In 1964, nineteen-year-old Billy Dupaul was on his way to stardom. A modest farm boy with a lightning fastball, he had just signed a record contract with the New York Mets when a single gunshot changed his life forever. Dupaul went down on an attempted murder rap, and the Mets washed their hands of him. Eight years later, the man he was said to have shot drops dead when a shard of bullet works its way into his brain. After eight summers in Attica, Billy is about to be tried for murder.
After throwing him to the wolves in 1964, the vice president of the Mets shows surprising interest in the case and hires Hank Ross, one of the toughest defense attorneys in Manhattan, to save the boy from the chair. It’s an impossible assignment, and Ross will find the case has more bite than any big-league curve.
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About the Author
Fish died February 23, 1981, at his home in Connecticut. Each year at the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner, a memorial award is presented in his name for the best first short story. This is a fitting tribute, as Fish was always eager to assist young writers with their craft.
Read an Excerpt
A Handy Death
By Robert L. Fish, Henry Rothbat
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
Molly Gilroy, telephone operator and receptionist for Hank Ross's law firm, looked up from her switchboard. Her plump, freckled face broke into a happy smile.
"Hello, Mr. Ross. It's good to see you back."
"Thank you, Molly."
"And how was the vacation?"
"Fine. How were things around here while I was gone?"
"Hectic." Molly gave her usual impish grin. "But everyone coped." Something occurred to her that had bothered her for years. "Mr. Ross, how come you always come back from your vacation on a Friday?"
"I always need a weekend to recuperate after a vacation." Ross started through the small barrier that separated the reception room from the other offices, and then paused, smiling. "And how's Arthur?"
"Arthur?" Molly looked puzzled.
"Your fiancé. His name is Arthur, isn't it?"
"Oh, him. He turned out to be a terrible dancer," Molly said. "I've got a new boyfriend. It's been over a week now. We may get married," she added archly.
Ross grinned at her, went through the barrier, down the hallway and into his private office. A shapely back was turned to him, its owner straightening some papers on his desk. Two perfect legs ended in small, neat ankles. Hank Ross watched in admiration a moment and then cleared his throat. The auburn-haired girl bending over the desk did not turn around.
"Welcome back, H. R. I'd recognize that throat clearing anywhere." She turned with a bright smile showing even white teeth. "Well! You look nice and tanned. And rested. Did you catch many fish?"
Ross grinned. "Hello, Sharon. Who goes fishing to catch fish?"
"You mean you only go to get away from the office?" Sharon McCloud made a face at him. "And us?"
"Very definitely not to get away from you," Ross said with a smile. "Just the clients." He slipped out of his topcoat, hung it in place, and walked back of his desk. He leaned over, staring down at the mountainous pile of paper facing him. His eyes came up, mirroring his regret at being back at work. Fishing in Maine in the brisk October weather had been more fun. "Anything urgent?"
"Everything. But actually," Sharon said honestly, "things are in pretty fair shape. The list of your phone calls is on top of the pile. I've handled the most urgent ones, those I could, and Steve managed postponements in both the Griffith and the Montgomery cases. I've started the probate proceedings in the Atkins death, so we can discuss whatever you want, whenever you want. Steve's in court but he should be back sometime around noon." She smiled. "Satisfactory?"
"Terrible!" Ross said, and shook his head humorously. "I'll never be able to take another vacation. I can't afford to. Whenever I do, you people in the office just use it as an excuse to prove I'm not needed around her any more. Even Molly—"
"I mean, every time I go away, Molly changes future husbands."
Sharon laughed. "She does that even when you don't go away."
"Who's the latest?"
Sharon grinned wickedly.
"That was really funny! This man came in. I was in the outer office with Molly when he did. He was a rather nice-looking man, no boy—in his forties, in fact, I'd judge—but then Molly isn't all that young either. He didn't say anything to either of us, just sat down and started to leaf through a magazine. And Molly said to him, 'Do you have an appointment with Mr. Ross?' And he said, 'Mr. Ross? I have an appointment with Dr. Ross—he's a dentist, isn't he?' And I told him, 'Not in this building, he isn't.' And the poor man looked so flustered I felt sorry for him. I guess Molly did too, because when I left the room she was looking up his dentist's proper address for him."
Ross laughed. "And that's how they became engaged?"
"Well," Sharon said, "when I went back out there he'd already left, but Molly told me they had a date for dinner, and after all, that was over a week ago. That's a long time for Molly."
"And now she says they're thinking of marriage. It goes to prove how dangerous dentists can really be—"
The intercom interrupted him. Molly's voice, distorted by the instrument as always, came to the two people in the private office.
"Mr. Ross? I forgot to tell you when you came in, because I didn't really expect to see you until Monday even though you always get back from your vacation on Friday, but a Mr. Kuwoit was on the telephone to you most of yesterday afternoon up to five o'clock—"
"Yes, sir. His name is on Sharon's list of phone calls to answer, but he said it was particularly urgent. I told him you were somewhere in Maine fishing, and he got mad when I couldn't tell him exactly where he could reach you. Anyway, he called again this morning just before you came in. I thought you ought to know."
