Authors: Howard Fast
To Rachel, who has been down the track
May 25, 1996
T HAD BEEN
a quiet night in the detectives' squad room at the first precinct of the New York City Police. Sergeant Hull and Detective Flannery, homicide's midnight shift, sat at facing desks. Flannery was doing a crossword puzzle on the computer and Hull was typing a report on an ancient Underwood typewriter; and both men yawned, first one and then the other, as if the act were contagious. Hull was a tall, skinny man in his forties. He wore reading glasses down at the end of his long nose. Flannery was chubby, pug nose and red hair, and enthralled with their new computer, which Hull stubbornly refused to use. “You're a Luddite,” he once said to Hullâto which Hull replied, “What in hell is a Luddite?” He didn't do crossword puzzles.
It was Saturday, May twenty-fifth, 1996, and if the midnight shift passed with no lethal violence, both men could look forward to the rest of the weekend off. Since it was now almost one
their chances were good. The station was at 16 Ericsson, at the tip of Manhattan, pretty much closed down now and quiet as a graveyard.
Flannery frowned at his puzzle and said to Hull, “That new uniform downstairs, Annabelleâyou know who I meanâyou think she's got a guy?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“I thought you might have noticed,” Flannery said. “How do you spell
. She's stacked. Good-looking. But with all this harassment stuff going around, how do you start?”
“Ask her for a date.”
The telephone rang. Hull picked it up, listened for a moment, and then said, “OK, Lieutenant. We're on our way.”
“They got us one, and there goes the damn weekend. A banker or something, shot through the head, at Garson, Weeds and Anderson.”
“Who phoned it in?”
“Your Annabelle. The boss told her to leave everything just as it is.”
“Well, you win some and you lose some,” Flannery said. “They're in the Omnibus Building, aren't they?”
When the detectives got to the Omnibus, the ambulance was already there. Two tired men with a stretcher stood next to Annabelle, who was twenty-four years old, blond, and six feet tall. A third man identified himself as Alec Prosky, a part of the weekend cleaning staff and the person who found the body.
“It's on the seventeenth floor,” Annabelle informed them, a bit shaken and excited by her first homicide. “Prosky here's a cleaner, one of six in the building. His boss, Goober here, put in the 911.” Goober grinned at them.
“Who's up there?”
“Kennedy, my partner,” Annabelle said.
The two detectives, Annabelle, and Prosky entered one of the bank of elevators and rode up to the seventeenth floor. Hull asked where the other cleaners were, and Prosky answered that they were working other floors and probably didn't know of the crime. Garson, Weeds and Anderson occupied the whole of the seventeenth floor, and each man in the cleaning team did a floor by himself. He, Prosky, had touched nothing. Hull told Prosky to go down to the lobby and wait for the forensic team and then to bring them up.
“The building was locked?” he asked Prosky.
“Friday, it locks up at seven. We have the key and we come in at midnight.”
“And the staff? The concierge and the others?”
“They leave by seven. Any late people let themselves out and close the front door behind them. We come in at midnight, and we set the alarm system when we leave.”
“Real smart,” Flannery observed. “So there's no alarm system while the cleaners are here.”
Prosky shrugged, went into the elevator, and the doors closed. The three were in the reception roomâeighteenth-century colonial wallpaper, leather upholstery, and walnut walls. A cherry-wood desk for the receptionist, and on the floor a large, pale blue Aubusson rug, matched by a specially woven runner that carpeted a long hallway. “He's at the end of it,” Annabelle said, and led them down the hallway past several offices, a huge room of desks, telephones, and screens, then through this room to another corridor leading into more offices. Kennedy, Annabelle's partner, was waiting for them. He was a man in his late forties, weatherworn enough to do away with Flannery's fear of competition. The door to the office behind Kennedy was open.
“Cold as ice,” Kennedy said. “He must have been put down hours ago.”
“You didn't touch anything?” Hull demanded.
“Would I? I felt his cheeks.”
The plate of the door read
WILLIAM SEDGWICK HOPPER.
“He's been in the news,” Annabelle said. “Something of a world figure. Two gold medals in the seventy-two Olympics. Lately, he's been involved in some kind of con. No charges and no arrest.”
Hopper's office was businesslike: a desk, three telephonesâeach with multiple linesâa computer, and a comfortable desk chair facing the door, away from a fine view of the upper bay and the Statue of Liberty. Paneled walls, no pictures, three Signer-style chairs, and a couch. A door on the left led into a small bathroom with a liquor bar beneath the sink. The entire room was carpeted in rich mossy green.
Hopper was slumped forward on the desk, a fountain pen still clutched tightly over a checkbook in his right hand, and a trickle of blood down the back of his neck from a small hole at the base of his skull. He wore a shirtâcollar openâa vest, and no tie. On the desk was a length of paper torn from the fax, about eighteen inches long. On the bottom of this sheet lay a twenty-two automatic Colt pistol, and printed on the paper, above the pistol, in red block letters:
SWEET JOURNEY, BILLY.
