It is Palmer who makes the first contact, toward the end of September.
He tells Cynthia on the telephone that he's had a transatlantic call from Norman Zimmer, who's producing a musical based on Jenny's Room, is she familiar with . . . ?
“Yes, he's been in touch,” Cynthia says.
“I hate to bother you this way,” he says, “but from what I understand, the project may be stalled because of your father's intransigence.”
“Yes, I know.”
“It does seem a shame, doesn't it?” he says. “All these people who'd stand to earn a little money.”
“I know,” Cynthia says.
“Couldn't you talk with him?”
“I have,” she says. “He won't budge.”
“It does seem a pity.”
“He's protecting Jessica, you see.”
“Jessica Miles. The woman who wrote the original play. He feels she wouldn't have wanted the musical done again.”
“Really? Why's that?”
“Because it was so awful.”
“Oh, I don't think so, do youl I've read my grandfather's book, and I've also heard the songs. It's really quite good, you know. Besides, they're having new songs written, and a new book, and—well, it's truly a shame. Because I think it has a really good shot, you know. I think we can all become quite rich, actually. If it's done.”
There is a crackling on the line.
She tries to visualize London. She has never been there. She imagines chimney pots and cobblestoned streets. She imagines men with soot-stained collars and women in long hour-glass gowns. She imagines Big Ben chiming the hour, regattas on the Thames. She imagines all these things. And imagines going there one day.
“Couldn't you please talk with him again?” Palmer says.
It is she who makes the next call, sometime early in October. He has just come home from work, it is seven o'clock there in London, only two in the afternoon here in America. He tells her he works for “the last of the publishers in Bedford Square,” a line she surmises he has used often before. In fact, there is something about the way he speaks that makes everything sound studied and prepared, as if he has learned a part and is merely acting it. A lack of spontaneity, she supposes, something that makes whatever he says seem artificial and rehearsed, as if there is nothing of substance behind the words.
“Have you seen him again?” he asks.
“Several times,” she says.
“He won't listen to reason. He says the play is a sacred trust. . .”
“It's what he believes.”
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“She must have written it in the year dot.”
“Norman tells me it's bloody awful.”
“My father thinks it's simply wonderful.”
“Well, as the old maid said when she kissed the cow . . .”
“It's a shame this had to come along just now, though. The opportunity, I mean. To have the musical revived.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well ... ten years from now would have been so much better.”
“I don't under . . .”
“Never mind, I shouldn't have said that.”
“I'm sorry, I still don't . . .”
“It's just . . . my father isn't in the best of health, you see.”
“That's too bad.”
“And 7 certainly don't have the same problems he has.”
“Problems? What . . . ?”
“With the play. With it being done as a musical. I have no emotional ties to Jessica Miles, you see. I never even met the woman. What I'm saying is I don't give a damn about her play. In fact, I'd love to see the musical revived.”
“But what's ten years from now got to ... ?”
“My father's leaving the rights to me.”
“To her play. When he dies. It's in his will.”
There was a long silence.
“But” she said. “It isn't ten years from now, is it?”
“No, it isn't,” Palmer says.
“It's now,” she says.
“Yes,” he says. “So it is.”
He calls her again on the eighteenth of October. It is midnight here in America, he tells her it's five a.m. there in London, but he hasn't been able to sleep.
“I've been thinking a lot about your father,” he says.
“Me, too,” she says.
“It seems such a pity he won't let go of those rights, doesn't it? Forgive me, but have you made your position absolutely clear to him? Have you told him your feelings about having this musical done?”
“Oh, yes, a thousand times.”
“I mean ... he must realize, don't you imagine, that the moment he's passed on ... forgive me ... you'll do bloody well what you like with the play. Doesn't he realize that?”
“I'm sure he does.”
“It does seem unfair, doesn't it?”
“Especially since he's in bad health.”
“Two heart attacks.”
“You'd think he'd hand over the play immediately, why wouldn't he? With his blessings. Here you are, Cynthia, do with it as you wish.”
“His only child,” Cynthia said.
“One would think so.”
“But he won't.”
“Well, when they get to be a certain age . . .”
