Read Manhattan 62 Online

Authors: Reggie Nadelson

Manhattan 62 (25 page)

“But in your country nothing is real, is it?”

“It is more complicated.”

“Christ, Ostalsky. You still believe. Jesus.”

“Yes, I believe in socialism, of course. I love my country very much. Even though I have learned many other things here.”

“You still sound like a fucking robot. It's horseshit, and I'm guessing you know it. You know better now. I guess they hired you because you had the brains for it. For the propaganda, and the lying, and, of course, your talent with guns. And for using people.”

Max shifted his weight. “You misunderstand, Pat. We only want people to see that our system is directed towards social justice and against imperialism and the enslavement of the less able.”

“You think we enslave people? The United States? You sound like a brainless Bolshie when you talk like that.”

“Perhaps no more than when your own people talk of America as the greatest nation on earth, and say their Pledge of Allegiance, and tell the world that peace and goodness depends on your system of capitalism, even when there are hungry people, and Negro people hanging from trees.” He looked at me. “As if making money is essential to these things. Do you believe money can buy peace or that capitalism will purchase equality for your Negroes?”

“Can it, Max. Just give me a break, OK? You don't have to impress me with how you con people with your Marxist horseshit, OK? I know it by heart. Your country's idea of peace is to ship a bunch of nukes across the world to Cuba, right next door to us, ninety miles away. There's probably going to be a war because of your people.”

“Cuba has a right to self-determination.”

“It was all a fucking game, wasn't it? You, and NYU, and Greenwich Village, and Nancy Rudnick, and me, Pat Wynne, the easy touch.” I saw that he looked nervous. I kept talking. I would talk until I dropped. I didn't want to die in that warehouse.

“You imagined because I love Greenwich Village, and baseball, and the Half Note, and John Coltrane, even your rock and roll, and fried clams at Howard Johnsons, and espresso coffee at Café Figaro, and
Some Like It Hot,
and I do, I do like them a very lot, you didn't see that this could be true, my sincere delight in all this, but that I could also love my country, and that learning about these things could be part of my job. I was good at it, too. They didn't have to teach me much, it came to me, naturally.”

“What about Nancy? Was she part of the plan?”

“Nancy was not in any plan, or you. You were not in a plan.” He was bitter now, and in his voice was despair, and then he yawned, like a man desperate for oxygen to keep him going. He saw my face and laughed. “Oh, yes, we are also human beings. We yawn, we cry. We laugh. All of it.”

“So what? I've collared killers who loved their children and ran home to them right after they strangled some poor bastard and watched him die. They're all human, even the maniacs. That gun you're holding isn't a .22. Where's the gun you used on your friend, Valdes, the friend you slaughtered at the end of Pier 46? What kind of man shoots an unarmed friend?”

“I didn't kill anyone.”

He was lying.
They ask me to eliminate a friend.
Ostalsky had written it in the notebook.

“You can believe me or not believe me, but Riccardo Valdes was my good friend and I would never hurt him.”

“When forensics finishes with this case, your prints will be all over him. We already know there were prints on him. Not too smart, Ostalsky. They must have left something out of your training, or is it the soft life in Greenwich Village that got to you? Too many songs about brotherhood peace?”

“I didn't kill Rica, or his girlfriend, Susana Reyes. They were wrong because they betrayed their revolution, but why would I kill him?”

“One of your bosses ordered it.”

“You already know I could not have killed Susana, because I was with you that evening at Minetta Tavern, and later I was with Nancy. It's not what you want to hear, but you can ask her.”

“What the hell were you doing on the pier the night Valdes was murdered?”

“How can you be so sure I was at the pier?”

From my pocket I took the silver charm that had belonged to Nancy, and held it up to him.

Ostalsky moved closer, peering into the dark at the silver object. “I see, yes,” he said.

“Do you think Nancy also knows that you're a killer? Right now, she just thinks you're dead. Just as well, if you ask me.”

