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The Fourth Deadly Sin
The Edward X. Delaney Series
By Lawrence Sanders
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Lawrence Sanders
All rights reserved.
THE NOVEMBER SKY OVER Manhattan was chain mail, raveling into steely rain. A black night with coughs of thunder, lightning stabs that made abrupt days. Dr. Simon Ellerbee, standing at his office window, peered out to look at life on the street below. He saw only the reflection of his own haunted face.
He could not have said how it started, or why. He, who had always been so certain, now buffeted and trembling ...
All hearts have dark corners, where the death of a loved one is occasionally wished, laughter offends, and even beauty becomes a rebuke.
He turned back to his desk. It was strewn with files and tape cassettes: records of his analysands. He stared at that litter of fears, angers, passions, dreads. Now his own life belonged there, part of the untidiness, where once it had been ordered and serene.
He stalked about, hands thrust deep into pockets, head bowed. He pondered his predicament and dwindling choices. Mordant thought: How does one seek "professional help" when one is a professional?
The soul longs for purity, but we are all hungry for the spiced and exotic. Evil is just a word, and what no one sees, no one knows. Unless God truly is a busybody.
He lay full-length on the couch some of his patients insisted on using, though he thought this classic prop of psychiatry was flimflam and often counterproductive. But there he was, stretched out tautly, trying to still his churning thoughts and succeeding no better than all the agitated who had occupied that same procrustean bed.
Groaning, he rose from the couch to resume his pacing. He paused again to stare through the front window. He saw only a rain-whipped darkness.
The problem, he decided, was learning to acknowledge uncertainty. He, the most rational of men, must adjust to the variableness of a world in which nothing is sure, and the chuckles belong to chance and accident. There could be satisfaction in living with that—fumbling toward a dimly glimpsed end. For if that isn't art, what is?
The downstairs bell rang three times—the agreed-upon signal for all late-night visitors. He started, then hurried into the receptionist's office to press the buzzer unlocking the entrance from the street. He then unchained and unbolted the door leading from the office suite to the corridor.
He ducked into the bathroom to look in the mirror, adjust his tie, smooth his sandy hair with damp palms. He came back to stand before the outer door and greet his guest with a smile.
But when the door opened, and he saw who it was, he made a thick, strangled sound deep in his throat. His hands flew to cover his face and hide his dismay. He turned away, shoulders slumping.
The first heavy blow landed high on the crown of his head. It sent him stumbling forward, knees buckling. A second blow put him down, biting at the thick pile carpeting.
The weapon continued to rise and fall, crushing his skull. But by that time Dr. Simon Ellerbee was dead, all dreams gone, doubts fled, all questions answered.CHAPTER 2
BY MONDAY MORNING THE sky had been rinsed; a casaba sun loomed; and pedestrians strode with opened coats flapping. A chill breeze nipped, but New York had the lift of early winter, with stores preparing for Christmas, and street vendors hawking hot pretzels and roasted chestnuts.
Former Chief of Detectives Edward X. Delaney sensed the acceleration. The city, his city, was moving faster, tempo changing from andante to con anima. The scent of money was in the air. It was the spending season—and if the boosters didn't make it in the next six weeks, they never would.
He lumbered down Second Avenue, heavy overcoat hanging from his machine-gunner's shoulders. Hard homburg set solidly, squarely, atop his head. Big, flat feet encased in ankle-high shoes of black kangaroo leather. A serious man who looked more like a monsignor than an ex-cop. Except that cops are never ex-.
The sharp weather delighted him, and so did the food shops opening so rapidly in Manhattan. Every day seemed to bring a new Korean greengrocer, a French patisserie, a Japanese take-out. And good stuff, too—delicate mushrooms, tangy fruits, spicy meats.
And the breads! That's what Edward X. Delaney appreciated most. He suffered, as his wife, Monica, said, from "sandwich senility," and this sudden bonanza of freshly baked breads was a challenge to his inventiveness.
Pita, brioche, muffins, light challah and heavy pumpernickel. Loaves no larger than your fist, and loaves of coarse German rye as big as a five-inch shell. Flaky stuff that dissolved on the tongue, and some grainy doughs that hit the stomach with a thud.
He stopped in a half-dozen shops, buying this and that, filling his net shopping bag. Then, fearful of his wife's reaction to his spree, he trundled his way homeward. He had a vision of something new: smoked chub tucked into a split croissant—with maybe a thin slice of Vidalia onion and a dab of mayonnaise, for fun.
This hunched, ponderous man, weighty shoes thumping the pavement, seemed to look at nothing, but he saw everything. As he passed the 251st Precinct house—his old precinct—and came to his brownstone, he noted the unmarked black Buick illegally parked in front. Two uniformed cops in the front seat. They glanced at him without interest.
Monica was perched on a stool at the kitchen counter, going through her recipe file.
"You have a visitor," she said.
"Ivar," he said. "I saw his car. Where'd you put him?"
