“HE HAD heart trouble,” the woman was telling Carella.
Which perhaps accounted for the tiny pinpricks of blood on the dead man’s eyeballs. In cases of acute right-heart failure, you often found such hemorrhaging. The grayish-blue feet sticking out from under the edge of the blanket were another matter.
“Told me he hadn’t been feeling good these past few days,” the woman was saying. “I kept telling him to go see the doctor. Yeah, I’ll go, I’ll go, don’t worry, like that, you know? So I stopped by this morning to see how he was, found him just this way. In bed. Dead.”
“So you called the police,” Meyer said, nodding.
Because he’d expected to go out on a narcotics plant this morning, he was wearing blue jeans, a sweat shirt, and Reeboks. Instead, he’d caught this one with Carella and here he was. On a fishing expedition with a woman he felt was lying. Burly and bald, he posed his question with wide, blue-eyed innocence, just as if it did not conceal a hand grenade.
“Yes,” she said, “I called the police. That was the first thing I did.”
“Knew straight off he was dead, is that right?”
“Well … yes. I could see he was dead.”
“You didn’t take his pulse or anything like that, did you?” Carella asked.
Looking trimmer and fitter than he had in a long while—he had deliberately lost six pounds since his fortieth birthday—he was dressed casually this morning in dark blue trousers, a gray corduroy jacket, a plaid sports shirt, and a dark blue knit tie. He had not anticipated this particular squeal at a little past ten in the morning. In fact, he had scheduled a ten-fifteen squadroom interview with a burglary victim. Instead, here he was, talking to a woman he, too, felt was lying.
“No,” she said. “Well, yes. Well, not his pulse. But I leaned over him. To see if he was still breathing. But I could see he was dead. I mean … well, look at him.”
The dead man was lying on his back, covered with a blanket, his eyes and his mouth open, his tongue protruding. Carella glanced at him again, a faint look of sorrow and pain momentarily knifing his eyes. In these moments, he felt particularly vulnerable, wondering as he often did if he was perhaps unsuited to a job that brought him into frequent contact with death.
“So you called the police,” Meyer said again.
“Yes. Told whoever answered the phone …”
“Was this 911 you called? Or the precinct number direct?”
“911. I don’t know the precinct number. I don’t live around here.”
“Told the operator you’d come into your father’s apartment and found him dead, is that right?”
“What time was this, Miss?”
“A little after ten this morning. It’s Mrs., by the way,” she said almost apologetically.
Carella looked at his watch. It was now twenty minutes to eleven. He wondered where the medical examiner was. Couldn’t touch anything in here till the ME pronounced the victim dead. He wanted to see the rest of the body. Wanted to see if the legs matched the feet.
“Mrs. Robert Keating,” the woman said. “Well, Cynthia Keating, actually.”
“And your father’s name?” Meyer asked.
“Andrew. Andrew Hale.”
Better to let Meyer stay with it for now, Carella thought. He had noticed the same things Carella had, was equally familiar with the telltale signs of a hanging, which this one resembled a great deal, but you couldn’t hang yourself lying flat on your back in bed with no noose around your neck.
“How old was he, can you tell us?”
“And you say he had heart trouble?”
“Two heart attacks in the past eight years.”
“No. Two angioplasties. But his condition was very grave. He almost lost his life each time.”
“And he continued having trouble, is that it?”
“Well … no.”
“You said he had heart trouble.”
“Two serious heart attacks in eight years, yes, that’s heart trouble. But he wasn’t restricted in his activities or anything.”
“Good morning, gentlemen,” a voice said from the bedroom doorway. For a moment, the detectives couldn’t tell whether the man standing there was Carl Blaney or Paul Blaney. Not very many people knew that Carl Blaney and Paul Blaney were twin brothers. Most of the detectives in this city had spoken to them separately, either on the phone or in person at the morgue, but they assumed the similarity of their surnames and the fact that they both worked for the Medical Examiner’s Office were attributable to mere coincidence. As every working cop knew, coincidence was a major factor in police work.
Both Blaneys were five feet, nine inches tall. Paul Blaney weighed a hundred and eighty pounds, whereas his brother Carl weighed a hundred and sixty-five. Carl still had all of his hair. Paul was going a bit bald at the back of his head. Both Paul and Carl had violet eyes, although neither was related to Elizabeth Taylor.
“Carl,” the man in the doorway said, clearing up any confusion at once. He was wearing a lightweight topcoat, a plaid muffler draped loose around his neck. He took off the coat and muffler and threw them over a straight-backed chair just inside the bedroom door.
“You are?” he asked Cynthia.
“His daughter,” she said.
“I’m sorry for your trouble,” he told her, managing to sound as if he actually meant it. “I’d like to examine your father now,” he said. “Would you mind stepping outside, please?”
“Yes, of course,” she said, and started for the doorway, and then stopped, and asked, “Shall I call my husband?”
“Might be a good idea,” Carella said.
“He works nearby,” she said to no one in particular and then went out into the kitchen. They could hear her dialing the wall phone there.
“What’s it look like?” Blaney asked.
“Asphyxia,” Carella said.
Blaney was already at the bed, leaning over the dead man as if about to kiss him on the lips. He noticed the eyes at once. “This what you mean?” he asked. “The petechiae?”
“By no means conclusive evidence of death by asphyxia,” Blaney said flatly. “You should know that, Detective. This how he was found? On his back this way?”