Saul Rudnick had said Ostalsky didn't have what it took to be an agent; didn't have the right kind of treachery in his heart. How wrong Rudnick had been. How much Saul, with all his righteous decent misguided ideas about the workers, about equality and justice, lived in a fantasy of socialism. He had no damn idea. He had no idea there were Cuban spies everywhere, no idea that people like Ostalsky were part of a network of spies who killed, even their own friends if necessary.

Deceit, lies, treachery, it was all part of the game. My game, too, of course. You lied to solve a case. If you went undercover, you lied. If you collared a suspect and wanted to push him over the edge, you bent a few rules, but in the end, you did it to catch a killer. Everyone knew this; we just didn't talk about it.

Max Ostalsky was in a different league. He had deceived everyone. He had made up stories. He had worn his charm, the curiosity, his smile, his love of the city and its music, like a costume. He had written it in his notebook:

In my new clothes, do I look like a clown? Like a man in a costume on a stage?

He was a clown all right; he was the murderer in the mask who came up behind you and slit your throat. Max the magician.

Even after he had butchered a man in the most brutal way I had ever seen, Ostalsky had remained composed enough to make his way back to his apartment, to keep out of sight for almost a week, to summon a friend from Washington, to get here, to this warehouse. That same evening before he had committed murder, he had been cool enough to pass the time at the Village Gate listening to Stan Getz with Nancy.

He stayed silent.

“What are you going to do after you kill me? Your Mr Ustinov said you needed a friend. Things can't be all that good.”

“Did he say that to you?”

“Give me the gun, Max.”

“I can't.”

“Fuck you. You want to kill me because I know who you are and what you did. So you got your fat pal to say you needed me, tell me where you were hiding. You knew I'd find you. I'd find you and you could kill me and you figured you'd be OK, because some of my people want me off the job. There are others on it.” I was bluffing, it was all bravado; I was scared as hell. “Just out of curiosity, now you've killed one friend and you've got me in your sights, how does it feel? Or maybe you've done it so often you don't feel anything.”

Max got up from the box where he sat. The gun still aimed at my heart, he took a few steps towards me and sweat began to ooze down my back. I was more terrified than I had ever been at the prospect of this man getting ready to murder me.

Slowly, I got up from the chicken crate where I had been sitting. For some insane reason, I didn't want to die sitting down. Maybe I read about somebody in a battle who said he wouldn't die sitting down. Or was it with his boots off? Who the hell knew? In one hand, I had a pack of Chesterfields and a box of matches.

“Can I smoke?”

Max nodded, watching carefully while I lit up, and the seconds ticked away.

Through the cracked window I saw the moon slide behind the clouds. A tug on the river hooted mournfully, and I tried to judge the distance between us. Somewhere in that vast concrete space, water dripped down the walls. Max Ostalsky was three feet away from me, gun steady.

And then he said, “Pat, please, just go now. Just walk away from this thing, which is not normal, not good at all. This is not a good place for you. Go away. Go to your life.”

“So you can shoot me in the back?”

“Tell my friends I am sorry, get my clothes from 10th Street, if there is anything you like, please take it, or ask Mrs Miller to give these to her nice charities, and say to everyone how much I enjoyed New York. Just go away.”

“Is it because you're too much of a coward to shoot somebody who was a friend in the face? Is that it? You want me to turn my back?”

He took another step towards me.

“There's nowhere for you to go, Max,” I said. “You won't make it.”

“I know this,” he said. “But even more sad than this makes me, it makes me so sad because I know now that I am very bad at my job.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Finally, I was asked to serve my country, according to how I was trained, to do, how do you say, the real thing?”

“How?”

“By eliminating my friend, Rica Valdes. This was my task. And I failed. You ask how I feel? Do you still want to know?”

“Sure.”

“Filled with fear. Scared. Unhappy. I'm not going to shoot you, Pat.” He dropped the gun to his side, but kept a tight grip on it.

“Then give me my weapon back.”

“I can't do that. But I didn't kill anyone and you will understand that if I could not kill one good friend, I won't kill another. I won't kill you if you just leave. If you leave, I can say I never saw you.”

