Nathan Shapiro might be the gloomiest member of Manhattan’s finest, but that doesn’t stop the dour detective from getting the job done when the going gets tough . . .
A woman is found dead in the bathtub of her Greenwich Village apartment, the victim of an apparent suicide. But when the toxicology report reveals there was a large amount of barbiturates in her system—with no corresponding drugs in the apartment—the case is deemed suspicious.
The scene is mostly devoid of clues and the woman has no identification, meaning some serious sleuthing needs to be done. The NYPD think Det. Lt. Nathan Shapiro is the right cop for the job, although the man himself has little faith in his own skills.
With Det. Anthony “Tony” Cook at his side, Shapiro discovers the victim was a bestselling author from Alabama who was in New York working on her latest novel. Shapiro doesn’t know much about the world of publishing, but before he’s through he’ll have to plot out a gripping conclusion to this case of literary murder.
Write Murder Down is the 7th book in the Nathan Shapiro Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
Richard Lockridge (1898–1982) was one of the most popular names in mystery fiction from the 1940s through the ’70s. He is best known for the prolific detective series he wrote with his wife, Frances, including the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, Nathan Shapiro Mysteries, and Captain Heimrich Mysteries. Upon Frances’s death in 1963, Richard continued writing, delivering new and much darker Nathan Shapiro and Captain Heimrich books. His works have been adapted for Broadway, film, television, and radio.
About the Author
Frances and Richard Lockridge were some of the most popular names in mystery during the forties and fifties. Having written numerous novels and stories, the husband-and-wife team was most famous for their Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries. What started in 1936 as a series of stories written for the New Yorker turned into twenty-six novels, including adaptions for Broadway, film, television, and radio. The Lockridges continued writing together until Frances’s death in 1963, after which Richard discontinued the Mr. and Mrs. North series and wrote other works until his own death in 1982.
Read an Excerpt
They walked down Sixth Avenue from Charles Restaurant. It was the longest day of the year and, although they had not hurried over dinner, there was a glow almost of sunset when they crossed Tenth Street and looked west. It was a warm evening, not a hot one. The air was, uncharacteristically, breathable. She wore a sleeveless yellow dress with a dark green belt and her black hair fell almost to her shoulders. With heels, she was as tall as he, or almost. It was a fine evening, Anthony Cook thought, and for once no telephone call had interrupted it. So far, of course. It was an evening, Tony Cook told himself, during which there wouldn't be any telephone call.
They walked past the library which had been a courthouse and past the tall, angular building which had been a jail. They turned into Christopher Street. Rachel Farmer said, "Who was the beard?"
It pulled Tony Cook back from warming thoughts of other things. He said, "What?" Then he said, "What beard?"
"The red one," Rachel said. "At the bar. Not that I remember all that many beards. The one who —"
"Oh," Tony said. "That one."
"That one," Rachel agreed. "Not that it matters."
They had been sitting at the Charles bar, which is a rectangle. They had got the last two bar stools with backs on them, which are favored by those who favor the bar of Charles French Restaurant. Across the rectangle, beyond the bottles and the glasses and the moving bartenders, the stools do not have backs. You can, of course, tilt against the wall, but then you have to reach out for your drink.
"We're in luck," Tony said, when they found their stools at a little after six. The bartender said, "Evening, folks. The usual?" Rachel said, "Lady luck is sitting beside us, Tony," and Tony Cook said "Yes" to both of them. He thought, she doesn't call me "Mister" any more, the way she did at first. The bartender filled a stemmed glass with crushed ice and put cubes into a squat glass and measured Old Fitzgerald over the cubes. He emptied the crushed ice from the stemmed glass and poured chilled Tio Pepe into it. They touched glasses and put them down on the bar, and the bartender put a dish of mixed nuts between them.
A man with a red beard around the corner of the bar looked at them and smiled through his beard. It was a well-groomed beard and very red. Then, when he saw that they were looking at him, he raised his glass.
Tony lifted his glass, returning a salute. After a moment's hesitation, Rachel lifted hers. They both smiled across their drinks at the man with the red beard.
