Epitaphby James Siegel
Retired detective William Riskin is more or less waiting to die, until he comes across the obituary of his ex-partner, Jean Goldblum. A one-time war hero and concentration camp survivor, Goldblum had become a morally corrupt detective with a ruthless instinct for spotting guilt. But Goldblum had just started working on the most important case of his life, and out of loyalty to his memory, Riskin decides to finish it. Following a dangerous string of clues, Riskin finds himself in hot pursuit of a little-known World War II criminal named Dr. Petoit, who, after promising sanctuary to hundreds of fleeing Jews in occupied France, led them to death in his own home. As Riskin uncovers Goldblum's own guilty part in these crimes, he himself comes face to face with the ultimate evil.
Author Biography: James Siegel is a Senior Creative Director and Vice President at BBDO, an advertising agency in New York. His work has won numerous advertising awards, including a number of Cleos. He lives on Long Island, NY.
Read an Excerpt
It was called a no-frills flight because that's exactly what you got-the flight. No more, no less.
Southeast Airlines Flight 201 out of a Long Island airport no one's ever heard of, departing Gate 13 at the ungodly hour of six A.M. Not that there was any shortage of takers-William had to queue up for a good half hour, stuck between Sophie from Mineola and Rose from Bellmore, who kept a running commentary going on the best buffets in Boca Raton. Sophie leaning toward General Tso's Szechuan Splendor with Rose touting a seafood buffet that sounded vaguely Lithuanian.
Once William actually made it on board, his initial feeling was immediately confirmed-the flight was packed solid. No matter.
You're a man on a mission, William. Remember that. William had hoped for a senior citizen rate, but the no-frills flight was the best he could turn up, a name that kept proving itself right on the money. When he ordered a drink, he was told he'd have to pay for it, when he asked about food, he was given a price list. Earphones were five dollars, and then there were only two channels to choose from: mellow music and inspirational pep talks from America's most famous business leaders. There were only six or so magazines to go around, and no newspapers, and the magazines were of the kind found in dentist's offices-dog-eared, six months out of date, and completely uninteresting.
William didn't mind. For one thing, he hadn't been on a plane in years; he'd forgotten the way the ground looked, like one enormous patchwork quilt, the clouds soiled mattress fluff through which the plane kept punching holes. He found it... okay, exciting. Though he was just about certain he was in the minority there. Just look around. It was immediately evident why no senior citizen rates were offered on the no-frills flight. The airline could never afford it. Everyone on the plane-save for one little girl, the stewardesses (or flight attendants as they were apparently called now), and-hopefully-the pilots, was a senior citizen. Everyone. It was all Sophies and Roses and your good old uncle Leo.
They seemed to William like refugees, for they all wore a collective look of oppression. In flight all right, and in more ways than one. Running like mad from the crime, the cold, the heat, the noise, the annoying son-in-law- take your pick. Running from the loneliness too. What had Rodriguez said? Just another old guy with nobody. Sure. Refugees, on their way to the promised land.
And yet, he, William, senior citizen, wasn't one of them. Technically, he was one of them-his birth certificate said so. So did his body-that said so too. In fact, his shoulder wouldn't shut up about it. Okay, his prostate could be quite the blabbermouth too. But they were running; he was working. Yes he was. And he didn't feel like one of them either, didn't feel like one of the herd. He felt like devouring the herd. He had his appetite back, his hunger for all things human. What had those corny Charles Atlas ads said-Be a new man. Sure, why not. A new man.
Keep your eye on the ball, William. Stay focused. The man next to him was called Oozo, and he owned a delicatessen in Fort Myers. Or his son did. Or they both did. William couldn't be sure because Oozo had an odd way of talking and William was too polite to actually interrupt him to ask.
Don't fall asleep on the job, William. But at some point in Oozo's never-ending monologue, William, new man that he was, eyes open and vigilant, shoulder to the wheel, and man on a mission-did. Fall asleep. Soundly.
But maybe not too soundly-because he dreamt.
He was back in the funeral home. But this time with some old faces. Why, there was Santini, and look-Jean himself, and wasn't that Mr. Klein back there? What do you know? It was a reunion of sorts. Everyone getting to see everyone else and compare notes. Only, if he didn't know any better, he'd swear they were all staring at him.
I know, he said. I got old.
They didn't try to dispute him. They were just wondering, they said, if he could manage.
I'll manage fine. Man on a mission. Back in the saddle. They reminded him about the girl. Five years old, wasn't she? About the white petticoat and the graffiti-scarred asphalt. And all that blood.
Hot on the trail, he assured them.
Sure, they said. Okay.
I'm sniffing the clues. I've got my nose to the ground. But he was tap-dancing for time.
He knew it; they knew it. And now they were all starting to leave him, shaking their heads, and one at a time exiting stage left.
Man on a mission, he called after them.
But they were gone, each and every one of them, gone. And he was all alone with the coffin.
The coffin dull brown, open, and empty.
When he woke, catapulting himself out of dreamland like a man whose bed is on fire, the plane was halfway into its descent, the jet-black runway of Miami Airport rushing up to meet them.
His clothes stuck to him; there was a sour, acrid odor in the plane. He would've complained to the stewardess, whoops... flight attendant, about it, but he was just about sure it was coming from him. Besides, complaining might be extra on the no-frills flight; it might be listed as a frill.
This was good. Joking was good. He breathed in. He breathed out. Good.
He'd dreamt about death. He'd dreamt about dying and he'd been frightened by it. Imagine that. It seemed to him that this was very important, being frightened. That it might be the price you pay for being back in the real world. You decide to join the living, you get back your fear of death. Call it the price of admission.
