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"A superior crime drama . . . Edgar-winning Heffernan once again shows himself a craftsman of the hardboiled style, as well as a seamless handler of shifting viewpoints and emotions."-Publishers Weekly
Spanning the years from 1945 to 1975, A Time Goes By is rich in atmosphere and ripe with the kind of white-hot, hardboiled sexuality that distinguished the classic detective novels of authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and the noir films to which they gave rise. ...
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"A superior crime drama . . . Edgar-winning Heffernan once again shows himself a craftsman of the hardboiled style, as well as a seamless handler of shifting viewpoints and emotions."-Publishers Weekly
Spanning the years from 1945 to 1975, A Time Goes By is rich in atmosphere and ripe with the kind of white-hot, hardboiled sexuality that distinguished the classic detective novels of authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and the noir films to which they gave rise. Jake Downing is a rookie detective on the New York City Police force when he is called in to investigate the murder of one of the city's most prominent judges. The eventual outcome of the police investigation is the arrest and convictionand ultimate executionof a man who fit all the requirements of a killer. The murder case, and his involvement in its resolution, launches Jake Downing's career, a meteoric rise to the position of Chief of Detectives. But what Downing can't ever escape is his knowledge that the wrong person was sent to the electric chairit is something that has haunted him for years, ultimately destroying his personal life by driving away everyone he had ever loved. Now, facing retirement, Downing decides to reopen the investigation, to get both the record and his conscience straightno matter what it costs, no matter whom it hurts. What really happened on that rainy night in 1945? Who wanted the judge killed? When Jake Downing was given the task of protecting judge's sultry young widow, he knew it was a mistakeshe was beautiful and vulnerable, but she was also trouble. It was an assignment that would change forever the life of this idealistic young detective.
Now, two decades later, as he struggles to find the real murderer of Judge Reed, Jake Downing is opening a door he will never be able to close, as memories embrace him and shards of truth threaten to penetrate his soul. But is it truth that Downing really wants, or is it revenge?
NEW YORK CITY, 1945
I waited at the top of the stoop, like a wet cat hoping someone would come along and open the front door. Jimmy Finn stood beside me, a soggy cigar clamped in his teeth. Behind us the rain beat down on East Fifty-fourth Street, making the line of uniformed cops, who were keeping the press at bay, hunch into their rain gear. It was nearly midnight and the glow of the streetlights made the wet, black street glisten. Almost like a river, I thought -- the big expensive cars glittering along the curbs looking a bit like powerful animals dozing on the banks.
I turned back to the door. "So this is how the swells live. Fancy town houses and shiny, new cars."
Jimmy gave me the eye from under the brim of his fedora. "Yeah, and they keep slobs like you and me standing out in a fookin' downpour."
"At least we'll get inside tonight. When I was in uniform I never got past the front door of a joint like this." I grinned as I watched the water cascade off Jimmy's hat.
Jimmy didn't think any of it was funny. "When we do get inside it's gonna be touchy. You better let me do the talkin'."
That was okay with me. I was a newly made homicide dick and although I'd covered half a dozen murders already, they'd been little more than ground balls. This was my first big case. Jimmy had been doing this for ten years, so I was content to keep my mouth shut and learn.
I looked back at the uniforms. They were set up in a human chain to keep about thirty reporters and photographers from storming the house. It was like I told Jimmy. At least we'd get inside. These poor slobs, cops and press alike, would just stand here and soak up the rain. A few months back, when I was still wearing the blue bag, I could have been standing there with them. I liked it a lot better this way.
The heavy oak door swung back and a uniformed lieutenant glared out at us.
"We're from homicide," Jimmy said. "I'm Jimmy Finn, and this is my partner, Jake Downing."
"You took your goddamn sweet time," the lieutenant snapped.
Jimmy and I stepped into a large foyer. Jimmy took off his hat and coat; shook them both to get rid of the excess water. I did the same.
"Watch the damned floors, for chrissake," the lieutenant snapped out again.
Jimmy stepped closer to him, using his great bulk like a threat. He's a bit over six foot and a good 230 pounds, and despite being ten years older than my twenty-five, every bit of it is rock solid.
Jimmy's lip curled into a sneer. "Look, we walk in the door and you jump on my ass, tellin' me we're late, when I only got the goddamn call fifteen minutes ago. Then you complain that we're wet, when we just came out of a fookin' monsoon. What's your problem?"