“According to the daughter.”
“Couldn’t have accidentally smothered then, could he?”
“I guess not.”
“You have any reason to disbelieve her?”
“Just the blood spots. And the blue feet.”
“Oh? Do we have blue feet as well?” Blaney asked, and looked toward the foot of the bed. “Are we suspecting death by hanging then? Is that it?”
“The daughter says he had a history of heart disease,” Carella said. “Maybe it was heart failure. Who knows?”
“Who knows indeed?” Blaney asked the dead man’s feet. “Let’s see what else we’ve got here, shall we?” he said, and threw back the blanket.
The dead man was wearing a white shirt open at the throat, gray flannel trousers fastened with a black belt. No shoes or socks.
“Goes to bed with all his clothes on, I see,” Blaney said dryly.
“Barefoot though,” Carella said.
Blaney grunted, unbuttoned the shirt, and slid a stethoscope onto the dead man’s chest, not expecting to find a heart beat, and not surprised when he didn’t. He removed all the man’s garments—he was also wearing striped boxer shorts—and noticed at once the grayish-blue coloration of the corpse’s legs, forearms, and hands. “If he was hanged,” he told Carella, “and I’m not saying he was, then it was in an upright position. And if he was moved to the bed here, and I’m not saying he was, then it wasn’t too soon after he died. Otherwise the postmortem lividity would have faded from the extremities and moved to the back and buttocks. Let’s take a look,” he said and rolled the dead man onto his side. His back was pale, his ass as white as a full moon. “Nope,” he said, and rolled the corpse onto his back again. The man’s penis was swollen and distended. “Postmortem lividity,” Blaney explained. “Settling of tissue fluids.” There were dried stains in the corpse’s undershorts. “Probably semen,” Blaney said. “We don’t know why, but a seminal discharge is commonplace in cases of asphyxia. Has nothing whatever to do with any sexual activity. Rigor mortis in the seminal vesicles causes it.” He looked at Carella. Carella merely nodded. “No rope burns,” Blaney said, examining the neck, “no imprint of a noose, no blisters from pinching or squeezing of the skin. A knot may have caused this,” he said, indicating a small bruise under the chin. “Did you find any kind of noose?”
“We haven’t really made a search yet,” Carella said.
“Well, it certainly looks like a hanging,” Blaney said, “but who knows?”
“Who knows indeed?” Carella echoed, as if they were going through a familiar vaudeville routine.
“If I were you, I’d talk to the daughter some more,” Blaney said. “Let’s see what the autopsy shows. Meanwhile, he’s dead and he’s yours.”
The mobile crime unit arrived some ten minutes later, after the body and Blaney were both gone. Carella told them to keep a special lookout for fibers. The chief technician told him they were always on the lookout for fibers, what did he mean by a special lookout? Carella cut his eyes toward where Meyer was talking to Cynthia Keating across the room. The chief technician still didn’t know why a special lookout for fibers was necessary, but he didn’t ask Carella anything else.
It was starting to rain.
The mandatory date for turning on the heat in this city was October fifteenth—birthdate of great men, Carella thought, but did not say. This was already the twenty-ninth but too many buildings took their time complying with the law. The rain and the falling temperature outside combined to make it a little chilly in the apartment. The technicians, who had just come in from the cold, kept their coats on. Carella put his coat back on before ambling over to where Meyer was idly and casually chatting up the dead man’s daughter. They both wanted to know if she’d found the body exactly where she’d said she’d found it, but they weren’t asking that just yet.
“… or did you just drop by?” Meyer said.
“He knew I was coming.”
“Did he know what time?”
“No. I just said I’d be by sometime this morning.”
“But he was still in bed when you got here?”
The key question.
“Yes,” she said.
No hesitation on her part.
“Wearing all his clothes?” Carella asked.
She turned toward him. Bad Cop flashed in her eyes. Too many damn television shows these days, everyone knew all the cop tricks.
“Yes,” she said. “Well, not his shoes and socks.”
“Did he always sleep with his clothes on?” Carella asked.
“No. He must have gotten up and …”
“Yes?” Meyer said.
She turned to look at him, suspecting Good Cop, but not yet certain.
“Gone back to bed again,” she explained.
“I see,” Meyer said, and turned to Carella as if seeking approval of this perfectly reasonable explanation of why a man was in bed with all his clothes on except for his shoes and socks.
“Maybe he felt something coming on,” Cynthia said further.
“Something coming on?” Meyer said, encouraging her.
“Yes. A heart attack. People know when they’re coming.”
“I see. And you figure he might have gone to lie down.”
“Didn’t call an ambulance or anything,” Carella said. “Just went to lie down.”
“Yes. Thinking it might pass. The heart attack.”
“Took off his shoes and socks and went to lie down.”
“Was the door locked when you got here?” Carella asked.
“I have a key.”
“Then it was locked.”
“Did you knock?”
“I knocked, but there was no answer. So I let myself in.”
“And found your father in bed.”
“Were his shoes and socks where they are now?”
“On the floor there? Near the easy chair?”
“So you called the police,” Meyer said for the third time.
“Yes,” Cynthia said, and looked at him.
“Did you suspect foul play of any sort?” Carella asked.
“No. Of course not.”
“But you called the police,” Meyer said.