And that was all of it. They finished their drinks and Tony nodded his head for the bartender, but the headwaiter came to say, "I have a table in the café now, sir-madame. I will bring your drinks, yes?"
The man with the red beard was talking to the man on the stool next to his. They were led to a table in a recess, and shared it with an opulent nude in a heavy gilt frame. Rachel looked at the nude and said, "Representational," and Tony said, "Very," and they finished their drinks and decided against others — "When we get home," Rachel said, "if we want them" — and ordered dinner.
"Anyway," Tony said when they were sipping coffee, "they didn't redo the kitchen."
They had walked south on Sixth Avenue, not hurrying. The evening relaxed around them. They turned from Christopher into Gay Street, which is narrow and has a twist in it.
"A client?" Rachel said. "The beard, I mean?"
"No," Tony said. "A man who lives in the same building I do. On the top floor. We — oh, run into each other on the stairs. That sort of thing. His name's Shepley. Shepherd. Something like that. We just —"
He stopped because Rachel was not, he thought, listening. She hesitated and looked up at the building they were in front of. He looked where she seemed to be looking and looked at a second-story window with no light behind it. They walked on, around the twist, and Rachel said, "I guess she's finished." Tony said, "Did she have a red beard?" and they both laughed, and climbed the steps to the front door of the narrow old building in which Rachel lived.
"For weeks," Rachel said, as she got the key out of her handbag, "she's been sitting at that window — open most of the time — pounding a typewriter. Almost every evening. Not that I go by every evening, of course. When I do. Sometimes it's been midnight. With a light behind her, falling on the typewriter. So that she's — oh, just a silhouette."
She turned the key in the vestibule lock and he pulled the door open. They climbed a flight of familiar stairs, and she turned the key in another lock and went ahead of him into a living room, which was the width of the narrow house and had a lamp glowing in it for their return.
"I just sort of wondered about her," Rachel said. "She always seemed to — oh, so intent."
"Probably just a typist working overtime," Tony said, and she turned to face him. He held out his arms to her and she moved into them. They held each other tightly. Then she drew away and said, "This is a new dress. We mustn't muss it up."
"That can be prevented," Tony said and she laughed a little in her throat and said, "Yes, Tony," and walked away from him and opened the door to the bedroom. She partly closed the door behind her.
Tony Cook took off his summer jacket and unbuckled the shoulder holster which held the .32-caliber Smith & Wesson which he could wear off duty instead of the heavier gun. He put the holstered revolver on a chair and laid his coat over it and made sure the outer door was locked. The department does not approve of men who leave weapons exposed to greedy hands.
He went through the bedroom door.
She was slender and tall and naked as she stood facing him.
"You've still got your clothes on," Rachel Farmer said and there was the mimicry of protest in her voice.
"That can be remedied," Tony Cook said, and his fingers went up to his necktie, which was a place to start.
She threw back the covers on the bed and, when he was ready, stood in front of him again, and they put their arms around each other. It was what Tony had been thinking about for some hours; it was what his warm thoughts had been about.
Without her heels, she was not as tall as he was. But they had measured their lengths before.
It was a little before midnight when he buckled his Smith & Wesson on again, reluctantly and at her insistence. "You've got the eight-to-four," she told him, "and I'm supposed to start posing at ten. I hope it keeps on being warm because Mackenowitz's place lets the air in everywhere. I freeze in winter. Good night, Tony. Go home, Tony."
He went down the flight of stairs and made sure the door at the bottom was locked after him. He went along Gay Street toward Christopher. Around the twist he looked up at the window Rachel had looked up at. There was no light behind it. He thought it was closed. When I was a boy, he thought, you could hardly walk through a street in the Village without hearing the click of typewriter keys through open windows. It isn't that way any more. On the third floor of the last house he passed in Gay Street they were having a party. It was a pretty noisy party. On a step of a stoop in Christopher Street a young man with long hair was sitting, doing nothing and seeming to be looking at nothing. I must have been in my early teens, Tony Cook thought, when I was walking through Morton Street and there was a young man of about the same age sitting on a stoop. I didn't say anything to him but he said, "I'm writing a poem. Go away." So I went away.
