Authors: Reggie Nadelson
“I think you should do your job, and you'll be fine. OK, Jimmy?”
Garrity lowered his voice further. “Give me your home phone, I'll try to keep you on board.”
“Why don't you give me yours?” I said, and he scribbled a number down and tore the page out of his notebook. “Thanks. You don't like Logan, do you?”
“I don't trust him.”
“In the car, he's always talking about brainwashing, and how we should learn from the Commies, and he reads books about how the Chinese do it, and we should consider using their ways. Told me once torture is a means to an end, and if the end is in our interest, we have every right. He's a mean son-of-a-bitch, I mean, he even makes the girls in the office cry when he yells at them, and I don't hold with that.”
“Think hard. Anyone in particular who comes to the office?”
Garrity looked at his boss. A group of men had formed around Loganâthe cops who had arrived just before him, two others, Feds, maybeâall of them heads down, all in their dark hats and coats smoking and talking together; like courtiers, they all attended to Logan; there was no way into that closed circle unless you belonged.
“You know, two or three times, I saw a man in an expensive coat, not a cop. I had never seen him, yeah, but he walks right in, doesn't say a word, closes Logan's door behind him.”
“What kind of coat?”
“English like. Like in a movie. Belted. Like some spy in a movie. Big head of silver hair. Pompadour. I noticed that. I got an uncle with hair like that.”
Tommy had mentioned a man with white hair. “Go on.”
“A couple of times lately, I picked up the phone by mistake, and I heard him talking. All I heard was him saying the word âstrike', but when he realized I was on the line, he lost his temper. I'll tell you this, he's obsessed with the Mob. He'll do anything to nail one of them Mob guys, and they're in bed with the Longshoreman, so what can I say?” He was whispering. “Logan nearly socked me. Told me to fucking stay off his phone line.”
“Listen to me, Jimmy, you keep me posted. Yeah, and where's the forensics people? There's no one here? No reporters. Brass like Logan usually love getting their pictures in the
“I heard Logan say to keep the pier clear until he got a good look.”
“How come you're so talkative? You're not afraid of Logan?”
Jimmy looked at me. “He saw to it my brother's career came to a sudden end. He mentions the word corruption at his precinct, and he's done. I knew somehow Logan fixed it so he got canned. Bastard.”
“In the car on the way over, I heard him mention your name to his pal in the back seat.”
“Who was he, this pal?”
“I don't know. A uniform. Brass. Logan says, âThis Wynne, I don't want him anywhere near this case. If he gives me trouble, you pay attention,' and the other one says, âSure. Be my pleasure, what's the problem?' âHe's a Red,' says Logan. âHe's a goddman Red-lover.'”
“Where is he, the pal in the backseat?”
“Over there, checking out the body.”
A hard soaking rain was coming down in sheets. There was no point taking on Logan. He didn't want to hear from me. But I knew it was connected: the dead girl on the High Line last July; the dead man on the pier. Both had the tattoo, the worm and the words âCuba Libre'. Two dead. Same tattoo. Both had been too young to die.
I turned my back on the scene, and started towards the street.
“You going home, Wynne?” Logan called out.
“Whatever you say, Logan.”
As I left, Logan looked up again from his courtiers in their dark coats and he tipped his hat to me. It was a strange, sarcastic gesture, and it made me feel colder than even the miserable rain.
I didn't go home. I left the pier and went north to the High Line.
I had already spent too many nights on the High Line. I had been up there night after night, July, August. I had to go back one more time. It had been July 4th when they slaughtered the girl, tortured her and left her hanging from the iron railings of the overhead viaduct a few blocks from the pier.
As soon as I get the callâI'm pretty much alone at the station house because it's the 4th, and everybody is at the beach or out partyingâI drive like crazy over to Gansevoort Street and leave my Corvette on the corner.
Independence Day, I can hear people on rooftops clapping, watching the fireworks, green, red, gold, white, lighting up the sky and the river. Somewhere through a loudspeaker “America the Beautiful”, followed by “Let's Twist Again”. Somebody's having a party. All over the city people are partying, celebrating July 4th. Goddamn 4th of July, and I'm on the job.
