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All happy families are like one another, says Tolstoy, and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
If the rule applies to childless couples, it applied to the Arthur Clipperts.
It is not rare to be healthy and unhappy. One may even be young and beautiful and unhappy. And young and beautiful and rich and unhappy. Ask Jane Clippert.
Before dawn Jane got out of her sleepless bed and went downstairs to the kitchen. She smoked cigarettes and drank stale coffee. In the first light she counted seven snowflakes falling straight down from the seamless gray sky. There was a foot of old snow in the backyard already. From down the street came the faint scraping noise of a shovel.
Jane Clippert clenched her jaws and dragged on the raw cigarette. Her eyelids felt tight and dry.
At seven-thirty, her husband Arthur came downstairs and into the kitchen. He was dressed for work in a suit of rich brown wool. He looked prosperous, confident, well-shaven, sane, handsome and forty. He was in excellent physical shape, only slightly heavier than he had been when sportswriters had called him "The Flying Clipper." In those days he had won more athletic honors than any man in the history of the University of Michigan.
"Good morning, dear," he said. He picked up a white pot that sat warming on the electrified sideboard and poured himself a cup of coffee. He sat down at the table and picked up the morning Free Press.
Jane Clippert did not look at him. "Page two," she said.
Arthur Clippert's face darkened when he saw the headline on the article: THREE MORE INDICTED IN MASSIVE COMPUTER FRAUD.
"That's all of them now," his wife said, "except for one."
The toast popped up. She got up and buttered it and brought a pot of strawberry preserves to the table. She picked up her cigarette again and looked out the window. Her husband munched on jam-smeared toast and read the article.
DETROIT (AP) — Three more top executives of Fidelity Funding Corporation were indicted late yesterday by a Federal grand jury on charges of carrying out a computerized insurance fraud.
The fraud has been described by investigators as the largest in the insurance industry's history. The indictments were only the latest in an exhaustive seven-month investigation that has seen the indictment of nineteen other executives and key employees of the once powerful corporation. Only one other major officer of the company has thus far remained free of any taint of scandal.
Indicted yesterday were Marshall Goodrick, a vice-president; Calvin Decker, a trust officer; and sales manager Theodore H. Brown. United States Attorney James Clarke Dunn refused to comment on whether or not an indictment was also being prepared for Arthur M. Clippert, former chief counsel of Fidelity Funding.
The giant financial conglomerate, once described as a Cinderella of the industry, tumbled into bankruptcy last June. It has been charged that executives and other employees mass-produced phony insurance policies and sold them to other insurance companies.
This was done to make earnings appear higher and to inflate the price of stock of a subsidiary, Fidelity Funding Life Insurance Company, officials claim.
On at least one occasion, investigators say, the false policies were created during a late-night party at the company offices, with as many as twenty male and female employees participating and while a substantial quantity of beer and whiskey was consumed by those present.
Clippert muttered something under his breath.
"What?" his wife asked.
"Nothing," he said.
"You said something."
"Oh, it's just that they always have to get that bit in about whiskey."
"Well?" she said.
"Well what?" He put the newspaper down.
She did not reply. The smoke from her cigarette brushed her eye and she squinted.
"I'm going to New York this morning," Clippert said.
"You never say anything, do you?"
Clippert sighed. "Don't always accuse me of never saying anything. Of course I do. Just because I don't go around pouring my heart out to everyone ..."
"I'm not everyone. I'm your wife."
"Yes, you are." He smiled. "And you are beautiful, even if you didn't get enough sleep last night."
Jane Clippert's jaw tightened. Arthur's smile faded.
"What do you want me to say?" he asked.
"Oh, God," she said. She stubbed out the cigarette in a large brass ashtray. "Arthur, Arthur! How long can this go on? You sit there so calm and innocent, smiling and patting me on the head. You're standing on the edge of a cliff, Arthur! Aren't you worried? Don't you need me? I'm your wife. Your wife! Not some pretty little mindless secretary who doesn't mind being tumbled after lunch."
Clippert looked grim. "I know who you are," he said. "And I know what I need. You're the one who is being unrealistic. You're the one who is playing games."
"Art, they are going to indict you. The money won't help. In fact, it'll be the worst kind of evidence against you. You have to go to them first. Give them the evidence they need."
"I don't have any evidence, remember? You have it." He seemed calm. "But I won't be indicted. No, no, you can count on that."
He watched her quietly for a moment, then he took a pipe and a leather tobacco pouch out of his coat pocket. He filled the briar slowly and carefully and lit it with a wooden match, sending up a cloud of blue smoke. He leaned forward and looked at her very seriously.
