Small Town

Page 16



He had the phone to his ear and Winters was telling him that the warrant had to be specific, that they couldn’t search the place again for general evidence, that they had to be looking for something they hadn’t known to look for earlier. And it would say what it was in the warrant.

His reading glasses were on the desk, so he had to squint, but the warrant was short and the part that was typed in was in larger print than the boilerplate. “‘A blue rabbit figurine,’ ” he read aloud.

“A blue what? Did you say rabbi or rabbit?”

“Rabbit.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“I have no idea.”

“Last time you looked, were there any blue rabbits in your apartment?”

“No,” he said. “No purple cows, either. What do I do now, Maury?”

“Let ’em in, and let me talk to one of them, and then stay on the phone with me until they’re out of there. And not a word to them, not even agreeing it’s a nice day out, which it isn’t anyway, it looks like it’s gonna rain. You got that?”

“All of it,” he said, “including the weather report.” And he opened the door and handed the phone to Slaughter. “My lawyer wants to talk to you,” he said. “But I don’t.” T H E Y W E R E T H E R E F O R close to two hours, but it wasn’t that bad.

His lawyer chatted with him for a while, then put him on speakerphone with instructions to speak up if the cops pulled anything out of line. He picked up the magazine he’d been reading and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and kept an eye on Slaughter and Reade, which wasn’t difficult because the apartment consisted of a single room.

They took as long as they did because they were being thorough, not wanting to miss the mysterious blue rabbit if it was there to be found, and also because they were less cavalier in their search, probably because he was there watching them. Whatever the cause, the difference was palpable; first time around they’d made a mess, and now they were as neat as cadets preparing for inspection.

A blue rabbit. Had he ever in his life even seen a blue rabbit?

The critters came in all shapes and sizes, he thought, and in a wide variety of colors, but blue? Maybe some Luther Burbank of the rabbit world was working on it now, but so far he figured blue rabbits were pretty thin on the ground. Of course it wasn’t a living breathing hopping rabbit they were looking for, it was a figurine, and they could be any color. You didn’t have to manipulate the DNA of some little stone carving, did you?

Wait a minute . . .

Three little animals on the table alongside the couch. In her apartment, Marilyn Fairchild’s apartment. He’d picked them up and set them down again, and was one of them a rabbit? And was it blue?

Maybe.

He seemed to remember it now, but he didn’t know to what extent he could trust his memory. His imagination got in the way.

That was a blessing for a writer, an imagination like his, but it could be a curse, because it was possible to imagine something vividly enough to convince yourself it was a memory.

And that was especially true when your memory was patchy anyway after a night of fairly serious drinking. He wasn’t sure just how drunk he’d been, but going home with Marilyn Fairchild had not been the act of a sober man. De mortuis and all that, but you’d need a few drinks in you before a flop in the feathers with that husky-voiced predator seemed like a good idea.

And he’d done some drinking at her apartment. Just one drink, he’d for some reason insisted to the cops, but was that true? If so, it was a technicality, because he seemed to recall a rocks glass, devoid of rocks but brimful of Wild Turkey. And then, of course, he’d come home from her place and drunk himself to sleep, desperate to wash the memory of the encounter from his system.

So who knew what happened and what didn’t? Maybe he’d had more than one drink at her place on Charles Street. Maybe she’d told him her name, her real name, and it hadn’t registered. And maybe he’d seen the blue rabbit, and picked it up, and played with it.

If they were looking for it . . .

If they were looking for it, duh, that meant it wasn’t on Charles Street anymore. Which meant what exactly?

That the killer had taken it away with him?

Maybe it was another Maltese falcon, the stuff that dreams were made of. And someone had traced the legendary Cypriot Rabbit to an apartment on Charles near Waverly, and killed its owner in order to gain possession of it.

Alternatively, maybe someone had killed the lady for reasons of his own—it probably wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a couple—and had been unable to resist taking the rabbit home with him, as a memento of the occasion.

Jesus, suppose they found it in his apartment?

But they couldn’t, not unless they planted it, because he hadn’t taken it with him.

Or had he?

He didn’t remember taking the rabbit with him, wasn’t even sure he remembered seeing it there in the first place. But he didn’t remember not taking it, either, because how could you recall a negative? And he could imagine taking it, out of resentment or petulance or just drunken absent-mindedness. Pick it up, look at it, and the next thing you know you’re out the door and the damn thing’s in your pocket.

If they found it . . .

All it would prove was he’d been there, and they already knew that, he’d blurted out an admission the first time around, before he knew better. Maury had said his admission might not be admissible in court, and the blue rabbit would be, but there was sure to be physical evidence putting him at the scene, no matter how good a cleanup job had been done by the fellow who discovered the body.