“It isn't that. He's just a stubborn old fool. Sometimes I wish . . .”
She lets the sentence trail.
“Sometimes I wish he'd die tomorrow,” she says.
There is another silence.
“I'm sure you don't mean that,” he says.
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“I suppose not.” “I'm sure you don't.” “But I do,” she says.
There is a Jamaican named Charles Colworthy who works in the mail room with Palmer, and he knows another Jamaican named Delroy Lewis, who knows yet another Jamaican named John Bridges, who by all accounts is what they call a “Yardie,” which Palmer explains is British slang for any young Jamaican male involved in violence and drugs.
“I wouldn't want him hurt,” Cynthia says at once.
“Of course not.”
“You said violence.”
“He's assured me it will be painless.”
“You've met him?”
“What's his name?”
“John Bridges. He's quite ready to do it for us. If you still want to go ahead with it.”
“I've given it a lot of thought.”
“So have I.”
“It does seem the right thing, doesn't it, Gerry?”
There is a long silence.
It all seems to be happening too quickly.
“When . . . when would he do it?”
“Sometime before the end of the month. He'll need an introduction. You'd have to arrange that.”
“To your father.”
“Is he black?”
“Yes. But very light skinned.”
“I don't know any black people, you see.”
“Very pale eyes,” Palmer says. "A lovely smile.
All you need do is introduce him. He'll take care of the rest."
“It's just that I don't know any black people.”
“Well . . .”
“I wouldn't know what to say.”
“Just say he's a friend of yours from London.”
“I've never been to London.”
“A friend of a friend, you could say. Who'll be there for a few days. Who you wanted your father to meet. Is what you could say.”
“Why would anyone want to meet my father?”
“You could say he once worked in a hospital here. Just as your father did. That would give them something in common. I'll give you the name of a hospital here in London.”
“I've never introduced my father to anyone in my life.”
“It would just be to put him off guard.”
“He'd be suspicious.”
“Just someone you'd like him to meet. A nurse. Just as your father was.”
“He won't hurt him, will he?”
“No, no, you needn't worry.”
“When did you say it would be?”
“Well, he'll come as soon as we authorize it. He'll want half of his fee beforehand, half after it's done.”
“How much did he say?”
“Is that a lot?”
“I think it's reasonable. Dollars, that is. Not pounds.”
“I wouldn't want him hurt,” she says again.
“No, he won't be.”
“But I have to let him know.”
“What do you think we should do?”
"I think we should go ahead with it. Twenty-five
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hundred dollars is a lot of money to me, but I look upon this as a serious investment. . ."
“. . . an opportunity to advance myself. I can't speak for you, of course . . . but. . .I've never really had very much in my life, Cynthia. I work in the post room, I don't get invited to very many balls at Windsor. If this show is a hit, everything would change for me. My life would become . . . well . . . glamorous.”
“Yes,” she said.
“I think we should do it,” he said. “I truly do.”
“Well then . . .”
“What I'll do, if you agree, I'll give John my half of the fee just before he leaves London, and you can pay him the rest when he's done it. There in America. Afterward. Would you be happy with that?”
“I guess so.”
“Shall I call him then?”
“Well . . .”
“Tell him we're going ahead with it?”
Now, sitting in the lieutenant's office with her lawyer and the detectives, she lowers her eyes and says, “John was very charming. He and my father hit it off right away. But he caused me a lot of trouble later. Because he said it would look like an accident, and it didn't.”
Gerald Palmer called the British Consulate the moment the cops told him what charges they were bringing against him. The consul who came over was named Geoffrey Holden, a somewhat portly man in his mid-forties, stroking a bristly mustache that made him look like a cavalry colonel. He took off his heavy overcoat and hung it on a corner rack. Under it, he was wearing a somber gray suit with a vest and a bright yellow tie. He
told Palmer this was his first DBN of the week, which letters he jovially explained stood for Distressed British National.
“Murder, eh?” he said. “Who'd you kill?”
“I haven't killed anyone” Palmer said. “Don't be a bloody fool.”
