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The unparalleled master of modern suspense, Sanders presents the ultimate study in urban crime: the explosive story of Timothy Cone, a private eye who digs too deeply into thge murderous exploits of big business--and uncovers a twisted web of incest, drug addiction, and gut-wrenching violence.
AN ELEGANT YOUNG MAN, plumpish but dapper, bounces down the stairs into the Union Square subway station. He is wearing a three-piece suit of pin-striped gray flannel, a fawn fedora cocked at a rakish angle. He swings an attaché case of black alligator. It is empty. Just a prop.
On the uptown express platform, he stands well back from the tracks and looks about casually. Spots the target he has been following by leading: the first at the coin booth, the first through the turnstiles. He is sure of the subject, knows the route, knows the destination. Why run the chance of being recognized as a shadow when you can go ahead?
The target leans against a pillar, starts flipping through the pages of the New York Post. But then the rumble of an approaching train is heard, the newspaper is closed and folded. People move closer to the edge of the platform. The elegant young man saunters up, too, and positions himself so he can get on the same car as the subject. Everyone stands patiently, waiting.
The train rounds the curve, headlight gleaming. Experienced passengers congregate in the areas where they know the doors will open when the train halts. The young man inches closer to the edge of the platform, keeping an eye on the target, ready to hold back or even jump off the train at the last minute if his quarry decides to bolt.
The train roars into the station, slowing, clattering. The dandy smiles faintly, clamps the empty attaché case under his arm.
Suddenly he is pushed from behind. A powerful thrust in the middle of his back. It propels him forward, off the edge of the platform. Hat and alligator case go flying. Arms and legs stretching, he falls directly in front of the train.
Yells, screams, the shriek of brakes. But he is hit, hurled down the track. The first car passes over him before the train can be brought to a stop. There is shouting, confusion, everyone running, peering. One old man goes down on his knees, praying, crossing himself.
The target moves back, disengages slowly from the mob. Walks up into the sunlight and takes out a cigarette. A moment later the assassin arrives.
"Beautiful," the subject says.
And they stroll off together to the nearest bar where both have martinis, very dry, straight up, with a twist of lemon.
Haldering & Co. is not as large or prestigious as Kroll Associates, Intertel, or Bishop's Service, Inc., but has a good and growing reputation as one of Wall Street's dependable "specialists in corporate intelligence." None of the firms engaged in this unique activity approve of the terms "private detective" or "private eye." But regardless of nomenclature, they are all involved in confidential investigations.
When a buyout, merger, or unfriendly takeover is in the works, inevitably the companies involved seek the advice of attorneys or investment counselors. And they more often than not turn to Wall Street's financial dicks to provide information on corporations and, more important, their owners, chairmen of the board, directors, presidents, chief executive officers, and anyone else whose probity or lack thereof might affect the deal.
Haldering & Co. has been in existence only four years, and as new boy on the block, the boss, Hiram Haldering, an ex-FBI man, does not expect to be called in on multibillion-dollar oil, steel, or chemical takeovers, friendly or otherwise. But as H. H. is fond of remarking, "You've got to walk before you can fly"—which makes little sense to anyone but him.
So Haldering & Co. contents itself, temporarily, with financial deals of modest proportions or with jobs that do not involve the activities of the better-known corporate raiders. H. H. is satisfied with assignments to investigate the principals in mergers, buyouts, and takeovers in the seven-and eight-figure range. As he likes to say, "There's enough lettuce around for all us rabbits."
The offices of Haldering & Co. are located in a dilapidated, turn-of-the-century building on John Street that is scheduled for the wrecker's ball as soon as a hotshot developer succeeds in completing a real estate parcel that will level another entire city block and fill it with a steel, concrete, and glass skyscraper that will have windows that can't be opened and high-speed elevators chronically marked Out of Service.
Haldering's offices look as if the demolition has already started. It is a floor-through of individual cubbyholes divided by painted plywood partitions. The pitted wood floor has been covered with peach-colored tiles, and the plants in the reception area are plastic.
Hiram Haldering, with a passion for chains of command and tables of organization, has divided his work force into three divisions: attorneys, accountants, and investigators. Each division is headed by a supervisor. Samantha Whatley oversees the detectives.
News of G. Edward Griffon's death at the Union Square subway station reaches the offices of Haldering & Co. at about three-thirty in the afternoon. Two New York Police Department detectives show up and inform H. H. that one of his investigators has fallen to his death under circumstances that are being investigated.
H. H. calls in Samantha Whatley, and the two offer what assistance they can. The city detectives want whatever is in the victim's employment file, and are given photocopies. Then they ask for information on the cases currently assigned to G. Edward Griffon. Hiram Haldering balks, his muttony face reddening.
"Look," he tells the detectives, "you know what we do. All our jobs are hush-hush. I mean, news of an investigation gets out, and someone could make a fortune trading on insider information. The reputation of the company would go down the drain. If we can't guarantee our clients confidentiality, we've got nothing to sell."
One of the city detectives sighs. "Do we have to get a court order?" he asks. "We've cooperated with your people in the past. Do you want to play hardball and end all that?"