The lieutenant glared at him. "Whadaya mean you only got the call fifteen minutes ago? My men and I have been here two fuckin' hours."
Jimmy's eyebrows rose. "Have the forensic boys or the medical examiner gotten here yet?"
The lieutenant lowered his voice and inclined his head back toward a room off the foyer. It was closed off by a set of mahogany pocket doors. "The only people who've been here are the police commissioner, half the city council, and Manny Troy, himself. Commissioner Parker and Manny Troy are still in there."
I knew the name. Manny Troy was the indisputable boss of the city's Democrats. It was said the entire city council -- and even our soon to retire Republican mayor, Fiorello La Guardia -- did what Troy told them, or else.
Jimmy closed his eyes. "They been walkin' around the crime scene?"
The lieutenant kept his voice low. "You think I was gonna tell 'em to stay out?"
I saw the muscles dance along Jimmy's jaw. He has bright red hair, and now that color seemed to bleed into his face. "I thought the commissioner might."
The lieutenant snorted at the idea. "You're dreamin', mister." He jabbed a thumb into his chest. "And this here is one cop who ain't about to question what the commissioner decides to do, or doesn't decide to do. And you'd both be smart to do the same while you're here."
Jimmy eyed the man's nametag -- Lt. Walter Morgan, it read -- then drew a deep breath. "Where's the fookin' body?"
We climbed the stairs in tandem. Jimmy was in the lead with me behind, trying to hide the gimp in my bad leg, both of us taking care not to touch the banister or walls and add our prints to the dozens that were already there. It was a big house, a good third wider than most city brownstones, four stories tall with a center hall and an attic available for servants' quarters.
Lieutenant Morgan told us that the body was in a study, one flight up then down the hall to the rear of the house. The hall was partially covered with a long oriental runner. This time we stayed close to the walls, not wanting to step in any blood or fibers the killer might have left on the carpet. It was probably useless. Morgan had made it clear that half the city government had traipsed through the hall to ogle the body. But we did it anyway. It was part of the training, part of the way we were supposed to work.
The door to the study was ajar, and Jimmy used the tip of a pencil to push it open. It was a big room, plush and rich-looking. Across from where we stood, a set of French doors had been pulled back, revealing a balcony. There was a marble fireplace on the east wall. Opposite was a carved antique desk, and behind it, a high-backed leather chair now lying on its side. Next to the chair, extending out from the edge of the desk, I could see a man's arm, the sleeve of his white shirt soaked with blood.
Jimmy and I entered the room taking care not to tread on any obvious evidence. The heavy, copper smell that always accompanies a large quantity of blood immediately assaulted our nostrils. As we stepped around the desk the body came into view. It lay on its back, legs crossed at the ankles as if casually resting, one arm extended above the head as if preparing to wave to some acquaintance. It was the arm I had seen from the door, the sleeve soaked with blood from the large pool that surrounded the head -- or what was left of the head.
"Jesus," I said, as I turned my face away.
I had seen plenty of dead bodies, both as a cop and as a soldier. I had lasted one day in the war. A Jap Zero on a strafing run at Pearl Harbor had left me with my bum leg and a one-way ticket home. But before I packed it in, I had seen what was left of the guys who got it worse than me -- the bits and pieces of them, anyway.
This was something else, though. Someone had taken something heavy to the man's head. And they had done it again and again and again, until the whole of his forehead was nothing more than a soupy mix of brain and bone and blood.
"Don't be a fookin' sissy," Jimmy teased. "You've seen far worse at automobile accidents."
I shook my head and turned back. What he said was true enough. I'd seen worse lots of times in lots of places. It was the way he was lying there, I guess. Here in this fancy room.
I looked back. "So that's the judge."
"That's himself." Jimmy ran a hand through his red hair. "Judge Wallace Reed. Looked a bit better in the newspapers, didn't he?"
Jimmy was right again. Like most people, I had never seen Judge Reed in court. He seemed to handle only the biggest cases; not the kind young cops are often involved in. But I had seen his face in the newspapers countless times -- distinguished and stern and fatherly. He had put some of the city's top mobsters away; had been the judge on some of Tom Dewey's biggest cases when he was the city's DA. Dewey had gone on to become the Republican governor. He had run for president last year, but FDR had chewed him up and spit him out. Now he was coming up for reelection, and Judge Wallace Reed had been touted as the man who could win back the governor's mansion for the Democrats.
