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The Law Fought Me - Ch. 2



Chapter Two


When some bastard wakes up from a coma, it’s always bad news. It happened to me once before; a man with the itching to peg me for murder came up with the strength to squeeze an orange like a water balloon, muttered something about the woes of revenge, and kicked the bucket. This Monday afternoon, rolling with Lieutenant Carbone to the hospital to question a cop killer after working hours seriously threatened my reservations with Vaness for seven pm at Bordeaux’s. Not so bad. I must have climbed a moral rung or two.

Riding in a police cruiser, however, made me nervous.

Carbone parked along the sidewalk less than a block away. “As long as you’re with me, we can get into any room we need.”

I moved my suitcase to my lap. “Respectfully, I don’t understand why you want me along. I’m only a detective assistant. I’m not an officer.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Carbone smiled, shutting the cruiser door. “You have that air of a man who can find out anything he wants if he asks the right questions.”

The beige and brown tiles of the hotel lobby tessellated to the gold elevators. Carbone let the attendant at the desk know we were there to see Rocco Bianchi, and a blonde nurse accompanied us to the emergency ward.

“Nurse, you said he’s talking?”

She shook her head. “Not quite. He asked for his family and lost consciousness shortly afterward. We’ll start operating as soon as Doctor Caldwell arrives, so I'm afraid you won’t have a chance to speak with him.”

I distinguished low murmurs as we neared an open doorway. Inside the ward of mostly vacant metal beds, a Catholic priest was reading the Sacrament of the Sick from a prayer book as a large family looked on and wept. There were no chairs, but plenty of standing room. The lieutenant hesitated and removed his hat before entering. An older woman, who I assumed was the mother, burst into fresh tears when she saw Carbone. We kept our distance until the prayers ran out and the family left. 

Bianchi’s hair was a mess on the pillow. His sleeping expression looked pained. He had a wide mouth, big ears, decent hairline, and stubble. Vaness must have been in serious emotional turmoil from her break with Johnny to date this guy, I thought, unless there’s something I’m missing.

Heels clicked behind us, and the blonde nurse, said, “Doctor Caldwell just arrived.”

“I see,” said Carbone and walked out quickly, replacing his hat.

He led the way through the arched halls, familiar with the layout. His plan was to get back to the cruiser and try to radio Detectives Schok and O’Grady for the update. I heard those clunky heels as the nurse ran after us. “Lieutenant Carbone!”

He whirled around.

She tapped her clipboard. “The police force is being put on this form… but shall I ask his wife to sign the release for the operation?”

“Wife?” said Carbone, “Wife? I don’t think he has one.”

“I saw a woman downstairs with him, she…” She hesitated at his stare.

“Downstairs?” Carbone clapped my arm, and I looked attentive. “Gartner, see if she’s still there. Hurry.”

By the time I ran to the room, there was only Bianchi. I wandered in and out of the rows of beds and checked behind the window drapes. Nobody even under a bed.

“Empty?” Carbone’s tall silhouette nearly filled the doorway.

“She was here,” said the nurse in his shadow. “I didn’t see her face. I thought she might be saying her goodbyes, so I stepped out.”

“Anything you did see?” asked Carbone.

She looked peeved. “I don’t know. A brunette, maybe.”


When we returned to the lobby, a balding man in a sleek blue suit demanded the nurse behind the counter to see Rocco Bianchi, a thin blue attaché case in front of him. The nurse talked to him like an infant. “Lissen, he’s in sur-gery. He can’t speak to you if he’s in sur-ge-ry.”

Carbone snuck up behind him until he was up against the counter. “What business do you have with Bianchi?”

The man looked around as I blocked him in on the right. “Fates?”

“Gartner?” He did a double-take at Carbone.

“Lieutenant Carbone.” He didn’t offer his hand. “How do you know Gartner?”

“He worked on a restraining order for my girlfriend,” I explained.

Fates planted a cordial smile on his face. “Yes. A nice woman.”

“A restraining order couldn’t do much for Bianchi,” murmured Carbone.

The lawyer pinched his attaché case. “Is he dead?”

Carbone smiled and walked to a waiting bench. We drifted over, and I sat, but Carbone leaned against the wall with his hands in his pockets. “I’ll let the surgeons make the call.”

