Read an Excerpt
The Spenser Novels 34 – 39
Now and Then
Robert B Parker
THE SPENSER NOVELS
Pale Kings and Princes Taming a Sea-Horse
A Catskill Eagle
The Widening Gyre
A Savage Place
Looking for Rachel Wallace The Judas Goat
God Save the Child
The Godwulf Manuscript
THE JESSE STONE NOVELS
Death in Paradise
Trouble in Paradise
THE SUNNY RANDALL NOVELS
ALSO BY ROBERT B. PARKER
All Our Yesterdays
A Year at the Races (with Joan Parker)
Perchance to Dream
Poodle Springs (with Raymond Chandler)
Love and Glory
Three Weeks in Spring (with Joan Parker)
Training with Weights (with John R. Marsh)
ROBERT B. PARKER
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
The woman who came into my office on a bright January day was a knockout. Her hair had blond highlights and her fawn-colored suit appeared to have been hand-sewn by Michael Kors. She took off some sort of fur-lined cape and tossed it over the arm of my couch, and came over and sat down in one of my client chairs. She smiled at me. I smiled at her. She waited. The light coming in my window was especially bright this morning, enhanced by the light snowfall that had collected overnight. She didn’t seem dangerous. I remained calm.
“You don’t know who I am,” she said after a while. “Do you.”
Her voice sounded as if it had been polished by old money. It was her eyes. Someone I knew was in there behind those eyes.
“Not yet,” I said.
“‘Not yet,’” she said. “That’s so you. ‘I don’t know now, but I will.’”
“My glass is always half full,” I said. “Are you going to tell me or do I have to frisk you.”
“God, it’s good to see you,” she said. “It’s April.”
I stared at her. And then there she was.
“April Kyle,” I said, and stood up.
She stood up, too. I walked around the desk and she almost jumped against me. I put my arms around her. She was beautiful, but the incest taboo had kicked in the moment I knew who she was. It was like hugging a little girl. All the cool elegance was gone. She stayed against me with her arms around me and pressed her face against my chest.
“It’s like coming home,” she said.
“When you have to go there, they have to take you in,” I said.
“Very good,” I said.
“You taught me that,” she said.
I nodded. She kept her face pressed against my chest. It made her voice muffle a little.
“You taught me almost everything I know that matters,” she said.
“That’s not so hard,” I said. “Because not many things matter.”
“But the ones that do,” she said, “matter a lot.”
She let me go and stood back and looked at me for a moment, then sat back down. I went back to my desk chair and tilted back in it.
“Are you still with Susan?” she said.
She nodded. “And you’re still doing what you do.”
“And charmingly,” I said.
“You look the same,” she said.
“Is that good or bad?” I said.
“It’s absolutely marvelous,” she said. “It’s been so long. I was terrified you wouldn’t be here. But here you are. Looking the same. Full of irony and strength.”
“You’ve become quite beautiful,” I said.
“And graceful,” I said.
“Is it real?” I said.
“Mostly,” she said.
I was quiet. I could smell her perfume. It smelled expensive. She was expensive. Everything about her: clothes, manner, makeup, the way she crossed her legs. The way she spoke.
“I’m still a whore,” she said.
“And a very successful one,” I said.
“Actually, I don’t do so much of the, ah, hands-on anymore,” she said and smiled at me. “I’m management now.”
“It’s what makes America great,” I said.
“You don’t disapprove,” she said.
“I’m the guy sent you to Mrs. Utley,” I said.
“You had no choice,” April said. “I was a complete mess. You had to find someone to take care of me.”
“How about you,” I said. “Do you disapprove?”
“Disapprove?” April said. “I’ve been in this business since I was fifteen.”
“Doesn’t mean you approve,” I said.
“And you sending me to the best madam in New York doesn’t mean you approve,” April said.
“I had to think about it a little because of you,” I said. “And if it’s among consenting adults and no one is demeaned—seems okay to me.”
“Have you ever had sex with a whore?” April said.
“Not lately,” I said.
“So maybe you do disapprove.”
“Or maybe I’m such a chick magnet,” I said, “that I never had time.”
April smiled and looked for a moment at the bright morning hovering over Berkeley Street.
“Do you disapprove of me?” she said.
“No,” I said. “I don’t.”
“I guess that’s probably what I really was asking.”
“Probably,” I said.
“I’ve been back in Boston for more than a year,” April said.
“I never called you.”
I nodded again.
“I guess I was afraid you wouldn’t still be you, and, maybe, I guess, I was afraid you wouldn’t like it that I was still in the whore business.”
“I think the current correct phrase,” I said, “is sex worker.”
April shook her head a little.
“You used to say that a thing is what it is and not something else.”
“I did,” I said.
We were quiet again. She wanted me to help her out of whatever trouble she was in, but she didn’t want to admit she was in trouble. Half the people who came into my office were that way.
“Two years ago,” April said, “she gave me some money and sent me up here.”
“Patricia Utley,” I said.
“Yes. You know her operation in New York?”
“She wanted me to open a branch up here,” April said.
“And I did. I bought a mansion in the Back Bay and hired the girls, and paid off the proper people, and…the whole thing.”
“Big job,” I said.
“Big payoff,” she said. “The business is very successful. I’m making a lot of money for her, and a lot of money for me.”
“Good,” I said.
“It’s an all-woman enterprise,” April said. “Mrs. Utley, me, the girls, even the more-or-less non-sex staff, bartenders, food preparation, everyone is female. The only men anywhere are the clients, and for them it’s like a private club.”
I nodded. She stopped talking and looked though the window again. I waited.
“And now some men are trying to take it away from us,” she said.
Hawk parked his Jaguar in a resident-only space in front of April’s mansion. The sun was bright but without warmth. The weather was very cold, and it had kept the light snow cover from melting, so that the mall along Commonwealth Ave was still clean and white, and what snow there was underfoot was crisp and dry like sand.
We sat for a moment with the motor running and the heater on, and looked at the house. It was a beauty, a town house on a corner, four stories high with a big semicircular glass-roofed atrium on the cross-street side.
“April doesn’t know who it is that’s trying to shake her down,” I said. “It was an anonymous phone call. But when she told him no, a couple guys showed up the next day and disrupted, ah, the orderly flow of enterprise.”
“And they kept showing up?”
“It’s an all-woman enterprise,” I said. “And it’s tricky. They are, after all, an illegal enterprise. It’s hard to call the cops.”
“Ain’t there bribe money spread around?” Hawk said.
“Yes. But it’s effective only when there’s not a lot of attention drawn.”
Hawk nodded, looking at the house.
“Girl’s got nice taste,” Hawk said.
“Like you would know,” I said.
“Who more tasteful than me?” Hawk said.
“I told her we’d come around and discourage the interlopers,” I said. “Maybe see who they represent.”
Hawk nodded slowly, still looking at the house.
“Bouncer at a whorehouse,” Hawk said. “The capstone of my career. We getting paid?”
“We haven’t established that yet.”
“Free samples?” Hawk said.
“You’ll have to negotiate that with the samplees,” I said.
Hawk shut off the engine and we got out. I had on a sheepskin jacket. Hawk was wearing a black fur coat. It was maybe eight degrees, but not much wind and it didn’t feel too bad in the short walk to the front door.
There was a front desk in the high foyer. A good-looking young woman in a tailored suit was at the desk. A discreet sign on the desk said Concierge. She looked a little nervous when we came in. There were doors off the foyer in all directions, and an elegant staircase that curved up toward the second floor.
“My name is Spenser,” I said. “For April Kyle.”
The concierge looked relieved. She picked up the phone and spoke, and almost at once a door opened behind her and April appeared, looking just as elegant as she had in my office.
“Thank God you’re here,” she said. “They’re coming.”
We were in the office. It was spartan. There was a big modern work desk against the back wall. Desks where two women sat working at computers. A bank of file cabinets stood along one wall. There was a bank of television monitors high on the wall above the door.
“For future reference,” April said to the office workers, “these are the good guys.”
The two women looked at us silently. April didn’t introduce us. She was all business, as if stepping into her work space had made her someone else. Hawk and I took off our coats and hung them on a hat rack near the door.
“The monitors are for security cameras,” she said. “The one in the center is on the front door.”
“Who’s coming,” I said.
“The man called,” April said.
Her voice was flat and didn’t sound emotional, except that she spoke very swiftly.
“He said they were tired of waiting. He said they were coming.”
“To remonstrate with you?” I said.
“Yes,” April said. “He told me this time it would be worse.”
“Probably not,” I said.
“I won’t give in,” April said. “I won’t. He can’t have this.”
“What they do last time?” Hawk said.
“They pushed past Doris on the desk, and went through the house interrupting the girls and their guests, chasing the guests out.”
“Very bad for business,” Hawk said.
“Yes,” April said. “Those guests are unlikely to return.”
“You have a gun?” I said.
“Yes. But I don’t want to use it. I don’t want either of you to use one. That would be the end of it if someone got shot here.”
“It would,” I said.
“This is a good business,” April said. “A good woman’s business. I’m not going to give it up because some man wants part of it.”
Hawk was watching the monitor.
“Hidey ho,” he said.
April looked up.
“Yes,” she said. “That’s them.”
“You ladies go somewhere,” I said to the office workers.
They looked at April. April nodded. The two women got up and went out a door behind April’s desk.
“How about you, my feminist beauty?” I said.
She smiled. She didn’t seem frightened.
“I’ll stay,” April said.
“Don’t blame you,” Hawk said. “Be fun to watch.”
They were both wearing dark overcoats. On the monitor one of them looked fat. They brushed past the concierge desk and headed for April’s office. The door opened and in they came. In person, one of them was fat. The other guy had the thick upper body of a weight lifter.
The weight lifter said, “Time for another talk, whore lady….”
He stopped and looked at Hawk and me.
“Who the fuck are you?” he said.
“I often wonder,” I said. “Don’t you? Sometimes at night when you’re alone?”
“You ain’t customers,” the weight lifter said.
The fact that Hawk’s coat was off and he was wearing a.44 Magnum in a shoulder holster was probably a clue. They had thought it was going to be another walk in the park. Both of them had their overcoats buttoned up. If they were carrying, it would take them five minutes to get their guns out.
“We be whorehouse security,” Hawk said.
He seemed pleasant. Both of the overcoats stared at us. They seemed a little uneasy. Despite the pleasant overtones, Hawk didn’t look like a guy who’d surrender easily.
The weight lifter said, “Whoever the fuck you are, take a walk. We got business with the head whore.”
“Her name is Miss Kyle,” I said.
The fat guy began to unbutton his overcoat.
“Leave it buttoned,” I said.
The fat guy frowned. “Fuck you,” he said.
Hawk stepped away from where he’d been leaning on a file cabinet and knocked the fat guy down with a single punch. The punch exploded on him so fast that the fat guy never got his hands up. He got to his hands and knees and stayed there, shaking his head slowly. The weight lifter’s hands moved slightly, as if he wanted to unbutton his coat, but he didn’t.
“So who sent you here to talk with Miss Kyle?” I said.
“I ain’t talking to you,” the weight lifter said.
I almost felt bad for him. He had come here assuming he was going to frighten a few prostitutes and maybe slap around some guy from Newton, in town for an early-afternoon quickie. He hadn’t planned on us. And as things developed, he was beginning to realize that he and his pal were overmatched.
“You are talking to me,” I said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
The fat guy got painfully to his feet. He didn’t look at Hawk. Hawk had his gun in his hand. He let it hang by his side.
“I got nothing to say,” the weight lifter muttered.
He was trying to be a stand-up guy. I slapped him across the face with my open hand. Behind me I heard April gasp. The weight lifter stepped back. It hurt. It was humiliating. But mostly it startled him. People in his circles didn’t do a lot of slapping. He put his hands up toward his face and glanced at his fat friend.
“Who sent you here to talk with Miss Kyle?” I said.
The weight lifter was backing toward the door. Hawk stepped across and blocked it.
“I’m getting outta here,” the weight lifter said.
I feinted at his stomach with my right fist. He dropped his hands and I slapped him with my left hand. And then with my right. He hunched and ducked his head and covered his face. I slapped him on the top of the head. He put his hands up to cover. I slapped him in the face again.
“Stop it,” he said. “Stop it, stop it.”
His face was mottled.
“Who sent you to talk with Miss Kyle?” I said.
“Ollie,” he said.
“You know Ollie?” I said to April.
“Who do you talk to?” I said.
“He never gives a name,” she said. “Maybe it’s Ollie. I have no way to know.”
“Tell me about Ollie,” I said to the weight lifter.
“Ollie’s got a crew,” the weight lifter said. “Me and Tank work with him.”
“What’s Ollie’s last name?”
“Where is Ollie located?” I said.
“Andrews Square,” the weight lifter said.
There was some sort of odd anticipation in his voice. I realized he couldn’t wait for us to try our stuff on Ollie. Ollie would show us.
“He’s got a clubhouse there,” the weight lifter said. “Storefront, used to be a chiropractor’s office. Right off the square.”
“Why is Ollie asking you to annoy these folks?” I said.
“I don’t know.”
I smacked him across the face with my open hand. He ducked back.
“Don’t,” he said. “I honest to God don’t know. Ollie just says keep on them until they come around.”
“They’ll talk business.”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
“You know, Tank?” I said to the fat guy.
He shook his head.
“You agree with everything he told us?” I said.
The fat guy nodded.
“Okay,” I said. “Hands on the wall, legs apart. You know how it works.”
They did as I said, and I patted them down. I took a gun from each of them, and a wallet. I put the guns on April’s desk. I took the driver’s licenses from the wallets and handed the wallets back to them.
“Tell Ollie we’ll drop by,” I said.
“How ’bout my gun?” the weight lifter said.
“You guys will have to risk it back to Andrews Square unarmed,” I said. “Beat it.”
They didn’t like leaving the guns. The guns mattered to them. But there was nothing they could do about it. They turned toward the door. Hawk still blocked their way. They stopped. Hawk put the muzzle of his gun against the nose of the weight lifter.
“Don’t come back here,” Hawk said.
