Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories From Mystery Writers of America, page 15
(Switch to ELSIE.)
ELSIE: You know what it’s like? It’s like one of those old Broadway thrillers! Gaslight. Dial M. for Murder. Mousetrap. That whole genre, which Levin was totally paying tribute to with Deathtrap. Someone gets killed, the audience gets clues along the way, but the solution is always more complicated than it seems. And there’s always a policeman of some sort. Usually a dull, plodding sort of person. No offense.
WONG: That’s okay.
(Switch to LEWIS.)
LEWIS: Hey, can I make a little suggestion, here, Detective Wong? You want to know who killed the guy, maybe start with the person who literally said the words, “I could kill that guy.”
WONG: And who was that?
(Switch to MARCUS, who looks up from his crying and takes a long pause before speaking.)
MARCUS: Yes. Technically, yes. Yes, technically, I said that. But not like that. I didn’t say it like, “I am going to kill him.” I said it like, “I could kill him!” As in, like, “You’re exasperating me!” Haven’t you ever said you wanted to kill somebody!
MARCUS: But surely people have said it about you.
WONG: Excuse me?
MARCUS: Nothing. Forget it! I did not kill Mr. Klein. I didn’t—I couldn’t!
WONG: Because …?
MARCUS: Because … because …
MARCUS: (leaping from his chair) Because I loved him. And he loved me, too. He couldn’t say it, Detective, but he did. It was clear every time I looked into his eyes. He would say, “Good morning, Marcus,” but what his heart was saying was, “I love you, I love you, I love you!”
MARCUS: Interesting? I lay bare my soul and all you can say is “interesting”? Are you not human, Detective? Have you no soul? This man and I shared a hidden passion, smoldering in our breasts like the living coals of a fire, and all you can say is “interesting”?
WONG: Very interesting.
MARCUS: Oh, for God’s sake.
WONG: Will you sit down, please? (MARCUS complies, slowly, while WONG checks her notes.) I had understood that Mr. Klein was married.
MARCUS: Yes. Right. “Married.” To a “woman.” His “wife” is a “makeup artist” and she “travels frequently.”
WONG: May I take your quote marks as indicative of skepticism?
MARCUS: He was in the closet, is what I’m saying. He was way back in the back of the closet, with the winter hats. Which was totally infuriating. Hello? The twenty-first century has arrived, Mr. Klein! You work in show business, Mr. Klein! And not television, either. In the theater. It’s New York! It’s Chelsea! Go ahead and be gay!
WONG: So, the fact is, then, that you confessed your love to him, and he turned you down.
MARCUS: I guess so. I guess if all you care about is “facts,” then yes.
WONG: Excuse me. (WONG takes out her phone and listens for a moment.) Well. Well. Okay, then.
MARCUS: What? What was that?
(During the following, the various pools of light melt away into a general wash, and we find the cast members, in their various positions, around the room. WONG turns her attention back to where it started, to PATRICK, while the others watch.)
WONG: Well, we found him.
PATRICK: Peter? (visible relief) Thank God.
WONG: And … he doesn’t know anything about any missing phone.
WONG: Peter told my officer that your cell phone was definitely in your possession yesterday evening. He says that you were sending and receiving texts all night.
PATRICK. What? But that’s—that’s impossible.
MARCUS: Oh, my God! Patrick killed Klein! Again.
PATRICK: But—but I didn’t. I didn’t kill him. I’ve never killed anyone. My phone—my phone was stolen—
WONG: So you’ve said.
ELSIE: I am going to write such a great play about this.
LEWIS: So, the mystery is solved? We can leave now?
WONG: Not quite.
ELSIE. It’s old-fashioned, sure, but producers will love it. Small cast. Virtually no set …
(PATRICK leaps for the props table, grabs a battle-axe.)
PATRICK: No one is going anywhere!
ELSIE: … shocking denouement.
WONG: (unruffled) I thought those were all props.
PATRICK: Not all of them. My research revealed that constructing a fake battle-axe would cost as much as buying a real battle-axe. I also got real police handcuffs from an online auction site, rather than paying through the nose for fakes. (He swings the axe menacingly at WONG.) I’m a great stage manager.