“Please,” Fates opened his arms. “You have to let me see Bianchi. It’s urgent.”

“Fates & Bodily, defense attorneys. I remember you now. Graduated to defending cop killers?”

“You’ve got it turned around.” He snapped his fingers. “Officeeeer, Hoffman, was it?”

“Hauser.”

“Excuse me. Hauser. A fine officer, a model for the force. But my client Brock Lumsden–”

“Oh, the old lady killer.”

“Not at all. He’s innocent. I have it on good authority that Lumsden has more than enough evidence to implicate Bianchi in the Bembo case.”

Carbone made to shake his head but hesitated before he got through the whole thing. He smirked. “Bianchi wouldn’t skin the soles off of somebody’s nonna. Not while he has one to weep over him.”

“Please, Lieutenant. I wouldn’t come all the way down here if I didn’t have my facts. I’m looking for a confession.” He waved his hand like an offered handshake. “Give me a minute with him before he goes under. It’s all I need. Brock Lumsden may have a record, but this job he didn’t do. I swear. If Bianchi doesn’t pull through–”

 By the end of the speech, Carbone had already gotten up and strolled into the hall. “I’ll speak with the doctor.”


Bianchi lay on an operating table under the watch of several surgeons. I watched from the hall as Fates barked at him until he was semi-conscious. Carbone looked on from the other side of the table.

“Bianchi, the Bembo jewels! Brock Lumsden is innocent, but he’s heading for certain death. Confess your sin and remove this one stain off of your conscience before it’s too late! You believe in Hell, don’t you? Of course you do. You’re Italian.” Bianchi’s head lolled around on his pillow. “Admit you did it, Bianchi. You killed Mrs. Bembo and took the jewels. You killed her Russian terrier in front of her and peeled the soles off her feet with a potato peeler until she told you where they were.” Fates shook his hands and dropped a key like he was having an aneurysm. “And strrr-angled her with a curtain cord!” He leaned over the bed, listening. “What?” He grabbed the edge of the operating table. “Bianchi, admit it! You killed Mrs. Bembo! You did it! There’s nowhere to go, Bianchi, why don’t you admit it and save an innocent man from the chair? CONFESS, BIANCHI!”

“He’s out,” said one of the surgeons, looking at Bianchi. “We’ve got to operate.”

One of the surgeons escorted the lieutenant and the lawyer to the door as the others prepared for the operation.

“This is terrible.” Fates hugged his case. “If only I knew what he said.”

I tisked and made a comedic shrug with my arms. “Tough luck.”

“I know what he said.” Carbone planted Fates with a firm stare. Fates looked earnest.

“‘Go to hell.’” Carbone nodded to me. “Make a note of that for evidence, Gartner. In case Fates wants it later.”

I bit my lip. Fates left with a disgusted look on his face.


We discussed the case in the cruiser. “Sorry to ask,” said Carbone, driving, “But what made your girlfriend hire that lowlife?”

“His rates,” I said.

“Ah.”

I seized the opportunity to ask Carbone to drop me off at Bordeaux’s to keep my date. He agreed. When we pulled up to the curb, Carbone extended his hand. “Happy Birthday, Norman.”

I shook it. “Thanks.”

Even my parents rarely used my first name, if ever, but I decided to correct him at a moment like this might tick him off unnecessarily, just when he was acting friendly.

I found Vaness with her chin on her hand, watching the cars pass without noticing me. She had a full glass of wine in front of her and a half-empty basket of bread rolls. The first thing she asked was, “How’s Bianchi?”

I pulled out my chair. “In surgery.” I thought about mentioning Fates but canceled the idea. The last thing she needed was a reminder of her ex.

“Was he in an iron lung or what?”

“No,” I brought my chair in. “He got shot through the torso. Unconscious.”

She leaned over, her crossed eyes lit up. “Did he say anything?”

“If he did, I couldn’t hear it over the priest reading his last rites.”

“You coulda just said he’s dying.” She took a gulp of wine and stuck out her tongue in disgust. “This wine’s awful, but it’s cheap.”

I drummed my fingers on the table. “So… what is it you had planned?”

She angled her eyebrows. “Whadareyou talking about?”