Nobody moved. Then Hawk stepped aside and the two men went out. We watched them through the front door and out onto the street.
“Thank you,” April said when we were alone.
“It’s not over,” I said. “These two dopes may not return, but Ollie will send someone.”
“One of us needs to talk with Ollie,” Hawk said.
“And one of us needs to stick around here,” I said. “To greet whoever Ollie sends.”
“How ’bout I do that,” Hawk said. “Gimme the opportunity to meet the workers.”
“And I get to meet Ollie,” I said.
“Should be you,” Hawk said. “You so charming.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s certainly true.”
“Will you be all right alone?” April said to Hawk.
What she meant of course was Will we be all right with only one of you on guard? Hawk knew what she meant. He smiled.
“Be too many of them,” Hawk said, “I can always run and hide.”
April looked uncertain.
“He’s teasing,” I said. “Unless you expect to be invaded by China, Hawk will be sufficient.”
“You think I not sufficient for China?” Hawk said.
I waffled my hand.
“You might need me for backup,” I said.
Susan came up to her living space from her first-floor office at ten past six in the evening. I was reading the paper and drinking Johnnie Walker Blue on the couch with Pearl. Actually, Pearl was neither reading nor drinking—she was lying on her side with her legs stretched out and her head on my left thigh, making it awkward to turn the page.
Susan said, “Sit right there. Don’t disturb the baby.”
Pearl wagged her short tail vigorously but didn’t get up. Susan came across the living room and kissed me on the mouth, and then kissed Pearl.
“At least I was first,” I said.
Susan went to the refrigerator, got out some Riesling, poured some, and sat in the chair opposite me.
“How was today,” I said, “in the world of whack jobs?”
“I have a patient for whom love and sex are inextricable,” she said. “It makes sex very important and serious and a bit frightening for her.”
“And fun?” I said.
“Sadly, no,” Susan said. “Not yet. And how is the world of thuggery?”
“April Kyle has resurfaced,” I said.
“The little girl you steered into a life of prostitution?”
“I saved her from a life of degrading prostitution and steered her to a life of whoredom with dignity,” I said.
“If there is a such,” Susan said.
I finished my drink and gathered myself to get up and make another.
“No,” Susan said. “I’ll get it for you. She’s so comfortable.”
She made my drink and brought it back.
“There is more dignity and less dignity,” I said, “in almost anything.”
“I know,” Susan said. “I was being playful. You did the best you could with her.”
“She was too damaged to become a soccer mom,” I said.
“Or a shrink,” Susan said. “How is she?”
“She’s a grown woman,” I said. “It’s a little startling. For the last however many years she’s been in my memory as a kid, and now she’s not a kid.”
“Is she still involved in prostitution?”
“In a dignified way,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” Susan said.
While I was telling, Pearl got up suddenly, as if responding to a voice unheard, and went over and wedged herself up into the wing chair where Susan sat. Pearl weighed seventy-five pounds, which created a territorial issue. Susan resolved it by sliding forward and sitting on the front edge of the chair while Pearl curled up behind her.
“Didn’t she begin in some Back Bay home? All that time ago when you first found her?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Different location, but, still, back to her roots, I guess.”
“She sounds integrated and charming,” Susan said.
“She does,” I said. “Patricia Utley may have done a good job.”
“She cannot have lived the life she’s led, especially growing up, without suffering a lot of damage,” Susan said.
“Under stress,” Susan said, “the damage usually surfaces.”
“You seem to know a lot,” Susan said.
“I’ve been scoring boldly and big-time,” I said, “for many years with a really smart shrink.”
“Funny,” Susan said. “During those moments of bold and big-time scoring, I can’t recall that much discussion of the psyche.”
“Can you remember any fun?” I said.
“Mostly I just squeeze my eyes tight shut and think of Freud,” she said.
I rolled the ice around in my drink for a minute.
“So, do you think prostitution is inevitably demeaning?” I said.
“We are conditioned to think it’s demeaning to women,” Susan said.
“But not men?”
“We are not conditioned to think it degrades men, I suppose. Though, I suspect, most of us disapprove of men who frequent whores.”
“It might degrade both,” I said.
“Or maybe we are like my patient,” Susan said, “who feels sex has to be a demonstration of love, every time. Maybe we invest it with too much meaning and aren’t willing to accept the possibility that sex without love and commitment can still be fun.”
“What if there’s love and commitment, too?” I said.
“Like us,” Susan said. “It probably intensifies everything, but it should be no less fun.”
“Chinese food delivered to the house,” I said, “is fun.”
“Especially when there’s love and commitment?”
“Especially then,” I said.
“Do I hear you saying you’re hungry?”
“What about the question of dignified prostitution?” she said.
“Perhaps over mushu pork,” I said. “Or lemon chicken.”
“Shall we order in?”
“If I am allowed to eat with a fork,” I said. “I hate chop-sticks.”
“Certainly,” Susan said. “If that’s fun for you.”
I raised my glass to her.
“Scotch and soda,” I said, “lemon chicken, and thou.”
“I’ll make the call,” she said.
Ollie DeMars had space in a small brick building on Southampton Street just before Andrews Square, with its own convenient parking lot. The lot was empty except for somebody’s Lexus. I parked beside the Lexus and went into the building.
The room was nearly overwhelmed by a vast television screen on the far wall. Five or six comfortable chairs were arranged in front of the screen, and a couple of hard-looking guys were sitting, watching some sort of program where people ate worms. To my left along the side wall was a big conference table with some straight chairs, and against the wall next to the television, beside a doorway that led further into the building, was a big avocado-colored refrigerator.
One of the men watching reality television turned his head when I came in and said, “You want something?”
“Tank asked me to stop by,” I said, “and talk with Ollie.”
The man thought about that. He was nearly bald with a really bad comb-over.
“Ollie know you?” he said.
“Only by reputation,” I said.
“Reputation,” the comb-over guy said.
His viewing partner was bigger than he was, and younger, with dark shoulder-length hair. He turned to look back at me.
“You got a big rep?” Long Hair said.
“Naw,” I said. “I’m just your ordinary man of steel. Could you tell Ollie I’m here.”
“What if we don’t?” Long Hair said.
“Then we may find out about my rep,” I said.
It was silly. There was nothing in it for me to get into it with two entry-level street soldiers. But they were annoying me. The long-haired guy got up and stood, looking at me. Then he laughed dismissively and walked through the door beside the refrigerator. Comb-over watched me silently while Long Hair was gone. The time passed quickly.
“Okay, Man of Steel,” Long Hair said from the doorway. “Ollie says bring you in.”
I followed him down a short corridor and into another room. There was another large television, a desk, and several office-type chairs with arms. There was a phone on the desk, and a computer. On the right-hand wall there was a couch. Behind the desk was a guy who looked like an Ollie. He had sandy hair and a wide, friendly face. When I came in he stood and came around the desk.
“You gotta be Spenser,” he said. “I’m Ollie DeMars.”
I looked at Long Hair.
“See?” I said. “I told you I had a rep.”
“Be okay, Johnny,” Ollie said to him. “You can leave us.”
Long Hair nodded and went back down the short corridor to his reality show.
“Have a seat,” Ollie said.
He had on a blue-checked shirt and a maroon knit tie, and a rust-colored Harris tweed sport coat. He looked like he might sell real estate.
“You’ve done me a hell of a favor,” Ollie said. “I send out guys like Tank and Eddie with the expectation they can get things done.”
“Eddie the weight lifter?”
“Yes, and you showed me that they couldn’t.”
“All part of the service,” I said.
“So I canned their ass,” he said, and grinned at me like we were pals. “My way or highway, you know?”
“Are you planning to send somebody else?” I said.
He grinned. His teeth seemed unnaturally white.
“Not at these prices,” he said. “I gotta deal with you and the schwartza, I need to get paid accordingly.”
“Schwartza’s name is Hawk,” I said. “Who’s paying you.”
“Tell you the truth,” Ollie said, “I don’t even know.”
“How come you don’t know.”
“Got a phone call, guy says he wants me to do some work over at a cathouse in the Back Bay. Says have I got a checking account. I say I do. He says he’ll wire money to my account. And he does.”
“What was the work?”
“Just keep pressuring them until he tells us to stop.”
“Pressuring them to do what?”
“Pay up,” Ollie said.
“Pay who?” I said.
“Don’t know,” he said.
Ollie shook his head.
“Same answer,” he said.
“Where’d the wire transfer come from?”
“None of your business,” Ollie said.
“Actually, it is,” I said.
“Okay,” Ollie said. “I still won’t tell you.”
“Yet,” I said.
“Yet?” Ollie said. “Confident bastard, aren’t you.”
“Optimistic,” I said.
“Might want to be a little careful,” Ollie said. “I’m fairly optimistic myself.”
“Sure,” I said. “How’s he know you’re doing your job? Might be some people who would take the money and do nothing.”
“I’m not like that,” Ollie said. “I got a reputation.”
“You too,” I said. “But how does he know?”
Ollie shrugged and shook his head. Multitasking.
“You plan to keep earning the money?”
“I plan to ask for more. I didn’t agree to do business with you and Hawk.”
“Yet,” I said.
“You know Hawk?” I said.
“I been doing this work for a long time,” he said. “Of course I know Hawk. Know you, too.”
“So you’re going to renegotiate,” I said.
“How will you get hold of him.”
“I’ll sit tight until he gets hold of me,” Ollie said.
“If you bother April Kyle again,” I said, “I’ll ruin your life.”
Ollie smiled as he spoke. “I said I knew who you were. I didn’t say I prayed to you.”
He took a silvery semiautomatic pistol out of his desk drawer and pointed it at me sort of informally.
“Could pop you right here, get it done,” he said. “But I’m not getting paid to do it, yet.”
“So I’m spared,” I said.
“Until I renegotiate,” Ollie said.
“When you renegotiate,” I said, “charge a lot.”
Ollie grinned again, still pointing the gun more or less at me. He nodded his head slowly. Then he put the gun down on his desk.
“Well, that fucking terrified you,” Ollie said. “Didn’t it.”
“Iron self-control,” I said.
“Attaboy,” Ollie said.
I sat and had coffee with Hawk and April in the front parlor of the mansion. The furniture was men’s-club leather. There was a fire in the fireplace. On the walls were reproductions of Picasso’s nude sketches.
“You don’t know Ollie DeMars,” I said.
“No,” April said.
“I know Ollie,” Hawk said.
“I’m startled,” I said.
“Got a crew in Southie,” Hawk said. “They steal stuff, hire out to bigger outfits for rough work. Ollie’s pretty bad.”
“As bad as you?” April said.
Hawk smiled. “’Course not,” he said.
“And your only contact with Ollie’s employer is by anonymous phone call,” I said.
“And he wants a percentage of your operation.”
“Twenty-five percent,” April said.
“How does he know how much that would be?” I said.
“I don’t know.”
“How much would it be?” I said.
“All of my markup,” she said.
“You have a lot of overhead,” I said.
“This is not a half-hour in a cheap hotel,” April said.
I nodded. Hawk sipped his coffee. He was expressionless. And, except for drinking the coffee, he was motionless. It was as if nothing interested him, as if he saw nothing and heard nothing. Except that later, if it mattered, it would turn out that he had seen and heard everything.
“How do you suppose he knows about you?” I said.
“Maybe he was a customer,” April said.
“Or is,” Hawk said.
April looked startled, and then uneasy.
“You think he might still be coming here?” she said.
“No way to know,” I said. “How do people find you?”
“Most of it is referral,” April said.
“And how did they get to you?” I said.
“We have some contacts in good hotels, limousine services, some of the big travel agencies. And of course there’s the Internet.”
“The Internet,” I said.
“Look up ‘escort services’ on one of the search engines,” April said.
Hawk said, “I explain to you later what a search engine is.”
“No need for scorn,” I said. “I have a cell phone, too.”
“Ever use it?” Hawk said.
“I’m thinking about it,” I said. “What will I find under escort services.”
“About three million hits,” April said. “Nationwide.”
“So if I’m going to, say, Pittsburgh,” I said, “I look up escort services in Pittsburgh and there’s a list.”
“A big list,” April said.
“And that’s true of Boston?”
“Heavens,” April said, “that’s true of Stockton, California.”
“And you’re listed in Boston?”
“Sure,” April said. “And about two hundred thousand others. We feel that it’s in our best interest to put our name in play. But we don’t rely on the Internet, and we screen the Internet customers very carefully.”
“What are you screening for?”
“We are looking for repeat business,” she said. “We want grown-ups who value discretion and top-drawer accommodations. We are looking for people who travel first-class.”
“How can you tell?” I said.
“One learns,” she said and smiled.
“I show up, they let me in,” Hawk said to me. “You show up, they don’t.”
“Hawk,” April said, “we probably wouldn’t even charge you.”
“So this guy could be a local customer, or somebody who found you on the Internet,” I said. “He could, I suppose, be one of the people that shill for you.”
April hunched her shoulders as if the room were cold.
“I don’t like to think that,” she said. “And I don’t like to call them shills.”
“Sorry,” I said. “How about referral associates.”
“Better,” she said.
“Could be more than just April,” Hawk said.
“Maybe,” I said. “Either way, it needs to be somebody that would know how to find Ollie DeMars. Ollie probably doesn’t have a website.”
“So we looking for someone can find the right whorehouse—excuse me, April—and the right enforcer.”
“Most people wouldn’t know, either,” I said.
Hawk nodded. We were quiet for a minute. Then, just as I said “cop,” Hawk began to nod his head.
“A cop?” April said.
“Local, state, federal, any cop.” I said. “Any cop can easily come up with a story that would get him this information, and no one would question it.”
“Federal?” April said. “You mean it could be, like, an FBI agent?”
“Sure,” I said. “Or California Highway Patrol, or a U.S. Marshal, or a precinct commander in Chicago, or some Sheriff’s Deputy in Cumberland County.”
“Where’s Cumberland County,” April said.
Susan did that, too, asked questions out on the periphery of what I was saying. I wondered if it was a female trait…or did I obfuscate…female trait sounded right.