But it would prove he’d taken the rabbit and lied about it. And it was direct physical evidence, something she owned that was now in his apartment, and it was small and personal, and it would look like a murderer’s souvenir, it would look like that and nothing else.

Jesus Christ, a little blue rabbit could put a rope around his neck.

Not literally. Not a rope, because New York State used lethal injection, or would if they ever got around to slipping the needle to the guys on death row in Dannemora. (How are things in Dannemora? Is that lethal brook still babbling there?) And not a needle, either, because they wouldn’t make this a death penalty case, it didn’t meet the standards, and would you even call it premeditated? A man goes home with a woman, they argue, whatever, and she winds up dead. That wasn’t premeditated, you could certainly call it manslaughter without stretching a point, and—

Except he hadn’t done it!

Could he have taken that fucking rabbit? Could he have brought it home and stashed it someplace? And would they find it?

T H E Y D I D N ’ T.

They left around eleven, perfectly polite, saying only that they were sorry to have disturbed him.

It had begun raining while they were searching the apartment, and when Slaughter switched on the wipers they smeared the windshield. He used the thing that was supposed to squirt Windex onto the glass, and it was empty. He found a paper napkin, used it to clean the windshield, and pulled away from the curb.

Reade said, “No rabbit.”

“Did you really expect to find it? If it was even there in the first place. Maybe it’s Harvey, maybe Pankow’s the only person who can see it.”

“What’s funny, though, is how he acted just now.”

“Creighton?”

“He didn’t want us in there, but not because he was afraid we’d find anything. He just didn’t want us around.”

“And we’re such likable guys.”

“But once the lawyer told him to let us in he was okay about it.

He still didn’t want to deal with us, and he didn’t, but he wasn’t anxious. Like, you want to toss the place, be my fucking guests.

Like he knew what we were looking for—”

“Which he had to know, it was spelled out on the warrant.”

“—and he knew we weren’t going to find it.”

“Which we didn’t.”

“But here’s the thing, Kevin. He wasn’t nervous, but we went on searching, and we weren’t getting anyplace, and then he started to get nervous. Like the longer we were there, the more chance we had to come up with a little blue rabbit.”

“You’re saying it wasn’t there when we walked in, but it sneaked in while we were there?”

“Hop hop hop. It’s just interesting, is all.”

“He did it.”

“Oh, hell, I know he did it. And I don’t think he remembers it.

But you know what? I think he’s starting to. I think it’s beginning to come back to him.”

seven

HE WOKE TOthe sound of bells, probably from the Francis-can church on Thirty-first Street. His hotel—the hotel where he was staying, it was by no means his hotel—was on Eighth Avenue at Thirty-second. It was thus convenient to Penn Station, but it would have had to be a much better hotel than it was for this to be anything more than coincidental. It was an SRO (for Single Room Occupancy, not Standing Room Only), which was essentially a euphemism for flophouse—small rooms for $30 a night, $200 a week, a sink in the room, a toilet down the hall, a tub and shower on the floors above and below. Cash in advance, no credit cards.

No cooking, no pets, no guests in rooms.

He liked it well enough.

When the bells ceased to ring he dressed, used the hall toilet, and returned to his room. The room had a single chair, which looked to have had an earlier life as part of a dinette set. He posted it next to the window and sat in it with his current book, a volume of George Templeton Strong’s diary, an exhaustive record of life in nineteenth-century New York.

His name for now, the name he’d used registering at the hotel, was G. T. Strong. No one had asked what the G stood for, and no one knew the name but the clerk who had signed him in, and who had very likely long since forgotten it. For six weeks now he’d paid each week’s rent in advance, and he never had calls or callers, never spoke to anyone, never made any trouble, asked any favors, or registered any complaints.

He read thirty pages of his book, the third volume of his edition of Strong’s diary, then marked his place and tucked it under his mattress. This was almost certainly an unnecessary precaution, the sort of person who’d break into this sort of room would be unlikely to consider a book worth stealing, but it would inconvenience him greatly to lose the book, and it was little trouble to tuck it out of sight.

He’d finish the book in a few days or a week, and then he would exchange it for the next volume at the warehouse on Seventeenth Street west of Eleventh Avenue, where he rented a storage cubicle.

He had hardly anything there, three cartons full of books and a fourth holding the few other articles he still owned, but it was well worth the monthly charge to keep the books where they’d be safe yet readily accessible. They were all historical works about New York City. That had always been a chief interest of his, and, when he walked away from everything else he owned, those were the volumes he kept.

He’d even enlarged his collection, browsing at the Strand, picking up, oh, ten or a dozen books over the months.