Perhaps the woman in Gay Street Rachel looked up at was writing a poem. It would have had to be a long poem. But perhaps people don't write poems on typewriters. It's not anything I know about. What I know about is being a cop. What I know about is evenings like this and Rachel. I can't write poems about evenings like this — evenings when the telephone doesn't ring.
In the vestibule of the converted house he lived in on Twelfth Street, he remembered the man with the red beard and looked under the top-floor bell push for a name. He had been right about the name — right the first time, anyway. "Laurence Shepley." That was the name of the beard; the name of the man he had passed once or twice on the stairs and who had raised his glass to them at the Charles bar.
He went up the stairs to his own apartment on the second floor. He set the alarm clock for seven, which would give him time to have breakfast and walk up to West Twentieth Street. If the weather held.
It's been a fine evening, he thought as he was ending it in sleep. Evenings with her always make fine evenings. If the telephone doesn't ring.CHAPTER 2
He had a report to write; he always had reports to write in the prescribed stiffness of departmental prose. Detectives spend a lot of their time writing reports, and that morning's was one of the dullest. It should have been a routine affair for precinct; the "brain boys" of Homicide, Manhattan South, shouldn't have been called in on it. A man had come home drunk in the middle of the afternoon and started slapping his wife around, for no apparent reason, and had slapped too hard in the wrong place and she had died of it. Which precinct had wrapped up before he and Detective (2nd gr.) Tompkins had got there.
Yesterday was a dull day, Detective (1st gr.) Anthony Cook thought, and completed his report and put it in channels. Dull until six in the evening. Today looked like being as dull, he thought, tilting back his chair in the squad room. And there wouldn't be any six o'clock reprieve. Not on this Friday, the twenty-third of June. After a morning posing for Mackenowitz, in a studio which shouldn't be too drafty on a day like this, she had an afternoon in front of cameras and under glaring lights.
"They'll be at it until God knows when, Tony," she had told him. "Until I fall apart at the seams, probably."
He had told her that she never would and that, all right, they'd make it Saturday.
He lighted a cigarette and waited. At about a quarter of eleven he began to wonder whether the people of the City of New York weren't killing one another any more. At a quarter after eleven the telephone on his desk rang, in the harsh and abrupt way of telephones.
He wasn't catching for the squad, but it might be an outside call anyway. He said, "Homicide South, Detective Cook."
The voice which answered him was mournful. It was dispirited. Tony didn't need identification, but he got it. He said, "Be right along, Lieutenant," and went out of the squad room and a short way along a corridor. The door of Detective Lieutenant Nathan Shapiro's small, hot office was partly open, and Tony went in and closed the door behind him. Shapiro looked at him through mournful eyes. Tony Cook said, "Good morning, Nate," because Nathan Shapiro disliked to be addressed in formal terms when there weren't civilians around. Lieutenant Shapiro has an abiding certainty that his rank is somebody's astonishing mistake and will one day prove a disaster to the New York Police Department.
"Down in the Village," Shapiro said, in his usual hopeless tone, "some woman's killed herself. Only now precinct thinks maybe she hasn't. Because they can't find any barbiturates in her apartment, and she was full of some barbiturate. So the chief's told Bill we'd better rally round here."
Tony Cook had sat down on the chair across from Shapiro at Shapiro's desk. Nathan Shapiro pushed an autopsy report across the desk to him.
Unidentified female. Age late twenties or early thirties. Dead approximately thirty-six hours at the time of the post-mortem examination. Cause of death, loss of blood. Toxico-logical analysis showed a massive dose of a barbiturate prior to death.
"Cleaning woman found her," Shapiro said. "About eight this morning. In the bathtub in this Gay Street apart —"
He stopped because Tony Cook stood up — stood up so suddenly that the chair he had been sitting on fell backward and clattered on the floor.
Tony said, "Gay Street," and the words came out in a kind of gasp.
Nathan Shapiro's long sad face was broken by a smile. He shook his head.
"No, Tony," Shapiro said. "I wouldn't have thrown it at you that way. Two or three doors from Miss Farmer's apartment."
