anyway and you weren't asking them for anything you didn't already have.
The phone rang again. "He wants to see you," the voice on the other end said. She didn't have to identify herself. Iris Ferguson, Morrison's personal and private secretary, brought along from his Wall Street law firm when he moved into City Hall, guardian of the mayor's inner chamber. "Now," she said. "I wouldn't keep him waiting. He's in a foul mood."
"When not?" Rogers said.
He got up, went out the door, along the corridor, up the stairs into the rotunda, up another flight, turned left, went past the portraits of the hundred and more mayors who had served or been well-served by the city through the centuries, back to Peter Stuyvesant, until he finally reached the outer office. There were people waiting, sitting anxiously on the edges of all the chairs, standing against the walls, all with that impatient look that said they couldn't wait, that they had important things to discuss with the mayor. He didn't have to wonder what those important things were. He knew. Albany was beckoning. The pros had been at the mayor since early in the year to declare himself, and now he was declared and the convention next week would be just a coronation. He had a lock on his party's nomination. And the election? The polls all said he had the look of a winner. After Albany, who knew? New York governors always had their eyes a couple of hundred miles to the south. And all those guys on the edges of those chairs and against the walls of that outer office wanted desperately to take the ride up the Hudson with him, and then another ride a few years hence. They were hitching their cabooses to the Morrison engine, and they wanted him to know it. Whatever he wanted from them, they would give, gladly. It was what they had said so long ago about Franklin Roosevelt. He was like the Staten Island ferry, churning its way across the harbor and pulling all the garbage into port in its wake. You got the ferry, you got the garbage. It was the price you paid.
The receptionist looked up, nodded, made a gesture and he went past the queue, ignoring the looks and the expressions that asked, now who the hell is he? He passed through the door into the mayor's office.
Mayor John Morrison, just plain Jack to the people out there despite his patrician background, was behind his desk in shirt sleeves, cuffs turned up twice, striped club tie pulled down, collar of the white button-down shirt open. His hair had turned grayer since he'd abandoned lucrative Wall Street law for City Hall, and there were new lines in that handsome face. He was the image of a man of probity to whom you'd have no hesitation entrusting the keys to the family vault.
"You took your own sweet time," Morrison said.
Rogers shrugged. "I came as soon as Iris called."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it. Just where the hell have you been?"
"On the coast. You knew that. I told you before I left that I was going, and that I'd be gone a week."
"I must have had something else on my mind. I needed you here."
"You always need me here. And I needed to be there. You could do without me for a week."
Morrison glared, the glare turning into a grin, and he gave a brief accepting nod. "Okay. Now, what have you got for me?"
"Couple of things. One you want and one maybe you can help me about."
"Fifteen, twenty years ago, you were an ADA, right?"
"You ever hear of a guy named McCauley? Justin McCauley."
Morrison looked at the ceiling, turning back time in his mind. He shook his head. "McCauley?" he said. "That doesn't ring any bells. Why?"
"I read something in the L.A. papers on the way back last night. It seems that this guy's sister killed herself and her kid. She'd been in the loony bin for years and the minute she got out she got herself a piece and blew the two of them away. Like that. Whoever wrote the story added a note that her brother Justin had been a New York cop who had been killed in the line of duty. I couldn't place the name. I figured maybe you could."
Morrison shook his head. "Never heard of him," he said and pushed the McCauley business away. "It was a long time ago," he said. "Ancient history. It probably never came my way. What I'm interested in are current events."
Rogers sighed. This was one of the reasons Morrison had brought him into City Hall. He was an investigator, and a good one, and he was paid to forage in dark corners, private attics, and cellars to find the damning secrets that might send some people to prison and turn others from enemies into friends.
"Scanlon?" he said. "You want his votes, his and his people, you've probably got them. You want his ass, I can give that to you, too. Your choice."
"What's he been up to?"
"Making his millions. What else? He's been doing it for years. The surprising thing is that nobody caught wise, but I guess nobody looked in the right places, or maybe nobody wanted to look, Scanlon being Scanlon."
"Condemnations, among a few other choice scams. You know, somebody wants to build a high rise, the city's planning a school or something else, you name it, the only thing being that the property's already got a little something on it, like maybe a half dozen old law tenements which the landlord has no intention of selling. So you pull out eminent domain or some other statute and the property gets condemned and gets sold at bargain-basement prices to some middleman, and then the middleman, who knew the score all the time, turns around and makes a bundle selling it to the people who want it real bad and are willing to pay whatever it takes to get it. A very lucrative business, especially when you have an inside line to what's in the offing and a little clout with the right people."
"Hard to believe," Morrison said. "Too blatant. Scanlon's not that stupid."
"You won't find his name," Rogers said. "The guy's got a hundred dummies. But he's there all the same, Gepetto pulling the strings."
"I suppose you can prove it."
"You know me. I wouldn't say it if I couldn't. I can even tell you the holes where he's squirreled the acorns."
Morrison turned that over, nodded, reached for the intercom on his desk. "Iris," he said, "get Tom Scanlon and tell him I'd like to see him as soon as he's free. Make it a nice polite request." He looked back at Rogers. "If he goes along, fine," he said. "Then I've got the votes I need on the council. And I can count on him this fall. At least he won't get in my way."
"And if he stonewalls, he goes away for a long vacation?"
"You said it, I didn't."
"You didn't have to."
"Don't worry," Morrison said. "He'll cave. He hasn't got the guts of a weasel."
Politics. The fine art not of compromise but of deception. The better the politician, the more adept he was at it. The best could persuade the people out there, maybe even the people inside, make them believe he wasn't really a politician at all, that he was really just an average guy defending the other average guys against the avarice of the professional politicians who were looking out for number one, who were in it for themselves and who always had their hands in the public till.
Rogers had seen it in the police department, when he'd been in Internal Affairs and watched, with his own suspension of disbelief, Chief Bill Dolan make the guys in blue believe he was one of them. The department had yet to forget or forgive Rogers for his part in stripping the mask from Dolan's face and, in the process, bringing shame and major disgrace on the department.
Now he was watching the whole process on a far broader scale, from the elbow of Mayor Jack Morrison, the Ivy League patrician who had ridden a tide of reform, of public disgust with politics as usual, into City Hall and into command of the nation's largest and most complex metropolis. For the people out there in the streets, Morrison was the nonpolitical St. George battling the corrupt political dragons. Jack Morrison, one-time Wall Street lawyer, one-time assistant attorney general in Washington, one-time prosecutor, scion of Fifth Avenue affluence who could trace his lineage back to the Revolution and before, was a man of the people, a man above politics. For the people out there, it now seemed, Jack Morrison was the man they needed in the Governor's Mansion in Albany, the man who would put the state back on the right track, as he seemed to have done with the city. And if he could put the state to rights, then that large white showplace on the Potomac might be his for the taking.
Excerpted from The Dead File by Vincent Murano, Richard Hammer. Copyright © 1996 Vincent Murano and Richard Hammer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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