Carefully Hull drew the checkbook from under the clenched hand. A checkâstill in the book, with no notation on the stub to identify itâwas made out to cash, for the sum of one hundred thousand dollars. The check was unsigned.
“This is a doozy,” Flannery said. “Whoever wasted him wanted the kill more than he wanted the money.”
Standing at the doorway, Annabelle said, “Forgive me, Detective. Not âhe'â
Looking at her, curious, Hull asked, “Why âshe'?”
“Because the cheerful good-bye note was written with lipstick.”
“You're sure, Officer?”
“Could you tell us the name of the lipstick?”
“Maybe. I could make a guess. Devlon's Autumnâvery big last season.”
“You got to be kidding,” Flannery said.
“It's just a guess. I'm a blond, so I use that color. I've tried it, and it's just right. It goes better with a fair-haired womanâblue eyes, blond hair. You know, you try them all until you find one that fits your taste.”
“Interesting,” Hull admitted. “That would mean she stood behind him with the gun and watched him write the check. Then, before he could sign it, she decided to pop him. Either she's as rich as God or she hates his guts.”
“A hundred thousand clams are a lot of hate,” Flannery said.
“Cash. What the hell good is a check drawn to cash? He could stop it first thing Monday morning. Or maybe a man decided to use his wife's lipstick. This is one large, good-looking stud â¦ blond hairâwe got to find out a little about him, but that will wait for tomorrow. Forensics will match up the lipstick; and we'll find out about the women who work here.”
“The blond hair's a rinse,” Annabelle said.
Flannery regarded her with appreciation.
“So he was a happy hunter,” Hull said. “Manhattan South will send their fingerprint team along with forensics, but my guess is she wore gloves. You agree, Officer?” to Annabelle.
“I would think so.”
Flannery took a piece of tissue from the box on the desk, then picked up the gun and smelled it. “Still stinks. It's got its registration mark, so it's probably stolen and resold. We got to talk to Prosky. How many did he say were on the cleaning team?”
“Six,” Annabelle said.
“I don't think there's anything there,” Flannery said, touching the dead man's cheek. “They come in at midnight. My guess is that he's been dead at least five, six hours.”
This was for the benefit of Annabelle. Hull did not contradict Flannery, and Flannery decided to ask Annabelle whether she had a steady boyfriend.
Her answer cheered him, and he decided to ask her about the two gold medals.
“I follow sports,” Annabelle replied. “Javelin and shot put.”
“Oh.” Flannery was not quite certain what a javelin was. “Some kind of spear?”
“Some kind of spear,” Annabelle agreed.
OMAN ON THE
March 16, 1996
Jersey to New York, crossing the George Washington Bridge at half past three in the morning, I saw a woman standing at the rail of the pedestrian walkway, her back to me. I had spent the day with two old friends who taught at Rowan Collegeâone a professor of social psychology and the other a physicistâand we had sat at the dinner table, immersed in good talk and ripe contention, until well after midnight. Rowan is in South Jersey, but after midnight the roads are empty and I had made good progress.
Ordinarily I would have been sound asleep at this hour; but I was full of ideas and odd thoughts, alert and awake, and when I noticed the woman, I braked and slid to a stop against the walkway. There was little traffic on the bridge. A woman alone at that ungodly hour was something I could not ignore. Stopped about a dozen feet from her, I said, “I wouldn't, if I were you. It might not kill you at all, and that would leave you with months of agony in the hospitalâworse than whatever pain you're in now.”
Of course it would have killed her, but that was all I could invent at the moment. She turned to face me. In the sallow gleam of the bridge lights, I couldn't see her too clearly, but I had the impression of a good-looking woman in her forties with shoulder-length, flaxen hair, gray eyes, and every inch of her filled with woe. That was just an impression. She wore a blue coat that fell below her knees. For perhaps a minute she remained silent, staring at me. She saw a man of seventy-eight years, gray haired with glasses, wearing a tweed jacket and gray flannels. I expected anything, rage, hostility, fear, bitternessâperhaps a rush to the railing to get it over with. But after that very long minute or so of silence, she asked softly, “How did you know?”
Not Who are you? or What business is it of yours? or Why don't you go away and leave me alone?âbut simply that soft, almost gentle question.
“Because I've opened that door a hundred times.”
“The door you are looking at.”
“Who are you?”
The important thing was to keep her talking. I could already hear the scream of a Port Authority patrol car, and another part of my mind was planning how I would deal with that.
“A harmless old professor emeritus. A widower who has discussed suicide with himself many times. I reject itâin myself and in others. That's somewhat arrogant, but there it is.”
At that moment, the patrol car pulled up behind mine, and the officer got out. He looked thoughtfully at the two of us, his hand on the butt of his gun, and then asked, “Broken down?”
“No. My daughter and I stopped to have a look at the river at night.”
The woman was facing us and listening intently.
“Can I see your license?”
I took out my wallet, pulled out my license and my Columbia University ID, and handed the cards to him. He peered at them.