“Why is that important?” she snapped, suddenly tipping to what was going on here, Good Cop becoming Bad Cop in the wink of an eye.
“He’s merely asking,” Carella said.
“No, he’s not merely asking, he seems to think it’s important. He keeps asking me over and over again did I call the police, did I call the police, when you know I called the police, otherwise you wouldn’t be here!”
“We have to ask certain questions,” Carella said gently.
“But why that particular question?”
“Because some people wouldn’t necessarily call the police if they found someone dead from apparent natural causes.”
“Who would they call? Necessarily?”
“Relatives, friends, even a lawyer. Not necessarily the police, is all my partner’s saying,” Carella explained gently.
“Then why doesn’t he say it?” Cynthia snapped. “Instead of asking me all the time did I call the police?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Meyer said in his most abject voice. “I didn’t mean to suggest there was anything peculiar about your calling the police.”
“Well, your partner here seems to think it was peculiar,” Cynthia said, thoroughly confused now. “He seems to think I should have called my husband or my girlfriend or my priest or anybody but the police, what is it with you two?”
“We simply have to investigate every possibility,” Carella said, more convinced than ever that she was lying. “By all appearances, your father died in bed, possibly from a heart attack, possibly from some other cause, we won’t know that until the autopsy results are …”
“He was an old man who’d suffered two previous heart attacks,” Cynthia said. “What do you think he died of?”
“I don’t know, ma’am,” Carella said. “Do you?”
Cynthia looked him dead in the eye.
“My husband’s a lawyer, you know,” she said.
“Is your mother still alive?” Meyer asked, ducking the question and its implied threat.
“He’s on the way here now,” she said, not turning to look at Meyer, her gaze still fastened on Carella, as if willing him to melt before her very eyes. Green, he noticed. A person could easily melt under a green-eyed laser beam.
“Is she?” Meyer asked.
“She’s alive,” Cynthia said. “But they’re divorced.”
“Any other children besides you?”
She glared at Carella a moment longer, and then turned to Meyer, seemingly calmer now. “Just me,” she said.
“How long have they been divorced?” Meyer asked.
“What was his current situation?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your father. Was he living with anyone?”
“I have no idea.”
“His private life was his own business.”
“How often did you see your father, Mrs. Keating?”
“Around once a month.”
“Had he been complaining about his heart lately?” Carella asked.
“Not to me, no. But you know how old men are. They don’t take care of themselves.”
“Was he complaining about his heart to anyone at all?” Meyer asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Then what makes you think he died of a heart attack?” Carella asked.
Cynthia looked first at him, and then at Meyer, and then at Carella again.
“I don’t think I like either one of you,” she said and walked out into the kitchen to stand alone by the window.
One of the technicians had been hovering. He caught Carella’s eye now. Carella nodded and went over to him.
“Blue cashmere belt,” the technician said. “Blue cashmere fibers over the door hook there. What do you think?”
“Where’s the belt?”
“Near the chair there,” he said, and indicated the easy chair near the room’s single dresser. A blue bathrobe was draped over the back of the chair. The belt to the robe was on the floor, alongside the dead man’s shoes and socks.
“And the hook?”
“Back of the bathroom door.”
Carella glanced across the room. The bathroom door was open. A chrome hook was screwed into the door, close to the top.
“The robe has loops for the belt,” the technician said. “Seems funny it’s loose on the floor.”
“They fall off all the time,” Carella said.
“Sure, I know. But it ain’t every day we get a guy dead in bed who looks like maybe he was hanged.”
“How strong is that hook?”
“It doesn’t have to be,” the technician said. “All a hanging does is interrupt the flow of blood to the brain. That can be done by the weight of the head alone. We’re talking an average of ten pounds. A picture hook can support that.”
“You should take the detective’s exam,” Carella suggested, smiling.
“Thanks, but I’m already Second Grade,” the technician said. “Point is, the belt coulda been knotted around the old man’s neck and then thrown over the hook to hang him. That’s if the fibers match.”
“And provided he didn’t customarily hang his robe over that hook.”
“You looking for a hundred excuses to prove he died of natural causes? Or you looking for one that says it could’ve been homicide?”
“Who said anything about homicide?”
“Gee, excuse me, I thought that’s what you were looking for, Detective.”
“How about a suicide made to look like natural causes?”
“That’d be a good one,” the technician agreed.
“When will you have the test results?”
“Late this afternoon sometime?”
“I’ll call you.”
“My card,” the technician said.
“Detective?” a man’s voice said.
Carella turned toward the kitchen doorway where a burly man in a dark gray coat with a black velvet collar was standing. The shoulders of the coat were damp with rain, and his face was raw and red from the cold outside. He wore a little mustache under his nose, and he had puffy cheeks, and very dark brown eyes.
“I’m Robert Keating,” he said, walking toward Carella, but not extending his hand in greeting. His wife stood just behind him. They had obviously talked since he’d come into the apartment. There was an anticipatory look on her face, as if she expected her husband to punch one of the detectives. Carella certainly hoped he wouldn’t.
“I understand you’ve been hassling my wife,” Keating said.
“I wasn’t aware of that, sir,” Carella said.
“I’m here to tell you that better not be the case.”
Carella was thinking it better not be the case that your wife came in here and found her father hanging from the bathroom door and took him down and carried him to the bed. That had better not be the case here.