Where's the cop who called the homicide in? I can't see him. I can't see anyone at all. It's stinking hot, and I'm half blinded by the fireworks that light up the sky.
Thirty feet up, running over Tenth Avenue parallel to the river, the freight lineâeveryone calls it the High Lineâ goes from the 32nd Street railyards to the terminal at Spring Street. Use to go all the way downtown. Warehouses stand along the line, their loading docks level with the trains. Some places the line goes through the buildings.
My precinct includes the lower end of the line, which is why the cop on patrol called us earlier. Suddenly, a giant gold flower explodes over the Hudson, and in the light, I see the body.
Is she alive? I'm scared she's alive, afraid she's dead. At first I think, desperately, it's some teenage kid using the place for a game. Some kind of crazy game, like my pop used to say he played as a kid, using the struts of the overhead rail line for a jungle gym. Soon somebody would start a playground chant. The girl would grin, and pull herself up. I glance at my watch. It's midnight. I yell out to her. No response.
Her feet tied to the iron viaduct, she's hanging head down, about twenty-four, twenty-five feet above me, she looks eighteen, twenty. Head seems to bob in the wind coming from the river, or maybe it's some kind of momentum, the weight of her body making her swing, her long black hair whipped around. One arm in a pink and white checked sleeve, a blouse a young girl might wear, flopping like a rag doll's arm. The other arm is gone. Most of the blouse has been ripped away, revealing a plain white bra. It feels obscene to look. Blood everywhere.
Only a piece of the sleeve is left. The arm had been cut off at the shoulder. No chant. No playground games.
Can she be alive? I shout at her. No response. I know she's dead. I know it, but I jump up, trying to reach her. I can't reach her, can't really see her face, she's too high. I can't even grab her arm. This is like some fucking hallucination, but it's real. I can't find the damn cop who called this in.
I can't get to her this way. I'm yelling and running around, looking for some way up to the viaduct. God knows what's up there. I need help.
A block west is the meat-packing market. Warehouses open all night. The first one I get to, three men jump out, and open the back so it fits level with the loading dock. A meat packer, wearing a bloodied white coat, a smoke hanging from his lips, signals for them to start. They shoulder sides of beef off the truck and onto metal hooks, shoving the hooks along the ceiling of the warehouse. Once I worked a case where they found a dead man hanging from one of those hooks. Mob job pure and simple. At night, there's always that dark smell of blood in the air.
I grab for the guy in the white coat. “Where's the phone? Get me a goddamn phone.”
“Who the hell are you?”
I show him my badge. Finally, he lets me into the warehouse office, and I call the precinct, and by the time I'm heading back to the crime scene, the sirens are screaming. The meat boss must have heard them too, because he comes running after me, a cleaver in his hand, maybe figuring he could help with some creep out murdering young women.
When I get up the access ladder to the High Line, the place is already swarming, cops, medics, guys setting up portable lights, best they can. Flashlights flicker. The scene is like a movie set, black and white, cops and death.
I get a look at the girl whose feet were fastened with rope, then tied with wire to an iron railing, her body pushed over, head first. Her feet are scarred bad like somebody beat her.
Under the hot light, two hefty cops yank loose the wires, and pull the girl up. They lay her down on the side of the tracks, and the sight of these bulky young men attending so tenderly to this victim, this young girl, even younger than them, is hard to bear, even if you have a soul as calloused as mine.
Detectives arrive. Somebody from the coroner's office is already there. Reporters are crammed onto the narrow track. Flashbulbs go off, all in the ritual dance of death.
“They cut her arm off,” somebody yells. “They cut out her tongue,” a medic tells me. “Mafia thing, they want to shut you up, want to keep you from writing your confession.”
“Was she left-handed?”
“Is that all you feel about it? Jesus, you cops are cold. They did it like she was some animal, but even an animal you would kill first. Those guys at the meat market, they treat a side of beef with more care.”
“Thanks, doc.” I try to keep from losing it, try to make nice because, you work homicides in this city, you need relationships. Being Irish helps; cops, coroners, city pols, FBI agents, we come from the same place. It's changing, sure, but we still run things, and we help each other out. Cover for your brothers in blue at all times, my boss always says in that sanctimonious way of his.