Tony Cook said, "Sorry," and pulled the chair up from the floor and sat down on it. He looked again at the autopsy report, which went on for some paragraphs. "Dead approximately thirty-six hours." When you're jumpy, you can forget the obvious. Tony said, again, "I'm sorry, Nate."
"In a bathtub," Shapiro said. "She'd cut her wrists. Or, anyway, her wrists were cut and she bled to death. Knife — ordinary paring knife — in the tub with the body. Sometimes they take barbiturates before they slash themselves. Cut their wrists to hurry things up, I suppose. Only — no barbiturate in the apartment. Come to that, there was damn little of anything in the apartment. Oh, a dress in a closet. Things to go under the dress. A pair of shoes."
"Just one dress?"
"From what precinct says. Detective named —" Shapiro looked at a notepad on his desk. "Detective named Pieronelli. From Charles Street."
"Charles Pieronelli," Tony said. "I've worked with him. Matter of fact, we both have. Remember?"
"I don't —" Shapiro said and caught himself and said, "Yes. On that evangelist kill." He sighed. "I'm losing my memory," he said. "Comes on you with age, I suppose."
Tony looked across the desk at Nathan Shapiro. He tried to keep his smile from turning into laughter. He said, "Sure," in as grave a voice as he could manage. He knew that Shapiro was in his early forties, so the agreement wasn't as gravely phrased as he wanted it to be. And after a moment, Nathan Shapiro smiled back at him. The smile changed his mournful face considerably.
"But after all," Tony said, "you're still pretty good with a gun. You admit that yourself."
"I talk too much," Shapiro said. "All right, let's get going. Way Bill Weigand wants it. Says you know the Village better than most." He paused for a moment. "Gay Street particularly, Bill says."
"Everybody knows everything," Tony said. "Comes of being a cop and having to leave telephone numbers even when you're off duty."
Shapiro nodded his head. He said, "Well, we asked for it, Tony," and stood up behind his desk. Tony followed Lieutenant Shapiro out of the hot little office and along the corridor and down the stairs and into the unmarked sedan waiting for them in the street. It did not take them long to get to the Charles Street station and into one of the inquiry rooms. It was a bleak room with a table and a few stiff chairs. Pieronelli was sitting on a chair on one side of the table. A rather heavy Negro woman was sitting on a chair on the other side of the table. Cook said, "Morning, Charley," and Pieronelli said, "Hi, Tony. Morning, Lieutenant. This is Mrs. Jenkinson. She found the body."
"That poor Miss Jones," Mrs. Jenkinson said. "Such a nice lady. To do that to herself."
"Mrs. Jenkinson got to the apartment about eight o'clock this morning," Pieronelli said. "Went in Tuesday and Friday mornings to straighten the place up. An hour or two at a time. Didn't expect to see this Miss Jones. Almost never did see her. That's right, Mrs. Jenkinson?"
"No almost about it," Mrs. Jenkinson said, firmly. "Never did see her except that once, about a month ago, when we made the arrangements and she gave me the key. Way I understood it, she went to the apartment in the afternoons. She was a nice lady. She'd leave my money for me Fridays. More than I really had coming, sometimes. She was a nice lady."
"You only saw her that once?" Shapiro asked her.
"Just that once," Mrs. Jenkinson said. "You a policeman too, mister?"
"Yes," Shapiro said. "Did she sleep in the apartment? I mean, you went in about eight in the mornings and she wasn't there. Had her bed been slept in?"
"Not most of the time. When it had I made it up for her. But that was only two or three times since I started working for her. Sometimes I thought — well, there wasn't really enough for me to do for what she paid me. And I likes to do the work I gets paid for."
"I'm sure you do," Shapiro said. "What did you do, Mrs. Jenkinson? Besides making the bed the few times she'd used it?"
"Went over the floors with a dry mop. Swept them skimpy rag rugs — what you gets in these furnished apartments. Did the bathroom. First time I sort of straightened up her papers but the next time there was a note saying please would I not touch the papers. So after that I didn't."
"What kind of papers were they?"
"Papers with typing on them. Beside her typewriter."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Write Murder Down"
Copyright © 1972 Richard Lockridge.
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