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1. The Dick . . .

"This game's over, man! You gotta move your Boss or Rocky's gonna lay a subpoenie on him; then his Torpedo is gonna smoke your Old Lady, and all your Heavies'll be doin' time—except for maybe your Mouthpiece, but Rocky's Sheriff got him put in the corner—you got nothin' left but Punks and Junkies: you're through, Jimmy."

—Angel Martin to Jim Rockford,
commenting on a chess game, in the
Rockford Files episode "Chicken Little is
a Little Chicken" by Stephen J. Cannell

* * *

It was noon before they finished scraping Uncle Louie off the dining room table.

So I missed the big Math final at ten, and with all the fuss afterward, everybody feeling sort of sorry for me—and a little grossed out by what had happened to my uncle—Mr. Cathcart never got around to making me make it up, so I ended up passing Math that semester. And it was that very night, after I thought over everything I'd seen and heard of the cops who responded that morning, that I made the decision to become a private detective instead of a cop when I grew up. I'd been trying to make up my mind since I was six. So it was a memorable day. Add all the pluses and minuses and take an average, you'd have to say it was a pretty good day all in all. Kind of rough on Uncle Louie, of course. And it ruined that table. But it turned me away from a life of crime.

Well, serious crime.

Anyway, the point I started out to make is: can you imagine what I felt like when I came downstairs and saw Uncle Louie like that? Tremendously scared and nauseous and excited all at the same time? Heart banging and buzzing in my ears and dry mouth and shaky knees? Knowing there was really nothing to be afraid of any more, but still scared to death, feeling more like a thirteen-year-old than usual? But at the same time almost happy at getting to see something like that, knowing that now I'd have a real, gruesome, Mike Hammer kind of story to tell all the guys, already planning how to tell it?

Well, that's just how I felt that night twenty years later, walking up the long curving driveway to that damned mansion.

This was exactly the kind of opportunity I'd been praying for—and I was so scared I was nauseous, or possibly the other way around. Feeling like more of a thirteen-year-old than usual. That particular mix of feelings made me think of Uncle Louie for the first time in years, and I heard going through my head the same words I'd said to myself that morning when I'd found him. God, please don't let me do anything to fuck this up.This time. I just managed to stop myself short of promising to make a novena again—which I hadn't even followed through on the last time. I kept walking toward the mansion, concentrating on looking bored.

Just as I was approaching the door, I pressed my left arm against me, intending to take a little comfort from the solid presence of my gun. But there's something about those trench coats they never seem to mention in the books or movies. There's a lot of extra material under the armpits that doesn't really need to be there, all bunched up. I've tried a dozen different brands, and they're all like that. So squeezing the gun was a mistake. And doing it right by the door was bad, because of the black-and-white sitting by the door. Never wake up cops by dropping a .45 on the pavement next to them. Especially not there.

So there was some conversation, and they let me live, and I returned the favor. Reluctantly: the skinny one had a laugh exactly like a mule braying—hee! . . . hee! . . . hee!—and the fat one . . . Well, anyway, by the time I entered the mansion I was flustered on top of everything else.

So if you want to know what the place looks like inside, you'll have to look it up someplace. I kept telling myself to look around and memorize it for my memoirs some day, but I kept forgetting. I had a lot on my mind. There were a lot of big rooms, I remember, and a lot of stairs, and a hell of a lot of carpet everywhere, so thick it was like walking on a furry sponge mattress. I wanted to take off my shoes. I promised myself I would on the way out.

The butler was black as Lenny Bruce's humor and so old I wanted to ask him how the boat ride had been. He didn't offer to take my trench coat or fedora. He moved like that Lincoln robot Disney had at the World's Fair if there'd been a brownout. He went up stairs one at a time instead of one after the other. He stopped outside a big door with an elaborate frame and turned to me. "You are armed, sir," he said gravely. It wasn't quite a question.

"Isn't everybody?"

He held out his hand. I shrugged . . . and squeezed my left arm against me. The gun sank an inch into the carpet with a plop.