“I’m sorry if there was any misunderstanding, sir,” he said.
“There had better not be any misunderstanding,” Keating said.
“Just so there won’t be,” Carella said, “let me make our intentions clear. If your father-in-law died of a heart attack, you can bury him in the morning, and you’ll never see us again as long as you live. But if he died for some other reason, then we’ll be trying to find out why, and you’re liable to see us around for quite a while. Okay, sir?”
“This is a crime scene, sir,” the technician said. “Want to clear the premises, please?”
“What?” Keating said.
At four-thirty that afternoon, Carella called the lab downtown and asked to talk to Detective/Second Grade Anthony Moreno. Moreno got on the phone and told him the fibers they’d lifted from the hook on the bathroom door positively matched sample fibers from the robe’s blue cashmere belt.
Not ten minutes later, Carl Blaney called Carella to tell him that the autopsy findings in the death of Andrew Henry Hale were consistent with postmortem appearances in asphyxial deaths.
Carella wondered if Cynthia Keating’s husband would accompany her to the squadroom when they asked her to come in.
Robert Keating turned out to be a corporate lawyer who was wise enough to recognize that the police wouldn’t be dragging his wife in unless they had reason to believe a crime had been committed. He’d called a friend of his who practiced criminal law, and the man was here now, demanding to know what his client was doing in a police station, even though he’d already been informed that Mrs. Keating had been invited here, and had arrived of her own volition, escorted only by her husband.
Todd Alexander was a stout little blond man wearing a navy blue sports jacket over a checkered vest and gray flannel trousers. He looked as if he might be more at home attending a yachting meet than standing here in one of the city’s grubbier squadrooms, but his manner was that of a man who had dealt with countless bogus charges brought by hundreds of reckless police officers, and he seemed completely unruffled by the present venue or the circumstances that necessitated his being here.
“So tell me what this is all about,” he demanded. “In twenty-five words or less.”
Carella didn’t even blink.
“We have a necropsy report indicating that Andrew Hale died of asphyxia,” he said. “Is that twenty-five words or less?”
“Twelve,” Meyer said. “But who’s counting?”
“Evidence would seem to indicate that the belt from Mr. Hale’s cashmere robe was knotted and looped around his neck,” Carella said, “and then dropped over the hook on the bathroom door in order to effect hanging, either suicidal or homicidal.”
“What’s that got to do with my client?”
“Your client seems to think her father died in bed.”
“Is that what you told them?”
“I told them I found him in bed.”
“Yes,” Cynthia said.
“Has Mrs. Keating been informed of her rights?” Alexander asked.
“We haven’t asked her any questions yet,” Carella said.
“She just told me …”
“That was at the scene.”
“You haven’t talked to her since she arrived here?”
“She got here literally three minutes before you did.”
“Has she been charged with anything?”
“Why is she here?”
“We want to ask her some questions.”
“Then read her her rights.”
“Don’t sound so surprised, Detective. She’s in custody, you’re throwing around words like homicide, I want her to hear her rights. Then we’ll decide whether she wants to answer any questions.”
“Sure,” Carella said again, and began the recitation he knew by heart. “In keeping with the Supreme Court decision in the case of Miranda versus Escobedo,” he intoned, and advised her that she had the right to remain silent, asking her every step along the way if she understood what he was saying, told her she had the right to consult a lawyer, which she already had done, told her they would obtain a lawyer for her if she didn’t have one, which no longer applied, told her that if she decided to answer questions with or without her lawyer present, she could call off the questioning at any time, do you understand, and finally asked if she wished to answer questions at this time, to which she responded, “I have nothing to hide.”
“Does that mean yes?” Carella asked.
“Yes. I’ll answer any questions you have.”
“Where’s that autopsy report?” Alexander asked.
“Right there on my desk.”
Alexander picked it up, looked at it briefly …
“Who signed it?” he asked.
… seemed abruptly bored by it, and tossed it back onto the desk again.
“Did you also speak to Blaney in person?” he asked.
“Yes, I did.”
“Did he have anything to add to his findings?”
“Only that because the ligature around the neck was soft and wide, there was only a faint impression of the loop on the skin. But the knot caused a typical abrasion under the chin.”
“All right, ask your questions,” Alexander said. “We haven’t got all day here.”
“Mrs. Keating,” Carella said, “what time did you get to your father’s apartment this morning?”
“A little after ten.”
“Did you call the Emergency Service number at ten-oh-seven A.M.?”
“I don’t know the exact time.”
“Would this refresh your memory?” Carella asked, and started to hand her a computer printout.
“May I see that, please?” Alexander said, and took it from Carella’s hand. Again, he looked at the document only perfunctorily, handed it to Cynthia, and asked, “Did you make this call?”
“Well, may I see it?” she said.
He handed her the printout. She read it silently and said, “Yes, I did.”
“Is the time correct?” Carella asked.
“Well, that’s the time listed here, so I guess that’s the time it was.”
“Did you tell the operator that you’d just come into your father’s apartment and found him dead in bed?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Did you ask her to send someone right away?”
“Here’s the call sheet from Adam Two,” Carella said. “Their time of arrival …”
“Adam Two?” Alexander asked.
“From the precinct here. One of the cars patrolling Adam Sector from eight A.M. to four P.M. today. Mr. Hale’s apartment is in Adam Sector. They list their time of arrival as ten-fifteen A.M. And this is my own Detective Division report, which lists the time of our arrival as ten-thirty-one. My partner and I. Detective Meyer and myself.”