I returned her blank stare. “Never mind. I meant what are you ordering?”

Vaness’ face lit up in a beam. “Oh! I got something else for you.” She reached under the tablecloth and set a black glossy paper bag on top.

“Shouldn’t we wait for cake?”

She bit her dark lips, hands folded under her chin so that her necklace, bracelets, and teeth glinted in the low light. “C’moooon.”

I dug through the paper. The first thing was a thick, diagonally striped tie in brown, orange, and grey. “Wow. That’s nice.”

“There’s more,” she whispered dramatically.

I pulled out a dark green tie with some kind of orange and white swoosh motif. “Wooow. That’ll match my socks.”

“I know.”

I found the third tie was electric blue with a montage of yellow clocks. I combed through the bag to make sure there weren’t any more surprises.

She leaned forward. “Doyoulikethem?”

“Oh, I love them.”

Thank God the waiter came around, and I didn’t have to force any more smiles for the rest of the meal. It could have been much worse, but I had to reach for an example.


Vaness asked me to walk with her home, and I pretended I didn’t know where it was. She took the step and whirled with a beam, her green dress missing my pant legs by inches, and put her hands on my shoulders. “Happy Birthday, Gartner.” She planted me with a kiss. 

She jerked my handkerchief from my pocket. “Oops. I thought it was non-stick.”

I bounced the handle of the paper bag around in my hand as she wiped it off. She stuffed it in my pocket. “You want to come up? My roommate’s out.”

The back of my neck was sweaty. “Sure.”

We hiked up lopsided wood steps to the third floor, holding onto the rail, and the door opened into a cozy living space. One couch, a low table, a standing lamp, and a few hung photographs. Around a wall to my right was a dining set with a window looking out onto the street, and behind the set, a kitchenette. Vaness told me to sit on the couch and vanished behind the wall–probably to the bedrooms. I ran my hands over my tie. What the hell was I supposed to do, get naked? I set my hat aside and studied the photo across from me. In the shot, Vaness walked down a city street like she was hitting a high note in a musical number. 

She called me from the corner of the wall with a bottle of tequila. “Birthday margaritas?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

A small plastic radio played on the kitchenette counter as she hacked ice with a pick, humming along, and I blended strawberries. We sipped across the table, strawberries adorning the edges of our curved glasses. I gazed out the window as a pair of headlights went by.

“Whatcha lookin’ at?” When I looked over, a little black box was on the table. She pushed it forward with her fingertips, nails painted dark red.

I popped it open. Inside was a brown leather-banded wrist watch: white face, silver hands and numbers.

I suddenly felt like crying. It hurt to realize somebody genuinely cared about me. It had been a long time. I almost couldn’t bring myself to get up and kiss her. I gave some lame line like, “You’re the best girlfriend I ever had.”

She waved me away, looking bored. “So far, you’re okay.”

I didn’t know what to do then. The margarita on my side of the table was mostly ice. Vaness knocked back hers and crunched loudly. “Quit staring; you’re giving me the creeps.”

I stuck my hands in my pockets. “I’m admiring the way you drink.”

Vaness spat out an ice chunk like tobacco juice. “What’s wrong with yours?”

I went over and sipped it. “It’s watered down, but other than that.”

Vaness hooked an arm over her chair. “I had to pay for that ice, so you better tolerate it.”

I popped an ice cube into my mouth.

Vaness took her glass to the couch. “I need to stretch out.” She lay out on the cushions, and I stood over her, wondering where to put myself. She sat up to give me a place to sit, then lay her head on my leg and stared up at me with her brown eyes. I looked for a place to stick my glass and pulled a muscle setting it on the floor in a way that wouldn’t involve smothering her. I was ready to get to the kissing, but she asked, “Why did you move all the way to Manhattan from Arizona?”

“You.”

She swung her legs on the floor, to my disappointment. “Crossing the entire country to date me? Huh! I don’t care if you lived in a desert. I can’t be the only reason.”

“Should I have waited ten years? I like to travel.”

“Sounds like poor planning.”

I hugged her from the side. “I got a job.”

“Yeah, with fake references.” She shoved me away. “For cops, they stink at checking resumes. Why would you, of all people, wanna work with cops?”

“Crime is interesting. But this pays.”