WONG: (drawing her service weapon) Put that down, please. I’ve called my officers, and they will be here any minute.
PATRICK: But I didn’t kill him! Why would I? He was my ticket!
WONG: He was your what?
LEWIS: Yeah. What does that mean?
PATRICK: It means I’ve been stealing from him, you dummy.
PATRICK: Why would I kill him when I’ve been robbing him blind for years?
ELSIE: (taking notes) Oh, this is fantastic.
MARCUS: Stealing! Oh, my God! Patrick is a thief! An embezzler! Hm. Actually, I guess that’s not as bad as a murderer.
WONG: You’d best explain yourself, Mr. Wolfish.
PATRICK: What’s to explain? I’ve been submitting phony receipts. Raiding the petty cash. For years. Years! Klein is a dope who doesn’t pay attention, and that’s been my livelihood for a decade and a half! Why do you think I wanted him to do a show that might draw a paying audience! Peter and I just bought a house in Hudson, for God’s sake. If Klein is dead, how will I pay the mortgage?
(A booming, merry voice sounds from offstage.)
KLEIN: Yes! How?
(The door of the studio swings open. Enter OTTO KLEIN, beaming, drinking a Dr. Pepper.)
KLEIN: How, indeed?!
LEWIS: Well, I’ll be damned.
ELSIE: Another twist!
(MARCUS runs to KLEIN and hugs him fervently.)
MARCUS: You’re not dead! You’re not dead! This is so amazing. He’s not dead, everybody!
KLEIN: No, I’m not, kid. Though I got one hell of a crick in my neck. (To WONG.) Listen, next time I die, remind me to do it in a hammock.
WONG: You got it.
PATRICK: But—but—I don’t understand—
KLEIN: Of course, ya don’t. But I been wise to you a long time, Patrick. I just needed to hear you say it! And more important, I needed to get it all recorded on my phone. (He holds up his iPhone and grins.) You’ll be offering your next round of explanations to a judge.
PATRICK: And—but—(He wheels toward WONG.) Don’t cops have better things to do than aid in this sort of—of—playacting?
WONG: I wouldn’t know. I’m not a cop. I’m—
ELSIE: Wait! Ooh! Wait! Let me guess it! You’re his wife!
(WONG and KLEIN embrace.)
ELSIE: I love it!
MARCUS: Well, color me corrected. Not gay at all! Straight and married to a fake policeman! God, I love this cit—ahh!
He screams as PATRICK charges past, tossing aside the battle-axe and leaping at KLEIN in a fury. KLEIN and WONG move to defend themselves, but LEWIS smoothly intercepts PATRICK, drops him with a hard left to the chin, grabs the handcuffs from the table, throws them on PATRICK, and sits on him. Everybody applauds.
KLEIN: Well done, Lewis. Well done and thank you.
WONG: (getting off her phone) The real police will be here momentarily.
KLEIN: Good. Very good! Boy, this all worked perfectly.
PATRICK: This isn’t fair. This isn’t fair, goddamn it! I was trapped. Trapped!
ELSIE: (to LEWIS) So, wait. Are you an undercover cop or something?
LEWIS: No. Are you kidding? God, no. That’s all from the play Har
(The curtain falls as he keeps talking.)
Dedicated to Erik Jackson, man of the theater
BEN H. WINTERS is the author, most recently, of the Last Policeman trilogy, which won both the Edgar Award and the Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished science fiction. He is also the author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, a New York Times best-selling satire, and The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, an Edgar-nominated middle-grade novel. Before doing any of these those things, he was for many years a lyricist and librettist. He lives in Indianapolis and at BenHWinters.com.
WALL STREET RODEO
“Mr. Emil Bauer, I’d hoped to see you here. Especially today.”
I had rubbed against a hunchback this noon. Accidentally, of course. I’d never be so crass as to touch the poor fellow on purpose. Besides, everyone knows the luck comes from an accidental touch. Thus, you understand my excitement. Then I positively tripped over little James here, who dropped his five-dollar bill right in my path! Don’t tell ME that’s not luck! So, I hustled him and his cash right here. To Emil’s spot. “Please meet my friend, newly minted, you might say, heh, in this neighborhood.” I flourished my hand toward the child. “Mr. James Conner.”