"You think it coulda been some mobster the judge sent away?"
Jimmy wrinkled up his nose as if the idea didn't smell good to him, but before he could speak a voice came from behind us.
"That's exactly what we think."
We turned and found Manny Troy filling the doorway. Behind him, standing like his shadow, was Police Commissioner George Parker.
Jimmy took a halting step toward him. "If you could not come in, sir. We're tryin' to preserve the crime scene as best we can."
Troy ignored him and stepped into the room. The PC followed, giving Jimmy an icy look.
Troy was a big man with a broad chest and an even broader belly. He was dressed in a three-piece suit, and the buttons on his vest strained against his girth. He was somewhere in his fifties, but his hair was still dark and was slicked back with pomade. He had a large nose over a bushy mustache and a pair of blue eyes that were among the coldest I had ever seen. He looked past Jimmy and gave me a smile.
"You sound like a smart lad. What's your name, son?"
I told him, and introduced Jimmy as well.
"Downing's new to homicide." It was the commissioner this time, explaining away my youth. "He's just been moved up from the uniformed division. It's been hard to fill all the detective slots, what with so many boys off fighting the Jerries and the Japs."
Troy nodded. He was still smiling. "Looks like you made a good decision here, George."
Troy walked to the desk and leaned back against it, taking the weight off his legs. I could see the muscles do their dance along Jimmy's jaw, as he worried about any prints the man's ass might be wiping away. This time he kept his mouth shut.
"I wanted to let you boys know about some threats the judge had received," Troy said.
"How did you hear about those, sir?" Jimmy asked.
Troy gave him a smile that said there wasn't much he didn't hear. "The judge told me about them, during one of our many discussions. He said there were threats against his wife as well. He figured it was some guinea gangster he'd been hard on. He had some cases coming up, and he'd made it clear to their attorneys that he planned to lower the boom."
"Did he tell you who, specifically?" Jimmy asked.
Troy shook his head, his jowls quivering beneath his chin. "No, we didn't get into that. But I'm sure his clerk, down at the court, can fill you in."
"I was just wonderin' why he told you," Jimmy said. "I mean, sir, if he was that scared, I woulda thought he'd come to us."
Troy's eyes hardened. The man didn't like being questioned, I guess. He gave Jimmy a look that said he thought he was acting too smart by half.
"The judge wasn't afraid, Finn." He gave Jimmy a smile, now. "There wasn't a guinea hood walking this earth that could put the fear in him." His eyes hardened again. I guess it was his way of letting Jimmy know that what he was about to say was none of his business. "Wallace told me about it because we were discussing his future. It's no secret that the party had big plans for the judge. And that makes this even more of a tragedy. That the people of this state will be denied the chance of having him as their governor."
I could see the boilerplate the press would be fed; the outraged headlines they would subsequently write. It was a nasty case to be dropped into, I decided. And it wouldn't take much for a newly minted homicide dick to find himself in some very hot water.
"What we're worried about now," Troy went on, "is that these dago gangsters will make good on their threats against Mrs. Reed as well. So we'll want her guarded until we catch the bastards who did this."
"We can arrange that, sir," Jimmy said. "We've got some good -- "
Troy didn't let him finish. "No. You don't understand. We want you boys." He inclined his head toward Commissioner Parker, who was still standing there playing the dummy. "The commissioner tells me that you know how these hoods work, so we want you to handle it. It'll mean you'll have to work double shifts, but I'm sure you won't mind the extra money." He turned to me. "I hear your wife's pregnant with your first child, Downing. I imagine the extra dough will come in handy."
It surprised me -- the man knowing so much about my life. I glanced at the commissioner. He gave me a curt nod.
"Does that mean we're off the investigation?" Jimmy asked.
He had directed the question to Commissioner Parker, but it was Troy who answered.
"Not at all, Finn. And the commissioner assures me you'll have all the help you need on that. In fact we're assigning Lieutenant Morgan -- who I think you met downstairs -- to help you. You'll be in charge of the investigation, but you'll work through the lieutenant. He'll coordinate things and report back to the commissioner. But understand me. I want Mrs. Reed protected, above...all...else." He had emphasized each word, and now held Finn's eyes. "Do we understand each other?"
Finn nodded. "We do, sir."
"Good. Then we'll want one of you to stay here tonight." Troy turned to me again. "You, Downing, I think. Mrs. Reed is understandably upset, and Finn, here -- big as he is -- might be a bit intimidating."