When the plane landed, bumping twice along the run-way before settling down, the passengers began clapping, all the old people whooping it up, as if they felt safe now. Safe at home. Safe at last.
Well, why not.
He bought two maps of Miami in the airport lobby. Then he went down the row of rent-a-car booths looking for the most disreputable one he could find. William had this minor problem. He hadn't driven a car in more than a decade; his license was older than that.
At the very end of the rent-a-car lane, two information booths removed from the rest, was Discount Rent-A-Car, a Cuban woman reading the Star behind the counter. "Who Broke Up My Marriage?" the banner headline, though William couldn't exactly see whose marriage it was. These days, probably everybody's.
"I'd like a car," William said.
The woman looked up at him and, without putting down the paper, slid a price list across the counter.
There was Luxury, Deluxe, and Comfortable.
"What's the difference?" William asked.
"Huh?" She peered at him quizzically.
"Between Luxury, Deluxe, and Comfortable?"
"Luxury and Deluxe have air-conditioning," she said.
"Comfortable doesn't have air-conditioning."
"So Comfortable isn't."
"Never mind. I'll take Deluxe," he said, compromising. She pulled out a form from under the desk.
"I need your license."
"Sure." William took out his wallet and after twenty seconds or so of leisurely rummaging, he pulled it out and slid it across the counter.
William A. Riskin-it said. Never Billy, Bill, or Willy, just William, thank you very much. Date of issue-never mind.
She barely looked at it. Instead, she started filling out the form, quickly and with no hesitation whatsoever. She had this rental thing down, William thought. As if her arms were moving on their own, her body set on automatic. Good, he thought, good; he was almost home.
But then he wasn't. Almost home.
"This license is expired," she said.
"Really?" William sounded surprised. "I could have sworn..."
"It expired ten years ago." She read him the expiration date. "That's ten years ago."
"Are you sure that's what it says?"
"That's what it says."
Silence. They'd reached a Mexican standoff. William made no move to retrieve his license; she made no move to give it back.
Then she said, "I've already filled out the form. You should have told me your license expired."
"Yes," William said.
"I've already filled out the form. See, it's all filled out." Yes, he saw. It was all filled out all right.
"Shit," she said, "shit."
Then she said, "Don't run any red lights." And William had his car.
He booked himself into the National Inn by the airport, and was given a room that faced directly onto the runways.
"Don't worry," the bellboy said to him after he'd dropped his borrowed suitcase onto the bed. "You turn up the AC, you won't hear a thing."
Which turned out to be only half true. The air conditioner drowned out the planes, but its wheezing rotors drowned out everything else too, including his thoughts, which weren't much, but were, nevertheless, sorely needed.
Okay, William, get to work.
He turned off the AC, then spread both maps across the bed, where he went at them with a blue Magic Marker that he'd picked up in the hotel lobby.
Follow the list, William. Samuels to Shankin to Timinsky. Follow the list.
It took him over an hour to fix each of the names to the maps, after which, sweating but good, he fit one into his pocket and the other into his bag, that one for in case. This sort of fastidiousness had been more Jean's way than his, but that was the way he was going. He had Jean's list, so he'd go the way Jean would have. Copy the habits, he used to say. When you're looking for someone, copy the habits. So okay, that's what he'd do.
Then he lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling, as if it held the answers he desperately needed to hear.
Copyright (c) 2001 by James Siegel
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I brought this book along with me on a recent vacation. Once I started reading, I looked forward to getting back to the book every day. The story is compelling, the writing smooth and evocative, and the mystery confounding to the very end. I liked Epitaph very much.
I borrowed this book from the library and had trouble reading it due to how it was converted to an epub book (writing very small and i couldn't change the font) but the plot was intriguing enough to make me but on my cheaters! This is at least the third book i've read from this author and every story line is completely different than anything i've read before and i enjoy them. This one also had a good plot but he almost needed to explain how it all tied together a little bit better at the end. I finally got it after reading the last chapter three times! However i hope Mr. Siegal continues writing!
This book was phenomenal! Very emotional & superbly suspenseful, this book moves at a fast pace without being too wordy. Plenty of twists to keep you interested. After reading 'Derailed', which I also highly enjoyed, I ordered this book online and was not disappointed. James Siegel is an excellent writer, and I can't wait to see him as successful as other top writers in his genre are - I just wish he could write faster! Read this book!
Nearly eighty, retired private detective William Riskin goes to the nearby off track betting parlor to sweep the floor, read a throwaway newspaper, and place a bet or two. As he reads the obituaries, he finds the name of his former partner Jean Golblum. Jean, a war hero and concentration camp survivor, William, and Santini formed the Three Eyes Detective Agency in which they backed each other up and finished all cases. William has never forgotten that Jean assigned him to watch a cheating wife. However, the spouse was William¿s wife doing it with Santini. Though the agency stayed together, it was never the same. William attends the funeral in which only the deceased¿s landlord arrives. William receives some junk from the landlord and soon realizes that his former partner was on a final case that he never completed. Honor makes William continue the investigation, but as he follows Jean¿s list of names with addresses, none match up except an obscure post card. Though seemingly futile, William continues to dig deeper and begins learning things he does not want to know about. EPITAPH is a unique and entertaining investigative story in which the lead character struggles with his mental faculties to concentrate on the case. William makes the story because he is handicapped by his aging body and mind, but he keeps plugging away. Though the use of flashbacks proves bewildering and makes the story line difficult to follow at times, James Siegel has written an intriguing tale that hopefully is the start of more inquiries by William. Harriet Klausner