Emil glanced fuzzily at the boy. “How old is it?”
The kid bowed slightly, tattered though he was. “Eight years, sir.”
“Ah. Vell brought up,” Emil muttered, sounding like a growly dog. He wriggled closer to the statue’s base, shredding the seat of his old pants on the rough cement. I don’t know which took me aback more, the kid bowing or Emil growling.
Emil rearranged some phlegm in his throat and said to me, “Mr. Slick Nick! You are vell?”
“Just Nick, please. As well as you see me, so kind.” I snapped out my words, showing teeth for a smile. Emil’s eyesight was too poor to catch my true expression. I despised that moniker, stuck on me by some low rabble I no longer acknowledge. Jealousy, that’s all it was. Breathing deeply to calm myself, I managed to soften my smile.
“Zo, Mr. James.” Old Emil squinted at the small boy, then dropped his gaze to the five spot in the boy’s outstretched palm. “Ah. Dis is for me?” He didn’t reach for it. His gnarled hands stayed folded atop the old cane he held upright between his knees. The dough had triggered a memory, and as his watery faded eyes began to blink, Emil forgot he had an audience. Money did that to him. A five spot or a penny, no difference, and his mind would drift back to long-ago better days.
I’d warned the boy he’d do that, but not to worry. I frowned. He didn’t look worried. Maybe he believed me, or maybe … “Kid … you sure you’re not a Murphy? Y’look like one.”
The boy shrugged but avoided my gaze. Sure sign of a lie. I studied him, my toe tapping the bricks. Hm. Some Murphy had assuredly given him that distinctive shade of red hair. His mother, possibly. Thousands of Murphys filled the tenements, like barnacles on a barge. Dear God. I’d better treat him decently. No amount of money was worth the risk of upsetting Murphys. I shivered.
I myself, though not Irish, heavens no, have spent some few unlucky nights outside, to which I credit my most admirable virtue: acceptance of all men, no matter their circumstances. Besides, Jamey, who swore he was not a Murphy, had money. And I did not. Which was why I troubled to make his acquaintance and drag him over to Wall Street.
“Is this story worth a fiver?” James asked me with what I had to admit was an admirable sneer for an eight-year-old. He’d obviously had dough chiseled out of him before. His palm was already drooping toward the safety of his jeans pocket.
I faked a scowl at him: “A cynic at your age? Tsk, tsk!”
“I don’t even know you!” He scowled back at me. Were I not so kindly natured, I’d say the boy actually snarled. I patted his cute round head, then wiped my hand on my trousers. Pests abound in our beloved New York, especially in spring.
I snagged his arm and peeled open the sweaty fingers, then pushed the hand back at Emil again. “It’s worth a fiver just to get him started,” I muttered to James. “Trust me.” I stroked my straggly goat’s beard and turned my moral back on the implications of a stranger telling a very small boy to “trust me.” I’d been a small boy once, too. A wry echo of my mother’s voice said in my head, “But never so sharp as this one.” Mothers. What do they know? Then I flinched, as if her ghost was hovering near with a rolling pin in hand.
We had to get old Emil to open up. Spare dough was rare these days, except among fat guys wearing diamond stickpins, who were more likely to swipe yours than share theirs. A gaggle of skinflints, to a man.
“Look here, Emil. This boy wants to hear the barmaid and the roller skate story. Don’t you, James?” The boy nodded somewhat doubtfully but then repeated, “… Roller skates?”
(Hooked!…) I touched my hankie to my eye to catch a falling tear over the gullibility of precious little tykes. Aw. Then I stuffed the rag out of sight. I’ve never understood the unfailing draw of roller skates. Baffling.
“You won’t regret this!” Pretending Emil had agreed, I hurried around to perch on the step next to the fellow. He liked to sit on the bottom steps of the Federal Building, dozing his old age away at the feet of the Father of Our Country. Well, not the father of mine, no indeed, but why quibble? George Washington, forever bronzed for the enjoyment of pigeons. In Emil’s position, he could lean his arthritic back against the sun-heated pedestal and keep a fond and comfortable eye on the Stock Exchange across the way.