We got talking about Manhattan until her eyelids began to droop, so I sat her up and told her I was leaving. Vaness rubbed her eye. “Maybe I should call you a cab.”

I checked my new watch. “It’s only ten-thirty. I’ll live.”

Vaness rubbed her eyes. “The alcohol’s putting me to sleep.” I kissed her hand, and that seemed to wake her a little. She reached for my hat, but I’d already put it on my head. “I’ll walk ya to the–” She yawned and arched her back with her hands over her head.

“Don’t bother,” I said my hand on the knob. “I want to remember you like this.”

She collapsed on the cushion alluringly and winked. “Ditto.”


I arrived at work the next morning a few minutes early, wearing my new accessories. A Tuesday. Carbone stood behind his chair, leaning on his desk with his fists.

“Another sweaty day at the office,” I said, hanging up my things.

“Hauser’s funeral is today.” Carbone looked up from the papers on his desk. “You going?”

“Of course. I seem to have lost the address, however.”

The lieutenant picked up a card, which I took as I went to my desk. It listed the church.

“I’m one of the pallbearers,” he said, hanging his head. “Schok and O’Grady already questioned witnesses and the other women. I want you to watch the crowd for any of the women you questioned yesterday. Check the register for girlfriends.”

“Excuse me for forgetting, but why are we looking into all these exes?”

Carbone stepped out from the desk and slowly paced the room. “Bianchi lifted a wallet off a betting man in a bar. That man was a friend of Mrs. Bembo, the old lady who got bumped off for her jewels. I had a suspicion the two were connected before Fates tried to live feed a confession into Bianchi’s mouth.” He paced in the other direction, a stalking pace. “A woman was involved in the Bembo case.”

I checked the funeral card. “So soon?”

Carbone sat on his desk. “Only thirty-five.” An edge dropped into his voice. “Of course, if you don’t care either way, you could always stay here and nap.”

The knife in his voice stung for a moment. “I’ve only been here a few minutes. No one thought to tell me when the funeral was.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I guess you couldn’t have heard.” He looked square at the loud blue and yellow thing hanging over my shirt. “I just wish you’d worn a different tie.”


I had never seen so many cops at once. Tides of officers in dress uniform drowned out the civilian attendants, so it was simple to spot one of Bianchi’s girlfriends, if any of them had come. If one decided to show her face to see what damage Bianchi’d done or to harass the family, I don’t she could have gotten as far as the church steps. Policemen were lined up outside at attention, others kept the press back, a few patrol cars idled with their lights on.

The church had a massive vaulted ceiling and elaborate stain glass, all pews were filled. I compared the funeral register in the church for the names on Carbone’s list, but nobody was familiar. Occasionally an officer or family relative passed with a prolonged glance at my tie. At least I’d worn black slacks and a grey jacket instead of my brown again. But I couldn’t have if I wanted, or Carbone might have thought last night I’d never gone home.

The faces of the officers were wooden as they made remarks to each other about Hauser or greeted members of the family, who were ripped with tears. When the service ended, Carbone, in dress uniform with a cap, along with other high-ranking officers, maybe some lower rank who knew the guy, came up to the coffin with white gloves and carried it slowly under the peal of organ pipes. The rest of the assembly followed the flag-covered coffin out down the long stairs to the street. Hoards of police officers stood at attention, saluting the coffin as it passed. The press took photographs, and some onlookers wept aloud.

“I’ll never get a funeral like this,” I muttered. But it wasn’t something to covet.


From the church steps, I noticed a man in a grey houndstooth suit weaving through the crowd in the direction of the moving coffin. He looked determined, so I waded after him. He seemed to have no respect, cutting in and out of officers with their hands still poised at their foreheads. Nobody reacted. Maybe they thought he was a mourner who had seen enough.

I closed in as they loaded the coffin into the rear of the hearse. The man put his hand on Carbone, startling him. When I got close enough to see the man in profile, I realized it was Detective Schok, a narrow-faced man with a grayish complexion, fortyish, with rings under his glassy brown eyes. His voice was slow and well-measured, as always. “Lieutenant, Bianchi survived surgery, and he’s chatty. They radioed from the hospital.”

