What were they up to? Stuart Blount had a reputation around town as a high-toned wheeler-dealer--suburban real estate, shopping malls, cozy connections with the politically well placed. And while I supposed there were jurisdictions in the State of New York where you could still get a murder fixed, I doubted Albany County was one of them. In the thirties, I gussed, but not in 1979. Maybe the Blounts held a genuine abiding faith in their son's innocence and were confident that, with a nudge from them here and there up the line, justice would triumph. It was a topic they didn't seem to want to go into.
I said, "Have you already done a deal with the DA, or what? I like to know what I'm getting into. I've got a license to keep."
Jane Blount's eyes flashed and she sucked furiously on her cigarete. Her husband sighed deeply. They were taking some unaccustomed abuse from me, and I guessed I knew why.
Mr. Strachey, "It's all being worked out with the appropriate authorities, believe me it is. What we're counting on, you see, is that a, ah, prison sentence can be avoided -- that some alternative approach to William's rehabilitation can be worked out -- if you get my drift."
I didn't. "Are you talking about a tour in the Peace Corps, or what? Fill me in. What's new on the correctional front?"
"I can tell you this much, Mr. Strachey. Judge Feeney has already been consulted, and he has given his blessings to the program we have in mind, as has the district attorney. Does that reassure you?"
Killer Feeney. Maybe he was going to allow the Blounts to have their son hanged at home, from the family chandelier.
I said, "If your son is innocent, isn't all this dealing a little premature?"
Blount squeezed his eyes shut for a long moment. Then, deciding I was probably worth all of this, he opened them and gazed at me wearily. "Let me explain. I'm a realist, Mr Strachey. In my business I have to be. I know what the evidence against William is. It's all been laid out for me. No, I don't believe that my son killed a man. William is troubled, yes, but I can't accept for a minute the notion that William would take a human life. It's just that the situation is -- rather an intractable one, wouldn't you say? Jay Tarbell has gone over the evidence with me, and he's given his opinion, which is not favorable. Jane and I have been over it and over it, and we're simply doing what we think we must do."
"Hang on a minute", I yelled into the mouthpeice. "I can't make out what you are saying."
"I'll hold, of course, Mr. Strachey."
I set the swet-slick receiver on my desk, reached around, and whacked the top of the clanking and gurgling air conditioner with a slat from the wooden swivel chair that had collapsed back in January. The only effect was a slight shift by the machine in its rotten moorings. The 200-pound Airtemp now threatened to plummet out the window onto Central Avenue two stories below, chrushing the shins of the winos who lounged in my entryway. I reached down and yanked out the plug. A distant thunk was followed by a diminishing whine, a sputtering sound, and then hot wet silence.
"Sorry", I said into the phone again, "but I couldn't hear you over the racket my pilot was making up on the helipad. You were saying..."
While Timmy slid behind the front wheel of the T-bird, I removed the two hundred feet of nylon rope from the trunk, looped one end around the car's bumper, and tied it in a sheep shank. The other end I dragged through the snowy darkness of Flo's backyard and ran it around the two main supporting posts of Flo's old three-story back porch. I pulled the rope taut, tied it, and truged back to Timmy.
"What if somebody drives up the alley? There are garages back here."
"Then don't wait. Go."
He bent down and rested his head against the steering wheel. "This is a crime and probably a mortal sin. I can't believe I am doing this." He was genuinely distressed.
"Do you want me to do it? I'm Presbyterian. I could do it myself and still get out to the front door in time."
He stared glumly at the windshield and thought this over. "No. Go ahead. The worst that can happen is I'll burn in hellfire for eternity."
"If that happens, thanks for the favor. I guess I'll owe you one."
His shoulders shook with a little laugh, or sob, and he said, "Okay. Three minutes." We checked our watches.
I almost asked John Rutka if somebody had shot him in the foot -- I knew plenty of people who'd have loved to -- but before I could, he gave me a look of astonishment and said, "I've been shot. One of them actually shot me."
"Somebody shot you in the foot?"
"One of them tried to kill him", Eddie Sandifer said, "but they only got him in the foot."
... We all peered down at the foot as if it might add something on its own behalf. I'd walked over to Albany Med from Crow Street to visit yet another dying friend when I ran into Rutka and Sandifer, and we were in the parking lot outside the E.R., standing in vapors rising from the tarmac after an early evening thunderstorm. Everybody looked purple under the arc lamps, spooky in the urban miasma. Ambulances coasted in and out through mist, the Tuesday night torn and traumatized delivered as swiftlly and silently as Fed-Exed envelopes. Somebody was probably working on a way to fax them in.
On Sunday morning, cool and rainy, Timmy had gone out and come back with bagels and the Times, and the kitchen was an aromatic Malabar Coast as he prepared his masala tea. Perhaps on that day in Visakhapatnam, twenty-six years after Timmy's Peace Corps leave-taking, an American ritual he had left behnd was being reenacted similarly -- a middle-aged Indian was sitting and picking the lint off his socks or whatever. I preferred what Timothy had brought home to what I imagined he had left behind. But my imagination in these matters was limited, as I was reminded whenever Timothy's Peace Corp's crowd got together and conversed in the patois of their exotic youth with its references to chicken sexing and blood meal, and place names that sounded like long, quick combinations of vowels, consonants and simmering lentils...
I said to Timmy, "I've got it."
"It'?" He was absorbed in the Times crossword puzzle, and I know I would have access to only about a tenth of his brain until he had either completed the puzzle or, after inner pain, made the mature decision to put the puzzle aside unfinished and resume his life.
I think I know why Paul died."
He looked at me interestedly across the dining room table, his pencil still poised. "Why?"
He had lit a citronella candle to keep the bugs away, and it's light flickered across his fine-featured Irish mug in his suddenly brighter eyes. He seemed almost possessed by this sudden notion, which to me felt vaguely but surely like trouble.
I said, "Hey, Timothy. I'm the detective, and you're the pragmatic but idealistically motivated social engineer. Remember?"
This didn't seem to register. "I'll hire you," he said, "and I'll take time off from work - the Assembly is in the August doldrums now - and I'll help you out. Anyway, Don, you're - 'between projects' is the euphemism, I believe. It's something we can do together"...
I thought this over, but not for long. "Timothy, I don't know. Your impulse is worthy. It's your decent heart asserting itself. But as for our working together, that sounds risky. Often you don't like the way I operate. My methods have sometimes left you despondent. Outraged, even. The whole thing could become...awkward."
"This is screwy. This is nuts. This has to be some kind of pathetic, sick joke!" Maynard Sudbury unexpectedly blurted out. Timothy Calahan and I stared at Maynard as he stared down with a look of shock and bewilderment at one particular panel in the AIDS Memorial quilt. "Jim Suter is not dead," Maynard said, gawking. "I donít think heís even sick. I saw him in Mexico not more than two weeks ago."
"Almost from the moment we met, Timmy had a way of explaining me to me with such thoroughness and stark plausibility that it threatened to use up all the analytical oxygen in the room. It was one of the reasons I was in awe of him, and when he did it, it filled me with love and terror. My conflicting impulses were always to adore him unabashedly, or to get my revolver out of the bedroom closet and pump him full of hot lead."