*Winner of the 2016 Nero Wolfe Award for Best American Mystery
David C. Taylor's Night Life takes us back to New York City in 1954.
The Cold War is heating up. Senator Joe McCarthy is running a witch hunt for Communists in America. The newly formed CIA is fighting a turf battle with the FBI to see who will be the primary US intelligence agency. And the bodies of murdered young men are turning up in the city.
Michael Cassidy has an unusual background for a New York cop. His father, a refugee from Eastern Europe, is a successful Broadway producer. His godfather is Frank Costello, a Mafia boss. Cassidy also has an unusual way of going about the business of being a cop-maybe that's why he threw a fellow officer out a third story window of the Cortland Hotel.
Cassidy is assigned to the case of Alexander Ingram, a Broadway chorus dancer found tortured and dead in his apartment in Hell's Kitchen. Complications grow as other young men are murdered one after the other. And why are the FBI, the CIA, and the Mafia interested in the death of a Broadway gypsy?
Meanwhile, a mysterious, beautiful woman moves into Cassidy's building in Greenwich Village. Is Dylan McCue a lover or an enemy? Cassidy is plagued by nightmares-dreams that sometimes become reality. And he has been dreaming that someone is coming to kill him.
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By David C. Taylor
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 David C. Taylor
All rights reserved.
Orso stamped his feet in the snow and watched the all-night drugstore up the block on Sixth Avenue. "He ain't coming. I told you. Only a mongoloid hits five in a row. He wised up." Orso was well over six feet tall and weighed more than two hundred pounds and had the round, well-fleshed face of a sensualist.
"Give it a chance. He always hits around midnight. It's quarter to." Cassidy was an impatient man who was trying to teach himself how to wait. He was shorter than his partner, broad shouldered and strong, but whip thin as if the motor running inside consumed everything as it entered.
"New Year's Eve. We should be in a warm bar someplace, not freezing our asses off waiting for some stickup guy who ain't going to show," Orso said. "Guy's got half a brain he's over at Dempsey's getting plastered waiting till next year to go back to work."
"If he had half a brain he wouldn't be robbing all-night drugstores one after the other right up Sixth Avenue."
Orso lit a cigarette and cupped it in his hand so the glow was hidden from the street. "Did you hear about Gavrilich?"
"Hear what?" Cassidy leaned against the brick wall of the alley and watched the snow filter down past the streetlights. He wore a sheepskin jacket and boots against the weather, and the gun in his pocket was cold through his thin leather glove.
"Canned. Cleaned out his desk this morning. Eighteen years on the job, no severance, no pension. Turn in your badge, your gun, and sayonara. The shooflies got him. Loyalty clause, or whatever the hell they're calling it. Turns out he joined some group a few years ago, now it's on the attorney general's list, a Commie-front organization. Only reason he joined was there were a lot of women in it, he figured he'd get laid."
"Well, he's fucked now."
"Politics. Stay away from that crap. If I can't eat it, drink it, wear it, or fuck it, I'm not interested." A core philosophy Cassidy had heard from Orso before. He wished his own view of life were as straight a line. That's what we do, isn't it? Try to keep it simple, control the chaos, keep the lines straight. Did it ever work?
The traffic was light on the avenue, and the car tires hissed in the wet. Somewhere a group of drunks sang "Should old acquaintance be forgot ..." loud and off-key. Cassidy looked east along the block to the neon sign for the Cortland Hotel, its colors muted by the falling snow.
Orso followed his look. "You threw him out the window." Orso flicked a hand at the hotel.
"Yeah." He flinched from the memory and felt his heart race the way it had that morning when he woke from the dream, months ago, but still vivid.
* * *
In the dream, a woman screamed. In the dream, Cassidy and a man he knew—who was he? who was he?—walked together toward an open window, face-to-face, chest-to-chest, as if in a dance, and then the man disappeared with a cry. Cassidy awoke that morning with his heart pounding, and the unease from the dream stayed with him through the day.