“Let me explain how American law works,” Holden said. “If you actually hired someone to kill someone else, then you're as guilty as the person pulling the trigger. Murder for hire is first-degree murder, and the penalty is death by lethal injection. They use Valium. A massive dose that stops the heart. Conspiracy to commit murder is another A-felony. If you did either or both of these things . . .”
“I was about to say you'd be in very deep trouble. If you did these things. Which you say you didn't.”
“Being British is no excuse, by the way. It doesn't entitle you to immunity.”
“I don't need immunity. I haven't done anything.”
“Well, good then. D'you know anyone named John Bridges?”
“They seem to think you know him.”
“How about a man named Charles Colworthy?”
Palmer's eyes opened wide.
“Supposed to work with you at Martins and Grenville. Good publishers, eh? D'you know him?”
Palmer was thinking it over.
“The way they have it,” Holden said, “Colworthy knows someone named Delroy Lewis, who put you in touch with this Bridges chap to whom you and Cynthia Keating together paid five thousand dollars to kill her father. But that isn't so, is it?”
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“Well, I know Colworthy, yes. But . . .”
“Ah, you do?”
“Yes. We work together in the post room. But I certainly didn't hire . . .”
“That's good. I'll just tell them they've made a mistake.”
“Where'd they get those names, anyway?”
“From the woman.”
“Cynthia Keating,” Holden said, and hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets. “She's ratted you out.”
Palmer looked at him.
“But if you had nothing to do with this . . .”
“Just a minute. What do you mean? Just because she gave them the name of someone I work with . . .”
“The other man as well. Delroy Lewis. The one leading directly to Bridges. Who killed her father.”
“Well, the only one / know is Charlie. He's the one I work with. I may have mentioned his name to her. In casual conversation. If so, she must have contacted him on her own.”
“Ah,” Holden said, and nodded. “To ask if he might know anyone who'd help kill her father, is that it?”
“Well, I ... I'm sure I don't know what she asked him.” ,
“Called London to arrange his murder, is that how you see it?”
“I don't see it any way at all. I'm merely trying to explain . . .”
“Yes, that you, personally, had nothing to do with this.”
"So Mrs Keating is lying to them. Has lied to them, in fact. She's accepted a deal, you see. They've dropped the conspiracy charge and lowered the murder charge to second degree. Twenty to life, with a recommendation
for parole.“ Holden paused. ”They might even offer you the same deal. Then again, perhaps not."
Palmer looked at him.
“Because of the related murder.”
Palmer kept looking at him.
“They seem to think you did that one personally. The old lady. Martha Coleridge. I have no idea where she fits into the scheme of things, but apparently she was threatening a plagiarism suit. Do you know the woman I mean?”
“Yes,” Palmer said.
“That would constitute a second count of first-degree murder,” Holden said, and stroked his mustache. “So I doubt if they'd offer you the same deal, after all.”
“I'm not looking for a deal.”
“Why should you be? You haven't done anything.”
“I'll just tell them to forget it.”
“Of course. They have no proof.”
“Well, they have the woman's confession. Which implicates you, of course. And our chaps may get something more from Bridges, if ever they find him. They're looking for him now, apparently. In Euston. He lives in Euston.”
Palmer fell silent again.
“You won't be granted bail, you realize,” Holden said. “You're a foreigner implicated in murder, no one's going to risk your running. In fact, till the dust settles one way or another, they'll want your passport.” He sighed heavily, said, “Well, I'll see about finding a lawyer for you,” and went to the corner where he'd hung his overcoat. Shrugging into it, buttoning it, his back to Palmer, he said, “You wouldn't possibly have anything to ... offer them, would you?”
“How do you mean?”
Holden turned toward him.
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“Well,” he said, “I must tell you, with the woman's confession, they have more than enough for an indictment. It'll go worse for you if they catch up with the Jamaican and flip him as well, but even so they've got a quite decent case.”
“But I haven't done anything.”
“Right. Keep forgetting that. Sorry. Let me talk to them.” He opened the door, hesitated, turned to Palmer again, and said, “You wouldn't know anything about this little black girl who got stabbed up in Diamondback, would you?”
Palmer merely looked at him.