“Maine,” I said. “Around Portland.”
“Maybe you scared him off,” April said.
“We’ll see,” I said. “Until we know, Hawk or I will hang around here.”
“I the thug,” Hawk said. “You the sleuth. I do the hanging around. You sleuth us up something.”
“You want to go pack a bag or something?” I said.
“Keep a bag in my car,” Hawk said. “So I got clothes and ammunition. One of the young ladies on staff went out and bought me the new Thomas Friedman book.”
“And you expect to get paid for this?” I said to Hawk.
“Half what you get,” Hawk said. “Like always.”
“This one may be pro bono,” I said.
“Sure,” Hawk said, “long as you split it with me.”
I stood at my office window and looked down at Berkeley Street. It had snowed often in January, and the streets were compressed by snowbanks. Sidewalks were difficult, and the plows further snarled the already encumbered traffic. Still, the sun was bright, and some of the young women from the big insurance offices were out for early lunch.
Outside the bank below my office, at the corner of Boylston, a big Cadillac SUV pulled over. Ty-Bop got out of the backseat and opened the front door. Tony Marcus, in a tweed overcoat with a fur collar, stepped out and picked his way across a snowbank toward my building. The Cadillac pulled away. Junior was probably driving, if the SUV was big enough.
I was behind my desk by the time they got to my office. I had the side drawer open, where I kept a spare piece. Ty-Bop opened the door and Tony walked through.
He said, “Spenser.”
I said, “Tony.”
Tony hung his coat up carefully, and pulled up a chair and sat, hiking his pant legs to protect the creases. Ty-Bop lingered by the door with his hat on sideways over corn-rows. He was wearing droopy jeans and a thigh-length, too-big, unbuttoned Philadelphia 76ers warm-up jacket over some sort of football jersey. He looked about twenty, a standard gangsta rap fan in funny clothes, except he could put a bullet in your eye from fifty yards. Either eye.
“How’s the family?” I said to Tony.
“Your son-in-law is no longer in Marshport, I assume.”
“We both knew he wouldn’t be,” Tony said.
“No worse,” Tony said.
“You give my son-in-law a break in Marshport,” Tony said.
“No reason not to,” I said.
Tony nodded. “What’s your problem with Ollie DeMars?” he said.
“Couple of his crew were bothering a woman I know,” I said. “Hawk and I asked them to stop.”
“April Kyle,” Tony said.
“Ollie not somebody to let that slide,” Tony said.
“He tells me he’s just an employee on this, and is waiting instructions from his employer.”
“He say who he employer is?” Tony said.
“Says he doesn’t know.”
Tony frowned. I continued.
“Says he gets his instructions by anonymous phone call. Says he gets paid by anonymous wire transfer.”
“How do you get anonymous wire transfers?” Tony said.
“Ollie declined to comment,” I said.
“Offshore account, maybe,” Tony said.
“Maybe,” I said.
Tony leaned back in his chair and put his fingertips together in a kind of tent in front of his chest. He was a medium-size black man with a soft-looking neck, a modest Afro, and a thick mustache. His clothes probably cost more than several cars I’d driven. He looked prosperous and soft. He was more than prosperous. But he wasn’t soft. Like Hawk, he moved easily in and out of blackspeak as it suited him.
“They is a couple approaches to the whore business,” he said. “There’s volume—a bunch of hookers, ten, twelve johns a day. And then there’s quality-not-quantity. One daily fee.”
“But a big one,” I said.
“As you know,” he said, “I have always felt that whores are a black business.”
“I love racial pride,” I said.
“Without his heritage,” Tony said, “what’s a man got?”
“Money,” I said. “Power. Women, scotch whiskey, Ty-Bop to shoot anyone you don’t like. Cars, clothes, guns…”
Tony smiled and put up a hand.
“Okay, so maybe heritage ain’t everything,” he said.
“Maybe running half the city is something,” I said.
“But it’s only half,” Tony said.
“So far,” I said. “And heritage has nothing to do with it.”
“I pretty well got all the whoring organized in this city,” Tony said. “I got a tight hand on the volume end of it, but the blue-blood part of the business is labor-intensive, ties up a lot of capital, so I let the blue bloods run it and take a franchising fee.”
I nodded. I looked at Ty-Bop leaning against the wall next to the door. In my experience, Ty-Bop rarely spoke. He was rocking gently to the sound of music no one else was hearing. There was no sign that he heard anything being said.
“You collect from April?” I said.
“Sure. She’ll tell you that. Price of doing business,” Tony said. “But not so much that they can’t make a profit. I want them in business.”
“And if they don’t pay?”
“Send somebody over,” Tony said.
“And if Hawk and I show up?”
“Maybe send more people,” Tony said. “But it ain’t relevant anyway. She always pay.”
I waited. Tony looked at his tented fingers. Ty-Bop continued rocking to the music of the spheres.
“Now there seem to be somebody else in the woodpile,” Tony said.
“Nice metaphor,” I said.
Tony shrugged. “Ain’t no room for two of us,” he said.
“And you figure I might be looking for him, too.”
“He trying to cut in on other places besides April?” I said.
“Ollie doing the muscle work?”
“And you haven’t intervened?” I said.
“Not yet,” Tony said. “Ollie’s a tough nut to crack. We crack it if we have to. But you eliminate Ollie and another Ollie will turn up. It ain’t efficient.”
“But eliminate his employer and you won’t have to eliminate Ollie,” I said.
“Tha’s right,” Tony said.
“You believe Ollie,” I said. “That he doesn’t know?”
“Don’t know,” Tony said. “Was hoping you might shed some light.”
“You don’t think it’s Ollie himself?” I said.
“His crew does mostly muscle work,” Tony said. “Ollie ain’t a whore-business guy.”
“You think the employer is local?” I said.
Tony put his fingertips against his lips and tapped them lightly as he thought about the question.
“Never thought he wasn’t,” Tony said after a while.
“So,” I said. “We’re teaming up to crack the case?”
“Thought I’d let you know I was interested,” Tony said. “You find this guy, might be something in it for you.”
“What might be in it for him?” I said.
“You wouldn’t need to worry ’bout that,” Tony said.
“Nice,” I said.
Tony stood and put on his coat. Outside my window the snow was starting to come down again. Small flakes, not falling hard but falling quite steady.
“We got a common interest here, Spenser,” Tony said.
“I know,” I said. “I’ll keep you on the mailing list.”
“Good,” Tony said.
He nodded at Ty-Bop. Ty-Bop took out a cell phone and dialed and said something I couldn’t hear. Then he opened the door and went out. Tony went out behind him. I went to my window and looked down at Berkeley Street. The Caddy SUV pulled up. Ty-Bop opened the front door. Tony got in. Ty-Bop closed the front door and got in the back. The Caddy pulled away across Boylston, straight on down Berkeley toward the river.
I closed my desk drawer.
There is a walkway down the center of the mall on Commonwealth Avenue, and the city had kept it shoveled during the winter. They hadn’t yet gotten to it this snowfall, and there was maybe an inch of dry snow beneath our feet as April and I walked down toward the Public Garden in the early evening. The snowfall had slowed to a light haze that created halos on the streetlights and made the expensive condos in their handsome brownstone look especially comfortable.
“You’ve not heard from the anonymous caller,” I said.
“Business is okay?” I said. “Hawk isn’t scaring the clients?”
“Business is as good as ever,” April said. “Hawk has stayed pretty much in the background, and there haven’t been any incidents.”
The evening commuter traffic in this part of town was on Storrow Drive and the Pike. The traffic moving on Commonwealth was mostly cabs. The only other pedestrians on the mall were people with dogs.
“So,” I said, “since I last saw you…”
“You mean when I was still a kid?”
“After I left you and Susan, I went back to Mrs. Utley, in New York, and…she sort of brought me up.”
“You worked for her,” I said.
“Yes. She taught me how to dress, how to walk, how to speak. She showed me how to order in good restaurants.”
“She did a lot of that before you ran off with Rambeaux,” I said.
“My God, you remember his name.”
“I do,” I said.
“She taught me to read books, and go to shows, and follow the newspaper so I could talk intelligently. I still read The New York Times every morning.”
“Any love interests since Rambeaux?”
“No,” April said. “And she always gave me the best assignments. No creepy stuff—young men, mostly. Regular customers.”
“But none you’ve met that matter to you.”
“Oh God, you’re still such a romantic,” she said. “Whores don’t fall in love. I learned that from Rambeaux.”
“He was the wrong guy to fall in love with,” I said. “Doesn’t mean there isn’t a right one.”
She laughed. I heard no humor in the sound.
“Men are pigs,” she said.
“Oink,” I said.
“There may be another one someplace that isn’t,” I said. “I’m not even absolutely sure Hawk is or isn’t.”
She sighed loudly.
“Most men are pigs, okay?” she said.
“So what’s your social life?” I said.
“I don’t have much of a social life,” she said. “Mostly I work.”
“I get along well with my employees,” she said.
“Any free time?” I said.
“If I have free time I go to the gym. How I look matters in my work.”
“Turn tricks anymore?” I said.
“Now and then, for fun, with the right guy.”
“What would make him right?”
“He’d need to be interested in someone my age, for one thing.”
“Anything else?” I said. “That would make him right?”
“Oh, leave me the hell alone,” April said. “I almost forget what you’re like. You’re still working on me.”
“Working on you?” I said.
“You’re still trying to save me, for crissake. This is what I am. You can’t save me.”
“Except maybe from the anonymous caller,” I said.
We paused at Clarendon Street and waited for the light.
“I guess I earned that,” she said. “I came to you for help. But couldn’t you just help me with that?”
“Sure,” I said.
“You know something that occurred to me,” I said to Susan.
“I know what usually occurs to you,” she said.
“Besides that,” I said. “Men, at least straight men, have no idea what other men are like during sex.”
“Are you planning to ask me?”
“No,” I said. “But presumably, conversely, straight women probably have very little idea what other women are like during sex.”
“Are you planning to tell me?”
“Isn’t it swell that it occurred to you,” Susan said.
“You’re not interested?”
We were sharing a Cuban sandwich at the bar in Chez Henri. Susan felt that Riesling was appropriate with a Cuban sandwich. I was drinking beer.
“Men think about stuff like that,” I said.
“Women don’t,” Susan said.
“Are we both generalizing from our own experience?” I said.
“Yes,” Susan said.
“April says all men are pigs,” I said.
“Her experience may have contributed to that view,” Susan said.
“Sure,” I said. “But I have no way to know. Is it certain that the men she has encountered are pigs?”
“Not everyone patronizes whores,” Susan said.
“And those who do so regularly,” I said, “maybe have something wrong with them.”
Susan nodded. She had cut a small wedge of one half of the sandwich and was chewing a small bite she had taken.
“I don’t find you unduly piggish,” she said.
“Wow,” I said. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
She smiled and sipped her wine. “Why are you so interested?” she said.
“I worry about April,” I said.
“Probably with reason,” Susan said.
“She seems so integrated, and calm,” I said. “It’s kind of heartwarming. And then we’re walking along and I ask about her social life, and she says all men are pigs.”
“When I raised that issue, she said except me.”
“If I may generalize,” Susan said, “everyone generalizes. We just got through generalizing, you may recall.”
“But this generalization seems to have cut her off from any possibility of…love?”
“She has spent her life in circumstances where love was a commercial exchange,” Susan said. “As I recall the time when she got into the biggest trouble, where you had to in a sense buy her back, she did so out of love.”
“You think that was love?” I said.
“She thought it was. It didn’t make her more likely to feel love again.”
I ate some sandwich and drank some beer.
“When I was about twenty-two,” I said, “I went with two other guys to Japan on R & R. We stayed in a hotel near the Sugamo subway stop, with some girls we had rented for the week. We took hot baths, and they cooked us food on a hibachi in the room, first time I ever had sukiyaki, and we had what seemed at the time reasonable sex in reasonable amounts. It was very pleasant. After a week we went back to war.”
“Your point?” Susan said.
I could feel her eyes on me. She was becoming interested. The force of her interest was always tangible.
“We liked each other. We weren’t contemptuous of them. Maybe if we were, the language barrier made it easier to hide, but I felt no disdain. We didn’t feel anything for them, either. We were sort of like new pals, having some fun…for a short while.”
“Yes,” she said.
“It was the last time I was with a prostitute.”
“Probably drank some during that week, too,” Susan said.
“War, whiskey, and women,” Susan said.
“The big three,” I said.
“Can you say rites of passage?”
“I know,” I said. “And it may look more charming in that context.”
“So where are you going with this?” Susan said.
“I don’t know. It’s bothering me.”
“April is better off than she would have been,” Susan said, “if she hadn’t met you.”
“Yes,” I said. “I think that’s so. But it doesn’t mean she’s well off.”
“That’s true,” Susan said. “It is also true that you are not God.”
“You don’t know that,” I said.
Susan smiled at me with her eyes while she took another delicate bite of the small wedge she had cut off her half of the Cuban sandwich.
“After I talked with April the other night,” I said, “I went home and looked up escort services on the Web. She’s right, there’s millions of listings. And pretty soon, as you would expect, they linked to porn sites. So I surfed the porn sites. I didn’t sign up, I just looked at the marketing.”
“And you always read Playboy for the articles,” Susan said.
“Scan a few porn sites,” I said. “After a short time, they become pretty repellent. What struck me was the contempt with which the product is marketed. It seems aimed almost entirely at people who dislike women. The women are always referred to as whores or sluts or bitches or whatever. They are voraciously eager to dangle your doop or flap your floop or whatever the site was selling. I even scanned some gay sites. Same thing. The object of desire, male or female, is treated with scorn, except for their uncontrollable willingness to bleep your bippy.”
“No mutuality,” Susan said.
“None,” I said.
“You’re not the first to notice that,” Susan said.
“How disappointing,” I said.
Susan smiled. “So you’re saying commercial sex and porn dehumanize the object of desire?”
“And the object which desires,” I said. “Works both ways.”
“So perhaps pornography and prostitution are not victimless crimes,” Susan said.