It had been Indian summer then, the briefest of seasons, one he loved, the last soft days of the year, elegiac in their echo of the summer past and yet promising that spring would come after the dark cold days of winter. Kids played stickball and ringolevio in the streets until called inside for dinner. People sat on their stoops and fire escapes—the men in T-shirts, the women in cotton dresses—and listened to radios propped on windowsills, Guy Lombardo's band, or Count Basie over at Birdland, or to The Lone Ranger, Broadway Is My Beat, or Inner Sanctum. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows."
That afternoon Cassidy was on the corner of Sixth Avenue, not far from where he stood now, tearing the cellophane off a fresh pack of Lucky Strikes and thinking how lucky he was to have been born in this city, that when it worked, it worked better than anyplace.
He heard a woman scream and turned toward the sound. He waited but did not hear it again. It could have been anything, a mouse across a kitchen floor, a cockroach in a drink, a cold hand up a skirt. He lit a cigarette and started east along the block. Ahead of him May Stiles burst out of the lobby door of the Cortland Hotel. She spotted Cassidy and came at him in a stumbling run on high heels and grabbed him by the arm. "Cassidy, there's a guy upstairs beating the hell out of one of my girls. Do something."
"Will you do something, for christ's sake? He's hurting her bad."
"Do you have a key to her room?"
"A key? Yeah. A key. Sure." She scrabbled around in her big purse and fumbled him a hotel room key.
"Wait in the lobby."
Cassidy listened outside the room on the third floor and heard a grunt of effort and the smack of a fist on flesh, and "Bitch," muffled by the door. He slipped the key into the lock and turned it slowly while he eased the knob. The latch freed with a click and the door opened. The room smelled of gin, cigar smoke, and burning meat. The bed was torn apart, blanket and sheets dragging. A naked woman huddled on the floor near a knocked-over chair. Her legs were bent awkwardly, and one arm was raised to ward off the man who stooped over her. He was naked, bowlegged, and big gutted with a mange of hair across his shoulders. He held an iron in one hand. The cord ran to a socket under the open window.
"You work for me. You don't work for that bitch. You work for me, got it? What? You didn't think I'd find you? The fuck I wouldn't." He pressed the iron down on her thigh and her scream almost covered the sizzle of the burn.
"Hey," Cassidy said.
The man turned. His chest was matted with hair, and his belly hung down like a sack. He looked at Cassidy without surprise. "What the fuck do you want?"
"Get your clothes on, Franklin. Get out of here."
"Hey, fuck you, Cassidy. I'm on the job." The woman sobbed until she ran out of breath. She crawled to the overturned chair maybe with the thought of getting under it to hide.
Cassidy could smell her burned flesh. "You're on the job?" He could feel the rage rising. "You're on the job? What the hell do you mean? This is the job?"
"Get the fuck out of here." Franklin put the iron down on the table, and smoke curled up around it. He took a step toward a chair against the wall where his clothes were draped; a holstered gun was threaded on his pants belt. "I'm going to teach you a hard lesson, you uptown punk."
Cassidy moved to block him.
Franklin threw a punch. Cassidy slipped it and slammed Franklin's arm as it went by. The momentum turned him, and Cassidy hit him twice in the kidneys and his breath whistled out. Cassidy punched him in the neck and he sagged. Franklin put his hand on the table to hold himself up. "You fuck. I'm going to kill you, you fuck."
"Not today." Cassidy grabbed two handfuls of the man's gut, squeezed hard, and lifted. Franklin came up on his toes whinnying in pain and hammering at Cassidy's head and shoulders. He tiptoed backward as Cassidy lifted and pushed, and they went toward the open window as if in a dance. The backs of Franklin's legs hit the windowsill. Then Cassidy threw him out, and he went with a cry.
When he dreamed of the man falling, he did not know it was going to be a cop.