“All of which is intended to prove what, Detective?”
“Nothing at all, sir, except the sequence of events.”
“Remarkable,” Alexander said. “Not twenty-four minutes after Mrs. Keating called 911, there were no fewer than four policemen at the scene! Wonderful! But before you ask any more questions, may I ask where all this is going?”
“I want Mrs. Keating to tell me what she did before she called 911.”
“She’s already told you. She came into the apartment, found her father dead in his own bed, and immediately called the police. That’s what she did, Detective.”
“I don’t think so.”
“What do you think she did?”
“I don’t know. But I do know she was in that apartment for almost forty minutes before she called the emergency number.”
“I see. And how do you know that?”
“The super told me he saw her going in at nine-thirty.”
“Is that true, Cynthia?”
“No, it’s not.”
“In which case, I’d like to suggest that we call off the questioning and go about our more productive endeavors. Detective Carella, Detective Meyer, it’s been a distinct …”
“He’s down the hall,” Carella said. “In the lieutenant’s office. Shall I ask him to come in?”
“Who is down the hall?”
“The super. Mr. Zabriski. He remembers it was nine-thirty because that’s when he puts out the garbage cans each morning. The truck comes by at nine-forty-five.”
The room was silent for a moment.
“Assuming you do have this super …” Alexander said.
“Oh, I have him, all right.”
“And assuming he did see Mrs. Keating entering the building at nine-thirty …”
“That’s what he told me.”
“What exactly do you think happened in that apartment between then and ten-oh-seven, when she called the emergency number?”
“Well,” Carella said, “assuming she herself didn’t hang her father from that bathroom hook—”
“Goodbye, Mr. Carella,” Alexander said, and rose abruptly. “Cynthia,” he said, “leave us hie yonder. Bob,” he said to her husband, “it’s a good thing you called me. Mr. Carella here is fishing for a murder charge.”
“Try Obstruction,” Carella said.
“Or Tampering with Evidence.”
“Or both. You want to know what I think happened, Mr. Alexander? I think Mrs. Keating found her father hanging from that hook …”
“Let’s go, Cynthia.”
“… and took him down and carried him to the bed. I think she removed …”
“Time’s up,” Alexander said cheerfully. “Goodbye, Detec …”
“… the belt from his neck, took off his shoes and socks, and pulled a blanket up over him. Then she called the police.”
“For what purpose?” Alexander asked.
“Ask her, why don’t you? All I know is that Obstructing Governmental Administration is a violation of Section 195.05 of the Penal Law. And Tampering with Evidence is a violation of Section 215.40. Obstructing is a mere A-Mis, but …”
“You have no evidence of either crime!” Alexander said.
“I know that body was moved!” Carella said. “And that’s Tampering! And for that one, she can get four years in jail!”
Cynthia Keating suddenly burst into tears.
The way she tells it …
“Cynthia, I think I should advise you,” her attorney keeps interrupting over and over again, but tell it she will, the way all of them—sooner or later—will tell it if they will.
“The way it happened,” she says, and now there are three detectives listening to her, Carella and Meyer who caught the squeal, joined by Lieutenant Byrnes, because all of a sudden this is interesting enough to drag him out of his corner office and into the interrogation room. Byrnes is wearing a brown suit, a wheat-colored button-down shirt, a darker brown tie with a neat Windsor knot. Even dressed as he is, he gives the impression of a flinty Irishman who’s just come in off the bogs where he’s been gathering peat. Maybe it’s the haircut. His gray hair looks windblown, even though there isn’t a breeze stirring in this windowless room. His eyes are a dangerous blue; he doesn’t like anyone messing with the law, male or female.
“I stopped by to see him,” Cynthia says, “because he really hadn’t been feeling too good these days, and I was worried about him. I’d spoken to him the night before …”
“What time was that?” Carella asks.
“Around nine o’clock.”
All three detectives are thinking he was still alive at nine last night. Whatever happened to him, it happened sometime after nine P.M.
Her father’s apartment is a forty-minute subway ride from where she lives across the river in Calm’s Point. Her husband usually leaves for work at seven-thirty. Their habit is to have breakfast together in their apartment overlooking the river. After he’s gone, she gets ready for her own day. They have no children, but neither does she work, perhaps because she never really trained for anything, and at thirty-seven there’s nothing productive she can really do. Besides—
She has never mentioned this to a soul before but she tells it now in the cramped confines of the interrogation room, three detectives sitting attentively stone-faced on one side of the table, her husband and her attorney sitting equally detached on the other. She doesn’t know why she admits this to these men now, here in this confessional chamber, at this moment in time, but she tells them without hesitation that she never thought of herself as being particularly bright, just an average girl (she uses the word “girl”) in every way, not too pretty, not too smart, just, well … Cynthia. And shrugs.
Cynthia is not one of the Ladies Who Lunch, but she nonetheless busies herself mindlessly throughout the day, shopping, going to galleries or museums, sometimes catching an afternoon movie, generally killing the time between seven-thirty A.M. when her husband leaves for work and seven-thirty at night, when he gets home. “He’s in corporate law,” she says, as if this completely explains his twelve-hour day. She is grateful, in fact, for the opportunity to visit her father. It gives her something to do.
