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By Andrew Klavan
A MysteriousPress.com Copyright © 1988 Andrew Klavan
All rights reserved.
His name was Mayforth Kendrick III. He was a weasel. He'd phoned me that afternoon at the Star. "Come up and see my new place, Wells," he'd said. It was August. The city was dead. He had something to sell for certain. That night, around eleven, I went to find out what it was.
His new place was on Seventh Street, off Avenue A. Half of the street's south side was taken up by an empty lot, a little rubble garden where a building had been razed. The north side of the street was a row of stoops and brick walls and dark windows. I parked the Artful Dodge on the avenue and started walking.
It was hot. The air was thick. The moisture in it turned to mist on the pavement. The mist hung low in the night. It gave the street lamps halos. It blocked out what the street lamps left of the stars. The sky was heavy with it, but it would not break and rain.
I felt like I was packed in cotton. I had my jacket over my shoulder and my tie loosened, and still my shirt clung to me, gray with sweat. My cigarette turned sour between my lips. I tossed it into the gutter.
I walked by the doorways. Dark eyes watched me go. Faces in the shadows of hat brims puckered at me. The lips hissed, "Sssmoke. Sssmoke." I kept walking. I reached Kendrick's building. A man in a khaki shirt was leaning against the stoop railing. He smiled broadly.
"He-ey." He drew the word out.
I looked at him. He stopped smiling. I trotted up the steps to the front door.
I pushed into the vestibule. The buzzers there had been torn out. That was all right: the lock was busted anyway. I pushed the inner door open. A long flight of stairs rose from the peeling linoleum of the floor. I started up.
The hot, heavy air came up with me, like I was dragging it up after me on a rope. I was breathless by the time I reached the second-floor landing. I came around the banister and walked down a hallway of anonymous black doors. Another flight of stairs. I climbed them slowly. My shoes made a sorry scraping noise as they shuffled from step to step.
My forehead streamed with sweat. I reached the third floor. I walked straight ahead to the end of the hall. The ceiling light was out. The far door was in darkness. I stepped into the darkness and knocked once.
The door swung in a little. A sickeningly sweet incense drifted out. Kendrick peeked at me over a chain lock. His blue eyes brightened. I could smell him grin.
"Wells," he said. He chuckled.
The door closed. I heard the scrape and rattle of the chain. The door opened. I walked across the threshold.
Kendrick kept on grinning at me, his yellow teeth showing, his white lips curled in. His head bobbed up and down. He chuckled some more. He always was a big chuckler.
He wasn't much over thirty. He hardly looked seventeen. He had that real smooth skin some pale people get. He wore soiled clamdiggers like a teenager, and flowered shirts. The expression he wore—an expression of stupid cunning—added to his youthful appearance. It made him look like a high-school kid peeking through the keyhole of the girls' locker room. He had a big sloping caveman's forehead. His blue eyes were sunk deep under it. Over it, straight, fine blonde hair flopped down onto his eyebrows. Now and then he had to swipe at it to get it out of his way.
"Mayforth." I nodded at him. He grinned and chuckled. He sniffled. He wiped his nose with his shirt sleeve.
"You're sweating," he said. "Wanna beer?"
The kitchenette was behind a counter to my right. He went to it, opened the fridge. I looked around the little studio. It was cheap enough, but surprisingly neat. There was a tired orange rug over most of the floor. A frayed peach-colored sofa stood under the windows on the far wall. Flowered curtains hung above it. They barely stirred in the August air. There were orange director's chairs stationed here and there. Lots of colored pillows on the floor to sit on. A rickety writing table with a flower vase on top. Posters on the wall: harbors, dancers, grassy parks. The gentler impressionists.
Kendrick slouched over. He shoved a bottle of Bud into my hand. He grinned. He chuckled. He sniffed.
I tossed my coat over a director's chair. "Nice place."
"Nah. A friend's." His head bobbing, Kendrick moved toward the writing table.
I swigged the beer. "Delilah throw you out?"
He chuckled. "Nah. Well: yeah. You know."
"Sure. I know. You're pimping again. She warned you."
He wrestled with the table's drawer. The table shook on its spindly legs. The flower vase tilted, fell over. A little water puffed out the top.
"Shit," said Kendrick. He grabbed the vase as it rolled toward the edge. He straightened it with both hands. "Well, she's not exactly a corporation in herself, you know. I gotta expand." He managed to get the drawer open this time. Sweat dripped into it from his forehead. He paused to lift his shirt and wipe his face. I could see his ribs poking through the tight skin over his abdomen. He dropped the shirt. He sniffled, swiped at his nose with his sleeve.
I pulled my pack of cigarettes from my pocket. I shot one into my mouth, held my lighter to it. I watched him rooting in the drawer.
He was the scion of a noble clan, Mayforth was. His father, Mayforth Junior, was a big-time Broadway producer. Mayforth the Original, our man's gramps, had been one of those rare financial types who made a bundle during the Great Depression.