“Althea Cleary? Because they like to tidy things up, you see. If you can tell them anything about that murder . . . they're not trying to implicate you in it, by the way, they seem to think the Jamaican did that one all on his own. Got into some sort of argument with the girl, lost his temper. Whatever.” His voice lowered. “But if he mentioned anything about it to you . . . perhaps before he went back to London ... it might be worth a deal, hm?”
Palmer said nothing.
His voice almost a whisper, Holden said, “He's just a Yardie, y'know.”
Palme'r sat as still as a stone.
“Well, I suppose not,” Holden said.
It suddenly occurred to him that the man was simply very stupid.
He sighed again, and went out of the room.
In the squadroom, they were speculating about what might have happened to Althea Cleary.
“She takes the Jamaican back to her apartment,” Parker suggested. "He drops the rope in her drink, figures he's home free. But while he's waiting for it to take effect,
she casually mentions she's a working girl and this is gonna cost him two bills. He's offended because he's never had to pay for it in his life, male or female. So he stabs her."
“That's possible,” Brown said, “but you're forgetting something.”
“He thinks he's bi.”
“He wouldn'ta been there if he wasn't bi,” Parker insisted.
“He gets into the apartment,” Brown said, undaunted, “drops the pills, and starts moving on her. Trouble is he's gay. She doesn't excite him. He can't perform. So he loses his temper and jukes her.”
“Well, that's a possibility,” Meyer said, “but something else could've happened, too.”
“Bridges drops the pills, right? Five minutes or so, the girl starts feeling funny. She accuses him of having put something in her drink. He panics, grabs a knife from the counter, lets her have it.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Kling said, “but here's what / think happened. He gets in the apartment . . .”
“Who's for pizza?” Parker asked.
“They profile a Yardie as someone who enters the country carrying a forged or stolen British passport,” Carella said. “Usually—but not necessarily—he's a black man from Jamaica, somewhere between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. He's either got a record already . . .”
“Does Bridges have one?” Byrnes asked.
"Nobody by that name in their files. They said he may be a new kid on the block, there's a constant flow. Most of
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them are in the drug trade. Getting rope would've been a walk in the park for him."
“Is he wanted for anything?”
“Not by the Brits. Not so far, anyway.”
“Give him time,” Byrnes said.
“Meanwhile, he's running around London someplace.”
“Or wherever. Actually, we don't need him, Pete. Nellie says the overt act is enough.”
“Conspiracy and the overt act, yes.”
“Which she's already got.”
“So let the Queen's mother worry,” Byrnes said.
Ollie felt very nervous, like a teenager about to ask for a first date. He dialed the number on the card she'd given him, and let the phone ring three, four, five . . .
“Miss Hobson?” he said.
“This is Detective Weeks. We talked about piano lessons, do you remember?”
"No. Detective whoT
“Weeks. Oliver Wendell Weeks. I was investigating the murder of Althea Cleary, do you remember? Big Ollie, they sometimes call me,” he said, which was a lie. “I wanted to learn five songs, remember?”
“Oh. Yes,” she said.
“I still do.”
“I see,” she said.
“I got a list we can pick from,” he said.
“Did you find him?”
“Who do you mean, Miss Hobson?”
“Whoever killed Althea.”
"He's in London just now. We're leaving it to the
bobbies there, they're supposed to be very good. When can we start, Miss Hobson?"
“That depends on which songs you want to learn.”
“Oh, they're easy ones, don't worry.”
“That's so reassuring,” she said drily. “But which ones are they exactly?”
“Guess,” he said, and grinned into the mouthpiece.
They had no idea they were in the middle of a race riot until it was full upon them. Until that moment, they'd been peacefully watching television and drifting off to sleep, Kling knowing he was due back in the squadroom at eight tomorrow, Sharyn knowing her day would start at about the same time in her office at 24 Rankin Plaza, neither anticipating an explosion, each surprised when it came.
