The Poisoned Roseby D. Daniel Judson
The rich don't have more secrets--they just bury them deeper
Trouble always seems to find Declan MacManus . . . and it finds him again one rain-swept October night when the part-time P.I.--and full-time outsider--gets caught in the middle of a brutal homicide. To the rich and untouchable of Southampton, longtime locals like MacManus are little more than/i>… See more details below
The rich don't have more secrets--they just bury them deeper
Trouble always seems to find Declan MacManus . . . and it finds him again one rain-swept October night when the part-time P.I.--and full-time outsider--gets caught in the middle of a brutal homicide. To the rich and untouchable of Southampton, longtime locals like MacManus are little more than background scenery. Set up to take the fall in a nasty case of double-dealing and multiple murder, Mac follows a serpentine trail that leads through the murky waters of his past--and into the twisted heart of a prominent East End family he once knew well. As the lines between past and present, rich and poor, right and wrong begin to blur, a decades-old secret emerges from behind the closed doors of the Hamptons' moneyed enclaves--and a town sworn to protect its own declares open season on anyone who stands in its way. Mac is first in line. . .
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It was in the pale light of what seemed enough to me like morning that I awoke to the sound of someone pounding on my door. Outside my three front windows a steady rain was falling through the few yellow and red leaves that were left hanging on the trees that lined Elm Street, drilling hard into the already saturated lawn two floors below. It had been raining for days and I almost couldn't remember a time when there had been anything else but this. I preferred the sound outside my windows over the pounding on my door, so I let myself hear only that for a time. I was facedown on a bare wood floor, breathing in dust and damp, and thinking how the drops hitting the leaves sounded like rain falling on a hundred tiny umbrellas.
My muscles ached and the left side of my face stung. I didn't think too much of any of it. Last night's drinking was still in my veins. I could feel waves of intoxicants moving like thickly clustered schools of tiny fish in my blood. A part of me was still asleep, and the part of me that wasn't wanted to join up with it again as soon as possible.
Finally I got up off the floor. It took some doing but I made it to my feet. I wanted more to stop the pounding than to see who was there. When I opened the door I saw George standing in the dark hall outside, his arm poised for another bang. He looked pretty much half in the bag himself. He lived in the apartment below mine and served drinks seven nights a week in the bar one flight below that. The town we lived in was a small resort town that all but shut down between September and May, and the bar we lived above, the Hansom House, catered to the working-class locals who lived there yearround, artists and laborers alike. There wasn't much to do at night during the off months out here but drink and gossip, and George was the man to whom most people came when they wanted healthy servings of both.
When he saw me George lowered his arm. He looked a little dumbfounded, and then I realized that his eyes had shifted and were focused on the left side of my face. I felt the stinging again and remembered then the scratches and how they had come to be there.
"Jesus, Mac," George said, staring at my face, "they look worse than they did yesterday." He whispered when he spoke; the dark hallway outside my door seemed to require that somehow.
I ignored George's comment. I felt an urge to touch the scratches but didn't.
"What the hell do you want?" I muttered.
"There's someone here to see you."
"You could have just called me to tell me that."
"I tried, Mac. Your phone's out of order."
"Oh, yeah." Service had been shut off last week because I hadn't paid my bill. Yesterday I received notice that the electricity was next. "What do they want?"
"She didn't say."
"Have you ever seen her here before?"
"No, I think I would have remembered her."
"Did she say what she wanted?"
"All she said was that she wanted to talk to you. She said it was important."
I had gotten up too quickly and was a little dizzy. It felt as if gravity were working particularly hard on me this morning. It took pretty much all I had not to just give in to it and lie back down on the floor for as long as it would take for things to lighten up again.
"Just tell her I'm not here. Tell her I left town and you don't know when I'm coming back. Tell her whatever you want. Just make sure she goes away."
"There isn't any harm in talking to her, Mac, is there? I mean, no harm in hearing what she came to say, right?" He stopped, then added, "She's pretty."
"Just tell her I'm not here. Tell her I'm dead. I don't care."
George nodded. His vision shifted past me and into my apartment. I didn't have to look behind me to know what he saw. My cramped living room was chaos, crowded with furniture that was probably secondhand around the time I was born. I heard then the rain falling past my three front windows. I also heard it landing on the roof above us. I listened to the difference in pitch between the two sounds and said nothing as I waited for George's eyes to shift back to me.
"You should put something on those scratches, Mac. Do you have any ointment or something? If you don't, I could bring you some--"
"I'm going back to sleep, George."
"You coming down later?"
"I don't know."
"Drinks are on the house."
"That guy that keeps bothering the girls is coming back tonight. You know the one I mean. I guess he's been in the city for a while, and from what I hear he's coming back out tonight and'll probably come in. He owes me for a tab he ran out on, and he doesn't seem all that eager to pay it. I was thinking maybe you could talk to him for me."
"If someone owes you money, call the cops."
"I don't want them in the bar. It's bad for business. A lot of people leave if they're around, and those who stay are afraid they'll be waiting outside to bust them for DUI."
"I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do."
"The thing is, the guy's not afraid of me. He's afraid of you. He's said so. Just ask him when he plans on paying me. If he doesn't pay up after you talk to him, then I'll call the cops, I swear. All you have to do is talk to him for me. Anyway, drinks are on the house, like usual."
I was broke, and the idea of continued free drinks appealed to me more than I would ever say. "I'll see what I can do, okay?"
"I appreciate it, Mac. Thanks. Listen, I was just talking to the girls. They'll be in tonight. They'll be glad to see you."
"Isn't it kind of early for them to be up and making calls?"
"What are you talking about?"
"What time is it?"
"It's four, Mac. In the afternoon. What time did you think it was?"