With Mayforth III, the bloodline had clearly peaked. Born and bred in some of the sniffier neighborhoods of Westchester, he was introduced early to the very cream of society. In youth, he mingled with the famous and the rich. He dined in all the glamor spots Manhattan has. Celebrities had him on their A list. Now and then, his gorgeous puss even graced the columns of the Star or the News.
At eighteen, like his father before him, he was packed off to Yale. He was supposed to join the dramatic society. Become a Whiffenpoof or whatever. He was supposed to learn the ins and outs of high-toned show business so he could follow in his father's footsteps.
Instead, he learned that if he put certain chemicals in his body, life turned into a merry game. He injected, he dropped, and he sniffed. He liked it. He liked to see the funny colors. He liked to watch with a lazy smile as they went by. In the generosity of his happy heart, he even liked to share his wonderful chemicals with others. For a small price. One day he offered this exchange to an undercover police officer who was responding to a dormitory complaint. His father kept him out of jail. The dean kicked him out of Yale. Then his father disowned him.
So that was maybe ten years ago. Since then, Mayforth had become a phantom on Theater Row. He haunted the cafés on Broadway and West Forty-second Street, down in the Village and Soho. Anywhere theater people went, there went Mayforth. He peddled his wares to his old dinner companions and to companions of his companions. Sometimes drugs, sometimes women, sometimes personal services, like running messages or paying off a cop.
The cops, of course, also used him. Now and again, they'd haul him into the back of a squad car, lean their grizzled faces into his, and paint unpleasant pictures of what life was like on Riker's Island. When they felt he had those pictures fixed firmly in his mind, they'd ask him questions about this drug supplier or that big-time customer. Now and again, they found him very helpful. And once, they passed him on to me.
I was writing a series on drugs in show business. A friend of mine on the force gave me Kendrick's name. He was nervous about talking to me at first. But I took him out to some good restaurants, treated him like a celebrity interview. After a while, he relaxed and gave me what I wanted. After a while longer, he began to have fun. He found he'd missed seeing his name in the papers. And even though his name had now become "unidentified source" it still gave him a kick. Since then, he'd called me every so often. Whenever he thought he had something that might interest me. Sometimes his price was a good dinner. Sometimes he took cash.
When he straightened at the writing desk now, he was holding a manila envelope. He wrestled the drawer shut. He stepped over—but hesitated before he handed the envelope to me.
"I mean, this is gonna cost you. You know? I mean, this is really money here. You know what I mean?"
I let my cigarette dangle between my lips and reached out with my free hand. He parted with the envelope. I sat down on the nearby director's chair. I set my beer on the floor. With smoke trailing up into my eyes, I pried the manila flap open.
Kendrick, meanwhile, plopped onto one of the floor pillows. There was a small cassette player next to him. I noticed now that it was spinning out a soft guitar melody. Next to the player was an ashtray. In the ashtray was a burnt-out reefer. Kendrick set the joint between his lips and lit it up again. He sucked in the drug with a noise like a busted steam pipe. He leaned back against the base of the sofa. He stared at me. He smiled dreamily.
There were photographs in the envelope. I paused to pluck the cigarette out of my mouth. I flicked an ash onto the carpet. I rubbed it with my shoe until it didn't show. I stuck the cig back into my face. I pinched the edge of the photographs and pulled them out.
Mayforth Kendrick III chuckled. His head bobbed up and down. He sucked his dope. He sniffled.
I examined the pictures, one at a time. Sweat ran off my temples, down my jaw. I smiled around my cigarette. I laughed. Kendrick chuckled.
"What is she, one of your girls?" I laughed again. "Oh shit, look at this."
Kendrick snorted. "Aren't they something?" He blew out a lungful of weed. "Nah. She's one of these actress types."
"Oh yeah," I said. "A model."
"Yeah. She might even be willing to talk."
"I'll bet. Jesus, look at this." I squinted at the pictures through the smoke. I shook my head. "Paul Abingdon. I'll be damned. What happened? Wouldn't he pay for these?"
"Hey." He pointed at himself with the fingers of both hands. "Let's just say I found it, uh, expedient, you know, to come to you. Okay? I mean, ask me no questions, know what I mean?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I think I know what you mean, Mayforth."
I slid the pictures back into the envelope. I tossed the envelope onto the carpet. I picked up my beer, pulled my cigarette free. I sat back in the director's chair and looked at my youthful friend. His head kept bobbing happily. He let out his laugh in a stuttered hiss: chh chh chh.
The smoke from my cigarette drifted lazily toward the open window. It mingled with the marijuana, with its acrid stench. The haze of smoke hung in the air. It hung there like the hot mist outside. Just sitting there, I felt damp all over. My palms sweat. There was sweat in the rings beneath my eyes.
"These are pretty raw," I told him. "I mean, I work for a family newspaper."
He spread his hands like he was giving a blessing. "Hell, you know, like, you X out the bad stuff. You can do that. I've seen them do that."
"Maybe. Maybe big X's."