A panel of talking heads was offering its collective opinion on the war, the election, the wedding, the crash, the trial, the disaster, the game, the whatever because in America, it wasn't enough merely to present the news, you then had to have half a dozen commentators parading their thoughts on what the news had just been all about. Over the background din, Kling was telling Sharyn there'd been an extraordinary number of people informing on other people in this case they'd just wrapped, a veritable chorus of rats singing to whoever would listen, when all at once a blond woman on the panel said something about the “so-called blue wall of silence,” and Sharyn said, “Shhh,” and someone else on the panel, a black man, shouted that the blue wall of silence wouldn't be holding in the Milagros case if the victim had been white, and someone else, a white man, shouted, “This poor victim you're talking about is a murdererl” and Kling said, “Milagros is one of the guys I mean,” and Sharyn said “Shhh” again, when all he'd
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wanted to say was that Hector Milagros had been given up by Maxie Blaine who'd been given up by Betty Young in a case virtually defined by perpetual snitchery.
“You don't know whether those men who went in there were white or black!” someone on the panel shouted.
“You don't even know if they were actually copsl” someone else shouted.
“They were cops and they were whitel”
“I'll bet they were,” someone else said, but the voice wasn't coming from the television set, it was coming from the pillow next to Kling's. He turned to look at her.
The blonde on television very calmly said, “I do not believe that any police officer in this city would maintain silence in the face of such a brutal beating. The police . . .”
“Oh, come off it,” Sharyn said.
“. . . simply don't know who went in there, that's all. If they knew . . .”
On the television set, the black man said, “The guy who let them in knows.”
“Every cop in this city knows,” Sharyn said.
“I don't,” Kling said.
And now there was a veritable Babel of voices pouring from the television set in a deluge of conflicting invective that rose higher and higher in volume and passion.
“Instead of maintaining their ridiculous posture of. . .”
“There are black cops, too, you know. I don't see any of them . . .”
“Would you come forward if ... ?”
“You're asking them to be rats.”
“It's not informing if the person ...”
“Milagros was in custody!”
“He's a criminal!”
“So are the cops who beat him up!”
“. . . almost killed him!”
“Here we go,” Kling said.
“That's why they beat him up!”
“Hang on, honey,” Sharyn said.
Together, they huddled against the angry voices.
At last, Kling said, “Wanna dance?”
About the Author
Ed McBain is the only American to receive the Diamond Dagger, the British Crime Writers Association's highest award. He also holds the Mystery Writers of America's coveted Grand Master Award. His books have sold over one hundred million copies worldwide, ranging from his first bestselling novel, The Blackboard Jungle, to the recent bestseller Privileged Conversation, both written under his own name, Evan Hunter, which he used on his screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. His most recent 87th Precinct novel was The Big Bad City. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Dragica.
Copyright © 2000 by Hui Corporation
The right of Ed McBain to be identified as the Author
of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2000 by Hodder
First published in paperback in 2000 by Hodder and Stoughton A division of Hodder Headline
A New English Library Paperback 10 98765432 I
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead
is purely coincidental.
McBain, Ed, 1926 -The last dance
I . 8yth Precinct (Imaginary place)-Fiction 2 . Detective and mystery stories I . Title 8i3-5'4tF]
isbno 340 72806 XL
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This, yet another time, is for my wife— DRAGICA DIMITRIJEVIC-HUNTER
winner of v
the crime writers'association/ -
cartier diamond dagger award '
A man with no enemies is found hanging in what appears to be a suicide. But Carella and company soon discover that, drugged and unconscious, he could not possibly have hanged himself. They are dealing with murder. The 1 investigation takes them into the politics and passions of a musical in preparation. Or rather' two: one that happened half a century ago and one that is happening rjow ...
'One oi the masters oi crime fiction.'
? sunday telegraph - :
'McBain is so good he ought to be arrested.' ;
publishers weekly " •-'!
'When it comes to the voices oi the city, McBaini the man with the golden ear.'
I new york times book review • • .
Many of Ed McBain's dazzling mysteries are New English Library paperbacks - the latest 87th Precinct stories are The Big Bad City and Nocturne. The Last Best Hope features Florida detective Matthew Hope. Have you read thern ajl?
NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY Fiction: Crime
Author photograph by Dragica Dimitrijevic
Cover Photographs Tony Stone Images