“Probably not,” I said. “The trick is to figure out which is the victim.”
“The questions are too cosmic for me,” Susan said. “But on a level where I can operate, it seems clear that April, while perhaps less unfortunate than she was, is still a victim.”
One of April’s girls, on her night off, was walking back from Copley Place when she was yanked into an alley near the mansion and badly beaten. Her nose was broken; a tooth was knocked out. Her face was bruised and a rib was cracked. She was out for a while and when she came to, she got herself up and dragged herself back to the mansion, where April called an ambulance.
They set her nose and taped her ribs and gave her some pain meds and kept her overnight for observation. In the morning, April and I brought her home.
“You take as much time as you need, Bev,” April said. “Get better.”
Bev tried a small smile, but it fell short.
“Nobody’s paying anything for me the way I look now.”
“You’ll be fine once you recover,” April said. “You need dental work, we’ll get it for you.”
Bev tried a nod, and that hurt, too, so she didn’t do anything.
“Don’t be afraid of the Percocet,” I said. “Take it as scheduled, even if you don’t need it.”
“You ever get beat up?” Bev said.
“Some,” I said. “It’s important to stay ahead of the pain.”
April went upstairs with her. I went in the living room with Hawk.
“So do I walk them to the movies now?” he said.
“And while you’re gone they bust in here and make a mess?” I said.
“Be a good plan,” Hawk said.
“Beating her up could have been a random act.”
“Sure it could,” Hawk said.
“But we both know it’s not,” I said.
“’Course we do,” Hawk said.
“Making trouble here is much more effective,” I said. “It’ll ruin her business overnight.”
“But I’m here,” Hawk said.
“So they beat this kid up,” I said. “Maybe to see if that will scare April into doing what they want, maybe in hopes you’ll start escorting the girls outside, and they can come here unimpeded.”
“Maybe both,” Hawk said.
“We need to impede both,” I said.
“We a body or two short,” Hawk said.
“Maybe we should call Vinnie,” I said.
“Outta town,” Hawk said. “Gino’s opening up something in Cincinnati. Vinnie supporting his efforts.”
“Vinnie thinks he’ll be a while,” Hawk said. “He got a lot of people to persuade.”
“Well, he’s not the only thug we know.”
“How about the little pachuco from LA,” Hawk said.
“Pachuco?” I said. “Nobody says pachuco anymore.”
“Or the tough fag from Georgia,” Hawk said.
“Tedy Sapp?” I said. “You think he calls you the tough nigger from Boston?”
“Probably,” Hawk said. “Toughest fag I ever saw.”
“I’ll make the calls,” I said.
I talked to Chollo first.
“You know what a pachuco is,” I said.
“I used to.”
“Hawk thinks you’re a pachuco,” I said.
“We all pachucos at heart, Señor,” Chollo said.
“Sí,” I said. “You want to come to Boston?”
“Where it’s eight degrees with thirty inches of snow,” Chollo said.
“I need some backup.”
“Mr. Del Rio is in conflict with some gentlemen from my native land,” Chollo said, “and I’m supposed to go down there with Bobby Horse and resolve it.”
“In the usual way?” I said.
“Take a while?” I said.
“Not after we find them,” Chollo said. “How ’bout Vinnie?”
“He’s doing something in Cincinnati,” I said.
“Didn’t know anybody was doing something in Cincinnati,” Chollo said.
“I’ve had fun in Cincinnati,” I said.
“Gringos have fun in Pasadena,” Chollo said. “I’m sorry I can’t help you out, my friend.”
“Okay,” I said. “Walk careful in Mexico.”
“I am as stealthy as a Mexican jaguar,” he said.
“I didn’t know they had jaguars in Mexico,” I said.
“I think they don’t,” Chollo said. “But if they did, that’s how stealthy I would be.”
We hung up and I dialed Tedy Sapp. He was where he usually was, at the Bathhouse Bar and Grill in Lamarr, Georgia.
“I need some help up here,” I said, “in Massachusetts, the only state that permits gay marriage.”
“Nice neutral presentation,” Sapp said. “Whaddya need.”
I told him.
“What’s it pay?” he said.
“Haven’t established a price yet.”
“How’s the weather up there?”
“It’s up to fifteen today, thirty inches of snow. No wind.”
“Will I be in danger of getting shot?”
“Some,” I said.
“Perfect,” Sapp said. “You want me right away?”
“Tomorrow would be good.”
“Okay,” Tedy said. “Can you provide me a piece when I get there?”
“Sure,” I said.
“So it’s freezing and snowy and I might get shot and the pay is uncertain, but you will provide me a weapon, and if I want to marry somebody up there, I can, and it’ll be legal.”
“Long as you stay here,” I said.
“A gay boy’s dream,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”
April and I were having coffee and watching Hawk play chess with Tedy Sapp in the front room at the mansion. They had been through a small war together out west a few years back, and, within the limits of each man’s emotional range, they liked each other. In some ways they were the exact opposite. Black, white. Straight, gay. But at the core they were almost the same guy. They were smart. Their word was good. They were fearsome. And they knew it. They were both certain that they could kick any ass in the world, and it gave them a kind of ironic serenity…even though I might wish to add a small disclaimer to the premise.
“Bev is quitting,” April said.
“A lot of the girls are talking about quitting,” she said.
“We can protect them,” I said. “But…”
“It will put me out of business if many of them quit,” April said. She wore a black cashmere sweater with a V-neck and jeans.
“Recruiting is not easy. I can’t just go buy ten surplus hookers from some pimp. These girls aren’t really professional prostitutes.”
“Isn’t amateur prostitute some sort of oxymoron,” I said.
“This is not like other places,” April said. “I have graduate students. I have teachers; I have housewives whose husbands travel. I have a flight attendant. I have a woman who sells real estate. These are women of substance.”
“And they do this why?”
“They like money. They like sex. They like adventure. They get a lot of money for doing what they have often done for nothing.”
“Where do you find them?” I said.
“You don’t have to find many. Once you start, it becomes sort of networking,” April said. “But we begin by, say, answering personal ads on the Internet or in reputable publications. We send them a discreet query. Would you be interested in escort work. Or we send someone out to dating bars, pick up the right-looking woman, ask the same discreet thing.”
“Eliminate those who are not…our kind?”
“Don’t laugh at me,” she said. “This is not a bunch of sweaty people grunting in the dark. This is a first-class private club. I want my girls to enjoy sex. I want my clients to be with girls who enjoy sex.”
“The real deal,” I said.
“Exactly. That’s just the right phrase. This is the real deal.”
“So why don’t your clients just go and avail themselves of women like this for nothing. They are there.”
“Because it’s troublesome. Because they would have to go through the screening process that we go through for them. We screen very carefully.”
“You do that?”
“Yes,” April said. “Men come here knowing they’ll have an affectionate, sexy time with attractive, intelligent, and well-spoken women.”
“AIDS?” I said.
“That risk exists in any sexual encounter,” April said, “unless it’s a long-term monogamous one. Short of that, we take every precaution. Our girls are regularly tested. Our clients are from a level of society that is less likely to encounter AIDS.”
“And the personal services?” I said.
“Well, aren’t you nosy,” she said.
“Part of my profession,” I said. “I can withdraw the question.”
“Sometimes, special circumstances.”
“I think I won’t explore the special circumstances,” I said.
“No big deal,” she said. “Sometimes a client wants to fuck the boss.”
“The house mother, so to speak.”
April stared at me. “Are you being shrinky with me?” she said.
“Just a thought,” I said.
“Well, I know you’re with Susan and all, but I don’t buy any of that.”
“I’m not selling it,” I said.
“Sorry,” April said. “I’ve just…I tried it for a while…. Most of the shrinks I talked with were crazier than I was.”
We were quiet. Tedy picked up a chess piece and moved it. Hawk studied the move. Their concentration was palpable.
“Do you play chess?” April said.
“No,” I said.
“Do you know how?”
“I don’t either,” she said.
Hawk picked up his chess piece and moved it. Tedy nodded slowly as if he approved.
“Could you come to my office with me for a moment?” April said.
We left the room and walked past the concierge and down the hall to the office. The office staff was busy at their computers.
“Tell me a little more about Tedy Sapp,” she said.
“What more?” I said.
“He seems, sort of, different.”
“He is different,” I said. “So is Hawk. So am I. We’re all different. It’s why we do what we do.”
“But…what’s going on with the hair?”
“Too blond?” I said.
“And artificial. He looks like some sort of ridiculous wrestler or bodybuilder or something.”
“Tedy’s gay,” I said. “He fought it for a long time. The bright hair is sort of a statement: I’m not trying to pass.”
“But can he really do what he’s supposed to?”
I was quiet for a moment. There were a lot of things to say. But I didn’t say any of them. I just answered the question.
“Better than almost anyone,” I said.
I was at my desk, with my feet up, on the phone with Patricia Utley, who was at home in New York. Pearl was spending quality time with me, in my office, on her couch, lying upside down with her head hanging and her tongue lolling. She seemed boneless lying there, and nerveless, as if time and stress were of no consequence and eternity were a plaything.
“When you brought her to me she was a terrified child,” Patricia Utley was saying. “I cleaned her up and began to train her. I didn’t send her out for a year.”
“Orphans of the Storm,” I said.
“Well, not entirely, I am a businesswoman. But my childhood was somewhat turbulent, and I was sympathetic.”
“And you’re maybe softer than you pretend,” I said.
“You would understand that,” she said. “She was nearly grown and making good progress when she ran off with that idiot Rambeaux.”
“Who was not softer than he pretended.”
“Hardly,” Patricia Utley said.
“Give all for love,” I said.
“Give something for love, perhaps. Not everything,” Patricia Utley said. “By the time you got her back to me I had to start nearly all over with her.”
“She’d had a bad time,” I said.
“Many people do,” Patricia Utley said. “Especially in the whore business. We try to be the exception.”
“We all try,” I said. “You succeeded.”
“Is that your imitation of Humphrey Bogart?”
“How good is it if you have to ask?” I said.
“Think about it,” Patricia Utley said. “Eventually, we got April back on her feet and she became one of my most successful girls.”
“So what about this business you set her up in?” I said.
“It’s not a wonderful business. But it gives her a chance to run her own show and make a decent living. I did it mainly for April.”
“You take back a royalty?”
“Yes. Ten percent.”
“Of the gross?” I said.
“Of the net,” she said.
“You are doing this,” I said, “for April.”
“Yes, my take is little more than seven thousand five hundred dollars a year.”
“So the business is worth about seventy-five thousand dollars to April.”
“Roughly,” Patricia Utley said. “There is a lot of overhead.”
“The house, the furnishings, the working girls, the office staff,” I said.
“And the bar and dining room, and bribes to law enforcement, payment to Mr. Marcus, cleaning services, quite a large laundry bill, physical exams for the girls, clothing allowances.”
“Pay the girls’ salaries?” I said.
“The whores? They get an advance against earnings. If, in a relatively short time, they don’t earn out, they are out-placed.”
“How’s it compare with your operation in New York,” I said.
“Pocket change,” she said. “There’s too little volume, too much overhead. I may never get my investment back.”
“Has it got an upside down the road?”
“No,” Patricia Utley said. “I doubt it. I have not hovered over this project, but it seems that it has as large a share of the market as it is likely to get.”
Pearl got off the couch suddenly and walked swiftly around my office until she found a dirty and badly tattered stuffed toy animal of indeterminate species. She picked it up and chewed on it so it squeaked and brought it to me.
“What on earth is that noise?” Patricia Utley said.
“Squeaky toy,” I said.
Pearl squeaked it at me some more until I took it and tossed it across the room.
“Have you ever worried that maybe you are alone too much,” Patricia Utley said.
“Susan and I have a dog,” I said, “and she’s come to work today with Daddy.”
“My God,” Patricia Utley said.
Pearl picked up her squeaky toy and shook it and looked at me, and made a decision, and jumped up on the couch with her squeaky toy and lay down with it underneath her.
“Are you going to tell me why you called,” Patricia Utley said.
“Someone’s trying to shake April down.”
“And she came to you.”
“Do you know who it is?”
“Not yet,” I said.
“Do you have any help?” she said.
“So there will be some cost,” she said.
“Has April paid you?”
“She probably can’t really afford to,” Patricia Utley said.
“When it’s done, if you’ll submit me a bill, perhaps I will pay you.”
“Let’s revisit the question when it’s done,” I said.
“Do you need any other help?” Patricia Utley said. “Stephen is gone. But I have resources.”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Sorry to hear about Stephen.”
“We were together a long time,” she said.
“Not long enough,” I said.
“It’s never long enough,” she said. “Is it.”
It was an ironclad rule at Susan’s house that Pearl did not eat supper before five p.m.
“If you give in to her,” Susan always said, “we’ll be feeding her supper at noon.”
This was perfectly true, and the rule made a great deal of sense. So after Pearl and I walked the four blocks back to my place in the late afternoon, I ignored her insistent stare unshakably, and didn’t feed her until 4:11.
Pearl was an efficient and focused eater. By 4:13 her dish was empty and she was topping it off with a long lap at her water dish. Then, having fulfilled her responsibilities for the day, she got up on the couch and curled up and looked at me. Susan was at a conference in Albany and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. I was in for the night. I went to my kitchen counter and made myself a drink and brought it to the couch and sat down beside Pearl. It was a tall drink, scotch with soda and a lot of ice. It had a nice, clean look to it. I drank some. It tasted like it looked. I patted Pearl.
The room was so familiar that I barely saw it. I’d been here a long time. I had first had sex with Susan in this room, on a couch not unlike this one. I would have hung on to it for sentimental reasons, maybe with a plaque. But Susan is very big on out with the old and in with the new, and it had been replaced. I got something out of it, though. We’d had sex on this couch, too. If Pearl knew that, she wasn’t impressed by it. She was asleep and snoring very faintly. I sipped my drink. Pacing is important. I was never happy when Susan was away. I didn’t need to see her every day. We were careful about that. Neither of us wished to be an obligation. But I liked it better when she was nearby and if I wanted to see her, I could. Even if I didn’t.