She does not, in all truth, enjoy her father’s company very much. She confesses this, too, to the pickup jury of five men who sit noncommittally around the long table scarred with the cigarette burns of too many long interrogations over too many long years. It is almost as if she has been wishing to confess forever. She has not yet said a word about Tampering or Obstructing, but she seems willing to confess to everything else she has ever done or felt. It suddenly occurs to Carella that she is a woman who has nobody to talk to. For the first time in her life, Cynthia Keating has an audience. And the audience is giving her its undivided attention.
“He’s a bore,” she tells them. “My father. He was a bore when he was young, and now that he’s old, he’s an even bigger bore. Well, he used to be a nurse, is that an occupation for a man? Now that he’s retired, all he can talk about is this or that patient he remembers when he worked at ‘The Hospital.’ I don’t think he even remembers which hospital it was. It’s just ‘The Hospital.’ This or that happened at ‘The Hospital.’ It’s all he ever talks about.”
The detectives notice that she is still referring to her father in the present tense, but this is not uncommon, and does not register as anything significant. They are patiently waiting for her to get to Tampering and Obstruction. That is why they are here. They want to know what happened in that apartment between nine o’clock last night and ten-oh-seven this morning, when she dialed 911.
She has dressed for today’s weather in a green tweed skirt and turtleneck sweater she bought at the Gap. Low-heeled walking shoes and pantyhose to match the skirt. She likes walking. The forecasters have promised rain for later today …
It is, in fact, still raining as she continues her recitation, but none of the people in the windowless room know or care about what’s happening outside …
… and so she is carrying a folding umbrella in a tote bag slung over her shoulder. The subway station isn’t far from her apartment. She boards the train at about twenty to nine, and is across the river and in the city forty minutes later. It is only a short walk to her father’s building. She enters it at about nine-thirty. She remembers seeing the super putting out his garbage cans. Her father lives on the third floor. It is not an elevator building, he can’t afford that sort of luxury. His wonderful days at “The Hospital” left him precious little when he retired. As she climbs the stairs, the cooking smells in the hallway make her feel a bit nauseous. She pauses for breath on the third-floor landing, and then walks to apartment 3A and knocks. There is no answer. She looks at her watch. Nine thirty-five. She knocks again.
The things he does often cause her to become impatient at best or exasperated at worst. He knows she is coming here this morning, she told him last night that she’d be here. Is it possible he forgot? Has he gone out somewhere for breakfast? Or is he simply in the shower? She has a key to the apartment, which he gave to her after the last heart attack, when he became truly frightened he might die alone and lie moldering for days before anyone discovered his corpse. She rarely uses the key, hardly knows what it looks like, but she fishes in her bag among the other detritus there, and at last finds it in a small black leather purse that also contains the key to his safe deposit box, further insurance against a surprise heart attack.
She slips the key into the keyway, turns it. In the silence of the morning hallway—most people off to work already, except the woman somewhere down the hall cooking something revoltingly vile-smelling—Cynthia hears the small oiled click of the tumblers falling. She turns the knob, and pushes the door open. Retrieving her key, she puts it back into the black leather purse, enters the apartment …
… and closes the door behind her.
“Dad?” she calls again.
There is not a sound in the apartment.
The quiet is an odd one. It is not the expectant stillness of an apartment temporarily vacant but awaiting imminent return. It is, instead, an almost reverential hush, a solemn silence attesting to permanency. There is something so complete to the stillness here, something so absolute that it is at once frightening and somehow exciting. Something dread lies in wait here. Something terrifying is in these rooms. The silence signals dire expectation and sends a prickling shiver of anticipation over her skin. She almost turns and leaves. She is on the edge of leaving.
“I wish I had,” she says now.
Her father is hanging on the inside of the bathroom door. The door is opened into the bedroom, and his hanging figure is the first thing she sees when she enters the room. She does not scream. Instead, she backs away and collides with the wall, and then turns and starts to leave again, actually steps out of the bedroom and into the corridor beyond, but the mute figure hanging there calls her back, and she steps into the bedroom again, and moves across the room toward the figure hanging on the inside of the bathroom door, a step at a time, stopping before each step to catch her breath and recapture her courage, looking up at the man hanging there and then looking down again to take another step, watching her inching feet, moving closer and closer to the door and the grotesque figure hanging there.
There is something blue wrapped around his neck. His head is tilted to one side, as if it had dropped that way when he fell asleep. The hook is close to the top of the door, and the blue—scarf, is it? a tie?—is looped over the hook so that her father’s toes are an inch or so off the floor. She notices that he is barefoot and that his feet are blue, a blue darker and more purplish than the fabric knotted around his throat. His hands are blue as well, the same dark purplish-blue that resembles an angry bruise all over the palms and the fingers and the backs of the hands, open as if in supplication. He is wearing a white shirt and gray flannel trousers. His tongue is protruding from his mouth. It appears almost black.
She steps up close to his body hanging there.
She looks up into his face.
“Dad?” she says, disbelievingly, expecting him to stick his tongue out farther, perhaps make a razzing sound, break into a grin, she doesn’t know what, something, anything that will tell her he’s playing a game, the way he used to play games with her when she was a little girl, before he got old … and boring … and dead. Dead, yes. He does not move. He is dead. He is really and truly dead and he will never grin at her again. She stares into his wide-open eyes, as green as her own, but flecked with pinpricks of blood, her own eyes squinched almost shut, her face contorted not in pain, she feels no pain, she doesn’t even feel any sense of loss or abandonment, she has not known this man for too long a time now. She feels only horror and shock, and anger, yes, inexplicable anger, sudden and fierce, why did he do this, why didn’t he call somebody, what the fuck is the matter with him?