He waited, without changing expression.

I sighed, and dropped the sap and the brass knuckles on the carpet beside the gun. "Fluoroscope in the foyer?" I asked. "Or just a metal detector? Professional interest."

He waited patiently, hand still outstretched.

I shrugged again, and added the switchblade to the pile on the floor.

"We are running late, sir," he said sadly.

I stood on one foot, took the little .22 holdout from the ankle holster, and placed it on his upturned palm. It usually gets by: no metal parts. "The only other weapon I have on me," I said, "is attached. But I promise not to touch it."

He didn't even frown at the crudity. He looked at the pistol, dropped it on the carpet with the rest of the swag, and swept it all delicately to one side with one foot. It left a trail in the carpet.

"While I'm here," I qualified.

He ignored that too. "Thank you, sir. This way, please. He's expecting you."

He opened the door, announced me, stepped aside so I could enter, and left, closing the big door soundlessly behind him.

* * *

Well, you know what he looks like. He looked like that.

"You're doing okay," I told him.

He frowned at me. He'd had his mouth open to speak and I'd derailed him. "Excuse me?"

"Sorry. I just thought you might ask me how you—never mind. What can I do for you?" I was being overeager. The whole trick to being a smartass detective is to let them give you the straight lines, and then come back with the snappy zingers.

He stared at me impassively for a while. Then when he did start to speak again he paused for a moment with his mouth open to see if I was going to interrupt again. I waited for my straight line. I thought about a cigarette, but there was no point: there were no ashtrays visible.

"Are you sure you're not French?" is what he finally said.

Maybe Bogie could have come up with a clever response to that. The best I could do was to say, "Excuse me?" just the way he had.

"Like in those panther flicks?" he amplified.

I blinked. "Excuse me?" I said again, and I'd like to see Travis McGee do better.

"Not related to that Inspector Clazoo or whatever it is?"

I understood now. It was my destiny to spend the rest of my life saying "Excuse me?" to an old bald Jew with a face like a dissipated elf. All right, so be it. "Excuse me?"

He shook his head. "I guess not. But I could have sworn he was a relative of yours. You're just like him, Quigley."

"In what way?" It wasn't much, but at least it wasn't "Excuse me?"

"Two ways. You're amoron. And you're unbelievably lucky."

At last I got it. He was referring to that Inspector Clouseau guy in the Pink Panther movies, who keeps blundering his way into success.

Things were looking up, in the sense that he had finally uttered a comprehensible sentence. But it certainly wasn't a promising start to the conversation. I mean, I had expected a certain difficulty in establishing mutual respect. PIs get used to the fact that most people—and nearly all their clients—privately consider them one or two steps above athlete's foot in the food chain. But having someone start out by telling me that I was a moron was a sort of new low in customer relations.

And besides, he had it exactly backwards. I'm a genius, with incredibly bad luck.

"You know," I said, "I just figured out how come you manage to get elected. It's been puzzling me."

"Flattering my constituents, you mean?"

"No. Being able to say a sentence like that. It's your voice. You sound exactly like Elmer Fudd after speech therapy finally conquered the lisp. People want you to succeed. They feel you've got it coming, after overcoming forty years of being humiliated by a bunny."

You don't ever want to play poker with him. He did nothing at all for ten seconds. But it wasn't like turning to stone. It was more like he was still listening to me say something, concerning which he had formed no opinion so far. When he did speak, it was as though someone had rolled the tape backwards three lines of dialogue and restarted it.

"Let me give you an example of what I mean," he said reasonably. "You believe all the crap you read in detective books. That makes you medium dumb as citizens go—but for a licensed private investigator in the City of New York, that makes you compare unfavorably with a newborn gerbil. You're not only big enough and tough enough to wrestle a gorilla, you're stupid enough to try. You actually think you can came in here and smartmouth me like a TV private eye, and all I can do about it is hope I catch you red-handed in a felony sometime before the last commercial. Somewhere in your head you know I can wipe myself with your license anytime I want, but still you come in here and get fresh with me. That's the moron part I spoke of." He was speaking calmly, illustrating his points with small gestures, sure he could make a reasonable man like me understand. "As to the lucky part . . . well, that should be self-evident. You've lived this long. But as a more immediate example, there is a chance, practically a good chance, that you could end up walking away from this with your freedom, your license and your health. Who could believe such a thing? I know: but there it is." He spread his hands expressively.