"In the study. I offered a drink or coffee, but he didn't want anything. Said he'd wait for you."
"He might have called first," Delaney grumbled, hoisting his shopping bag onto the counter.
"What's all that stuff?" she demanded.
"Odds and ends. Little things."
She leaned forward to sniff. "Phew! What's that smell?"
"Maybe the blood sausage."
"Blood sausage? Yuck!"
"Don't knock it unless you've tried it."
He bent to kiss the back of her neck. "Put this stuff away, will you, hon? I'll go in and see what Ivar wants."
"How do you know he wants anything?"
"He didn't come by just to say hello—that I know."
He hung his hat and coat in the hall closet, then went through the living room to the study at the rear of the house. He opened and closed the door quietly, and for a moment thought that First Deputy Commissioner Ivar Thorsen might be dozing.
"Ivar," Delaney said loudly, "good to see you."
The Deputy—known in the Department as the "Admiral"—opened his eyes and rose from the club chair alongside the desk. He smiled wanly and held out his hand.
"Edward," he said, "you're looking well."
"I wish I could say the same about you," Delaney said, eyeing the other man critically. "You look like something the cat dragged in."
"I suppose," Thorsen said, sighing. "You know what it's like downtown, and I haven't been sleeping all that much lately."
"Take a glass of stout or port before you go to bed. Best thing in the world for insomnia. And speaking of the old nasty—it's past noon, and you could use some plasma."
"Thank you, Edward," Thorsen said gratefully. "A small scotch would do me fine."
Delaney brought two glasses and a bottle of Glenfiddich from the cellarette. He sat in the swivel chair behind his desk and poured them both tots of the single malt. They tinked glass rims and sipped.
"Ahh," the Admiral said, settling into his armchair. "I could get hooked on this."
He was a neat, precise man. Fine silvery hair was brushed sideways. Ice-blue eyes pierced the world from under white brows. Ordinarily he had a baby's complexion and a sharp nose and jaw that could have been snipped from sheet metal. But now there were stress lines, sags, pouches.
"Monica had lunch with Karen the other day," Delaney mentioned. "Said she's looking fine."
"What?" Thorsen said, looking up distractedly.
"Karen," Delaney said gently. "Your wife."
"Oh ... yes," Thorsen said with a confused laugh. "I'm sorry; I wasn't listening."
Delaney leaned toward his guest, concerned. "Ivar, is everything all right?"
"Between Karen and me? Couldn't be better. Downtown? Couldn't be worse."
"More political bullshit?"
"Yes. But this time it's not from the Mayor's office; it's the Department's own bullshit. Want to hear about it?"
Delaney really didn't want to. Political infighting in the upper echelons of the New York Police Department was the reason he had filed for early retirement. He could cope with thieves and killers; he wasn't interested in threading the Byzantine maze of Departmental cliques and cabals. All those intrigues. All those naked ambitions and steamy hatreds.
In the lower, civil service ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, he had known the stress of political pressure—from inside and outside the Department. He had been able to live with it, rejecting it when he could, compromising when he had to.
But nothing had prepared him for the hardball games they played in the appointive ranks. When he got his oak leaves as a Deputy Inspector, he was thrown into a cockpit where the competition was fierce, a single, minor misstep could mean the end of a twenty-year career, and combatants swigged Maalox like fine Beaujolais.
And as he went up the ladder to the two stars of an Assistant Chief, the tension increased with the responsibility. You not only had to do your work, and do it superbly well, but you had constantly to look over your shoulder to see who stood close behind you with a knife and a smirk.
Then he had the three stars of Chief of Detectives, and wanted only to be left alone to do the job he knew he could do. But he was forced to spend too much time soothing his nervous superiors and civilian politicos with enough clout to make life miserable for him if he didn't find out who mugged their nephew.
He couldn't take that kind of constraint, and so Edward X. Delaney turned in his badge. The fault, he acknowledged later, was probably his. He was mentally and emotionally incapable of "going along." He had a hair- trigger temper, a strong sense of his own dignity, and absolute faith in his detective talents and methods of working a case.
He couldn't change himself, and he couldn't change the Department. So he got out before the ulcers popped up, and tried to keep busy, tried to forget what might have been. But still ...
"Sure, Ivar," he said with a set smile, "I'd like to hear about it."
Thorsen took a sip of his scotch. "You know Chief of Detectives Murphy?"
"Bill Murphy? Of course I know him. We came through the Academy together. Good man. A little plodding maybe, but he thinks straight."
"He's put in his papers. As of the first of the year. He's got cancer of the prostate."
"Ahh, Jesus," Delaney said. "That's a crying shame. I'll have to go see him."
"Well ..." the Admiral said, peering down at his drink, "Bill thought he could last until the first of the year, but I don't think he's going to make it. He's been out so much we've had to put in an Acting Chief of Detectives to keep the bureau running. The Commish says he'll appoint a permanent late in December."
