Small Town

Page 31

Francis X. Buckram had come home from World War II and traded a khaki uniform for a blue one and never got out of it. He was a beat cop for the rest of his life, on his feet most of the time, and those feet had never been right since the Battle of the Bulge.

He’d come home at the end of his shift and sit on a stool in the bathroom with his feet in a tub of water. “Hit those books,” he told his son. “Pay attention to what the nuns teach you. You don’t want to wind up like this.”

Then, two months before he could have watched his son graduate from Colgate, Frank came home from work and told his wife he didn’t feel so hot. “I’ll call the doctor,” she said.

“It’s nothing,” he said, and sat down in his chair. His eyes widened, as if he saw something that surprised him, and then he slumped in his chair and died. It was, they told his wife, a massive myocardial infarction, which was another way of saying a heart attack. At least he didn’t suffer, they told her, and she said, Oh, a lot you know, for didn’t that man suffer his whole life?

Fran flew home for the wake and the funeral mass, then hurried back to finish school. He’d delayed choosing among the law schools that had accepted him, and now he wrote them all and said he’d be unable to come. He didn’t want to be a lawyer. He wanted to be a cop, under it all he’d always wanted to be a cop.

When his father’s friends—cops, all of them—came up to him at the wake, many of them said, You’re making something of yourself, you’re going to be a lawyer, your dad was so proud of you, that’s all he talked about.

When he caught a break, parlaying a good arrest into a promotion to detective, his mother was there to see him get his gold shield. She kissed him and said, Oh, Fran, if he could see you now.

Later, he wondered how to take her words. If Frank Buckram could see him now, then what? Would he shake his hand or shake his head? Slap him on the back or across the face?

When he came back from Portland and was installed as police commissioner in a public ceremony at One Police Plaza, with him in a uniform with a ton of brass on it and Rudy presenting him with the commissioner’s badge, his mother was there in her wheelchair. She’d turned into a little old lady, she had less than a year and a half left, and her voice was so faint he’d had to bend down to catch what she was saying.

“So proud,” she said. “Your poor father, how proud he’d be. His heart’d be bursting, he’d be so proud.”

And now? He was flying first class, he was staying in good hotels, he was getting paid good money to say the same thing over and over. Men with too much money were willing to give some of it to him so he could try to get a job nobody in his right mind would want.

How proud would the old man be now?

B U C K R A M W A S I N D E E D A N Irish name, he told Wilburn. It was also an English word, meaning a stiff cotton fabric used in book-binding, and he’d checked the etymology once and learned the word had antecedents in Middle English and Old French, and derived ultimately from Bokhara, in Central Asia.

The Irish had no connection to that part of the world, unless they were indeed one of the Ten Lost Tribes. The name was an Anglicization of a Gaelic name that started out Buccrough—and ended in any of several unpronounceable ways. It wasn’t a common name in Ireland, but he’d checked the directories during a visit to Ireland, and there were Buckrams in County Monaghan, where his father’s people had come from. He’d thought of looking them up, but Monaghan was in the Midlands, well out of his way, and what would he say to them, anyway?

Wilburn said, “There was talk that you might get your old job back. That the new fellow might appoint you.”

“We discussed it,” he said, amazed to be talking so openly with a stranger. He’d had a Bloody Mary shortly after takeoff, but when did one drink ever loosen his tongue? He’d always been able to knock them back with the heavy hitters without fear that the slightest indiscretion would pass his lips. No, he evidently felt like talking, and he didn’t think the drink had anything to do with it.

“You didn’t want it or he didn’t want to offer it?”

“I wanted it, and he’d have liked to give it to me,” he said, “and we both realized it wasn’t a good idea. Rudy’d hired me and fired me, and Rudy’s endorsement put him in Gracie Mansion, even if he doesn’t actually live there—”

“Likes his own place better, does he?”

“—and he couldn’t start off his own term putting me back in as commissioner without biting the hand that fed him, and publicly at that. He’s in an awkward position anyway, coming in on the heels of a hero, and one who’d still have the job if the voters had anything to say about it.”

“Never did understand the logic of term limits. But it’s all politics, isn’t it?” The Texan shook his head. “Politics. Why would a man want to involve himself in all of that?” T H E R E W A S N O C A R meeting him at JFK. He got his bag from the carousel and waited in the taxi queue for a cab. The driver’s name ended in - pour, which probably meant he was an Iranian. Whatever he was, he drove like a cowboy on crystal meth.

His apartment was on East Sixty-seventh, in one of the white brick monstrosities he’d proposed for landmark status. His weekly cleaning woman, a cheerful young Nicaraguan with about twenty English words at her command, had shown up in his absence, and the place was immaculate. He unpacked, checked the mail, and returned phone calls, then ducked around the corner to drink a cup of coffee and read a newspaper.