"Jane, I'm not kidding. This is no game. I'm willing to give you one more chance. Just tell me. Tell me and I'll wind up a little business I'm involved in just now, and then you and I can take a nice long vacation. Just you and me. We could go to Rio again." He smiled and sat back. "How would that be? You always loved Rio. Or, hell, we could go anywhere." He waved his hand. "We could go around the world. Take a year doing it!"
Jane looked at him out of a dead face. At last she said, "No, Arthur. I'm going to give you another chance. Until New Year's. That's all."
Clippert closed his lips tightly. He stood up, relit his pipe and patted his pockets, assuring himself that everything he needed was with him.
"I have to catch a plane," he said.
He went to the front entrance closet and returned with overcoat, hat and a thick briefcase. He put on the coat and hat, picked up the briefcase and nodded at his wife.
Jane stood. Although the house was quite warm it made him shiver to see her near nakedness outlined by the wintry light from the window. She wore only a gauzy peignoir and her opulent body was quite visible beneath it.
It was precisely the type of feminine beauty that most attracted him, but he made no move toward her. Nor she toward him.
"So long," he said. He went out the kitchen door into a narrow passageway that connected the house to the garage.
"Good-by," she said, but he was gone. He entered the garage and got into a new Lincoln Continental. He pressed a small electronic device and the garage door automatically started up. He started the engine and then backed the car down the clean, dry pavement. The garage door came quietly and automatically down. There was no traffic on the residential boulevard. Arthur drove away.
Jane watched from the front window. She reached up casually and tugged at the ends of the ribbon that held her peignoir, then let the garment slip off her shoulders and settle lazily onto the carpet. She stretched out her arms, pushing the curtains wide apart and leaned forward until the nipples of her breasts touched the cold glass and contracted. She wondered if anyone could see her. The only person visible was an old man down the block, scraping at the snow on the sidewalk.
The only other signs of life were plumes of smoke rising straight up from the chimneys of the huge mansions that stood well back from the boulevard. And there were the lights of Christmas decorations on houses and lawns. Across the way was a painted plywood Santa Claus, sitting in a sleigh piled high with toys, with eight reindeer stepping across the broad snow-covered yard, led by a red-nosed Rudolph.
On her own lawn there were Christmas carolers. They were very English with Victorian beaver hats and bonnets, bright scarves. Their mouths were open and a banner over their heads said, "O Come, All Ye Faithful."
She turned back to the living room. In the corner stood a six-foot Scotch pine. There were no electric lights on it, and no tinsel. Just all her old and treasured childish decorations. Wooden bells, angels, candy canes, a wooden Gingerbread Man and several very elaborate and fragile balls. On the top of the tree was a yellow star.
"New Year's," she said aloud. "I'll give him till New Year's, and then I'll go to the U.S. Attorney myself." She felt a twinge of guilt. How could a wife betray her husband so? Perhaps she couldn't. No, she didn't think she could, if it came to it. But, she could make him think she would.
He's slipping away from me, she thought. I've got to get him back. But what if he went to prison? Would he come back to her from prison?
For a moment she regretted not taking up his round-the-world offer. But then she thought, He's lying.
The trouble was, she didn't know Arthur. After six years of marriage she didn't know who he was. He was already thirty-four when they married. He was already famous. He had a life, a set personality that she could not penetrate, though it had seemed to her at one time that she could.
She wished her father were alive to advise her. He'd know what to do, for sure. Old Axel Bodnar was no stranger to these situations. He had started out as a plumber and ended up with a fortune from the manufacture of plumbing fixtures. The Bodnar Bath, the Bodnar Kitchen — in six of ten homes built since 1947.
Along the way, Axel had picked up more than a couple indictments. He had endured a long and violent labor dispute in which three men had been killed. He had been big and brutish and had never pretended to be polite or respectable. He laughed at indictments. He knew who he was. But he had wanted something different, something better, for his Janey.
Axel Bodnar thought the Flying Clipper was just what Janey needed. So did she. So Axel got him for her, but not until he saw that Arthur was not just a swivel-hipped halfback, but a shrewd lawyer on the way up. Jane wondered what Axel would think now.
She left the nightgown lying and walked with swaying breasts up the broad staircase to the bathroom. She ran hot water into an enormous tub and sprinkled in blue and green crystals. This was her morning luxury. Sheer voluptuousness, to be perfectly private in her warm bath, adrift in exotic oils and scents, staring up into the steam fantasies.
A man stood shivering in the dark garage. He stood next to Jane's shiny blue Audi. He walked softly to the door that led to the kitchen.
He was a small man, skinny, wearing tight black leather gloves. They did not warm his hands, and his light jacket did not warm him either. He stood just beyond the kitchen door, shivering, listening. At last the faint rush of running water came down to him and he opened the door. The warmth of the kitchen was delicious. On the table were cups and saucers, half-eaten toast.