I looked across the living room at the darkness outside my front window. It was the beginning of February. Football was almost over. Baseball hadn’t started. Basketball was boring until the last two minutes. And the snow remained deep, dirty, and unmelting. Seven weeks to spring equinox. My drink was gone. I got up carefully, not to disturb Pearl, and made myself a fresh one. I took it back to the couch, sat back down carefully, put my feet on the coffee table, and took a swallow. Winter would pass. Pearl shifted a little in her sleep, and I shifted a little to accommodate her…. There was something really wrong with April’s story.
From the start, I had felt vaguely uncomfortable. I didn’t know what I was uncomfortable about. And, suddenly, I did. The mansion-class prostitution business she was running wasn’t worth the energy someone was expending to get a cut of it. If Patricia Utley was right—and if she wasn’t, who would be?—the business was labor-intensive, difficult to run, and generated a modest profit. Was the business worth getting involved with Ollie DeMars? Was it worth inviting trouble with Tony Marcus? Or, for that matter, me and Hawk? And who was it that they dispatched to dating bars to pick up women and recruit them? Wouldn’t that have to be a guy? What guy? Of course Patricia Utley could be lying. But why would she be?
“Moreover,” I said to Pearl, “since the tactics of the anonymous takeover seem aimed at putting April out of business, what will the takeover guy have if his tactics work?”
Pearl appeared disinterested.
I felt bad about April. She was lying, and that made helping her a lot harder. Plus, what could be so bad that she wouldn’t tell me?
“And,” I said to Pearl, “the ugly truth of the matter is, my feelings are hurt.”
Pearl opened her eyes for a moment and stared at me. I took another swallow of scotch and looked back at her.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll get over it.”
Pearl closed her eyes.
In the morning Pearl and I took a short run along the river. The footing was bad, and the wind off the river was irksome. But we got in a half-hour of running plus some loitering while Pearl performed her morning ablutions and I, responsible dog owner, cleaned up after her. It is hard to look graceful while being a responsible dog owner. But I felt I managed with considerable aplomb. We went back to my place through the back basement door of my building. I fed Pearl and got some coffee and went and stood and looked down at Marlboro Street while I drank it. I always stood at the window while I had my coffee. I liked to watch the people going to work. A gray Ford Crown Victoria with tinted windows pulled onto Marlboro Street from Arlington and slid into a space by a hydrant across the street from my building. No one got out. The car was idling; I could see the exhaust plume drifting up behind the car. I drank some more coffee and stayed at the window. No one got out of the car. A man walking a small Jack Russell terrier went by. A woman in a short faux-fur coat and tight slacks went by. The Crown Vic did not have LV plates, so it probably wasn’t a limo waiting to take someone to Logan Airport. I watched it some more. It sat. I drank coffee. My cup was empty. I got another cup. The Crown Vic still sat there, still idling. So they could run the heater. While I watched the Crown Vic, the window on the passenger side slid down and somebody tossed a foam coffee cup and a couple of napkins onto Marlboro Street. I could see that he had long hair. I recognized him. He had been in Ollie DeMars’s office when I had gone to visit.
“By God,” I said to Pearl, “a clue!”
Pearl raised her head from the couch and looked at me closely to make sure I hadn’t said, “Do you want something to eat.” When she established that I hadn’t, she put her head back down. I continued on my coffee. The Crown Vic continued to sit. I got my cordless phone and brought it to the window and dialed the mansion and talked with Tedy Sapp.
“I’m looking out the front window of my apartment,” I said. “There is a gray Crown Vic parked across the street and in it are several guys who bear me ill will.”
“You must see that a lot,” Sapp said. “Given how charming you are.”
“Hawk needs to stay with April,” I said. “But he will tell you how to get here.”
“Here’s what I want you to do,” I said.
Tedy listened while I told him. He didn’t interrupt me. He didn’t ask any questions.
When I got through, he said, “How long a walk?”
“Fifteen minutes,” I said.
“See you there,” he said and hung up.
I was still in running shoes and sweats. I went to the front hall closet where I kept my guns, and unlocked it. I put my short .38 up on the shelf and took down my Browning 9mm. I didn’t know how many people were in the car. I might want more than five rounds. The magazine was already in the Browning. I jacked a shell up into the chamber, and eased the hammer back down and locked the closet. Then I got my official 2004 Red Sox World Series Championship hat. I put it on and a sheepskin coat. I put the Browning on my hip. Then I checked the time, gave Pearl a kiss on her nose, and went out. I stood on my front steps for a time, savoring the morning. I saw Tedy Sapp walking down Marlboro from the other end. I smiled to myself. He was wearing a peacoat and no hat and his ridiculous blond hair shone in the winter sun. He moved so easily, it was easy not to notice how big he was.
When Tedy got close enough so that the timing would be right, I went down the stairs and started up Marlboro toward Berkeley. I had my hands in my coat pockets. I was whistling happily. Looking for love and feeling groovy. When I was far enough from my building so that I couldn’t dash back inside, four guys got out of the Crown Vic and walked across the street toward me. One of them was Long Hair; beside him was the guy with the comb-over. With them was a blocky guy in a Patriots jacket, and a guy with a shaved head and tattoos on his neck. I stopped when they got to me.
“White guys look like shit with their heads shaved,” I said to the group in general.
The guy with the shaved head said, “You talking about me, pal?”
“Just a general observation,” I said.
“Never mind that crap,” Comb-over said. “Got a message to deliver from Ollie DeMars.”
“Wow,” I said, “a message.”
Long Hair and Comb-over were in front of me. The other two had moved behind me. One of them, it was the guy with the Patriots jacket, tried to put his arms around me and pin my arms. I turned sideways before he could get me pinned and hit him on the side of the face with my elbow. He let go and staggered backward as Tedy Sapp arrived behind Long Hair and Comb-over. Sapp hit Long Hair across the back of the head with his forearm. It knocked Long Hair face forward into the salt slush of the sidewalk. I hit Baldy four times as fast as I could punch. Straight left, left hook, left hook, right cross. He went down. I turned to look for the guy in the Patriots jacket. He was backing away. I looked at Comb-over. He was trying to get a gun out from inside his coat. When it was out, Tedy Sapp chopped it from his hand, almost contemptuously. Comb-over backed up a step with his hands raised in front of him. Sapp kicked him in the groin hard enough to lift him from the ground. Comb-over yelped and fell forward, doubled over in pain, and lay in the slush. Sapp and I both looked at the guy in the Patriots jacket. He backed up another couple of steps and then turned and ran. We watched him until he turned right on Arlington and disappeared.
I looked at the three men on the ground. Comb-over would take a while to recover. Baldy was on his hands and knees with his head hanging. Long Hair was sitting up. We did a fast shakedown to make sure there were no other weapons. There weren’t.
“I love the pat-down part,” Sapp said.
“Pervert,” I said.
“Your point?” Sapp said.
“Since they had four guys and one gun,” I said, “I’d guess they weren’t going to pop me.”
“What was the message?” I said to Long Hair.
He looked at the sidewalk and shook his head.
“Now that’s dumb,” I said. “You just got your ass handed to you by a couple of guys who could spend the week doing it again if they had reason. What did Ollie want you to tell me?”
Sapp poked Long Hair in the ribs gently with the toe of his work boot. Long Hair looked at him, and then at me.
“Ollie says to tell you to stay away from the whores.”
“And give you a good beatin’,” Long Hair said.
“Well,” I said. “You did your best.”
We were quiet. No sirens wailed in the distance. No patrol cars pulled around the corner from Arlington Street. If anyone had seen the fight, they hadn’t thought enough about it to call the cops. I looked at Long Hair. He didn’t know anything. None of them did. They were street labor. Asking them stuff was a waste of time.
“Tell Ollie,” I said, “that if he keeps annoying me, I will stop by and tie a knot in his pecker.”
Long Hair nodded.
“Beat it,” I said.
Long Hair and Baldy got slowly to their feet. They got Comb-over up, still bent over in pain, and got him into the backseat of the Crown Vic. Tedy Sapp bent over and picked up Comb-over’s gun and looked at it and nodded to himself and slipped it into the pocket of his peacoat. The Crown Vic started up and pulled away. At Berkeley Street it turned right, heading for Storrow Drive, and we didn’t see it anymore.
“You know the part about tying a knot in somebody’s pecker,” Sapp said.
“I was trying for a colorful metaphor,” I said.
“Sure,” Sapp said. “But if it happens, can I be the one does it?”
“God,” I said. “I gotta find me some straight help.”
April had an apartment on the fourth floor of the mansion. We were up there eating oatmeal cookies and drinking coffee. The apartment was nice in the unengaging way that good hotel rooms are nice. There were some paintings on the walls that went just right with the room. There were no photographs of anyone anywhere that I could see.
“Two of the girls quit today,” April said. “Bev and another girl.”
“Bev’s the one that got beat up,” I said.
“Are you making any progress?” she said. “I’m going to lose more girls, I know I am. And the clients who were here when those two apes rampaged through here…”
“Before Hawk and I joined the operation?” I said.
These oatmeal cookies had no raisins in them. I was pleased. I always thought raisins ruined oatmeal cookies.
“Yes,” she said. “Those clients will never be back.”
I nodded. April looked very nice today. Very pretty. Very pulled together. Very grown-up. She was wearing tan pants and a simple cobalt-colored top unbuttoned at the throat. They were expensive clothes and they fit her well.
“You need to do something,” she said.
She was sitting on the couch, and when she spoke she put her cup down on the coffee table and leaned forward toward me.
“He’s going to destroy me,” she said.
“You mean he’ll destroy your business.”
“For me that’s the same thing,” April said. “This business is my life, the first time I’ve ever had something that was mine, that I could build and nurture.”
“So why would he destroy that?” I said.
“Why would he destroy your business. What would he get if he does?”
“Because he’s crazy,” she said. “Because he’s cruel. Because he’s a wretched pig of a man. I don’t know. How do I know why he does what he does?”
“And you don’t know who he is,” I said.
“Of course not,” April said.
Her face had flushed a little bit.
“If I knew who he was,” she said, “why wouldn’t I tell you so you could stop him?”
“And there’s nothing you know that I don’t know,” I said.
“Oh my God, you don’t believe me?”
“Just asking,” I said.
She put her face in her hands and began to cry. I waited. I took the occasion while I was waiting to eat another raisin-free oatmeal cookie. She continued to cry. I went and sat on the couch beside her and put my arms around her.
“Nothing we can’t fix,” I said. “Whatever the truth is, it’s nothing we can’t fix.”
She turned her face into my chest and cried some more. I patted her shoulder. The crying slowed. She wriggled against me a little and raised her head and looked at me. I smiled at her. Suddenly she leaned in against me and kissed me with her mouth open and tried to put her tongue in my mouth. I was horrified. It was like getting French-kissed by your daughter. I turned my head.
“April,” I said.
She had squirmed herself on top of me as I leaned back against the corner of the couch, so that she pressed full-length against me.
“You’ve never touched me,” she said. “Not since you met me. You’ve never touched me.”
“You were pretty young,” I said.
“And now I’m not,” she said.
Her face was so close to mine that her lips brushed my face when she spoke.
“Too late,” I said. “It would be like incest.”
She was moving her body against me as she lay on me.
“Wouldn’t you like to fuck me?” she said. “I’m good-looking and I’m really good at it.”
“No,” I said.
“Just once? Fuck me just once? I really know how.”
I sat somewhat forcibly up and got my arms under her and stood up with her, and turned and set her back on the couch. She was still, flopped back as if she were exhausted, looking at me with her eyes half closed.
“You know you want to,” she said. “Men always want to.”
I looked at her for a moment without speaking.
Then I said, “Thanks for the offer,” and turned and left the apartment.
Susan was back from Albany. She smiled when I finished my recitation.
“I guess April didn’t want to talk about the case,” Susan said.
“I do,” she said. “And I have a Ph.D. from Harvard.”
We had ordered dinner in Excelsior, at a table by the window, looking out over the Public Garden, and we were having cocktails while we waited.
“It’s all she knows how to do,” I said.
“And quite well,” Susan said, “if you were reporting accurately.”
“She says she does it quite well,” I said.
“It’s not terribly difficult to do well,” Susan said.
“May I say you’ve mastered it,” I said.
“Must I remind you again of the Harvard Ph.D.?” she said.
“Wow,” I said, “they got courses in everything.”
Susan took a small sip of her Cosmopolitan.
“It’s a refrain I hear often,” Susan said. “From patients. Women who are sexually active and have a limited skill set often brag about how good they are at sex.”
“It’s not really a matter of technique,” I said.
“Fortunately for you,” Susan said.
“Hey,” I said.
“It has much to do,” Susan said, “with whether you are happy in the task.”
“So maybe she protesteth too much?”
“I’m sure she knows all there is to know,” Susan said. “But most adult women do.”
“Not all of them.”
“There are a thousand things that can inhibit someone’s sexuality. But lack of skill is not a common problem.”
“Really,” I said. “You didn’t learn any of this up in Albany, did you?”
She grinned at me. The big, wide grin, full of things hinted but not exactly said.
“I haven’t cheated on you in ages,” Susan said.
“Good to know,” I said.
“But, I was a grown woman when I met you,” Susan said. “Remember? Married and divorced. I had already learned a lot of things.”
“And there was that little business out west,” she said.
“That was then,” I said. “This is now.”
She looked steadily at me with no banter. My hand was on the table. She put her hand on top of it.
“Yes,” she said. “It is.”
We were silent. I drank some scotch. She drank some Cosmopolitan.
“I’m running around this thing like a headless chicken,” I said.
“My guess would be,” Susan said, “that whatever answers you’re likely to get will come out of April.”
“She denies all,” I said.
“She has a past,” Susan said. “Maybe that will tell you something.”
I nodded slowly, thinking about it.
“What got her in trouble last time?” Susan said.
“Looking for love in all the wrong places.”
“And the time before that,” Susan said. “When you first met her?”
“Looking for love in all the wrong places,” I said.
“Without some sort of major intervention,” Susan said, “people don’t change much.”