Mr. Haldering is a puffy man who thinks walking upstairs to his second-floor office keeps him in splendid condition.
Running a hand over his balding pate, he looks at the NYPD detectives. "You think Griffon was scragged?" he demands.
The detective shrugs. "He fell, jumped, or was pushed. Who the hell knows? No one saw anything. No one wants to get involved. You know how these things go, but we've got to go through the drill. Now do we find out what he was working on or don't we?"
Haldering makes his decision; he can't afford to alienate the local police. "All right," he says, "as long as you abide by the SEC regulations on insider information, I'll give you photocopies of Griffon's current files. See how I cooperate? And I suppose you'll want to talk to everyone who works here. Sam, will you arrange things? I've got a meeting with a client."
Samantha Whatley nods, knowing that the "meeting with a client" is Hiram Haldering's weekly session with a doxy who services many executives in the financial community. In addition to her renown as a mattress acrobat, she is reputed to be one of the most knowledgeable and successful commodity traders on the Street, specializing in pork belly futures.
All Haldering & Co. employees on the premises are told to stand by for questioning, and the two NYPD cops get to work. Meanwhile, Samantha Whatley calls her staff into her office. Ordinarily she honchos seven investigators, but one is on sick leave and two on out-of-town assignments.
"You've all heard about Ed Griffon," she says tonelessly when the remaining four have crowded into her office. "I know how you feel. The police have notified his mother and sister. When the body is released we'll all attend the funeral. That's not a suggestion, it's an order."
They all look down at the floor, shuffling their feet. Griffon's death is an unwelcome reminder of the hazards of their profession. They are all licensed to carry handguns, but a shooter hadn't helped Ed any, had it? Recognition of their own mortality has the sound of muffled drums and the taste of bile.
"What in God's name happened, Sam?" Ernie Waters asks finally. "Do the cops know?"
"Not yet. They say he fell, jumped, or was pushed."
"He was pushed," says Timothy Cone, who has remained standing at the open office door.
Samantha looks up at him sharply. "How the hell do you know that?"
"Ed wouldn't go down in the subway unless he was tailing someone. The guy owned a Jaguar, and when he wasn't driving that, he took cabs. Take a look at his expense account chits, and you'll see."
"He could have fallen," Fred Burgess says. "Accidentally."
"No way," Cone says. "Ed didn't have accidents; he was a careful man. And he wouldn't jump. He enjoyed life too much for that. I tell you he was pushed."
"You know so much," Samantha says angrily, "tell the cops about it."
"I intend to. It may have been a crazy. Or it may have been the subject he was tailing."
"Jesus Christ, Tim," says Samantha, "I wish I could be as sure about anything as you are about everything."
"I'm sure about this," Cone says coolly. "Ed was killed. What was he working on, Sam?"
"That's why I called you all in," she says, slapping a stack of file folders on her desk. "I'm going to divide Ed's cases—one or two to each of you. Until Joe gets back from sick leave or we hire another warm body."
"My God," Sol Faber says. "Sam, we've all got more than we can handle right now."
"Tell me about it," she says bitterly. "You think I haven't been bugging H. H. for help? Maybe Ed's death will convince him we need more working eyes. But until that happens, you'll just have to forget the two-hour lunches and work harder."
"Two-hour lunches?" Cone says incredulously. "How can you spend two hours on a cheeseburger and Coke? You're spinning your wheels, Sam."
She glares at him. "If you're trying to be a pain in the ass," she says, "you're succeeding admirably."
Samantha Whatley is a tall drink of water, with the stretched body of a swimmer and the muscles of a gymnast. She is a sharp-featured woman with a lot of jaw and blue-green eyes with all the warmth of licked stones. A flattish chest and practically no ass at all. Even her long auburn hair is worn up, tightly coiled, and looks like a russet beehive.
Her background includes four years in the US Army, three in the NYPD, and two working as a private investigator for a bondsman on Hester Street. She may not be feminine, but no one doubts her competence.
"All right," she says, "let's cut the shit and get back to work." She begins to hand out the folders. "Ernie, here's yours. Fred, yours. Sol, you take these. Tim, there's one left for you."
"Gee, boss," he says, "why are you so good to me?"
"Up yours," she says. "All you guys hang around until the cops have a chance to talk to you."
"Do they have copies of these files?" Sol Faber asks.
"They do," Samantha says. "And if you find anything in them that you think may have something to do with Ed's death, don't be shy about telling them. Another thing: You're all falling behind in your weekly progress reports. Will you, for Christ's sake, get on the goddamned ball? That's all. Takeoff."
The four investigators wander down the corridor to their own broom closet offices.
"There is one tough cookie," Ernie Waters says, sighing.
"An iron fist in an iron glove," Tim Cone says.
"The woman's a fucking barracuda," Fred Burgess says.
"I don't think so," Sol Faber says. "Just a barracuda."
They all laugh.