I decided I had established myself as a smartass. A really tough guy deals with intimidation by ignoring it, right? "How?"

"By doing exactly what all the TV private eyes do. By pulling off a miracle, to deadline, by incredible dumb luck—and with absolute discretion. If you don't, I'm going to cancel the Joe Quigley Show in mid-season."

And there it was. Exactly the opportunity I'd spent my life getting ready for. A shot.

I could hardly believe it. Ever since I was a kid I'd been waiting to have some big shot threaten me with total ruin if I didn't solve a big hush-hush case fast. I wanted to kiss him. You've never seen anybody look so nonchalant.

"How much discretion are we talking about?" I asked, studying a fingernail.

"You were never here. I don't know anybody who'd know anyone you know. We've never walked on the same real estate, even at different times. Any information you receive from me, or that you turn up as a result of your investigation, is to be between you and me and the principals involved. You will divulge nothing to anyone else. That includes grand juries, city state or federal, judicial or legislative inquiry, and your confessor if any. And one other thing: you will treat La . . . uh the principal here . . . with the utmost respect at all times. If she reports to me that you knocked ashes on her carpet—hear me, now—I will make you wish you were on Rikers Island. Do you believe I can do that?"

Oof. A little hard to imagine. I'd even rather be in New Jersey. But I knew the answer was: "Yes."

"Good. Do we have a meeting of the minds?"

I was in hog heaven—but I was also a professional. I turned my fingernail another way and inspected it again to see how it looked from that angle. "Not quite. I haven't told you my rates."

"I burn to know."

"Two hundred a day plus expenses."

He flashed his famous grin for the first time. "Rockford Files, James Garner. At least you follow good trash."

He had me cold. "The best," I agreed. "Just like with him, it's not negotiable." I tried for Garner's I'm-not-budging expression. "And I also get medical expenses for job related injuries. After all, we're using smaller dollars these days."

"I seem to remember Rockford almost never gets paid."

I shrugged. "Is it a deal or not?"

To my surprise, he hesitated. "It's not that I'd have the slightest difficulty making it drop off the books," he mused. "Partly I'm curious to see what you'd do if I said no, you gotta work for free on this one. And mostly it goes against my grain to pay an overgrown adolescent who's built like a linebacker two hundred dollars a day to hang out in Lady Sally's House."

I had to work to control my face.

Lady Sally McGee's House? Not maybe the most famous, but surely the most legendary whorehouse in the greater New York area? I'd heard of it for years, but always very quiet, and third-hand at least. They said you had to know Somebody, real well, to get invited there. Until today, I hadn't known anybody who knew anybody who knew Somebody. I opened my mouth to say I could manage to pay him two hundred dollars, and absorb my own expenses—

"Oh screw it, it's a deal," he said.

"What's the situation?"

He pursed his lips, and shook his head. "I need backup on my judgment. You go see the Lady, and if she decides to fill you in, then nobody can blame me. If she doesn't, you get one day's pay and a hearty handclasp—for something that never happened."

"Can you give me a hint? What sort of beef are we talking? Do I bring a fingerprint kit, or a bazooka? Or a dozen condoms?"

He steepled his fingertips. "I would say you should bring along all of that garbage you dumped on my carpet outside. And if you know where you could borrow a brain for a while, bring that by all means. But mostly bring your luck, Quigley. And . . ." He sighed. ". . . . your best judgment, such as it is."

"What does that mean?"

He frowned. "I don't know if I can make you understand. I want you to be absolutely candid with me in this matter . . . up to a point."

"I'm not following you."