"What company is he with, do you know?"
"No, sir, he didn't say. At first I only spoke with his secretary, but Mr. Kuwoit himself finally came on the line. He seemed to think you should know him, but I don't have any Mr. Kuwoit in my book. He said he wanted to talk with you about someone called William Dupaul."
"William Dupaul. I think he's the man who was in that riot up at Attica Prison yesterday. Should I call him back? I have the number."
"Just a second." Ross turned to Sharon. "What riot up at Attica Prison?"
Sharon was surprised. "Didn't you hear it on the radio? Or see the papers?"
"I never do on a fishing vacation," Ross said. He spoke into the intercom. "I'll let you know when I'm ready to talk, Molly." He flipped a switch and turned to Sharon. "Do you have the papers?"
"I'll get this morning's Times," Sharon said. She disappeared to return in a moment. Ross sat down and studied the article. The headlines dealt with an attempted prison break at Attica; he skimmed it looking for the name Dupaul and found it halfway down the column. He then went back to read the article in its entirety.
"Attica, New York, October 16: In an abortive escape attempt yesterday at this State's prison, John Miller, age 36, serving a ten-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon, and Arnold Swift, age 24, serving a life sentence for murder, both armed, seized a prison garbage truck driven by Edward Lucas, 45, a trustee, and ordered Lucas to go through the gate. Lucas either purposely or accidentally swerved the truck and the vehicle crashed into a post. In the ensuing gun battle, Miller, Lucas and prison guard William Farrell, age 49, a veteran of fifteen years at Attica, were killed. Swift at present is in the prison hospital suffering bullet wounds in the head, arm, and chest.
"The attempted escape was made under cover of a disturbance during a baseball game at the prison, the first sports event permitted since the terrible events of September of last year. Authorities are investigating the possibility that the riot on the athletic field was prearranged among the inmate players to draw a majority of the guards to the field, which is located on the far side of the prison compound from where the escape attempt was made.
"Among those involved in the suspected baseball game where the disturbance began was William Dupaul, age 26, a second-offender who will be remembered for his brief but meteoric baseball career, and who is scheduled to be transferred to Tombs Prison in New York City this coming week to stand trial for the murder of Raymond Neeley, a murder which, oddly enough, took the record time of eight years to consummate—"
Ross paused a moment, surprised, but returned to the article.
"In 1964 Dupaul was convicted on an assault and battery charge after shooting Neeley during an altercation in the latter's apartment. Neeley seemingly recovered from his wound, but an autopsy performed on his body following his death twelve days ago indicated that Neeley's death was the result of the earlier shooting. According to the Medical Examiner's office, one of the fragments from the shattered bullet worked its way to Neeley's brain and after eight years caused his death.
"Louis Gorman, Chief Assistant District Attorney of Manhattan, in a press conference called at the time the autopsy results were made public, admitted that to his knowledge the case is without precedent, but Mr. Gorman indicated he feels confident of a conviction in the case."
Ross laid the paper aside and frowned at Sharon.
"Did you read this?"
"Was there anything more in yesterday's papers? Or on the radio?"
Sharon thought. "Well, just that he was the youngest bonus baby when the Mets brought him down from his hometown somewhere in upstate New York when he was just turned nineteen."
"Well," Ross said, "any second-offender who's involved in a prison riot where three men die—one of them a prison guard—has his hands full of grief. And the death of a man he shot before certainly doesn't help him. Let's see what this Kuwoit has on his mind."
He flicked the intercom switch.
"Molly, would you get this Mr. Kuwoit back? And Sharon will be on, too."
There was a brief wait and then the telephone rang, one short and one long, followed by two short rings. It was Molly's signal that she would wait to hear two receivers lifted before putting the other party on the line. Ross picked up the instrument; Sharon sat down and raised her receiver, her other hand drawing her stenographic book to her and opening it swiftly. Her pencil appeared in her hand as if by magic, poised over the paper. Molly's voice was quiet and efficient on the line.
"Ready with Mr. Kuwoit." She plugged in lines and spoke into her headset. "Mr. Ross is on the line, sir."
A deep voice came across the wire.
"Damn it, Hank, what kind of a circus are you running over there, anyway? Nobody in the office knows where you are, what you're doing, how to reach you, nothing! Fishing up in Maine in October, for God's sake! What kind of a fish story is that, for God's sake? What are you, part of the CIA these days? All that ridiculous secrecy! Good heavens! And the name's Quirt, not Quoit! Tell your girl!"
Ross laughed in pure enjoyment. Charley Quirt was the chief counsel as well as the vice-president of the Mets baseball team. They had worked together in the past on many club problems.
"Sorry, Charley, but I have a feeling you have a new secretary, and that she comes from somewhere in the depths of darkest Brooklyn, which might explain the Quoit—or Kuwoit, as Molly has it—for Quirt."
"We're the Mets!" Quirt said loudly. "Where should our secretaries come from, for the Lord's sake? Oakland? Bite your tongue. And don't say sorry, Charley; it makes me feel like that tuna on TV."