The undertakers closed the hearse door, and the masses moved to their cars for the cemetery procession. The massive black hearse drifted away from the curb. It had elaborately carved panels, like arched church windows, set into the rear sides—a rolling chapel.

Carbone noticed me and spoke to Schok. “Let him talk himself blue. I’m going to see Hauser into the ground first.”

“I’s hoping you’d say that,” said Schok, as people in black flooded past. “C’mon. I’ll give ya a ride.” We had ridden to the church with some cop called Mack, but he’d long vanished.


I wondered from the backseat whether Schok was ever envious of Carbone’s rank, even if Schok did become a detective later in years. He pulled into line with the lights flashing.

“That’s Hauser’s family in front of us,” said Carbone. A grey sedan with several heads just visible at the bottom edge of the rear window. He sighed. “His kids are so small.”

The rest of the ride to the cemetery was silent. Some officers walked alongside the procession on either side of the slow-rolling cars, as the streets were blocked off, with hundreds or thousands of onlookers watching from both sides of the road as we rolled down Seventh Avenue.

When we arrived at the burial site, Detective Schok pulled up alongside another cruiser, and Lieutenant Carbone joined the other pallbearers behind the hearse. The crowd was massive; maybe a thousand people were in attendance, and more of them were civilians now. The press was kept at bay as a few called to passing politicians how they would cut down crime. An officer stopped me, flicking my clock tie, but Detective Schok showed his badge, and we took a spot a good distance from the gravesite, around civilians of unknown relation to the deceased. The pallbearers saluted and dispersed, and more speeches were said. Lieutenant Carbone approached Mrs. Hauser and her family and friends, who were accompanied by the police chief and a few officers. There were prayers from a priest. The family watched with quiet respect and composure at the twenty-one gun salute, but Carbone shut his eyes.

Officers folded the flag over the casket and handed it to Mrs. Hauser. Several members of the family left flowers on the bluish metal casket. An officer played taps. We stayed until the casket began to be lowered when small pockets of people departed. Detective Schok wiped his nose with a handkerchief. “That’s how it goes. Fifteen years in the service and shot down by some two-bit punk.” He flicked his fingers at his side. “C’mon, Gartner.” We walked over bumpy grass. Carbone already stood in front of the cruiser’s passenger door, brooding.


Schok started the engine. The car radio squealed. It was Detective O’Grady.

“They’re moving Bianchi out of the general ward. They think he’s a danger to the other patients. He punched his lawyer.”

“Lawyer who?” said Schok.

“Name of Fates.”

Carbone grabbed the radio. “Fates isn’t his lawyer. He’s trying to work a confession out of him for another client. Brock Lumsden.”

“Oh, the Bembo case. Now that explains the punching, doesn’t it?”

“We’re on our way.”

“Scratch that. He’s in the penitentiary hospital now. You know the one.”


I had never been in prison before. Jail, but not prison. I sweated the moment we stepped inside. Men were locked up for life behind these bars. With these scummy floors, rats, no privacy. The dead end of life itself–stagnating until old age or lightning to the system blacked you out for good. The walls felt closer and closer, the slivers of light too thin. The deeper we traversed the halls, the worse I felt. Detective Schok seemed to know this and would look at me out of the corner of his eyes now and then and say something like, “Dismal, isn’t it?” and, “Sometimes they clear out the toilets to talk to each other.”

“How do they do that?”

He didn’t answer. The lines on his face stayed rigid.

The lights traced lines across Carbone’s extensively gelled black hair and bounced off his polished black shoes. He looked perfectly calm. The keyman on staff, some jackass named Judson, bragged about the hospital security.

“No one without an appointment goes in or out through the main entrance or past the lobby unless they’re on the list.” He gestured to the pass in my hand. “That’s what those’re for. Yeeeeaaaap. My name’s good for freedom around here.” He pointed out closed doors as we passed. “There’s a wife beater, until he killed er, that there’s some whack job tried to drag his mother out a window with ‘im.” He jingled his massive key ring. “And this here’s the copkiller makin’ his name in the papers. Rocco Bianchi.”

Bianchi’s hospital room had a giant prison grate in front of the wooden door, which was left open. Detective O’Grady sat on duty on a white metal chair inside. A heavy man, younger than Schok by some years. He had a round head that made his hat seem tight. Beady eyes. He stood when he saw Carbone. “Lieutenant. Why’s Gartner with you?”