"You are not going to get cute with this, like a TV detective. You will share with me fully any relevant information you learn. But it is possible—" He paused, and twisted his face up so badly that I wanted to offer him some Metamucil. "—that in the course of your investigation you will turn up information I do not have a need to know. And the hell of it is, by and large you are the one who'll have to decide when that is. I can only say: don't screw up."

I didn't have the slightest idea what the hell he was talking about. But he looked so uncomfortable that I got the idea he must have just done something noble. And maybe given me some kind of backhanded compliment at the same time. "I'll do my best." I said simply.

"Exactly what I'm afraid of. Any more questions?"

"Yeah. Why me?"

"Because every once in a while you're so dumb, you're a genius. That Favila case, for example. Most people can only see the obvious if it makes sense. You proved you can see the obvious even when it's stupid. That may turn out to be what's called for here."

I was a little stung. The Favila case had been one of my professional high points to date, had come this close to being a triumph.

"I see," I said stiffly. "You need me, so you treat me like shit."

"I only do that for two reasons," he said. "First, of course, because you are shit . . . and second because you look like that moron on the tube, what's-his-name."

"Hey," I said, stung again, "that's not my fault."

"I know. No one would look like him that could help it. Forget it. You know where Lady Sally's is?"

"I don't need to. The cabbie will know."

"True. Use the north entrance—and for God's sake don't use my name at the door if there's anyone else in earshot. Report to me, verbally, here, when you've cracked it. Not before. If there's anything you need, at all, the Lady will provide. And nothing goes in writing."

"Can I go now?"

"Not yet. Look at me, Quigley. I know I've succeeded in hiring you. I think I've even succeeded in engaging your attention. But before I let you leave here, I want to be sure I've succeeded in scaring the living shit out of you. I want you to throw away whatever smart-aleck closing line you've got prepared, and just say these words: say, 'I'm going to be a good boy, sir,' and then get the hell out of here. Will you do that for me, Joe?"

I wanted this job more than I wanted a nymphomaniac secretary with legs up to here, but there are some kinds of shit a man just can't eat. "Screw yourself, sir," I said. Besides I'd been polishing an exit line since I'd first gotten the call, and it was going to be a beaut.

He smiled faintly. "You think the worst I could do is have you ruined, disgraced, raped and beaten to death. It's much worse than that." The smile broadened into that oddly telegenic grin again. "If your performance in this assignment is not satisfactory, I will put your real first name out on the street." 

—and on the other hand, certain other kinds of shit are quite palatable with a little necessity sprinkled on them. I could always save my exit line for the next time a major VIP wanted to hire me. "I'm going to be a good boy, sir."

"I know you are, 'Joe.'" The grin vanished. "I'm counting on it."

I left, and found my own way out.

I collected my hardware from the butler on the way out the main door. He wouldn't give it to me until I put my shoes back on. I stepped out into the cool muggy night, stuck a Lucky in my mouth, and heard imaginary music swell in the background.

On my way past the black-and-white I decided I had to do something, make some kind of move, a scene-closer to redeem my pride and get us to the commercial. I leaned into the passenger's window and stared the fat cop in the eye. "Your mother wears combat boots," I stated, and blew smoke in his face.

He looked me over, thought about where I had just come from and how confident I seemed now. "And shoulder-pads," he agreed finally. "Why? You want to meet her?"

"Hee . . . hee . . . hee!" said the skinny one.

I gave up and walked away. At the foot of the driveway I turned around and looked at the mansion. What do you say when you haven't got a good way to end a scene? Say good night, Gracie.

"Good night, Gracie," I said, and hailed a cab.

* * *

Mentioning the Favila case had been a low blow, I thought as the hack headed over the bridge into Brooklyn. Except for that one little flaw at the end, it had been a classic of sheer mystery-solving. Who could have guessed a man could spend his entire life in New York City, and end up . . . well, at least partly unsophisticated?