“I never use such language,” she tells the five men listening to her, and the room goes silent again.
The police, she thinks. I have to call the police. A man has hanged himself, my father has hanged himself, I have to notify the police. She looks around the room. The phone. Where’s the phone? He should have a phone by the bed, he has a heart problem, a phone should always be within—
She spots the phone, not alongside the bed but across the room on the dresser, would it have cost him a fortune to install another jack? Her mind is whirling with things she will have to do now, unexpected tasks to perform. She will have to call her husband first, “Bob, honey, my father’s dead,” they will have to make funeral arrangements, buy a casket, notify all his friends, who the hell are his friends? Her mother, too, she’ll have to call her, divorced five years, she’ll say, “Good, I’m glad!” But first the police, she is sure the police have to be notified in a suicide, she has read someplace or seen someplace that you have to call the police when you find your father hanging from a hook with his tongue sticking out. She is suddenly laughing hysterically. She covers her mouth with her hand, and looks over it like a child, and listens wide-eyed, fearful that someone will come in and find her with a dead man.
She waits several moments, her heart beating wildly in her chest, and then she walks to the telephone and is about to dial 911 when something occurs to her. Something just pops into her mind unbidden. She remembers the key to the safe deposit box in the little black leather purse, and she remembers her father telling her that among other things like his silver high school track medal there is an insurance policy in that box. It isn’t much, her father told her, but you and Bob are the beneficiaries, so don’t forget it’s there. She also remembers hearing somewhere, or reading somewhere, or seeing somewhere on television or in the movies—there is so much information out there today—but anyway learning somewhere that if somebody kills himself the insurance company won’t pay on his life-insurance policy.
She doesn’t know if this is true or not, but suppose it is? Neither does she know how much he’s insured himself for, it probably isn’t a great deal, he never did have any real money to speak of. But say the policy’s for a hundred thousand dollars, or even fifty or twenty or ten, who cares? Should the insurance company get to keep all those premiums he’s paid over the years simply because something was troubling him so much—what the hell was troubling you, Dad?—that he had to hang himself? She does not think that is fair. She definitely does not think that is fair.
On the other hand …
Just suppose …
Just suppose he died in his sleep of a heart attack or something? Just suppose whoever it is who has to write a death certificate finds him dead in bed of natural causes? Then there’d be no problem with the insurance company, and she and Bob would be able to collect on however much the policy is for. She thinks about this for a moment. She is amazingly calm. She has grown used to the silence of the apartment, her father hanging there still and lifeless. She looks at her watch. It is a quarter to ten. Has she been in the apartment for only ten minutes or so? Has it been that short a time? It seems an eternity.
She is thinking she will have to take him down and carry him to the bed.
She moves up close to the body again. Looks into his dead green eyes, studies the pores on his face, the pinprick points of blood, the ugly protruding tongue, summoning the courage she needs to touch him, thinking if she can stand this close to death without vomiting or soiling herself, then surely she will be able to touch him, move him.
The fabric around his neck looks like the belt from a robe. She sees that her father knotted the ends so that it formed a loop and then slipped the loop over his head and around his neck. He must have used a stool or something to climb onto when he put the loop over the hook, and then he must have kicked the stool away in order to suspend himself. But where’s the stool? Or did he use something else? She can’t worry about that just now. However he did it, he did it, and unless she can take him down and carry him to the bed, she and her husband will lose out on the insurance, it’s as simple as that.
She does not in these next few moments even once consider the fact that she is doing something that will later enable her to commit insurance fraud, she does not for an instant believe she is breaking the law. She is merely correcting an oversight, her father’s stupidity in not realizing that committing suicide might negate the terms of the insurance policy, if what she heard is true. She’s sure it must be true, otherwise how could she have heard about it?
Well, she thinks, let’s do it.
The first touch of him—his face against hers as she hunches one shoulder under his arm and with her free hand hoists the belt off the hook—is cold and repulsive. She feels her flesh puckering, and almost drops him in that instant, but clings tight in a macabre dance, half-dragging, half-carrying him to the bed where she plunks him down at once, his back and buttocks on the bed, his legs and feet trailing. She backs away in revulsion. She is breathing hard. He was heavier than she expected he would be. The belt is still looped around his neck like a wide blue necklace that matches his grotesque blue hands and feet. She puts one hand behind his head, feels again the clammy coldness of his flesh, lifts the head, and pulls the belt free. She unfastens the knot, and then carries the belt to the easy chair across the room, over which the matching blue robe is draped. She debates pulling the belt through the loops on the robe, starts to do that, her hands trembling now, loses patience with the task, and simply drops it on the floor, alongside his shoes and socks.
She looks at her watch again.
It is almost ten o’clock.
Somewhere a church bell begins tolling the hour.
The sound brings back a poignant memory she can’t quite recall. A Sunday sometime long ago? A picnic preparation? A little girl in a flowered sunsuit? She stands listening to the tolling of the bell. The sound almost causes her to weep. She continues standing stock still in the silent apartment, the church bell tolling in the distance. And at last the bell stops. She sighs heavily, and goes back to the bed again.