There was more on the triple homicide on East Twenty-eighth Street. The News had taken to calling the killer the Curry Hill Carpenter, because forensics had determined that he’d used a hammer and a chisel to murder the three women. He had a feeling the name would stick; it had an ominous quality, suggesting the murderer was a craftsman, workmanlike in his attention to details, and the alliteration didn’t hurt. And wasn’t the k or hard c sound supposed to be effective? Wasn’t there a whole riff to that effect in The Sunshine Boys? Cucumber is funny, radish is not. Kokomo and Cucamonga are funny, kumquat is funny. Fort Wayne? Not funny.

Nothing funny about the murders. What was funny—funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha—was the illusion of a link to the murder last month in the Village, the real estate agent who got her neck wrung by the writer. Both premises were cleaned regularly by the same individual. That wasn’t much of a stretch, but when you added in the fact that the individual was also the first person on the scene at both venues it became dramatically more significant.

Funny, too, was the fact that the information had gotten out.

Maury Winters, whom he’d last seen getting his pipes cleaned under the table at L’Aiglon d’Or, was the writer’s lawyer, and he supposed Maury must have leaked the story to a press contact. It was the kind of thing that could cloud the open-and-shut case against what’s-his-name, Creighton, and you could be sure Maury would bring it up in court.

He was done with the story, done with a sidebar column playing up the human angle, when something clicked and he checked the names of the victims. The madam was one Mary Mulvaney, forty-four, with an East Side address a few minutes from the UN. But the columnist in the sidebar had referred to her as Molly, and had spun a theory about a propensity for raffish behavior in those whose names ended in - olly. He’d cited Polly Adler, the legendary Prohibition-era madam, and Holly Golightly, the fictional good-time girl in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It didn’t seem like much of an argument to Buckram, not even if you tossed in Ollie North, whom the writer had failed to add to the mix. But now, putting the nickname with the last name—

Jesus, he knew Molly Mulvaney. Had known her, anyway. She’d been a witness twenty-plus years ago, she’d been one of three high-ticket hookers who’d been partying in a Kips Bay penthouse with Tiny Tom Nappi, a midlevel mob guy whose sobriquet derived not from his stature, which was neither tall nor short, but from his sexual equipment, which was rumored to be in the same league with John Dillinger’s and Milton Berle’s. Nappi had said he wanted to die in a room full of booze and pussy and cocaine, and he got his wish, though probably not the way he had in mind. He’d gone to answer the door, and was shot through the peephole. The large-caliber slug went in through his eye and blew out most of the back of his head.

Molly hadn’t seen anything, and was bright enough to have kept her mouth shut even if there had been anything to see. Buckram had caught the case—which they’d solved in the sense that they knew who’d ordered the hit and had a pretty good idea who’d pulled the trigger, but never had enough to charge anybody. And he’d interrogated Molly Mulvaney at length, and liked her. They’d even flirted a little, although he’d made sure it didn’t go beyond that. She wasn’t really in the game, she’d told him. She just liked to party, and the life was kind of exciting, but this was more excitement than she’d signed on for, thank you very much, and what she thought she’d do was get the hell back to Fordham Road and marry a fireman. Or maybe a cop, she’d said, if I knew where to find a real cute one.

If she’d gone back to the Bronx she hadn’t stayed, and if she’d married her fireman it hadn’t worked out, but she’d evidently found the right way to be in the life, moving into management and letting younger bodies do the heavy lifting. Kept regular hours, made a decent living, lived in a good neighborhood. Nothing wrong with that, the illegality of it aside, until somebody beat her brains out with a hammer, and why in God’s name would anybody want to do that?

They’d be checking everything out, and of course they’d checked Creighton and of course he’d been cleared, and the coincidence of the Pankow kid threw a big monkey wrench into the middle of things, but they’d check Molly’s book, and that would probably upset a lot of citizens and screw up a few of their marriages. And they’d track down the other girls who worked for her, or had worked for her in the recent past, and they’d look for somebody with a grudge. If Molly was mobbed up—and she had to be to some extent or other, she was too hip to try riding bareback—

they’d look for the OC connection, and lots of luck to them on that one.

Would they close it? The easy ones broke for you in the first forty-eight hours, and that hadn’t happened, but that only meant it wasn’t going to be easy, not that it wasn’t going to be closed. He sat there, in the Joseph Abboud suit he’d worn to Texas, and after a stretch of staring off into space he pulled himself up short, suddenly aware what he’d been doing.

He’d been figuring out what he’d be doing if it were his case.

And, he realized, that’s what he really wanted. Not to run around the country telling people what they already knew. Not to hold office, whether it was mayor or commissioner of police.

What he wanted was to be out there on the street, running an investigation, working a case.

T H E R E W A S A P H O N E call he’d tried to return earlier, to a cop he’d known years ago by the name of Jimmy Galvin. They’d lost touch, and the message on his voice mail hadn’t indicated the reason for the call. Probably to tell him somebody had died, he figured. More and more, that’s what a call from the past meant. Somebody else was gone, and somebody wanted to make sure you got the news.