“He’s my stenographer for the day.”

Detective Schok tipped his head, mumbling out of the side of his mouth. “I see I don’t get a ‘hello.’”

“Goodbye.” O’Grady tried to tip his hat and stepped out. “I’m going to pay my respects. Good luck. He’s been out since they transferred him. Got too worked up brawling. Heh, heh.”

Carbone called after him. “Thanks, O’Grady. Make sure to get some rest. Judson, leave us for half an hour, would you?” 

I took the other metal chair by the barred window and opened my suitcase. 

The hospital bed where Bianchi lay was rather high off the ground at an angle primed for interrogation. Detective Schok strolled over. “The lazy bastard… Look at him dream.”

Carbone hovered over the bed. “It’s no use pretending to nap, Bianchi.” Carbone clapped his hands loudly over his face. Bianchi flinched. He focused on Carbone, his voice ragged with a streetwise accent. “I’m mortally injured. I shouldn’t be subjected to this kinda torture.”

“Where’s the woman?”

“What woman?”

“It won’t do you good to play dumb. Tell me her name, and maybe you won’t get the chair.”

“I don’t know anything.”

Carbone placed his hands on the metal bedframe behind him. “Why protect her? Does she mean something special to you? If you care for her at all, you’d keep yourself alive by telling us where she is.”

“Says… who?”

“Lieutenant Carbone, didn’t you hear while you's faking your catnap?”

“Carbone, Carbone. Carbone. Figures.”

Carbone paced to the side of the bed. “Where are the Bembo jewels, Bianchi?”

He cackled. “Bembo jewels? You must think I’m a stooge. Why’d I lift something with’at name?” He coughed and reached for the glass of water at his bedside, but Schok snatched and drank it, rivulets running down the sides of his mouth.

“Ah.” Schok smiled, a narrow, seedy smile that could only be perceived under the right kind of low light currently glowing through the blinds. “Pardon me, did this belong to you?”

Bianchi smirked over his shoulder. “Enjoy my pneumonia, detective.”

Schok hesitated, then set the glass on the table. “Takes a disease stronger than pneumonia to kill me. Like a baaaad case of the gutshot.” He showed a row of imperfect teeth.

Bianchi lazily turned his head to the window. “Tch.”

Schok walked around the bed into his field of vision. “The windows in this ward are barred. Even if you wanted to jump, there’s no way out. Where are the Bembo jewels?”

“You look like Hauser,” said Bianchi with a nod, “A little.”

Schok placed his hand on his hip, probably reaching for a comeback.

“I think you misunderstand,” said Carbone, bearing down on him with his almost black eyes. Bianchi glanced up. “You’re in critical condition. If it’s the last thing you do, you can tell us who she is so we can recover the jewels before someone finds her first.” He took a breath. “You read what happened to Mrs. Bembo. Or should I remind you? They never found the little toe. You wouldn’t want that for your little lady, would you, Rocco?”

Bianchi tossed his hands. “What is this? I thought I was in here for shooting a cop. You cops are lumping everything on me, eh? I come from a poor neighborhood. I may not be good, but I ain’t no rat. Besides. I didn’t steal no Bembo’s jewels either. Who the hell is Bembo?”

“I know the feeling,” said Carbone. “You grow up with no money, crime on every street corner. But you always have a choice. I knew what other kids my age were doing. Didn’t believe in an honest wage. Did I take the easy way? Did I let myself become the very thing I hated?”

“You tell me.”

Carbone leaned forward. “You missed the funeral, so you didn’t see Mrs. Hauser. Her family nearly had to help her stand the way she cried. Face all red. Her children were too young to understand what they lost, but they will. Like you’ll understand when you get strapped to the chair.”

“He shot me–so what was I supposed to do? Let myself bleed out? Nah.”

“We know a woman visited you last night. Who was she?”

“How should I know? I was unconscious. Four bullet wounds. What does that sound like, Christmas?”

“You weren’t unconscious anymore than when we came into the room. Who was she?”

“Nobody!”