“Cherchez l’homme,” I said.
Susan nodded. “Maybe,” she said.
“You Ivy Leaguers are a smart lot, aren’t you?”
Susan nodded vigorously.
“Wildly oversexed, too,” she said.
“Not all of you,” I said.
“One’s enough,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”
I raised my glass toward her. She picked up hers. We clinked.
“Fight fiercely, Harvard,” I said.
In New York I stayed at the Carlyle hotel. I could have stayed at a Days Inn on the West Side for considerably less. But I would have gotten considerably less, and I’d had a good year. I liked the Carlyle.
Thus, on a bright, windy day in New York, with the temperature not bad in the upper thirties, I sat with Patricia Utley in the Gallery on the Madison Avenue side of the hotel and had tea. It was elegant with velvet and dark wood. Faintly from the Café I could hear piano music, somebody rehearsing for the evening. Barbara Carroll? Betty Buckley? I felt like I was in Gershwin’s New York. I was more sophisticated than Paris Hilton.
“A professional thug,” I said. “And a whorehouse madam having tea at the Carlyle. Is this a great country or what?”
“We look good,” Patricia Utley said. “It covers a multitude.”
We did look good. I looked like I always do: insouciant, roguish, and quite similar to Cary Grant, if Cary had had his nose broken more often. Patricia Utley wore a blue pin-striped pantsuit and a white shirt with a long collar. Her short hair had blond highlights, just like April’s. Her makeup was discreet. She looked in shape. And the hints of aging at the corners of her face seemed to add some sort of prestige to her appearance.
We ordered the full tea. I like everything about tea, except tea. But I tried to stay with the spirit of it all.
“I’ve been chasing my tail,” I said, “since I started with April.”
Patricia Utley sipped some tea and put her cup down.
“And you wish my help?” she said.
We both paused to examine our tea sandwich options.
“Let me tell you what I know, and what I think,” I said.
She listened quietly, sipping her tea, nibbling a cucumber sandwich. She seemed interested. She didn’t interrupt.
When I was finished, she said, “You think there’s a lover or ex-lover somewhere in the picture?”
“I think I should find out if there is.”
“What do you need from me?” she said.
“Information is problematic,” Patricia Utley said. “I am in a business which deeply values discretion.”
“Me too,” I said.
“So we will be discreet with one another,” she said.
“I need to have some names, someplace to start,” I said. “Can you give me a list of her clients in the last year, say, when she was with you in New York?”
“Why would you think that I would have such a list.”
“You’re a woman of the twenty-first century,” I said. “You have a database of clients in your computer, or my name is not George Clooney.”
“You’re bigger than George Clooney,” Patricia Utley said.
“Yeah, but otherwise…” I said.
“An easy mistake to make,” she said.
“I won’t compromise you,” I said. “But I need to see if she had a more than, ah, professional encounter with any of them.”
She had some more tea, and a scone, while she thought about it.
“I have learned not to trust anyone,” she said.
“But oddly,” she said, “I trust you.”
I smiled my self-effacing smile, the one where I cock my head to the side a little.
“Good choice,” I said.
“You won’t compromise me,” she said.
“Of course I won’t.”
“Of course you won’t.”
“So I get the list?” I said.
“I’ll have it delivered to you tomorrow,” she said. “Here.”
“Oh good,” I said. “I’ll pay for tea.”
The list of April’s regular partners was a good one. There were about fifteen names on it; each was annotated with the dates of contact, how they paid, how to reach them, what their preferences were. I was pleased to see that their preferences were within normal parameters.
The direct approach might not be productive: Hi, I’m a private detective from Boston. I’d like to talk with you about your long-term relationship with a professional prostitute. I decided to consult a New York professional. And I knew who to call.
I met Detective Second Grade Eugene Corsetti for lunch at a Viand coffee shop on Madison Avenue, a couple of blocks uptown from the hotel. We sat in a tight booth on the left wall. It was tight for me, and Corsetti was as big as I was but more latitudinal. He was built like a bowling ball. But not as soft. I ordered coffee and a tongue sandwich on light rye. Corsetti had corned beef.
“How can you eat tongue,” Corsetti said.
“You know how intrepid I am.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot that for a minute.”
“You make first yet?” I said.
“Detective First Grade?” Corsetti said. “You got a better chance of making it than I have.”
“And I’m not even a cop anymore,” I said.
“Exactly,” Corsetti said.
The coffee came. Corsetti put about six spoonfuls of sugar in his and stirred noisily.
“Is that because you annoy a lot of people?” I said.
“Yeah, sure,” Corsetti said. “Always have. It’s a gift.”
The sandwiches came, each with half a sour pickle and a side of coleslaw. Corsetti stared at my sandwich.
“You’re gonna eat that?” he said.
I nodded happily.
“Want a bite?” I said.
“Uck!” Corsetti said.
“You remember first time I met you?” I said.
Corsetti had a mouthful of sandwich. He nodded as he chewed.
“You were looking for a missing hooker,” he said after he had swallowed and patted his mouth with his napkin.
“April Kyle,” I said.
“Yeah,” Corsetti said. “And somebody involved in it got killed a few blocks east of here, I think.”
“And I caught the squeal,” Corsetti said. “And there you were.”
“And a few years later, at Rockefeller Center?”
“Heaven,” Corsetti said. “I got a lot of face time on the tube out of that one. Whatever happened to the guy you had hold of.”
“We arranged something,” I said.
“Lot of that going around,” Corsetti said. “Whaddya want now?”
“Renew acquaintances?” I said.
“Yeah, sure, want to hold hands and sing ‘Kum By fucking Ya’?”
“I’m working on April Kyle again,” I said.
“The same whore? She run off again?”
“No,” I said. “She’s in trouble.”
“And her a lovely prostitute,” Corsetti said. “How could that be?”
“I have a list of names; I was wondering if you could run them. See if any of them are in the system anyplace.”
“Where’d you get the list?”
“They’re former clients of April Kyle.”
“So they’ll be thrilled to have their names run,” Corsetti said.
“We hope they won’t know,” I said.
“Me and the madam who gave me the list,” I said.
“I ain’t vice,” Corsetti said. “I don’t give a fuck about whores. What are you looking for?”
Corsetti was through eating. All I had left on my plate was half a pickle. I ate it.
“There’s some sort of cherry pie over there on the counter,” I said. “Under the glass dome.”
“Yeah,” Corsetti said. “I spotted it when I come in.”
“I’m not going to have any,” I said.
“No, me either,” Corsetti said. “You gonna tell me what you’re doing?”
“Okay,” I said, and told him.
As I was telling him the waiter cleared our plates. I paused.
“Anything else?” the waiter said.
“More coffee,” Corsetti said. “And two pieces of the cherry pie. Some cheese.”
“You got it,” the waiter said and walked away.
Corsetti and I poisoned ourselves with pie and cheese, while I finished explaining. When I was done, Corsetti put out his hand.
“Gimme the list,” he said. “I’ll get back to you.”
I spun my wheels for a couple of days until I finally met Corsetti again, this time in Grand Central Station.
“Why here?” I said as we sat together on a bench in the vast vaulted waiting room. Each of us had coffee in a plastic cup.
“I like it here,” Corsetti said. “I come here when I get a chance.”
The light was streaming in from the high windows. The room was busy with people. It was New York from another time, lingering into the twenty-first century. Corsetti handed me a big manila envelope.
“Here’s your list back,” Corsetti said. “I made some notes. You can go over it later.”
“Anything good?” I said
“I only got one guy,” Corsetti said. “Lionel Farnsworth.”
“What’d he do?” I said.
“LF Real Estate Consortium,” Corsetti said. “Bought a bunch of slab two-bedroom ranches in North Jersey. Fore-closure junk. And resold them for a lot more to yuppies in Manhattan with the promise of high rental income and positive cash flow. He took a packaging fee on the deal and arranged the financing, for which he got a finder’s fee from the bank.”
“Some of the property was condemned. Most of the houses needed rehab. Residents couldn’t pay the rent. And the yuppies were left holding a bagful of garbage.”
“And one of them got a lawyer,” I said.
“They got together and got one,” Corsetti said. “And he went to the Manhattan DA. And Manhattan talked to our cousins in Jersey.”
“Because the crime was interstate, Jersey and New York, the Feds got involved. There were some really swell turf battles, but eventually Lionel did two years in Allenwood, for some sort of interstate conspiracy to defraud.”
“White Deer, Pennsylvania,” I said.
“Sounds like a vacation spot,” Corsetti said.
“Minimum security pretty much is,” I said. “Got dates?”
“It’s all in there,” Corsetti said. “I’m just giving you highlights.”
“Nobody else in the system?” I said.
A bum came shambling past us.
“You gen’lemen got some change?” he said.
Corsetti reached for his wallet. When he did, his coat fell open and the bum could see the gun and the shield clipped onto Corsetti’s belt next to it. The bum backed away.
“Never mind,” he said. “I didn’ mean nothing.”
Corsetti took out his wallet.
“Step over here,” Corsetti said.
The bum shuffled back. He didn’t look at either of us. He looked at the floor. His shoulders hunched a little as if maybe Corsetti was going to hit him.
“I got no change,” Corsetti said.
He handed the bum a ten-dollar bill. The bum took it and stared at it. He still didn’t look at Corsetti, or me.
“Beat it,” Corsetti said.
“Yessir,” the bum said. “God bless.”
He backed away with the bill in his hand, still looking at it, then turned and walked away across the waiting room under the high arched roof toward 42nd Street.
“Fucking stumblebums,” Corsetti said. “The uniform guys come through couple times a day, sweep ’em out, but they’re right back in here a half-hour later.”
“Especially in the winter,” I said. “Is ‘stumblebum’ the acceptable term for our indigent brothers and sisters?”
“Sometimes I like ‘vagrants,’” Corsetti said. “Depends on how much style they got.”
“Think the money will help him?” I said.
“Think he’ll spend it on booze?”
“So why’d you give it to him?” I said.
Corsetti swallowed the last of his coffee and grinned at me.
“Felt like it,” he said.
I spent an hour looking at Patricia Utley’s list as annotated by Eugene Corsetti. Corsetti had thoughtfully located all fifteen guys by address and phone number for me. And he had included copies of Farnsworth’s mug shots from when they’d made the first fraud arrest in 1998. Other than that, Corsetti didn’t add much to what he had told me in the waiting room. I wanted to take a look at Lionel Farnsworth, so I walked across the park to where he lived, about opposite the Carlyle, in one of those impressive buildings that front Central Park West.
I wasn’t sure what I thought I’d learn. The mug shots were old enough so that he might have changed, certainly. And people don’t always look just like themselves when they’re being booked. He would look different in the flesh. And I had some half-articulated sense that if he looked wrong for the part, I’d know it. Besides, I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
There was a doorman at the entrance. He was a bulky guy wearing a maroon uniform with some braid. He had one of those New York Irish faces that implied he’d be perfectly happy to knock you down and kick you if you gave him any trouble.
“Lionel Farnsworth,” I said.
The doorman took the phone from its brass box on the wall.
“Who shall I say?”
“Clint Hartung,” I said.
“Spell the last name?”
“H-A-R-T-U-N-G,” I said. “Hartung.”
The doorman turned away and called. He spoke into the phone for a minute and turned back to me.
“Mr. Farnsworth doesn’t recognize the name,” he said. “He’d like to know what it’s in regard to.”
“Tell him it’s in regard to matters we discussed in White Deer, Pennsylvania, a while back, when we were both visiting there.”
The doorman relayed that into the phone and then listened silently for a moment, nodding. Then he hung up the phone and closed the little brass door.
“Mr. Farnsworth says he’ll be down. You can wait in the lobby.”
I went in. It was a small lobby done in black marble and polished brass. There was a bench on either side of the elevator door. They were upholstered in black leather. I sat on one. In maybe two minutes I heard the elevator coming down. And in another minute the doors opened and there he came. I stood.
“Mr. Farnsworth?” I said.
He turned toward me and smiled. He had his hand in his coat pocket, with the thumb showing. The thumbnail gleamed.
“Yes,” he said. “What’s this about White Deer?”
He was a really good-looking guy. About my height but slimmer. His dark hair had just enough gray highlights. It was longish and wavy and brushed straight back. He had a nice tan, and even features, and very fine teeth. He was wearing light gray slacks and a dark double-breasted blazer, and, God help us, a white silk scarf.
“I knew you were down there at Allenwood for a couple of years,” I said. “Just a ploy to get you to see me.”
Farnsworth’s smile remained warm and welcoming. He glanced casually through the glass front door where the doorman was watching us. Then he took his hand from his coat pocket and stuck it out.
“Well, it worked, didn’t it,” he said. “And so delicately done. White Deer, Pennsylvania.”
We shook hands, he gestured gracefully toward the bench where I’d been sitting, and both of us sat down on it. He shifted slightly so he could look me square in the eye.
“So,” he said. “What can I help you with?”
Pretty good. No attempt to explain why he’d been at Allenwood. No outrage at being tricked. Just frank and friendly. No wonder people gave him their money. Frank and Friendly Farnsworth. Ready to deal with what is. And of course the doorman was handy, if things didn’t go well.
“I’ve been employed by a big law firm, Gordon, Kerr, Rigney and Mize,” I said. “They brought and won a class-action suit against a big national corporation, the name of which I’m not at liberty to divulge.”
“Well, by God, good for them,” Farnsworth said.
“Yeah,” I said. “For once the good guys won. The settlement is, well, just let me tell you it is substantial, and a number of individuals are entitled to a considerable piece of change. If we can find them.”
“You’re not going to tell me I’m one of them?” Farnsworth said.
“Wish I could,” I said. “But no, I’m looking for someone named April Kyle, and I have reason to believe you might know her.”
“April,” he said. “April, what was the last name?”
“Kyle,” I said. “Like Kyle Rote.”
“Never mind,” I said. “Do you know where I could find her?”
“April Kyle,” he said. “I don’t really think I know anybody named April Kyle.”
Okay, so Lionel lies.
“Are you married, Mr. Farnsworth?”