"You should be." Charley Quirt became serious. "Look, Hank, this boy Dupaul—it's in all the papers, you know who I mean. He's in serious trouble, the kind of trouble you can handle a lot better than the bookkeepers I have working for me. I want you to drop everything and get right onto his defense. You'll bill the office—my office—over and above your regular retainer."
"The way I read the papers," Ross said, "he's in lots of troubles. Which one are you referring to?"
"The murder charge, of course! Here he shoots some character umpteen years ago and the silly bastard just decides to die a couple of weeks ago, and now the DA's office—undoubtedly looking for votes—has made up its so-called mind to prosecute Billy for first-degree murder. Of course, while you're at it I'll expect you to defend him on any or all charges arising from that trouble up at Attica yesterday, too."
"Is that all?" Ross asked with a touch of sarcasm. "Any parking tickets he's gotten you'd like me to fix while I'm at it?"
"If there are, I'll let you know. Any facts I can give you?"
"For the fees you charge, you'd think you could dig out your own facts! All right, shoot."
"I thought this boy Dupaul was a bonus baby when he signed with your club. That used to mean money, as I recall. Can't he pay his own legal fees? He certainly didn't get to spend too much money in Attica. What does he do with his cash? Gamble?"
"He didn't keep that advance money," Quirt said. "Don't you remember? It was in all the papers at the time."
"When did all this take place?"
"Nineteen sixty-four," Quirt said. "The signing, the shooting, the whole damn mess. Why?"
"Because I was in Europe for the State Department in 1964, and they keep you too busy to read anything but the million reports they send out from Washington. So I don't know anything about the boy or the case or anything."
"Maybe it's better that way," Quirt said. "Anyway, about the money, the club was all set to sue for its return—not me, I wasn't even in the country; it was a top management decision—when he sent the money back on his own volition. He said he hadn't earned it, wasn't likely to be able to earn it the way things looked, and therefore didn't feel it would be right to keep it."
"Or maybe he knew he wouldn't be able to keep it in any event, and decided to make a good impression on the court through the newspapers," Ross said shrewdly. "Just when did Dupaul—or his attorney—actually offer to return the money? Before or after he was found guilty?"
"Well, after he was found guilty, but before he was sentenced," Quirt said. "What's the difference?"
"A lot. Maybe his lawyer wasn't so stupid. Who was his lawyer, by the way?"
"Hank, for God's sake! If you have all the time in the world to waste, I don't."
"I just like to know as much as possible about a potential client and his background," Ross said equably, not at all disturbed by the other's impatience. "Who was his lawyer?"
"He had two, if you want to know. Not at the same time—first one and then the other. The first—at the time the trial began—was Louis G. Gorman—"
Ross whistled in surprise.
"Are you telling me that our distinguished Chief Assistant District Attorney, Louis G. Gorman—in person—defended Dupaul?"
"He was Billy's first lawyer. Then—"
"And Louie now plans to prosecute him? Or that's the impression I got reading this morning's Times. A man he served as defense counsel for? Not very cricket, is it?"
"It'll never reach the Ethics Committee of the Bar Association," Quirt said drily. "You can bet that Gorman personally won't appear as prosecuting attorney. He'll assign it to one of his staff. But you can also bet he'll mastermind it every step of the way." His voice became fatalistic. "What can you do?"
"Not much. What happened to Gorman in the course of the trial?"
"As I said, I was out of the country at the time—arranging an exhibition schedule in Tokyo. All I know is that Billy fired him, which was his privilege, of course. And picked up Al Hogan, God rest his soul, for whatever improvement Billy thought that was. Anyway, Al Hogan was attorney of record at the time the boy was sentenced."
"The ball club didn't provide better counsel than that?"
Quirt's voice was emotionless.
"Our top management decided to keep hands off. I wasn't around; I couldn't do a thing. I knew Al Hogan for years; we were friends, but I never had any illusions about his ability."
"Seems a bit rough on the boy, though. I would have thought the club would have done better by him, a brand-new bonus baby ..."
"You know the game of baseball, Hank," Quirt said almost wearily. "You know how all organized sports are today. We've got to be holier-than-thou. Our boys chew gum now; no more tobacco, for God's sake! We have to make the Boy Scouts look like little muggers in comparison. I pushed for the kid, but—well, the decision from upstairs was no dice. Strictly hands off."
"It seems you people tried the boy even before the jury did," Ross said quietly. "And poor Al Hogan, bless him, was probably in his cups as usual, so Billy Dupaul went up to Attica for a long time.... "
Ross considered the telephone as Quirt remained silent. Sharon McCloud's fingers were poised over her notebook, her pencil ready to attack again at a moment's notice. Ross nodded to her to be prepared to begin her stenography and spoke into the instrument.
"Charley, if Dupaul gave the money back to the club, how could he afford a high-priced talent like Louis Gorman in the first place?"
Quirt almost exploded.
"Damn it all, Hank, what the devil difference does it make? If you want to ask a lot better question, ask me how we can afford a high-priced talent like you!"
Ross grinned. "All right. How can you afford a high-priced talent like me?"
Excerpted from A Handy Death by Robert L. Fish, Henry Rothbat. Copyright © 1973 Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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