He had had dreams like that since childhood, dreams in which he was both asleep and awake. They let him rise toward waking but held him below the surface, trapped in the dream and aware of it. Days, weeks, or months later he would be somewhere in the city, and he would recognize that this was what he had dreamed, this street, that person; the snatch of conversation as two people left a room; that opening door with that woman behind it; that man with the two black dogs, who smiled at him like a shark. The dreams were random. Sometimes they came true, sometimes they did not but just disappeared to wherever dreams go. He tried to find markers in them that would allow him to separate them from normal dreams, but he could not. He had assumed that everyone had dreams like that, until he talked to Brian about them, and his older brother looked at him and said, "Are you nuts?" and told him about déjà vu. But these dreams weren't that. They were something else.
He did not know they were prophetic until he dreamed of his mother's death.
* * *
"A cop," Orso said. He flicked his cigarette away to hiss in the snow.
"Yeah. Okay. But Franklin's also a cop."
"Exactly my point." Cassidy's breath escaped like smoke. "You want to be a pimp, be a pimp. You want to be a cop, be a cop. Pick a side and stick with it."
"You can't throw a cop out a window. They're going to stack your ass in a corner and take turns pissing on it."
"They're not going to do anything. They didn't even call a disciplinary board. Why? Because what the hell are they going to find out? That a Vice Squad lieutenant was running whores and got thrown out a window when another cop caught him torturing one of those whores? They don't want to touch it. So they transfer me out of Vice and pretend it never happened."
"They don't get you for that, they'll get you for something else. That's how it works."
"Never happen. You know why? Because my heart is pure."
"Your heart may be pure, but your mind is fucked-up is what it is."
"Hey," Cassidy said, and jerked his chin up the block. A man in a bomber jacket and cloth cap walked past the window of the drugstore and slowed to look in. "Casing it."
"Or checking to see if they've got his brand of hemorrhoid cream."
"See if he goes by again."
The man walked past the drugstore and then stopped in the unlighted doorway of a closed shop and surveyed the street. A man and a woman walked past him arm in arm, and after they were gone, he stepped out of the doorway and strolled to the drugstore and stopped to look in the window as if searching for a product.
"Waiting for the customers to get out of there," Cassidy said.
First an elderly man left. He wore a long, dark coat and fur hat with earmuffs and carried a small white paper bag, and then three young men and three young women followed. Their voices, full of cheer, carried to the two cops in the alley. "Ugly broad," one of the women said, and they all laughed. One of the men scooped snow from a parked car and threw it at the others, and the six of them went down the block, laughing and calling, in a running snowball fight.
The man in the bomber jacket looked around casually to make sure no one was approaching, pulled his hat low over his eyes, put his right hand in the pocket of his jacket, and went in.
"Here we go," Orso said. They crossed the sidewalk and went along outside the line of parked cars and ducked down behind a Hudson Hornet opposite the drugstore.
"Damn," Orso said. "Fucking snow. Thirty bucks' worth of brand-new Florsheims ruined. The radio said no snow tonight, and I bought it."
Cassidy watched the man in the bomber jacket. He had stopped to leaf through a magazine from the wire rack just inside the door, but now he moved back to where the white-haired pharmacist stood behind the counter in a white coat. The pharmacist looked up and resettled his glasses with the tip of one finger. The man pointed to something in the case, and when the pharmacist bent to look at it, the man pulled his pistol and touched it to the pharmacist's head. The pharmacist's hands shot into the air and his shoulders hunched. The man shouted something that did not escape the glass of the window, and the pharmacist put his hands down. The robber looked over his shoulder to see if anyone had seen the dumb show and then turned back and jabbed his gun at the pharmacist and moved him over behind the big cash register.
"I think I'm going to shoot the son of a bitch when he comes out just for the shoes," Orso said. "You back me up?"
"Absolutely. Shoot him. Self-defense."