Her father is lying crosswise on it, just the way she dropped him, on his back, his legs bent at the knees and trailing to the floor. She goes to him and lifts the legs, turning the body so that he is lying properly now, his head on the pillow, his feet almost touching the footboard. She frees the blanket from beneath him, draws it down to the foot of the bed. She knows it will appear odd that he is in bed with his clothes on, knows a safer pretense would be to disrobe him before pulling the blanket up over his chest. But she has never seen her father naked in her lifetime, and the prospect of undressing him, the horrible thought of seeing his naked body cold and blue and shriveled and dead is so chilling that she takes an involuntary step backward, shaking her head, as if refusing even to consider such an act. The horror, she thinks. The horror. And pulls the blanket up over him, to just beneath his chin, hiding all but his face from view.
She goes to the phone then, and dials 911, and calmly tells the operator that she’s just found her father dead in bed and asks her to please send someone.
“The girl was in shock,” Alexander said. “She didn’t know what she was doing.”
“She just told us she was planning insurance fraud,” Carella said.
“No, she didn’t say that at all. She doesn’t even know what the policy says. Is there really a suicide exclusion clause in that policy? Who knows? All she knows is that there’s a policy in her father’s safe deposit box. What kind of policy, in what amount, she doesn’t know. So how can you say she was planning insurance fraud?”
“Well, gee, Counselor,” Carella said, “when someone tries to make a suicide look like a natural death …”
“She didn’t want the world to believe her father killed himself,” Alexander said.
“Bullshit,” Lieutenant Byrnes said.
One of the female officers had taken Cynthia Keating down the hall to the ladies’ room. The three detectives were still sitting at the long table in the interrogation room. Alexander was standing now, facing them, pleading his case as if he were facing a jury. The detectives looked as if they might be playing poker, which perhaps they were. Carella had taken the lead here, questioning the Keating woman, eliciting from her what amounted to a confession to at least two crimes, and perhaps a third: Attempted Insurance Fraud. He looked a bit weary after almost twelve hours on the job. Meyer sat beside him like a man holding a royal flush in spades, wearing on his face a look of supreme confidence. The lady had told them all they needed to know. Alexander could do his little dance from here to Honduras, but he couldn’t tap his way out of this one. Sitting with cards like these, Meyer knew the lieutenant would tell them to book her on all three counts.
“You really want to send that girl to jail?” Alexander asked.
Which was a good question.
She may have been contemplating insurance fraud while committing certain criminal acts in order to establish a later claim, but until she actually submitted the claim, she hadn’t actually committed the fraud, had she? So was what she’d done really too terribly harmful to society? Did they really want to send her to prison with ladies who had cut up their babies and dropped them down the sewer? Did they really want to send a nice Calm’s Point housewife to a place where she’d be forced to perform sexual acts upon hardened female criminals who’d murdered liquor store owners or garage attendants? Was that what they really wanted?
It was a good question.
Until Carl Blaney called at eight-thirty that night to say he was just heading home after having completed the full autopsy on Andrew Henry Hale. He thought Carella might like to hear the results.
“I was running a routine toxicological analysis on his hair,” Blaney said. “Washed, desiccated, and extracted hair samples with organic solvents. Injected the extracts into the spectrometer, and compared the results against known library samples.”
“What’d you find?”
“Marijuana. Did you find any in the apartment?”
“But that’s not all the hair revealed.”
“Row-fin-all?” Carella asked.
“R-O-H-Y-P-N-O-L,” Blaney said. “The brand name for a drug called flunitrazepam.”
“I never heard of it.”
“We don’t see much of it in this city. No emergency-room episodes, no deaths resulting from its use. It’s a benzodiazepine, pretty popular in the South and Southwest. Young people use it in combination with alcohol and other drugs.”
“I thought you said this was asphyxia.”
“It was. Bear with me. The hair results sent me back for another look at his blood. This time I was focusing on flunitrazepam and its 7-amino metabolites. I found only moderate levels of the parent drug—concentrations not significant enough to have contributed to the fatality. But enough to conclude that he’d definitely ingested at least two milligrams.”
“Indicating he couldn’t possibly have hanged himself. He’d have been unconscious. You’re looking at a homicide here.”
And so it began.
The Last Dance
In this city, you can get anything done for a price. If you want someone's eyeglasses smashed, it’ll cost you a subway token. You want his fingernails pulled out? His legs broken? You want him more seriously injured? You want him hurt so he’s an invalid his whole life? You want him skinned, you want him burned, you want him—don’t even mention it in a whisper—killed? It can be done. Let me talk to someone. It can be done.
The hanging death of a nondescript old man in a shabby little apartment in a meager section of the 87th Precinct was nothing much in this city, especially to detectives Carella and Meyer. But everyone has a story, and this old man’s story stood to make some people a lot of money. His story takes Carella, Meyer, Brown, and Weeks on a search through Isola’s seedy strip clubs and to the bright lights of the theater district. There they discover an upcoming musical with ties to a mysterious drug and a killer who stays until the last dance.
The Last Dance is Ed McBain's fiftieth novel of the 87th Precinct and certainly one of his best. The series began in 1956 with Cop Hater and proves him to be the man who has been called “so good he should be arrested.”