With my luck, you'll remember the case. It started when a janitor found a corpsicle floating in a rooftop swimming pool next to Central Park one August morning. A stiff, but I mean stiff. Frozen solid, just beginning to defrost around the edges from being in the pool. In August. He was in a funny half-crouch position, with his hands up in front of his face and the fingers spread, as if he'd been examining a crystal ball underwater when he froze. No ID at all, wearing frozen jeans and shards of a frozen tee shirt, nothing else on or with him at all. The janitor swore he'd had to unlock the door to enter the area, the lock hadn't been tampered with, and the only other access to that roof was by helicopter. Fingerprints and dental charts went through all the computers without a match, and he didn't fit any Missing Persons reports. The local cryogenics outfit took questioning, but they were able to prove they had no corpsicles missing. Every meat locker within a ten-block radius got combed, but nothing turned up.

A friend of mine, a gold shield named Murphy, caught the case. It just about drove him nuts. One day I happened to be standing with him on the roof of the building in question. I was there because I'd been following him around for over an hour, trying to borrow money from him. All he wanted to talk about was the Frozen Stiff.

"It just doesn't make any goddamn sense, Joe," he said. He turned around in a slow circle, looking at the city laid out around us. "Where is the nearest place to this spot where you could freeze a guy solid as a leg of lamb without anybody noticing?"

Without thinking, I pointed straight up.

"Right," he said, snorting. "I'm about ready to believe it was some outer space monster. He was planning to drink the pool for the chlorine and wanted to chill it properly first. Hell, it doesn't even matter where it was done. Wherever they froze the son of a bitch, how did they get him all the way here without being seen—and why?" 

I started to get very excited. "Murph—"

"Why take all that risk?" Murphy went on, talking more than half to himself. "You got a corpsicle, bust him up with a hammer and leave him in the shower. This is like something out of a fuckin' comic book. You know the weirdest part of all? The Coroner says he was suffocated—without a mark on him, for Christ's—"

"Murph, listen, this is important to both of us," I said. "Can you let me hold a twenty for a couple of days?"

"Things are hot just now," he said absently, "This Knapp Commission crap, I practically been living on my salary for months. I tell you, it's gotta be some kind of radicals. The guy looks like he could be some kind of spic—Central America, maybe, some kind of CIA shit—"

I tried one more time for the twenty, but he pretended not to hear me. So screw him. I left him these on the roof, went straight to my office, borrowed a fistful of plane schedules from the porno distributor down the hall, and called a press conference.

It was great, at first. Everybody looked bored and dubious when they first saw the office, then sat up straight when I outlined my deductions. I had them spellbound, and when I was done they actually applauded. I was on all the news that night, and the next morning's editions all gave prominent coverage to my confident prediction that the victim would turn out to be a poor peasant from Belize, tragically killed by his own ignorance and his hunger to live in America.

It seemed so simple. My kneejerk wisecrack answers to Murphy's questions had suddenly made a twisted kind of sense. Where's the nearest place to freeze a man solid? A mile or two away—straight up. How do you get him to a rooftop without being seen? Easy. A skyhook.

Freeze him in the stratosphere, and then let him fall . . .

Looked at from that angle, it was obvious. A starving peasant, let's call him Juan Valdez, burns to live in El Norte, whatever it costs him in discomfort. He sneaks out onto an airport tarmac, and worms his way up into the wheelwell of a big brute on a nonstop run to New York, gambling that when those huge wheels come up, there will still be room for him in there. He expects to arrive cramped and sore and half dead with hunger and fatigue, but so what? Sure enough, the wheel fails to crush him after takeoff. He begins to rejoice. He knows even less about the stratosphere than he does about America.

By the time the stewardesses are thawing out frozen dinners for the paying customers inside, Valdez is a frozen dinner himself, his suffocated corpse clinging to the huge tire like an ice sculpture of a monkey.

The plane is circling over Manhattan when it lowers its wheels and drops VaIdez, a cryonic bomb. By the kind of cosmic luck that recently caused a woman in Ohio to be hit by a meteorite for the second time, he makes a perfect landing in an empty pool.