"Yes, sir," I said.
"Good, we'll get out of your way, then. Catch the bastards who did this. And do it as fast as you can."
When Manny Troy and Commissioner Parker left, Jimmy stood there stone-faced for several long minutes. It was a warning sign I'd already learned about in the few weeks we'd worked together. Jimmy had emigrated from the old country when he was ten years old and his prolonged silences -- together with a thickening Irish brogue, when he did speak -- were sure signs of his anger.
"How's this for a lovely crock o' shit," he finally said. He ran a hand through his wavy red hair.
"What do you think it means?" I asked.
He glared at me. "About this case? Who the fook knows? But it sure in hell tells us who runs this police department, doesn't it, now? And it also tells us the people running it have got their own little informer in that lovely man, Lieutenant Morgan."
I didn't know what to say to that. "What do you want to do?" I asked.
Jimmy glanced about, almost as if looking for someone he could hit, his face now as red as his hair. "Let's check out the room," he snapped. "See what we can find before Manny Troy and his stooge decide we'll not be needin' any physical evidence either."
"You don't buy his theory, then," I said.
"I'm not buyin' nothin'." He stared hard at me. "I'm not sellin' nothin' neither. Not till I figure out what really happened here. So make believe you're a fookin' detective, will ya, and help me look around this fooked-up crime scene."
I left Jimmy to search the body and the area surrounding it. I took the perimeter of the room, looking for anything the killer or killers might have left behind. Near the open French doors I found the clue that would come to haunt me.
"Over here," I called.
Jimmy and I stared at the bronze gavel that had been hidden by one of the open doors. It was covered with drying blood. A small plate that had been attached to its head, bearing the judge's name, now hung off to one side, the force of the blows apparently having dislodged it.
Jimmy nodded; then using a handkerchief carefully lifted it from the floor. He weighed it in his hand, then put it back. "A good weight for turnin' a man's head into mush," he said.
"There's something else." I used my elbow to carefully move the door; then pointed to the gouges in the wood next to the lock. "Doesn't look right, does it?" I said.
Jimmy stared at the marks and snorted. There were gouges on the exterior, but there were some on the interior part of the door as well -- marks that shouldn't have been there, marks that were clearly made from the inside. "Looks just fine if you wanna break into a house from the inside," he said. He gave out a small laugh. "Or if ya wanted to make it look like somebody broke in, but didn't know how to pull it off."
"Have to be pretty stupid," I said.
"Or pretty scared," Jimmy countered.
I was grinning over my discovery, feeling quite full of myself. Jimmy looked up at me and shook his head. "You're a cocky young shit, ain't ya, boyo?" He returned my grin, and continued before I could answer. "But that's good. You can't be a good detective unless you've got a big pair hangin' between your legs, now can you?"
I gave him a nod and another smile; then I stepped through the doorway and out onto the small balcony to see if anything had been left there. The rain had finally stopped and the normally muggy August air felt cool and fresh and clean.
The balcony overlooked a long, narrow garden, thick with well-tended flower beds. There were stone benches set at each of the garden's corners, so a person could sit and enjoy the mingled fragrances that now drifted up to the balcony.
It was then that I first saw her. She was standing on a narrow, paved walkway beside one of the farthest benches, a cigarette held absentmindedly between her fingers. She didn't raise it to her lips. She just held it, seemed to have forgotten it was even there. She was dressed in a thin, gauzy dress that looked a very pale red under the glow of light that came from the house, and it gathered about her slender body, accenting every beautiful curve. Her head turned up toward the balcony, almost as if she had felt me watching, and the delicate lines of her beautiful face made my breath catch in my throat.
"There's someone in the garden," I said to Jimmy. "A woman."
Jimmy stepped beside me and followed my gaze. "That'll be Mrs. Reed." He kept his voice low, little more than a whisper, not wanting it to carry down to her. "I've seen her picture in the papers. Her and the judge were pretty big on the society pages."
"She's beautiful," I said.
"Yeah, she is that. Maybe you should clamp your jaw shut and go down and meet her, since you'll be stayin' here with her tonight. I'll stick with the body. I've got to get the ME and the forensic boys up here before Manny Troy tells me we don't need 'em."