“No,” he said. “Not at the moment.”
He smiled a big, open, engaging smile at me.
“Between gigs,” he said. “Sort of.”
I knew people often didn’t brag about hiring prostitutes, but if he were single, he had less reason to lie, and there was serious money kicking around in this deal, and he might get some of it if he helped April to get hers. I almost smiled. My story was so good I was starting to believe it. A guy like Farnsworth would have sniffed around this situation. He didn’t. And that was odd.
“Between gigs can be good or bad,” I said.
He gave me a warm between-us-guys smile.
“At the moment, it’s pretty damn good,” he said.
“Congratulations,” I said.
After we had shared our male moment, I stood.
“Thanks for your help, Mr. Farnsworth.”
“Sorry I wasn’t more useful,” he said. “How’d you happen to come across that Allenwood thing?”
“Routine investigation,” I said. “It won’t even be in my report.”
“Good,” he said. “I could explain it but it’s a bother.”
“Don’t give it a second thought,” I said.
He smiled and nodded. We shook hands. As I left, I brushed against his right side. There was a gun in his right-hand jacket pocket.
“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“No harm,” he said.
“God,” I said, “I’m clumsy.”
“No problem,” he said.
I went out of the lobby and passed the doorman. He watched me closely. I crossed with the light. The doorman was still watching me, and continued to watch me until I crossed into the park.
In Farnsworth’s defense, it hadn’t felt like a very big gun.
Frank Belson and I had breakfast at the counter of a joint on Southampton Street, not far from the new police headquarters.
“Nice call,” Belson said. “Ollie DeMars done time, for assault at MCI Concord 1990 to ’92, and in the federal pen at Allenwood in 1998. So he was there the same time as your guy.”
“Lionel Farnsworth,” I said. “What was the federal charge?”
“Him and another guy were stealing pension checks from mailboxes. Ollie rolled on the other guy and got off with a year, easy time.”
“That’s our Ollie,” I said. “Stand-up guy.”
“Standing up for Ollie,” Belson said. “I called the prison. Both of them were in the minimum-security part. Guy I talked with said it would be surprising if they didn’t know each other.”
I had a bite of corned beef hash. Belson drank coffee.
“What do you know about Ollie?” I said.
“I don’t know him myself,” Belson said. “But I asked around. Talked to OC squad, couple detectives in his precinct.”
“Ollie qualify for organized-crime attention?”
“Not really. He’s not that organized. But a lot of the organized outfits use him. He’s got a sort of loose confederation of street-soldier wannabes that he’ll rent out for strong arm work.”
“He needs to hire better help,” I said.
“To deal with you? Hawk? Sure he does. But his people are fine for slapping around some no-credit guy from Millis, borrowed money to open a restaurant and is behind on the vig.”
“Ollie do any of his own work?”
“Mostly he runs things. But he’s tough enough to run them. He can keep the wannabes in line,” Belson said.
I ate some more hash. Belson’s breakfast was an English muffin and coffee. No wonder he was lean.
“He’s not necessarily a loyal person,” I said.
“Guy in the mailbox deal is probably still in Allenwood, doing Ollie’s time,” Belson said.
I finished my hash. Frank took a bite out of his English muffin. I looked at his plate. He was still on the first half of the muffin.
“Is that all you eat for breakfast?” I said.
“I drink a lot of coffee,” Belson said.
“That’s nourishing,” I said.
“I’m never hungry much,” Belson said. “I eat enough to stay alive.”
“Me too,” I said.
The counter man cleared my plate. I ordered more coffee and a piece of pineapple pie. Belson put some grape jelly on his remaining half a muffin.
“Fruit,” Belson said.
“You healthy bastard,” I said.
“Ollie ain’t a major leaguer,” Belson said. “Because he ain’t the brightest bulb on the tree. But people who know say he’s got a big ego, and he’s pretty crazy, and most people don’t take him on if they don’t have to.”
“I may have to,” I said.
“Speaking of ego,” Belson said.
“I like to think of it as self-confidence,” I said.
“I’m sure you do,” Belson said.
“He’s annoyed Tony Marcus,” I said. “It is an article of religious faith with Tony that whore business is black business.”
“Tony believes that about any business he’s in,” Belson said.
“His faith is flexible,” I said.
“Tony would win that one,” Belson said. “Why don’t you let him.”
“Tony wants to give me a chance to neutralize Ollie. Probably doesn’t want you guys on his ass.”
“Yeah, and we’d be all over him, working night and day and day and night to find out who aced a creep like Ollie DeMars.”
“I’m just reporting the news,” I said. “I’m not making it.”
“You gonna talk with him?”
“Ollie?” I said. “Yeah.”
“Why don’t I go along, flash the badge. That way you probably won’t have to shoot anybody.”
“Thanks for caring,” I said. “How crazy is Ollie?”
“Not crazy enough to shoot a cop,” Belson said.
Belson was on the radio during the short drive to Andrews Square, and we parked outside Ollie’s place for a few minutes.
“I may have to talk about stuff that might not be legal,” I said. “I hope you won’t overhear it.”
“Huh?” Belson said.
“Okay,” I said.
Some uniforms pulled up in a couple of cruisers. We got out. Belson went and talked to the uniforms, and came back to me. He took out his badge, clipped it onto the lapel of his topcoat, and he and I went into the storefront.
There were three people I didn’t know out in the front. One of them, a husky guy with a blond ponytail, got up when he saw us and walked down the hall. In a moment he came back with Ollie beside him. Ollie looked at me as if he had never seen me before. He looked at the badge on Belson’s lapel and smiled.
“Yessir, officer,” Ollie said. “How can I help you?”
“Let’s talk in your office,” Belson said.
“Sure,” Ollie said and walked back down the hall.
We followed. When he was behind his desk, he leaned back and put his feet up and spread his hands.
“Do I need a lawyer here?” he said.
“Naw,” Belson said. “We’re all friends here. You know Spenser?”
Ollie’s eyes widened and he looked at me carefully.
“Oh,” Ollie said. “Sure. I didn’t recognize you. How ya doing?”
Ollie was wearing a tattersall shirt today, and a black knit tie, and a sand-colored corduroy jacket.
“Swell,” I said. “Tell me about your friendship with Lionel Farnsworth.”
Ollie stared at me unblinking for a minute, then looked at Belson.
“He’s no cop,” Ollie said.
“Tell me about your friendship with Lionel Farnsworth,” Belson said.
Ollie looked at Belson and back at me.
“Who?” he said to Belson.
Belson grinned without warmth.
“It can go quick,” Belson said, “you talk with Spenser. It’ll take a lot longer he asks, you look at me, I ask again.”
Ollie shrugged. The suburban Rotarian veneer was getting thin.
“I guess so,” he said.
“So,” I said, “tell me about your friendship with Lionel Farnsworth.”
“I don’t know him,” Ollie said.
“You do,” I said. “You were in Allenwood federal prison with him in 1998.”
“I was there, yeah, on a bad rap, by the way, but I didn’t know anybody named Farnswhatever.”
“And when he needed some arm-twisting done for him up here,” I said, “seven years later, he called you.”
“I ain’t doing no strong-arm work for Farnsworth.”
Belson was tilted back slightly in his chair, one foot cocked on the edge of Ollie’s desk.
“Ollie,” he said. “You are making a liar out of me. I said you didn’t need a lawyer, and now you are shoveling so much shit at us that, maybe you keep doing it, you are going to need one.”
“For what?” Ollie said.
Without the glad-handed good-guy disguise, Ollie’s natural stupidity began to dominate. He even sounded different. Bullshit is only skin deep.
“Just listen to me for a minute,” I said. “You sent some guys over to the mansion, and Hawk and I kicked their ass. Then you sent four guys to chase me off the case, and Tedy Sapp and I kicked their ass. Now I know who hired you to do it, and when I confront him with these facts, he’ll claim it was all your doing and he just wanted you to talk with April.”
“At which time,” Belson said, “we in the Boston Police Department will feel obligated to protect and serve your ass right into the fucking hoosegow.”
“Or,” I said, “you can flip on old Lionel now, while the flipping is good, and tell us your side of the story before we even talk with Lionel.”
“What about the assault stuff,” Ollie said.
“I don’t need to press charges on those,” I said. “Hell, I won both fights anyway.”
“Okay,” he said.
He stood suddenly and walked to his office door and closed it.
“Okay,” he said again.
He walked back to his desk and sat down. The jolliness was back. He wasn’t confused now. He knew what to do.
“I’ll tell you about Farnsworth,” he said.
My last serious talk with April had ended badly, so this time I talked with her in the front parlor of the mansion, with Hawk and Tedy Sapp present in case she attempted to seduce me again. She had been sulky since I’d rejected her, and she was sulky now.
“I’ve located Lionel Farnsworth,” I said.
She had no reaction.
“You know him, don’t you?” I said.
“He was with you twenty-three times in the year before you came up here,” I said.
“They’re all johns,” she said.
“I’ve had a talk with Ollie DeMars,” I said.
“The gentleman who’s been managing the harassment,” I said. “He tells me that he was hired to do that by a gentleman he once knew in Allenwood prison, a man from New York named Lionel Farnsworth.”
“I thought it was someone with an offshore bank account,” April said.
“Ollie made that up,” I said. “It was his old prison pal Lionel.”
April didn’t say anything.
“What we have here,” I said, “is a remarkable coincidence. The guy who is extorting you is a guy you have known professionally at least twenty-three times.”
She shrugged again.
“I have prevailed upon Ollie to leave you alone,” I said.
“You think he will?” April said.
“Then I don’t need you anymore,” April said.
“That depends on how earnest Lionel is,” I said.
“I told you I don’t know Lionel.”
“April,” I said. “What the hell is going on?”
“Nothing,” April said. “This Ollie person has been stopped. Thank you. That’s all I need.”
Hawk stood up.
“Our work here is done,” he said to Tedy Sapp.
“Ollie was no match for us,” Sapp said.
He turned to April.
“I’ll pack and be gone in an hour,” he said. “Nice doing business with you.”
“Say good-bye to the ladies,” Hawk said.
April nodded. She didn’t say anything. Hawk and Sapp left. April and I sat. The silence continued. She cannot have lived the life she’s led, Susan had said, without suffering a lot of damage. Under stress, she had said, the damage usually surfaces.
“There’s nothing so bad I can’t hear it,” I said.
“There’s nothing so bad I won’t help you with it,” I said.
She kept nodding. I stood.
“Okay, Toots,” I said. “No lectures. If you find that you need me again, you know where I am.”
“Yes,” she said.
I went to where she sat and bent over and kissed her. She stiffened slightly. I stepped back and pretended to shoot her with my forefinger, and turned and left.
Hawk drove Tedy Sapp to the airport. I went, too. Now that I was off the case, I had nothing else to do. And it gave me a chance to see if the tunnel was leaking today.
“April didn’t like you,” Hawk said to Tedy Sapp.
“No,” Sapp said. “She didn’t.”
“I’m not sure she liked any of us.”
“Worse with Tedy,” Hawk said. “He being gay and all.”
“Lot of women like gay men,” Sapp said. “They can talk about things comfortably….”
“Like pottery,” Hawk said. “Hair tint.”
Sapp ignored him.
“Without any sexual tension, so to speak. And, as we all know, gay men are urbane, witty, sophisticated, and unusually charming.”
“Some of Ollie’s people,” I said, “can testify to that.”
“But…” Hawk said.
“But there are some women who are uncomfortable with us precisely because there’s no sexual tension,” Sapp said. “They can’t use sex to control us. Flirting with us isn’t effective.”
“That’s true of a lot of straight men, too,” I said.
“Sure,” Sapp said. “Probably true of you.”
“Might want to ask Susan ’bout that,” Hawk said.
“That’s love,” I said.
“Um,” Hawk said.
“But even though that’s true,” Sapp said, “a woman like April can create a sexual tone to her male relationships that she can’t do with a ho-mo-sex-u-al.”
“Sex is the only thing that ever worked for her,” I said.
“And that sure worked out good,” Hawk said.
“She knows that guy in New York,” Sapp said. “Doesn’t she.”
“You gonna let it slide?” Sapp said.
“You done a couple riffs with him,” Hawk said. “What you think he gonna do?”
“I think he’s going to chew on this,” Sapp said, “like a beaver on a tree.”
“You going to New York?” Hawk said.
“I am,” I said.
“Gonna talk with Farnsworth?” he said.
“Seems like a good idea,” I said.
“Then what?” Hawk said.
“Depends on what he says.”
“How ’bout he says for you to go fuck yourself,” Sapp said.
“Why should he be different?” I said.
“Spenser don’t like Farnsworth the way he like April,” Hawk said.
“So you might be more forceful,” Sapp said.
“We have our ways,” I said.
“Anybody paying you?” Sapp said.
“I’m getting twice what you’re getting,” I said.
“I’m getting zip,” Sapp said.
“And worth every penny,” I said.
Hawk pulled into the curb in front of the Delta terminal.
“Least Robin Hood stole it,” he said, “’fore he gave it away.”
“And,” Sapp said, “he had all those merry men.”
I used a different technique with Lionel Farnsworth this time. The lawyer-with-money trick probably wouldn’t play twice, with either him or the doorman. So I began to hang out near his building on a bright, crisp New York day. In the late afternoon of the first day, he came out of his building wearing a belted double-breasted camel-hair overcoat and turned right on Central Park West, toward Columbus Circle. I fell in beside him.
“Nothing like a brisk stroll,” I said. “Huh?”
He looked at me and did a little repressed double take.
“You,” he said.
“Ah…the, ah, lawyer guy, right?”
“Sort of,” I said.
“I lied to you.”
“I did,” I said. “I’m a detective.”
“Exactly,” I said.
We began to walk again.
“New York City police?” he said.
“I’m from Boston,” I said.
He looked at me and started to speak and decided not to. His pace had picked up a little. I stayed with him.
“Ollie DeMars spilled the beans,” I said.
“I don’t believe I know him.”