If he hadn't landed in water, maybe somebody might have figured out the huge treadmarks on his face and clothes. But then, if he hadn't landed in water, nobody would have found anything but a couple of buckets' worth of crushed ice, I guess.

The major airline schedules showed that only one big direct flight from anywhere in Central or South America would have been over Manhattan that night, a 707 from Belize. Voilà: Quigley Solves Mystery. The story was a natural for the media sobsuckers, and it got a lot of play.

But not as much as the follow-up got.

Well, how was I to know? Try this experiment yourself—I've tried it dozens of times in bars, and as long as they don't know the Favila story it always works. Walk up to any person in New York, any race, color or creed, and ask him to show you where Hispanics come from. I'll bet you a hundred dollars he points south.

I don't know, maybe nothing newsworthy ever happens there, or maybe there's some big secret conspiracy of silence, but unless the conversation is about conquistadores, you just don't hear anybody talk about Spain.

So when it turned out that Hidalgo Favila was a half-mad freebase addict from Barcelona who had crawled up into that wheelwell because everybody said the best coke got transshipped to America, I looked pretty stupid. And mentioning that was the only way the media wolves could sneak out of looking stupid themselves. Get it right, you're a star. Get it half-right, you're a gas giant. I took a lot of ribbing, and business went down so sharply that I thought seriously about slipping off the straight and narrow and becoming a cop.

The only thing that saved me is that reputation doesn't really mean as much as it used to once. There is so much yammer-yammer on the air and in print these days that nobody could keep up with it, much less remember it. I mean, look at Richard Nixon's rehabilitation. There's always somebody who didn't get the word. Before long, business was right back up to putrid again.

But to make a long story short, every time somebody reminds me of the Favila case, it drives me crazy. I keep replaying the memory in my mind, right up to the moment when I say ". . . . from Belize . . ." to the reporters, and then trying to make my memory-mouth add, ". . . . or possibly from Spain." It never works, and it takes at least ten minutes to derail my mind once I start doing it.

And it drives me just as crazy when somebody points out my resemblance to that jerk on TV. I never asked him to steal my face . . .

So I was only a few blocks from Lady Sally's House when I finally managed to get my mind back on the job at hand.

* * *

I knew the general location of the place, but the actual neighborhood surprised me a little. It was a kind of a dumpy, run-down warehouse-y area . . . but it didn't have the hardcore funky sleaze to it that you'd expect around a really first-class whorehouse. No bombed-out abandoned buildings, or burned out cars, or roving packs of bull fruits looking for gay-bashers to chain-whip, or dull-eyed junkies nodding around a trash can fire. It looked like the kind of neighborhood you could walk with the safety catch on.

The hack jockey pulled up in front of an enormous mausoleum that filled an entire block. Seven stone steps led to a huge front door with an elaborately carved marble frame and a stained-glass transom. On either side of it were a pair of red globe lights, a classical touch I admired. There were tall windows on either side of the door, but their heavy curtains were drawn and very little light from inside escaped.

"Here you are, cap," the cabbie said.

I consulted the mental map everybody creates the moment they get in a cab. "I want the north entrance," I said.

He turned around to look me over. "You'll never carry it off," he decided. "You can't wear the clothes."

"Huh?" I said. I hate it when I say that. Even "Excuse me?" is better.

"That's the VIP entrance. You're the wrong type."

They're all out-of-work actors these days. "Just take me to the north entrance, okay, pal?"

"Everybody's got the right to audition," he agreed, and drove me around the block.

It was a lot darker around the back. As I was paying the jockey I asked him if I'd have any trouble getting another cab around there at night. "Maybe if you were on fire," he said, "or carrying a machine gun." I got out and he drove away.

The north wall of that building at ground level was a featureless expanse of interleaved stone blocks, with a single entrance right in the middle of the block. The door was recessed back in a sheltered, roofed doorway whose walls projected out a few feet onto the sidewalk. There was a single low-wattage light (not red) above the door. I looked closer and saw the sliding peephole in the door. I turned around and looked across the street, and saw another featureless wall, this one of brick. I realized that no one could photograph you standing at this door without being seen. At worst they could snap you ducking into the doorway recess, which a man might do to get out of the rain or light a cigarette out of the wind. This was the VIP entrance, all right.