Carbone smiled. “You know…”

Bianchi twisted over his shoulder. “So whaddayawant? Me to rat on somebody so what, I get less fried? Let’s focus on the real crimes here. When can I get a real lawyer?”

“Mr. Denzinger. You had his wallet for a minute. Mr. Denzinger is a friend of the former Mrs. Bembo, or didn’t you know?”

“All those rich jerks keep the same company. So what? Denzinger’s fine. Did I lay a finger on him?”

“If he had followed you himself, we’d be looking at two murders. Or did I mean three?”

“Hypothetical. Hy-pothetical. Come back when ya have some proof.”

Detective Schok put his hands in his pockets, blocking the light from the window. “Nobody escapes a rap for killing a policeman. Why don’t you do yourself a favor? Give us this little name. If she’s innocent, she’s got nothing to worry about.”

Carbone said, “Cop a plea, maybe you live.”

“Can’t tell you nothing you don’t know.”

Carbone crossed his arms on the tall bedframe. “Then I wish you a nice trip to hell.” Carbone walked to the door. “Schok. A minute. Gartner, keep him company.”

I paused in my notes.

Bianchi pressed his hands to the bridge of his nose and exhaled. When the detectives sounded far enough down the hall, he said, “What’s that shtick looming over me about? Can’t a guy get a straight interrogation?” He shifted in bed and lifted his shirt, wrapped almost entirely in bandages. “Lookit this crap.” He fell on the pillow and sighed wistfully. “I don’t know how I did it.” He tossed a limp arm toward me. “So who’re you? You another cop?”

“No.” I bent over, writing. “But I am making note of everything you say.”

“Can ya stop?”

“You want to tell me something?”

“Just–stop it!”

I set my papers atop my suitcase on the floor and folded my hands.

“There, that’s better.” He pointed at the barred door. “That ain’t open, is it?” He grinned. “Just kiddin’.”

“They’re probably out there listening.”

“What, ya scared of me?” He rubbed his face. “Guess I haven’t shaved in awhile.”

I crossed my leg, exposing my yellow plaid sock.

Bianchi squinted. “Hey–where’d you get that?” I lifted my tie, but Bianchi sat up. “No, those socks. Where’d you get those socks?”

My heart beat harder in my chest. “A birthday gift from my girlfriend.”

Bianchi slapped the mattress. “What kind of game is this? Those were supposed to be my socks, my girlfriend gave them to me. Only they’re ugly. I never wore ‘em. How the hell do you know? So they got Vaness working for ‘em now?”

“Did Vaness set you up for the Bembo case?”

“What?”

“Did she turn on you?”

“What the hell do you mean? I don’t work with women, period. Can you imagine? How’s she gonna run from the heat in high heels? I don’t get the women involved, least of all my girl.”

“So your girl isn’t involved in the Bembo case?”

“Course not. My ex, we haven’t talked in months. An’ I didn’t kill that old lady.”

“Emerald Norval isn’t in on that murder?”

“No! Positively not. I’m innocent of that.”

“Maybe you only stopped talking to her publicly. Maybe you didn’t work with a woman. You worked with Tony Spadaro. You’re right. It would be hard to run in heels. So maybe he didn’t. Maybe he walked—in a chiffon gown with furs.”

Bianchi swore at me in Italian, or I assumed with the gestures he was making.

“Why did your girl visit you in secret if she wasn’t involved?”

He flung his hand. “Wouldn’tchooliketaknow!”

“The lieutenant gave me a list of all your old girlfriends. Helen, Celestina, Emerald, Vaness, and so forth. If you told me which she was, I could probably keep her out of it.”

Bianchi opened his mouth in a big fake laugh. “Hah. Hah. Think I’m that stupid, ah? LIEUTENANT!” He began to hit the side table with his palm. “LIEUTENANT! GET THIS JOKER OUT OF HERE! CAR-BONE-AAAAAAY!”

Carbone appeared at the gate with a smile. He placed his hand on one of the bars and swung the door open.

In the middle of collecting my papers, a glass sailed over my head and smashed on the wall. Bianchi was still yelling when the lieutenant made a sign to Judson to lock up the room.

“Maybe you’ll cool off come suppertime,” said Carbone. He tipped his hat. “For the invaluable leads, Bianchi, grazie.”

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