Timothy Cone takes Griffon's file folder to his office and slips it into a manila envelope, so tattered that he's patched the seams with Scotch tape. Then he leaves the building, figuring the NYPD detectives will catch up with him eventually; he's not about to sit around waiting.
Cone lives in a loft on the top floor of one of the few cast-iron buildings on lower Broadway, between Spring and Broome Streets. On good days he walks to and from work. It's a nice hike and gives him the chance to get some of the cigarette smoke out of his lungs and observe the changing profile of Little Old New York.
This particular evening is not all that great: a warm September mist in the air, a clotted sky, and humidity thick enough to skim his face. But he plods uptown anyway, reacting automatically to traffic signs and construction sites, and thinking about G. Edward Griffon.
Ed was no particular pal of his—but neither is anyone else. The other dicks at Haldering think him sometimes sullen, sometimes manic. Generally, they leave him alone. But Griffon really tried to be a friend. He didn't succeed, but Tim Cone appreciated the effort. Maybe Ed saw that behind Cone's love of solitude was an innate shyness.
Griffon constantly tried to get Timothy to spruce up.
"Look," he'd say, "I know you've got the money, but you live in a dump and dress like a bum. What's with you?"
"I don't like to go shopping," Cone would say, not admitting that department stores and salesclerks intimidated him. "Besides, I've got no interest in style or fashion."
"Tim, if I go with you, will you at least buy a decent suit?"
"No. I've got enough clothes."
In a way, Cone decides, slogging uptown, he admired G. Edward Griffon, and envied him. The guy always looked so fresh and smartly dressed. Now he is a clunk on a stainless steel table in the morgue, and some butcher in a bloody apron is carving him up to find out how he died.
"It isn't right," Timothy Cone says aloud, and passersby glance at him nervously.
The Wall Street dick is a scrawny, hawkish man who has never learned to shave close enough, so his coffin jaw always has a bluish tinge. He is tall and stooped, with a shambling gait that reminds people of a hardscrabble farmer, although he was born in Brooklyn. His nose is a hatchet and his big ears flop.
No one has ever accused him of being handsome, but when he smiles (infrequently), his ugliness has a quirky charm. Few have heard him laugh. He moves through life, shoulders bowed, carrying a burden he cannot define. But morosity is his nature, and he is continually shocked when good things happen. He expects the end of the world at any minute.
On this day he wears a black, flapping raincoat, so ancient that the wrinkles are grayish, and the collar and cuffs greasy. Atop his spiky, ginger-colored hair is a limp black leather cap, an ebony omelet. Beneath the raincoat is a worn corduroy suit, so old that the pants no longer whistle as he walks. On his big, splayed feet are heavy yellow work shoes laced high.
When he reaches his loft building, he sees the lock on the street door has been jimmied again, the third time in as many months. He stoops swiftly, slides his Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum with a short barrel from the ankle holster and transfers it to the pocket of his raincoat.
There are commercial tenants on the first four floors, but the big freight elevator stops operating at six P.M. Cone climbs the iron stairs, gripping his handgun, carrying the manila envelope and listening to the sounds of conversation from some of the offices he passes. On the sixth floor, he pauses to catch his breath and examine the lock on his door. It looks all right to him. His place has been broken into twice. But that was months ago, and they've never come back. Why should they? He's got nothing worth stealing.
Griffon was right: It is a dump: one big room with cracked plaster walls. Sink, stove, and bathtub are exposed; only the toilet is hidden in a closet. Overhead are the bare pipes of a sprinkler system. There is a skylight, so filthy that it might as well be a steel shutter for all the sunshine it transmits. One of the glass panes is broken and stuffed with an old undershirt.
There is a mattress on the floor; Cone has never gotten around to buying a bedstead. A rickety desk doubles as a dining table. A few nothing chairs. A chest of drawers he found in the street and lugged home. The only decoration on the walls is a framed lithograph: Washington Crossing the Delaware. It was there when Cone leased the place, and he's never removed it.
When he enters, Cleo, his cat, comes up and rubs against his leg, meowing piteously.
"Shut your mouth," Timothy says. "You eat when I do." But he bends to scratch the animal behind its ears.
The cat looks like it's been in many fights and lost all of them. Cone found it one winter night in the gutter, bruised and torn, and brought it home to thaw out, lick its wounds, and gobble a slice of salami. It was originally a tom, but Cone had it neutered and declawed, and then named the castrated tom Cleo, for Cleopatra, it being the ugliest, least seductive cat he has ever seen in his life.
He inspects the contents of his obsolete waist-high refrigerator. There's a cold fried pork chop, hard as a rock; a jar of instant coffee; a chunk of cheddar covered with green mold; an unopened package of turkey pastrami. Also, four cans of Budweiser, a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy, one soft tomato, and a browned head of iceberg lettuce. Not too encouraging.
But in the freezer section are two pizzas, individual size, both sausage, and a bottle of vodka with about four slugs left. That's better. He gives the old pork chop to Cleo, who grabs it and runs away under the tub where no one can take the feast away.
Excerpted from The Timothy Files by Lawrence Sanders. Copyright © 1987 Lawrence Sanders. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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