I reached for the doorknob. There wasn't any. There wasn't any place to put a secret key I didn't have. There was no electronic lock keypad to try and crack the combo for. No buzzer or intercom panel. No room between door and frame to slip in a credit card, or even a scalpel blade. Even Jim Rockford would have had trouble with that door. Maybe the Seventh Armored would have too.

I lifted a fist to knock, and the door swung open noiselessly.

Most of being cool is in training your face never to look surprised. The rest of it is, when you are surprised, walk forward at once. I entered, and the door shut behind me. It was street-dark inside, and I interpreted the shadowy figure before me as a naked courtesan.

A dimmer switch was turned up slowly, and I found myself staring at a smiling grandmother in a silk robe. Possibly a great grandmother, and certainly a good one. Seventy-five if she was a day, the kind of sweet-featured chipper old lady you see in the After of laxative commercials. I liked her on sight. Not just her face, either, I realized with surprise. It wasn't a granny-type robe, and she wore it damned well . . .

I controlled my face and walked forward again, sticking out my hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Your Ladyship," I said. And I was going to add, "My name's Joe Quigley," and kiss her hand, but she spoiled it by taking my hand in both of hers and bursting into very girlish laughter.

"Bless your heart, grandson," She said. "Flattery like that will get you a hell of a lot."

I started to say, "Excuse me?" but decided I had done enough of that tonight. "Ma'am?"

"Let's start over, dear. I'm Ruth."

"Oh. I need to See Lady Sally McGee."

"Who doesn't? Pardon me, dear, but are you a member?"

"Not yet." She started to look sad, so I tried, "Uh . . . I was sent by the most hated man in New York."

It worked. "Of course. We've been expecting you." She took my trench coat off me and made it disappear. I never noticed her take my hat, but a while later I didn't have it. "This way."

Do you know how strange it feels to follow a senior citizen—and realize you're watching her butt? She was some granny. I found myself thinking maybe I'd buy her a drink on the way out.

Go ahead, laugh. You've never met her.

We went through another door—just as tough as the outside door; I don't know how she got it to open for her—and down a long hall. The carpet was expensive, but didn't overdo it like the other one. The lighting was so indirect I couldn't spot the source. The air smelled funny. Kind of nice. Halfway down the hall, corridors branched off to left and right. I glanced to either side as we passed and saw two doors—with knobs—in each wing, numbered D-1 through D-4. They were set far apart from each other: big rooms. Next to each door was a tiny peanut bulb, and two of them glowed like rubies. Except for them, the place felt like a pricey hotel in midtown Manhattan. There was even a room service tray outside one of the doors. As I passed, a hand and bare arm came out of that door at low level and deposited a teacup on the tray; I heard someone speaking in what sounded like Russian.

At the end of the hall was an elevator—which did have an electronic lock keypad. Ruth tapped out a code, and the doors slid apart. I failed to catch the code: she had fast hands for an old woman.

"Her Ladyship will receive you in—" Ruth began, then pressed a finger to what I had taken for a hearing aid. "—the Boys' Bedroom, thank you, Mary. I have to stay here, Mr. Quigley, but you'll find it: the second door on the left," she finished. She held the door for me.

I hadn't told her my name. "Thank you, Ruth."

"You're welcome. Has anybody ever told you you look a little bit like—"


"Oh. Sorry. Enjoy your stay."

There certainly was that possibility. I got in. The building was four stories tall, but there were only two buttons in that elevator. I pushed the top one, the doors slid shut, and I rose.

On the way up I tried to remember a quote I heard in a bar once, something about wondering what the guys who make the wine drink, and how good it is. I mean, a guy who can screw eight million people every day, the place where he goes to get screwed himself must be something pretty special, you know?

This definitely beat staking out midtown fleabags with a Polaroid during lunch hour . . .


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