The man picked up a piece of toast from Arthur Clippert's plate, spread strawberry preserves on it heavily, and took a small bite. He chewed quickly, like a small animal.CHAPTER 2
There was a note on the refrigerator door: "Honey. Gone to Stony Point. Sorry. You have to get your own breakfast. Ma."
Mulheisen stood in his undershorts staring at the note stupidly. He scratched his thinning sandy hair and then seemed to understand. He was annoyed. What the hell was Stony Point? he wondered. Birds. Bird watching.
"You're cracking up, Ma," he said aloud.
He put on a kettle of water to boil, then ground a handful of coffee beans in the electric grinder. He put the ground coffee in a paper filter and set that in its holder on the coffee jug.
If his mother had been there she would have made him coddled eggs, perhaps. Instead, Mulheisen rummaged in the refrigerator for something immediate. The refrigerator was crammed full of food. He opened a beer and sipped, to take off the taste of last night's whiskey and cigars. He found a casserole dish with leftover macaroni and cheese. He dipped his fingers in and broke off a hunk and chewed it. He took two more hunks while standing before the open door. Finally, he took the dish out of the refrigerator and set it on the table.
The water boiled. He poured it over the coffee. While it dripped through he ate more macaroni with his fingers. He drank the beer.
The Free Press headline said, "Collusion In Russ Grain Deal." Mulheisen turned to the sports section and read about the hockey game. The Red Wings had lost on a last-minute goal by the Islanders. Mulheisen was depressed. He couldn't bear what had happened to the Red Wings in the last few years. The whole league had gone to hell. It really depressed him.
He drank coffee and ate the rest of the macaroni. He read the comic section, glanced at the editorials, scanned the news generally. "Shooting on East Side" caught his eye. A bar shootout, but not in his precinct. He didn't finish the article.
"Three More Indicted In Massive Computer Fraud" did not interest him. He stumped up the stairs to dress. Through the bay window of his room he could see the Detroit River. Two ships were downbound, running for the St. Lawrence Seaway, trying to beat the ice that was closing the shipping season. Mulheisen thought they might make it to Cleveland, maybe even Buffalo. Ice was already clogging the channel here. One of the freighters had a red hand painted on the funnel.
Mulheisen put on brown slacks, a light-brown shirt and a dark tie. He didn't like to be stodgy, but he hated to be stylish. Before he put on his beige cashmere coat he slipped a Smith and Wesson .38 Airweight Chief's Special into the back of his belt.
He was a well-built man, nearly forty. He was just under six feet and had a small but noticeable bulge at his waist. He had a high forehead and his eyes were set so deeply that it was not easy to see that they were pale blue. His most notable feature, however, was his teeth. They were long teeth, slightly bucked, and they were distinctly separate. For this reason the street people called him "Fang." It was "Sergeant Fang."
He was late, as usual. He should have been at the precinct already and the precinct was twenty miles away. He wasn't supposed to live outside the city limits of Detroit, but like many other cops he circumvented the rule by maintaining a phony address in town. It cost him fifteen dollars a month.
The telephone rang just as he was going out the back door. It was Inspector McClain, from Homicide.
"Glad I caught you, Mul. I got one in your precinct."
"I forget the address. It's just off Agnes on Seneca. You'll see the house."
"Indian Village?" Mulheisen asked.
"Right. And your asshole inspector is down here, Buchanan, getting in everybody's way. Get on down here. I think this could be a big one."CHAPTER 3
The skinny man walked quickly through the house. He picked up a portable color television, an expensive vase, an original painting off the wall. He took everything back to the kitchen and stacked it by the door to the garage. The bath water was still running.
He went to a small desk in the study and tried the drawers. Locked. With a light metal bar he carefully pried the drawers open. There was some cash. He put it in his pockets without counting it. He riffled through the other papers and then tossed them back into the drawer. He looked around for a safe. Then he remembered — upstairs.
He was halfway up the stairs when the water stopped. It was very silent in the house. He crouched on the staircase and listened. She must be just lying there in the bath, he thought. After a long time there were some splashing sounds. He went up the stairs, past the bathroom door which was open just a crack. He went on into an all-white bedroom.
He opened a jewelry chest and picked out its contents, stuffing his pants pockets. He quietly slid her dresser drawers open and looked through each drawer, running his gloved hands through the silky underthings.
The splashing continued.
Near the window, next to the unmade bed with its white blankets rumpled, there was a desk. He sat down and carefully looked through the papers. Most of them were letters from friends. There were a few from the Detroit Bank and Trust. He tossed it all aside.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Diehard"
Copyright © 1977 Jon A. Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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