Reporters who picked up the news on a police radio frequency, they're jockeying for position. A photographer in a stingy brim shuffles around, snaps the body. I could remember when that guy Arthur Fellig was around, taking police shots for the papers. I got hold of one. A long time after, when people decided Weegeeâthat was what he called himselfâwas art, I got a good price on it. Now it was only some young dumb photographer from the
One of my pals, a detective from my station house looks like he knows what he's doing and I get hold of him. “You OK with this for a couple minutes, man? I want to look around. I'm gonna take a walk,” I say, and he nods.
For a few minutes, in the dark, away from the scene, I stumble down the tracks, smoking, watching the orange tip of my cigarette, looking for, what, for something.
“The Wild West was right here in New York City,” my pop always said when he brought me over to the High Line. “See, buddy boy, right back to the 1850s, they ran freight down Tenth Avenue, first wagons going to market piled up with potatoes, sides of beef, trolley buses later on, and then the train. That train it ran people down, and they were dying like flies. They called it Death Avenue. These men on horses, the Westside Cowboys, rode in front waving red flags for protection.” As a kid, that's what I wanted to be. A Westside Cowboy. Couldn't ride a horse, no place to learn. My old man thought I was nuts. He'd say, “you know, I worked on that line for a while; I was a pretty damn good welder. You shoulda seen them sides of beef, pigs, turkey, all kind of fowl, going right down there. After it was built, I got a job doing repairs for a while. We had it good, even '32, '33, when people was living in Hoovervilles, them shacks by the East River, eating out of garbage scows. You was a little nipper, and we went out on Sundays and had a look. You remember when your Uncle Jack took you for a ride? All you wanted was to drive them trains thirty feet up in the sky.”
My pop always loved showing off his knowledge of the city. “Born at home right there on 39th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, the original Hell's Kitchen, they call it. My own da lived in one of them shantytowns on the river, worked the docks, after he come over during the Famine. We was all Irish then. Good times, building them viaducts.”
I can hear his voice, even as, the flashbulbs popping behind me, fireworks spilling a red white and blue finale into the river, I keep walking into the dark. A empty bottle catches my foot, I trip, fall onto my knees on the tracks.
In one of the warehouses is a faint orange glow. Hauling myself up onto the loading platform, I start banging on the door. No answer. Where's the security? On a holiday night like this, you have to figure they'd have security, you didn't know if some thug would be on the prowl. Weeds grow through the cracks of the pavement alongside the tracks. The city is getting shabby.
After the war, the place was always buzzing, there was this feeling we owned the world, everything in everything switched on it in Technicolorâwith jazz music for the soundtrack. Then, a couple years ago, white people began leaving. White Flight, they called it.
My cousins eye those Levittown houses on Long Island. You can do OK as a schoolteacher, a cop, a firefighter, and now you could live with your own, my cousin said. It's all they want: the house, the car, the green lawn, the TV and washing machine, the wife who stays home and takes care of things, the kids who keep their mouths shut and desire only what their parents have. No coloreds, either.
My pop, old and bitter now, is always yapping. “If I could, I'd go out there, get away from them coons,” he'd tell me. He has a nasty gift for languageâstill doesâthat he puts to work dumping shit on other people: Chink, Kike, Nigger. My whole life is running away from him.
But after ten minutes, I'm still clawing at the warehouse door. It doesn't give, I get out my gun and smash a window. I have a hunch about this, I crawl through into a warehouse space that stinks of dead chickens. Somewhere I hear rats. All I have is my lighter, and I flick it on again and again.
In the far corner is a rusty electric heater, one bar with a faint glow.
Someone's been here recently. Near the heater is a nest of old newspapers in English, in Spanish, the
New York Post, La Prensa,
and I scrabble through them like a crazy man, looking at dates. The dates are recent, the papers are from late June, early July, right up to July 2nd. July 2, 1962 says the date on the newspaper. Two days ago. It's the 4th now, the night I find her, find these newspapers. In the pile of papers is a leaflet in Spanish, something about Fidel Castro. A strange, sweet smell comes off it. The girl must have worn flowery cologne, something pretty, lilies of the valley. I light up another smoke. She was here before she died, hiding here, a bed of old newspaper, scared to death.