"Who's the Acting Chief?" Delaney asked, beginning to get interested.
Thorsen looked up at him. "Edward, you remember when they used to say that in New York, the Irish had the cops, the Jews had the schools, and the Italians had the Sanitation Department? Well, things have changed—but not all that much. There's still an Old Guard of the Irish in the Department, and they take care of their own. They just refuse to accept the demographic changes that have taken place in this city—the number of blacks, Hispanics, Orientals. When it came to getting the PC to appoint an Acting Chief of Detectives, I wanted a two-star named Michael Ramon Suarez, figuring it would help community relations. Suarez is a Puerto Rican, and he's been running five precincts in the Bronx and doing a hell of a job. The Chief of Operations, Jimmy Conklin, wanted the Commissioner to pick Terence J. Riordan, who's got nine Brooklyn precincts. So we had quite a tussle."
"I can imagine," Delaney said, pouring them more whiskey. "Who won?"
"I did," Thorsen said. "I got Suarez in as Acting Chief. I figured he'd do a good job, and when the time came, the PC would give him his third star and appoint him permanent Chief of Detectives. A big boost for the Hispanics. And the Mayor would love it."
"Ivar, you should have gone into politics."
"I did," Thorsen said with a crooked grin.
"So? You didn't stop by just to tell me how you creamed the Irish. What's the problem?"
"Edward, did you read the papers over the weekend? Or watch the local TV? That psychiatrist who got wasted—Dr. Ellerbee?"
Delaney looked at him. "I read about it. Got snuffed in his own office, didn't he? And not too far from here. I figured it was a junkie looking for drugs."
"Sure," Thorsen said, nodding. "That was everyone's guess. God knows it happens often enough. But Ellerbee didn't keep any drugs in his office. And there was no sign of forced entry, either at the street entrance or his office door. I don't know all the details, but it looks like he let someone in he knew and expected."
Delaney leaned forward, staring at the other man. "Ivar, what's this all about—your interest in the Ellerbee homicide? It happens four or five times a day in the Big Apple. I didn't think you got all that concerned about one kill."
Thorsen rose and began to pace nervously about the room. "It isn't just another kill, Edward. It could be big trouble. For many reasons. Ellerbee was a wealthy, educated man who had a lot of friends in what they call 'high places.' He was civic-minded—did free work in clinics, for example. His wife—who's a practicing psychologist, by the way—is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, and she's been raising holy hell with us. And to top that, Ellerbee's father is Henry Ellerbee, the guy who built Ellerbee Towers on Fifth Avenue and owns more Manhattan real estate than you and I own socks. He's been screaming his head off to everyone from the Governor on down."
"Yes, I'd say you have a few problems."
"And the clincher," Thorsen went on, still pacing, "the clincher is that this is the first big homicide Acting Chief of Detectives Michael Ramon Suarez has had to handle."
"Oh-ho," Delaney said, leaning back in his swivel chair and swinging gently back and forth. "Now we get down to the nitty-gritty."
"Right," the Admiral said, almost angrily. "The nitty-gritty. If Suarez muffs this one, there is no way on God's green earth he's going to get a third star and permanent appointment."
"And you'll look like a shithead for backing him in the first place."
"Right," Thorsen said again. "He'd better clear this one fast or he's in the soup, and I'm in there with him."
"All very interesting," Delaney said. "So?"
The Admiral groaned, slumped into the armchair again. "Edward, you're not making this any easier for me."
"Making what easier?" Delaney said innocently.
Then it all came out in a rush.
"I want you to get involved in the Ellerbee case," the First Deputy Commissioner said. "I haven't even thought about how it can be worked; I wanted to discuss it with you first. Edward, you've saved my ass before—at least twice. I know I gave you a lot of bullshit about doing it for the Department, or doing it just to keep active and not becoming a wet-brained retiree. But this time I'm asking you on the basis of our friendship. I'm asking for a favor—one old friend to another."
"You're calling in your chits, Ivar," Delaney said slowly. "I would never have gone as far as I did without your clout. I know that, and you know I know it."
Thorsen made a waving gesture. "Put it any way you like. The bottom line is that I need your help, and I'm asking for it."
Delaney was silent a moment, looking down at his big hands spread on the desk top.
"I'm getting liver spots," he said absently. "Ivar, have you talked to Suarez about this?"
"Yes, I talked to him. He'll cooperate one hundred percent. He's out of his depth on this case and he knows it. He's got some good men, but no one with your experience and know-how. He'll take help anywhere he can get it."
"Is he working the Ellerbee case personally?"
"After the flak started, he got personally involved. He had to. But from what he told me, so far they've got a dead body, and that's all they've got."
"It happened Friday night?"
"Yes. He was killed about nine P.M. Approximately. According to the ME."
"More than forty-eight hours ago," Delaney said reflectively. "And getting colder by the minute. That means the solution probability is going down."
Excerpted from The Fourth Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders. Copyright © 1985 Lawrence Sanders. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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