There was a circular staircase leading from the balcony to the garden. The rain had destroyed any hope of fingerprints, so I took the staircase down and walked across the garden to where Mrs. Reed waited. I walked slowly, taking care to hide the limp that always showed when I moved at a faster pace. Coming from the house behind me, the sweet, mournful voice of Billie Holiday floated into the night. I couldn't make out the lyrics, but the magic in the voice was unmistakable, and when I reached Mrs. Reed I found her even more beautiful than I had thought, and I didn't know if it was the music, or the night, or the woman herself.
"You must be one of the detectives," she said. She had blond hair bobbed at her shoulders that accented the finely etched bones of her face. Her lips were full, her eyes a deep dark blue. She was much younger than her husband, no more than twenty-two or twenty-three. Judge Reed had been well into his fifties. There was no indication Mrs. Reed had shed any tears.
I introduced myself and explained that Detective Finn and I would be handling the investigation of her husband's death. I asked her when his body had been discovered and who had found it.
"I did." Her hands trembled as she spoke. "I guess it was nearly four hours ago, almost eight o'clock. We were supposed to go out to dinner. Wallace was working in his study while I got dressed. When I went to tell him I was ready...I...I..."
"It's all right. Take your time." I waited, but she didn't say anything more. "Did you hear anything? Any sound of someone breaking in, or the sound of a struggle?"
She shook her head, the ends of her hair moving about her long neck as though caressing it. "I was in the bath for a long time. The door was closed and the water was running almost constantly to keep the bath as warm as possible."
I fought off the image. I was standing close to her now, and could better see how the soft, gauzy material of her dress moved against her body with every gesture, every turn of her head. She folded her arms across her breasts and shivered.
"Are you cold?" I asked. "Maybe we should go inside."
She looked back at the house as if she dreaded that possibility. "I don't know how I'll ever be able to stay here." She looked at me with a deep sadness. "But I don't have anywhere else to go."
"Don't you have family nearby?"
"I don't have any family at all." Her voice was soft and frail, a whisper lost on the wind. She seemed to think about what she had said, then added: "Everyone in my life is gone now."
There wasn't much I could say to that, so as gently as I could I explained what Manny Troy had asked us to do.
"Does Mr. Troy think I'm in danger?" There was no hint of fear in her voice, and that surprised me. A great deal about her surprised me, in fact. For a woman who had just found her husband brutally murdered, she seemed remarkably in control of her emotions.
"I think it's more a question of not wanting to take any chances. And since Detective Finn and I will be investigating the case, he asked us to keep an eye on you as well. One of us will be here with you at all times, Mrs. Reed."
She considered what I had said, then nodded once. "Then you better stop calling me Mrs. Reed. My name is Cynthia. My friends call me Cyn."
"If that's what you'd like. I guess you should call me Jake, then. And Detective Finn's name is Jimmy."
She stared at me with her deep blue eyes that had not yet cried. It was as though she was seeing me for the first time, perhaps realizing how taken I was with her beauty. A small smile flirted with her lips; then it disappeared. "I think I'm going to like you, Jake. You're tall, and I like men who are tall. I like your curly black hair and your green eyes. And you have a good, strong jaw. I think a good jaw is important. It lets you know you can count on someone. So I'm going to count on you, Jake. I'm going to count on you a great deal."
Copyright © 2003 by Daisychain Productions, Inc.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1945 Manhattan, homicide detectives Jimmy Finn and Jake Downing investigate the death of Judge Wallace Reed. The most likely murder weapon, a heavy gavel with blood on it, was found near the corpse. Meanwhile City Democratic boss Manny Troy orders Downing to guard the victim's wife Cynthia, who the cop badly desires. <P>In 1975, Downing watches his wife Mary interred in a Brooklyn cemetery. He guiltily thinks back thirty years to the affair with Cynthia while Mary gave birth alone to their daughter. Knowing he cannot make up for what he did to Mary, Downing feels he can somewhat rectify his other blunder of helping the state execute an innocent man for murder of the judge. He persuades Finn to join him in reinvestigating the case since improved technology will help, but the brass tells them as they were warned three decades ago to leave it alone or else. <P>This is a pure police procedural as William Heffernan provides two investigations into the same murder separated by only time. The story line with its two interrelated subplots is cleverly designed so that the audience sees the changes in people and even more the differences in how investigations are conducted. The depressing key cast members all emit negative vibes so that the audience never roots for anyone. Sub-genre fans will appreciate A TIME GONE BY as a powerful comparative duality that entertains the reader. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.