“Somebody wants me dead.”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Not now.”

“Is it your friend in the camel-hair coat?”

“No. I asked Ustinov to send you here because I need your help. You asked me about an assassination. I need your help to try to stop it.”

“Yeah?” I didn't believe he'd let me go. He'd shoot me, and I didn't care for the idea.

“There will be an assassination,” he said. “Ustinov agrees this is possible and he is close to things.”

“Where? Who? Why? Is it an American?”

“I think so. All I know now is Rica Valdes was trying to stop it, in his own way, and of course he had no power, and I was ordered to kill him.”

“Your people are planning this assassination.”

“Or yours,” Max said, and I was so enraged by his crazy talk now, that almost without thinking about it, I kicked an empty bottle I spotted. Kicked it hard. Ostalsky was distracted for an instant. I lunged.

I grabbed at his arms, dragging him down onto the concrete floor and clawing at his eyes. If you could make somebody blind even for an instant, you could change the odds. My fingers were in his left eye; I felt the eyeball, the liquid, the soft tissue.

Close to where I was, something else—not the bottle, but something light—shattered and there was glass on the ground. Then the gun went off.

CHAPTER NINE

October 24, '62

M
AX
O
STALSKY WAS ON
the cold cement ground. I kept hold of his gun. He opened his eyes and struggled to get up, reaching for the wall to steady himself, but it was too far, and he fell back and lay on the floor. There was blood on his hands, where he had tried to break the fall and some on his face. Instinctively he reached for his face, but his glasses were gone. I had heard them shatter.

I said. “Get off the floor and sit down.”

The gun had gone off by mistake when I grabbed for him. Even before I had a chance to hit him, the force had knocked him back.

“Get up off the floor and sit down on that box, goddamn it, and keep your hands where I can see them,” I said, and Max crawled to the crate where he had been earlier, a blind man feeling his way forward. I'd have cuffed him if I had a set. Maybe I could find some wire later. Ostalsky looked defeated. He reached down, trying to find his glasses.

I picked them up, what was left of them, and tossed them over. He put them on. One lens was completely gone, the other was cracked, and Ostalsky peered through it, squinting. From my pocket I grabbed a handkerchief and tossed it to him. “Wipe the blood off.”

“A one-eyed man, this is what I am now,” he said. “Maybe I was always half-blind.”

“You got me here, now what the hell do you really want from me, because I'm tired.”

“I want you to trust me.”

“Yeah? Why? What I can't work out is the way you did it. I can imagine you killing a man, but the rest of it, the brutality, the cutting out of his tongue.”

“I didn't do it.” He leaned back against the rough wall.

“If you want my trust, give me something back, man. If you want to get out of here alive, you pretty much have to kill me, which is no longer an option, or tell me what's going on. You say you have to stop some assassination, save the world, which is crap.”

“You're wrong.”

“You tell me you failed to do your job, then your people will show up sooner or later, isn't that right? I assume that they do not like their agents to fail?”

He nodded.

“Your fat friend told me Bounine had gone off the rails.”

“Bounine was only the messenger.”

“For who?”

“I don't know yet. It's cold in here. I have a sweater in that green bag. Can I get it? You said you had time to listen.” He looked around the empty space.

I kept the gun on him. I got the sweater and tossed it over. I sat back down and lit another cigarette. Max jammed the green sweater over his head and pulled it down. “Thank you.”

“Sit down.”

He sat on the crate again. “What I had no idea of at first was that Bounine knew everything about my life, where I was living, where I liked to eat, who were my friends,” said Max. “It was so easy. I had made it easy for him, letting him into my life, but why not, I thought? We were comrades. Bounine is nothing. He is, what do you say, like stool pigeon? He will do anybody's work for a little advancement. He will do as he's told. But it took me a while to understand this. His father is high up in the government, but he's spoiled and stupid. He had no idea about Rica Valdes, who was good person with a good heart.”

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