“You do,” I said. “You were in Allenwood with him. Six months ago you called him and hired him to harass April Kyle. You told him don’t kill anybody. And don’t hurt April but keep on her case until you say to stop.”
“He’s lying,” Farnsworth said. “Who’s April Kyle?”
“I don’t think he’s lying,” I said.
“He is,” Farnsworth said. “Are you going to believe some ex-con felon like him?”
“As opposed to an ex-con felon like you?”
“That was a mistake,” Farnsworth said. “I was innocent of any wrongdoing.”
“And they sent you to Allenwood why?”
“Prosecutor wanted to make a name for himself.”
“By putting a high-profile guy like you away,” I said.
“Absolutely,” Farnsworth said.
“So you know Ollie,” I said, “after all.”
“I remember him now,” Farnsworth said. “From Allenwood. We barely knew each other. I don’t know why he’s saying these things about me.”
“Jealousy probably,” I said. “I have evidence, by the way, that you availed yourself of April’s expertise at least twenty times in the year before she moved to Boston, and that you always requested her by name.”
“He told you that?”
“No. I learned that elsewhere.”
“Well I told you before, and I’m telling you now, I don’t know any April Kyle.”
“Lionel,” I said. “I got witnesses who will testify that you were often in April Kyle’s company and referred to her by name. I have the stalwart Ollie DeMars who will testify that you hired him to roust April Kyle, and referred to her specifically by name when you did so. Ollie says you wired him the money every week. It’s only a matter of time before we find your bank and get a record of the transfer.”
Farnsworth stared straight ahead as he walked. I walked with him and didn’t say anything for a while. We got to Columbus Circle and stopped for the light.
“I’m not necessarily after you,” I said.
Farnsworth stared up at the light.
“I can grind you on it, or I can let it kind of slide; depends pretty much on how much you’re willing to talk with me. And what I hear.”
The light changed. We started across.
“We’ll go in the Time Warner Center,” Farnsworth said, “and talk.”
“Perfect,” I said.
We sat on a leather sofa in front of a big window in the lobby area on the top floor of the Time Warner Center and looked out at Columbus Circle and the park beyond.
“Okay,” Lionel said. “You got me. Yes, I patronized April Kyle regularly, when she was a working girl. Tell me you don’t do that.”
“I don’t do that,” I said.
“Sort of,” I said.
He frowned at the sort of but didn’t comment.
“Well,” Lionel said, “I started out just because she was, you know, good.”
“But”—he shook his head in an open, man-to-man way—“it’s like some Broadway musical, you know? I fell for her.”
“I’m still crazy about her,” he said.
“How’s she feel?” I said.
“Same way,” he said. “We’re crazy about each other.”
“Which is why you hired Ollie DeMars,” I said, “to put her out of business.”
Farnsworth shook his head slowly.
“No, no,” he said. “You don’t get it. We’re in business together. That place is just the first in a chain of what I like to call boutique whorehouses we were planning to start.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s why you hired Ollie DeMars to put her out of business.”
Lionel shook his head again and looked at me as if I were a small boy.
“You’d never make it in the fast-shuffle business,” he said. “You think too straight ahead.”
“If at all,” I said.
“We were scamming the madam, Utley. We pulled this scheme together to give her a reason to let go of the business and not require her money back. You unnerstand? Then we’d take it over, and that’s all she wrote.”
“So this is all just a con so that you and April can steal the business from Mrs. Utley.”
“Steal’s a little harsh. We’ll develop it,” he said, “beyond what she could imagine.”
“And the mansion in Boston is your pilot program,” I said.
“You bet,” he said. “You like the mansion concept. My idea. We’re going to call it Dreamgirl. The Dreamgirl mansions? You dig? And we’ll have a tagline. Love like a playboy. You like it? Love like a playboy at the Dreamgirl mansion in…and you fill in the city. Huh? When it’s up and really rolling, we can franchise the concept and sit back and collect the franchise fees.”
“What if they don’t pay the fee?” I said. “Not everybody who wants to franchise a whorehouse is a fully responsible citizen.”
“We’d provide for that. I was going to use Ollie, but I guess I’ll have to find someone else. That’s not hard. There are always Ollies.”
“So this being the case, and you and April being closer than clams in a cozy chowder,” I said, “how come she hired me to make it all go away.”
“Smoke screen,” Farnsworth said.
“Not such a good one,” I said.
“I know, we tried to get too cute. April said she could control you, and…” He shrugged. “I figured you were just another retired cop fleshing out his pension.”
“And how do we feel about the hooker that got beat up on her way home from the movies one night.”
“I heard about that. April was furious. Like I told her, my instructions to Ollie was that nobody get hurt. Ollie went too far, and I spoke to him about it and warned him against doing that again.”
“Probably terrified him,” I said.
“I was his employer,” he said. “He followed my instructions or we got somebody else to do the work.”
“A hard man is good to find,” I said.
“Hey,” Farnsworth said. “That’s pretty clever. You make that up?”
He thought about it for a minute, and then laughed and patted his hand on the leather couch seat a couple of times.
“I’ll bet some hot broad made it up,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “That’s probably what happened.”
“A hard man is good to find,” Farnsworth said. “That’s great.”
“Do you have a financial position in this enterprise?” I said.
“Sure, me and April are partners, everything’s fifty-fifty.”
“So how much you invested so far?” I said.
“Haven’t needed to so far. We’re sort of dining on Utley for the time. But I got some investors lined up, and when we start expanding, I’ll be bringing in a lot of money. Want to jump in?” he said. “Chance to get in on the ground floor.”
I shook my head.
“We’re gonna be rich,” he said. “Don’t say I didn’t give you your shot.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Maybe it should be Live like a playboy,” Farnsworth said. “Or Live and love like a playboy.”
“Or,” I said, “how about, I’ll spend my life in litigation over trademark infringement.”
“What copyright?” he said.
“Just kidding around,” I said.
We were quiet then, looking out the window past Columbus Circle, where there was still construction going on. And down 59th Street, where for several blocks it was called Central Park South. I didn’t believe everything he was saying. But I wouldn’t have believed everything he said if he told me the time. There was enough there that might be true for me to take back to April. I stood.
“Have a swell day,” I said and turned and left him.
For the moment, at least, I’d had enough of the egregious bastard.
The first thing April did was cry. We were sitting in her front parlor when I told her what Lionel Farnsworth had told me. I was halfway through when she began to cry. It was controlled at first, as if it were a ploy. But then it got away from her, and by the time I was through with Lionel’s story, she was into a sobbing, shaking, nose-running, chest-heaving, gasping-for-breath, flat-out-crying fit.
“I gather I’ve touched a nerve,” I said.
She sobbed. Her eyes were swollen. Her makeup was eroding. Except for the paroxysms of her crying, she was inert in her chair.
“Is Lionel telling me the truth?” I said.
She kept crying. She was hugging herself. Each sob made her body shudder as if it hurt. I waited. She cried. I was pretty sure I could wait longer than she could cry.
I was right.
After a time the crying slowed to heavy breathing. She sat silently for a time, then stood suddenly and walked out of the room. I waited some more. Dust motes danced in the oblique morning light. After maybe fifteen minutes, April came back into the room. She had probably washed her face in cold water and put on new makeup. Her eyes looked better.
She sat back down in the same chair and folded her hands in her lap and looked at me.
“In my whole life,” she said softly, “I have never met a man that didn’t betray me.”
I wanted to claim an exclusion. But she seemed to be musing. And I thought it wise to let her muse.
“My father,” she said. “Mr. Poitras. Rambeaux. Now it’s Farnsworth.”
“I guess I am not good at picking men.”
“Maybe it’s not a skill,” I said.
“What do you mean.”
“Maybe you do what you need to do.”
“Oh, God,” she said. “Just what I need right now, an amateur shrink.”
“I know a professional one,” I said.
“Fuck you,” April said.
“Oh,” I said. “Good point.”
“I don’t need some whacked-out therapist to tell me my life has sucked.”
This wasn’t an argument I was going to win today. I let it slide.
“So how much of Lionel’s story should I believe?” I said.
She shrugged and didn’t answer.
“Can I take that to mean all of it.”
“How much?” I said.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
I nodded. We were quiet.
After a while I said, “Is there anything you want me to do before I leave?”
“You mean for good?”
“For a while,” I said.
“You too,” she said.
“Me too what?”
“You bastard,” she started to cry again. “You fucking bastard.”
“April,” I said.
“Bastard, bastard, bastard.”
I went back to the waiting game. She cried a little more, but not like before. This time she didn’t have to leave the room. She stopped in maybe five minutes. Her eyes were red again. But her makeup was still okay. She sat in her chair and looked at nothing.
“So how much of Lionel’s story should I believe?” I said.
She was hunched forward now, looking at the floor, with her clenched hands between her knees.
“We had a relationship,” she said. “We met when he bought a night with me, and we liked each other, and he kept requesting me. Mrs. Utley was good that way. And after a while I started to see him on my own and not charge him. That was against the rules, but Mrs. Utley never knew. I saw him on my own time.”
Her voice as she spoke was soft and flat. She seemed to be reciting a story she’d learned by rote about someone else.
“When Mrs. Utley sent me up here, he would come up to see me and spend the night. We talked about things. We’d lie in bed at night after and talk about going out on our own. We’d need a nest egg, he said, and he showed me how to skim some money on Mrs. Utley each day and she wouldn’t know.”
“So you could open a place of your own.”
“Start a chain,” she said.
“How long did you figure it would take you to embezzle enough to do that?”
“Not long. It was only for the down payment. Earnest money, he said. He said he was lining up investors.”
“So what went wrong,” I said.
She stared silently down.
“He cheated on me,” she said.
“Anyone you know?”
“Yes. Here. One of the girls. In this house.”
“He didn’t pay her,” April said.
“You sleep with an occasional customer,” I said.
“He knows that and he knows it’s business. It’s not about us.”
There was nothing for me down that road.
“So you broke up?” I said.
“How’d he take it.”
“He acted like nothing had happened,” she said.
“Just pretended like I hadn’t thrown him out or anything. Just said he knew I was upset.”
“Yes. He tried to kiss me good-bye,” April said.
“You hear from him again?”
“A week later,” April said. “He sent me a bill for what he called his share of the business.”
“Ah, Lionel,” I said.
“I sent it back to him,” April said, “with fuck you written across it.”
“And soon thereafter Ollie’s people showed up,” I said.
“And you came to me,” I said, “hoping somehow I’d take them off your back without finding out what had happened.”
“I was cheating Mrs. Utley. I had fallen for another loser and gotten in trouble. I didn’t know what to do. I was too mortified to tell you the truth.”
“And you thought I wouldn’t find that out,” I said.
“I don’t know. I was alone, and scared, and ashamed, and you were the only person in my life who had ever actually helped me.”
“Except Mrs. Utley,” I said.
“I couldn’t go to her. I was stealing from her.”
“Hell,” April said. “Maybe I wanted you to find out.”
“Maybe,” I said.
Susan had occasional small fits of domesticity. They passed quickly in most cases, but now and then one fell at the wrong time and she felt the need to make dinner for us. So there she was, wearing a nice-looking apron, standing at her kitchen counter preparing food.
“You believe April?” Susan said.
“More than I believe Lionel,” I said.
“But not a lot more?” Susan said.
“I like her better,” I said.
“It’s good,” Susan said, “that you don’t let sentiment cloud your judgment.”
“I’m a seasoned professional,” I said.
“If she’s telling the truth,” Susan said, “then Lionel is, in effect, stalking her.”
“Virtual stalking,” I said. “He hired Ollie DeMars to do it.”
“Doesn’t matter. Stalking is about power and revenge and control, and who the physical stalker is doesn’t matter if the real stalker gets the feelings he needs.”
“Or she needs,” I said.
“Of course. I was speaking of this particular incident. Women can be stalkers, too.”
“How come you don’t stalk me,” I said.
“Don’t need to,” Susan said.
“Because you already have feelings of power and control?”
“Exactly,” Susan said.
“Is that because I come across for you so easy,” I said.
“What if I didn’t?” I said.
Susan smiled at me. She was halfway into the preparation for some sort of chicken in a pot. As she spoke she chopped carrots on a cutting board. It was slow going and I feared for her fingers, but I was smart enough to make no comment.
“Empty threat,” she said. “What are you going to do about Lionel Whosie?”
“I could kill him,” I said.
“No,” Susan said, “you couldn’t.”
“No. You would do that for me, maybe for Hawk. But not for April.”
Susan began to peel onions. Her eyes were watering.
“If you peel those onions under running water,” I said, “they won’t make you tear up.”
Susan nodded and continued to peel them without benefit of water. When she was done she quartered them and tossed them into the pot, after the carrots.
“How about the police?” Susan said.
“And April gets dragged into it,” I said, “and probably Patricia Utley.”
“They’re whores,” Susan said. “By choice. One could consider getting in trouble with the police an occupational risk.”
I shook my head. Susan smiled.
“They may be whores,” Susan said. “But they’re your whores.”
“Exactly,” I said
Susan put some fresh parsley and some thyme into the pot, poured in some white wine, and put the cover on.
“This might actually be good,” she said, “if I don’t over-cook it.”
“How about setting the timer?” I said.
She looked at me scornfully, and took off her apron, and set the timer.
“So what shall we do while it cooks?” she said.
“We could drink and fool around,” I said.
“Pearl’s asleep on the bed,” Susan said.
“I know,” I said. “She likes that late-afternoon sun in there.”
“But there is the couch,” Susan said.
“There is,” I said.
“First I think we should shower.”
“Sure, get a clean start,” Susan said.
“And if you put me under running water,” I said, “you may not tear up.”
Susan began to unbutton her shirt as she walked toward the bedroom.
“Oh,” she said. “I probably will anyway.”
I was drinking coffee and eating a corn muffin and reading the paper in my office with the window open and my feet on the desk. In mid-February the temperature was fifty-one, and the snow was melting as fast as it could. I had just finished reading Arlo & Janis when Quirk came in.
“Got a shooting,” he said. “In Andrews Square. You might want to take a peek.”
I took my paper, my coffee, and my muffin and went with him.