I closed the door and went into the bathroom and filled up the iron-stained sink with cold water. As I splashed my face with it I felt as if I were pressing shards of metal into my open skin. I kept my eyes down and avoided the reflection in the streaked and broken hand mirror fixed to the wall above the sink. The scratches on my face were days old now but they were still noticeable enough. I didn't want to see them. Four long marks that began just above my left temple ran down past my eye, ending at my jaw. It would be hard for me to see them and not think of the woman who had made them just hours prior to her death.
I had on only a T-shirt and jeans, so I grabbed an old hooded sweatshirt out of my bureau and pulled it on. It smelled musty but clean and was the last of a wash I had done weeks ago. It was chilly in my rooms, far too chilly for October. I pulled on my work boots and grabbed my denim jacket and started down the two flights of stairs but stopped at the landing above the last flight when I heard George's voice again.
I peeked around and down the stairs and could see him standing in the doorway, talking to someone. It was a woman. I could not see her face, just the shape of her body inside an open overcoat that was sizes too big for her. She was wearing jeans and a thin white sweater. I didn't move, just stayed where I was and listened.
"Do you know when he might be in?" she was saying. The door was open and her voice was nearly lost to the sound of all that rain falling behind her. Even if I couldn't hear her at all I would know pretty much what it was she was saying. I'd heard it before, from those who came looking for my help before her.
"I don't know," George told her. "I'm sorry. He's hard to keep track of."
"It's very important I talk to him." There was a tightness to her voice, which was tonal and low, like a cello. Her jeans were old and faded and baggy. I got the sense by the way they hung off her hips that they had belonged first to a man.
"I don't know what to tell you."
"I've tried to call him but his number's disconnected."
"I can give him a message when I see him. I can't say when that might be. That's the best I can do. Maybe you can leave your name and number with me."
"No. No, that won't work."
"I'm sorry. I don't know what else I can do. If you're in trouble, maybe you should go to the police."
"I can't go to them."
"I just can't."
"Listen, you're welcome to stay and wait for him and have a drink, if you want."
"I can't do that, either."
"Well, if I see him I'll let him know you're looking for him. What's your name?"
"It's okay. Thanks. I'll try back later on if I can." She backed away from the door then. George watched her go. I waited till he closed the door before I went down to him.
"She's persistent," he said. "She was halfway up the stairs again when I came back down. She must want to talk to you bad."
"You've never seen her before?"
"No. She was a pretty thing, though, don't you think?"
I said nothing to that. I thanked George for his help and left. I pulled the hood of the sweatshirt up over my head and ran through the rain to my ancient LeMans parked across the flooded street. I got in and pulled the door shut, and that was when I saw an old two-door red Saab parked on the other side of the street, a few spots down from the Hansom House. A woman was behind the wheel. I could barely see her through the rain streaming down my windshield and hers. But I could make out the color of the overcoat, and that was how I knew it was probably her. I could see that her head was tilted forward, her forehead resting on the steering wheel. I didn't dare start my engine. I didn't want to risk drawing her attention. I didn't want her lifting her head to the sound of my engine and seeing me. I didn't want her rushing through that rain toward me. I couldn't hear what she had to say. I just couldn't. I was out of the charity business. There was nothing she could say to change that.
So I waited for a few minutes, smelling the damp must of the old interior, watching her. Finally she leaned back and wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. I looked away from that. Then I heard the engine of her Saab start. Headlights came on. And then she quickly steered away from the curb.
I ducked down a little as her car went past. I didn't think she saw me. I sat up again and looked in the rearview mirror and watched as she turned left and rode past the train station, toward North Main Street. Then she disappeared from my sight.
It was just four in the afternoon but looked like dusk. I had thought just minutes ago that it was dawn. I was close to an hour late for my meeting with Frank Gannon, but there was nothing I could do about that now. If it hadn't been for George pounding on my door, I would have missed the thing altogether. As I drove I thought of all the ways that my going there was a mistake.
I rode over flooded streets into Southampton Village. It was just a little over a mile. I parked at the corner of Main Street and Job's Lane, then ran through the rain to the entrance to Frank's building. I was soaked through by the time I reached it. His office was the only door at the top of thirteen steep steps. Each plank of creaking wood announced my presence as I climbed up.
The office was dimly lit; the only windows were the ones at the front and the rear, but even when it was a sunny day outside they didn't catch all that much light. Before it was an office, this room had been an attic storage room above a women's clothing store. It still had that feel. The corners were dark and seemed to take up much of the room, particularly toward the back. The furnishings were simple: a desk and chair positioned midway down the long room, two chairs facing it, and a long couch behind those, its back against the opposing brick wall. The rest of the room was just filing cabinets and dark corners and empty space.
Frank was behind the desk when I entered, seated with his back straight in his big leather chair. He was on the phone, a stack of files at one elbow and a lighted reading lamp at the other. Between his elbows was an ink blotter, heavily stained.
His skin was clean-shaven and taut, and he looked like a man who took care of himself, to the point of pampering. No one really knew exactly how well off Frank was. He had his home on Hill Street, his pretty wife, his two daughters, both in nice Ivy League colleges, and his two Cadillacs. He never seemed to want for anything. His exterior appearance was polished, and yet it did little to hide the real man inside from anyone who did business with him, the rough and violent ex-cop who had found a much better life as a private detective maneuvering in and out of the countless cracks that existed between laws.
I closed the door behind me and leaned my back against it. I didn't want to step any farther into the room. I looked at Frank for a while, then realized there was someone else in the room, standing in the back, by the rear window, in the shadows.
I looked toward him and saw that whoever it was had his back to me and was looking at me over his shoulder. He was holding a folded newspaper under his left arm. He waited for a moment, staring at me, before turning away and looking out the rear window at the cop parking lot below.
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