“Emil used to work there.” I pointed at the exchange. “Before his, um, early retirement.”
James peered askance at the old man, whose mounds of threadbare tweed-draped corpulence seemed permanently bonded to the pediment holding up George. “Why’d you retire early, Emil?” His young voice seemed a bit rougher than it should for a tyke of his age. Interesting. Did he possibly smoke? No. I refused to believe it.
After a silence, Emil answered. “To experience the glory of a thirty-year vacation, dear James. Near a river. The air was healthier there.”
James and I glanced at each other at the same moment. I knew better, and James did not believe him.
As my mouth opened to beg James to let it go, he blurted, “Sing Sing?”
“How much did you steal?”
Emil shrugged. “I can’t remember. I’m old now.”
“Poor fellow.” I turned aside from Emil and mouthed to James: “Three hundred g’s.”
James’s eyes narrowed. He mouthed back at me, “For that, he got thirty years?”
I made a face. “Took it from the wrong fellow.”
James remained standing, but at eight, he was level with us, like a trio huddled round a burning oil drum in sleety weather. “So cozy!” I exclaimed. “All friends together, right, James? May I call you Jamey?” Emil swayed away from me as if the question was indelicate. Jamey gave me the fish-eye but nodded, willing to get along, probably due to the cash.
I leaned toward Jamey. “To be clear,” I whispered harshly, “if he remembers where he stashed his goods, I’ll be happy to reimburse your fiver. The rest is mine. Got that?”
His shoved his head toward me on his twiggy neck. “We’ll see,” he snapped.
I could’ve bitten him. But fortune smiled on Jamey, and Emil spoke up.
“Everybody vants to know about ze roller skater, poor lass,” mused Emil in his high, slightly hoarse voice. He smacked his dry lips and eyed me. He must’ve calculated the contents of my wallet by the holes in my coat, because he instantly sighed and looked away. “Ein bisschen bier vould be pleasant.”
I couldn’t deny it. My beard was d
Emil settled his haunches more comfortably on the step and then looped his hands around his knees. He let his cane drop onto the broad sidewalk in front of us. Jamey leaped to retrieve it, but I shook my head at him. “It’s Emil’s game,” I muttered behind my hand.
Jamey looked at me, puzzled for only a second. He moved to make more room to allow Emil’s game to proceed, if it should happen. Shrewd child.
I’d seen Emil’s game in action and figured it was yet another reason why he spent his days on these steps, leaning on President Washington. Bankers and brokers were not just of the toffee-nosed “how dare you!” breed, but also usually flush. If they perchance tripped or, even better, fell over Emil’s cane, to a man they would bash and kick the poor old guy in revenge for injuring their dignity—that most fragile of body parts. That is, until Bull stopped the show and made the victim empty his pockets to soothe Emil’s pain. Then Bull would shove the patsy to move along, and he and Emil would split the haul. Speaking of …
A vast shadow cast itself over us.
“Hey, Bull,” said Jamey.
“Ah, heh, you know each other, what a surprise!” I used my best party voice.
Jamey shot me a patronizing look. “Everybody knows Bull.”
He meant this Wall Street Bull, who I’m fairly certain is human. The other one weighs seven thousand pounds and doesn’t move, although he seems ready to: gouging and snorting, his bronze horns lowered threateningly. Tourists had fallen hard for the Wall Street “Charging” Bull. His creator, the artist Arturo Di Modica, had parked him right in front of the exchange one night last Christmas, like a present under the big tree. City Hall had demanded the “gift’s” removal. But tourists speak loudly with dollars. I heard the city refused to buy the Bull from Di Modica but, to keep the tourists happy, will soon shift him—the bull, not its creator—to Broadway in front of the small Bowling Green Park, but facing uptown. Both he and the copper we called Bull … well, certain resemblances, that’s all I’ll say in mixed company.
MARY HIGGINS CLARK SERIES:
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