"I'll go north. We'll box him." Orso moved along the line of cars until he was past the drugstore, and Cassidy went south and squatted behind a DeSoto coupe. The pharmacist put the money from the register in a white paper bag, and when he was done, the robber hit him on the head with the gun barrel. He did not go down, but even at that distance Cassidy could see the blood begin to stain his white hair. The old man put one hand to the wound and held the other up to plead. The robber hit him twice like driving a nail, and the pharmacist folded out of sight behind the counter. Shit, he didn't have to do that, Cassidy thought. He had the money. He didn't have to hit the old guy. Why'd he do that?
The stickup man paused just inside the glass door and checked the street. When he came out, the gun was back in the pocket of his jacket and he carried the paper sack holding the money. He turned north. Cassidy did not know which car hid Orso until his partner stepped onto the sidewalk behind the robber. "Police, asshole. Hold it."
The man took off running. He tried to pull the pistol from his pocket, but it caught on the cloth, jerked from his hand, and skittered away across the pavement. Orso went after him, but his new shoes betrayed him. One foot went out from under. He slid wildly for a moment, then went down. Cassidy glanced at him as he ran by. Orso was pushing himself up from the snow. "Goddamn it! Go get him. I'll get the gun."
The robber turned east on 53rd Street. A man walking his dog shouted at him as he ran past. Cassidy had his gun in his hand, but there were people on the street. He put the gun away.
He gained when the thief skidded as he ran out into the traffic on Fifth Avenue. Horns blared at both of them. The cap flew off the man's head as he reached the east side of the avenue. Down the block people leaving the Stork Club crowded the sidewalk. The robber dodged for the street. Cassidy caught him and slammed him against a Cadillac limousine double-parked and idling. The bag of money flew from the man's hand. Someone on the sidewalk said, "Hey, what's going on?" Cassidy grabbed the struggling man's hair and jammed his face into the limousine hood to calm him. He yanked him around by the shoulder and elbowed him in the mouth, and then hit him under the rib cage. That was for the pharmacist, an old man doing a job. He gave you the money, goddamn it. You didn't have to hit him. The thief sagged with a groan.
Someone pulled on Cassidy's sleeve. He brushed him away without looking. "I'm working here." He hit the robber again. An old bull named McGinley had taken him out for a drink when he first put on the uniform and told him, "When you catch one of the fuckers in the act, beat the shit out of him. He may beat you in court. Witnesses might not show, might lie. Someone could pull strings to cut him loose. Maybe he jumps bail. But you beat the crap out of him, every time he looks in the mirror, sees that broken nose, he's going to know." Cassidy let go and the thief curled himself around his pain in the gutter. The hand came back to pull hard at his sleeve. He turned.
A young man faced him, young except for his eyes, which were pale, heavy lidded, and as old as the bottom of the sea. "What do you think you're doing?" the man demanded. Rubberneckers crowded the sidewalk behind him.
"Back off, bud. Police business." He was calm now. His anger was a switchblade. It flew out fast and bright and sharp, and then it folded away again, gone until the next time. How long had it been there? Since the war, certainly.
"Back off? You don't tell me what to do." The man's dead eyes were always moving, never settling on Cassidy. "That's my car. Get that man away from my car. I have to go." The chauffeur had gotten out of the driver's side and now stood uncertainly in the street.
"In a minute."
Orso came through the crowd. He was breathing hard, and there was a rip in the knee of his pants.
"Tony, he dropped the loot. I don't know where the hell it went."
"Right," Orso said.
The man was impatient. "Thompson, move the car. We have to go now." The chauffeur looked to Cassidy nervously.
"A couple of minutes, we'll be out of your way." He turned back to pat the robber down for other weapons. There was movement behind the tinted windows of the limo, and he could sense there were a number of people in the car, but the smoked glass blurred their faces.
"No. Now." The man grabbed his arm again.
Excerpted from Night Life by David C. Taylor. Copyright © 2015 David C. Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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