"Anyway, man, those're just to, you know, convince you, see? There're the other ones in there, too, right? That one in the underwear. And where she's got his shirt on, you could crop that one. That one would look really nice." He shaped it for me in the hazy air. "Front page, you know."
"Uh-huh." I nodded. "Yeah. That's where they'd probably put it, all right. And just how much are you looking to earn here?"
He shrugged. "Whatever. You've always been fair to me, Wells. Truly." He whipped the limp blond hair back out of his eyes.
"The magazines might pay you more, you know. They would, for certain."
"Yeah, but ... I mean, like ... I know you, Wells." He chuckled loudly, and said again: "I know you."
I swigged more beer. My cigarette had burned to the filter. I slipped it through the neck of the Bud bottle. I heard the fire of it hiss and die.
I set the bottle down on the floor. I stood up. "I don't think so, pal."
Kendrick's jaw dropped. He jutted his face at me, eyes wide. "Man, did you see those? That's a congressman, man, a senate candidate."
"Thanks, Mayforth. I'm a newspaperman. I know who's running for senate." I picked my jacket off the chair. I tossed it over my shoulder.
Kendrick didn't leave his pillow. He didn't even stop suckling the drug. But he extended his hands at me between tokes. He implored me. "Come on, man. Did you see the one where he's got her tied up with his handkerchief? This is a married man we're talking about here."
"He's hitting her with her, what is this, her sash or something.... You want a fucking SM freak in the United States Senate?"
"Why not? It's where all his friends are."
"Oh man!" He threw his hands up. They landed in his lap.
I smiled. "Sorry, Mayforth. They're good shots, they really are."
"I mean, I went to a lot of trouble, man," he said dejectedly.
"And don't think I don't appreciate it."
He hung his head. "Oh, man." I felt sorry for him.
"Lookit," I said. "The pictures are great. Really."
"You think it's easy with a fucking senate candidate?"
"Only you could have done it."
"Hey. I mean, no shit, you hear me?"
"The thing is," I said, "it's just not a story."
"What are you talking about?"
"It's no story, Mayforth. The guy's running for senate, not pope. His private life is nobody's business but his."
Mayforth Kendrick raised his eyes to heaven. "I can't believe this," he told the Lord. He lowered his eyes. "You know—somebody's gonna take them."
"Yeah," I said. "I know."
"I mean, stuff like this, man—it's in all the papers. It's juicy. It's scandal. It's good copy."
I shrugged. "So try the Post. Me, I think a candidate should screw as many people as he can. It's good practice in case he gets into office." I pulled the door open and stepped out. "See you later, Mayforth. Put in some air-conditioning."
"Oh man! I mean: man!" he was saying, as I closed his door and headed down the hall.CHAPTER 2
The heat hung on into morning. The sky stayed faint and bluish-gray. The air stayed heavy, full of rain that wouldn't fall. By 7:30, the temperature was eighty-five. There was no breeze.
I woke up sweating. I showered. I dried myself. I sweat. I put some clothes on over the sweat. I went out and had the Artful Dodge excavated from its garage. Usually, I take the subway to work. But the airless tunnels, the crowded cars, the smell of filth and piss could not entice me in this heat despite their charms. My ancient maroon Dart was air-conditioned, at least. At least, the vents hissed and coughed out a little stream of air.
I drove downtown on Lexington. Rush-hour busses jammed the way. They spewed black exhaust out behind them. The storefronts lining the dismal avenue shimmered under the stuff.
Otherwise, the traffic wasn't too bad. New York in August is a sleeping beast. The rich are gone to Europe, the almost rich are in their summer houses. The workers take their weeks off on the Jersey shore. Only the homeless stay. The sane ones in their shelters, the mad ones in the street. You see them—the mad ones—more and more as July wears on. As the well-fed fade away, they become more obvious. First, they're a face in a hundred, then in fifty. By the deeps of August, it seems they're one in ten. One in ten faces scum-blackened and slack-jawed. They sleep in doorways. They root through garbage. They mutter to themselves and shout to everyone else. They sit against the walls and stare. And the city goes quiet around them. Pretty soon, the mad are staring at each other. And at the reporters, I guess, who stay on too.
The reporters stare into the empty air. There's no news in August. Some fires if you're lucky. Some short-temper murders in the worst of the heat. Maybe a drought or a riot for a special treat. Other than that, nothing. The politicians aren't even pretending to work, and the civil servants don't see any point in striking. Even the top-notch bad guys take a breather. A crime-and-scandal man like me finds himself trying to remember what his byline looks like.
I'd been working on some good stuff as June ended. I'd finally gotten Robins indicted in Brooklyn for the payoff in Corlies Park. And I'd just hooked into a little police kickback deal that showed some promise of settling an old score between me and my good friend Lieutenant Tom Watts. But as June became July and July turned into August, the sources dried up. The flow of information slowed to a trickle. In this morning's edition, the only sign of the name John Wells was under the headline: SUSPECTED PUSHER WOUNDED IN CHASE. It was pathetic.
Excerpted from The Rain by Andrew Klavan. Copyright © 1988 Andrew Klavan. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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