The Last Dance 1 “HE HAD
heart trouble,” the woman was telling Carella.
Which perhaps accounted for the tiny pinpricks of blood on the dead man’s eyeballs. In cases of acute right-heart failure, you often found such hemorrhaging. The grayish-blue feet sticking out from under the edge of the blanket were another matter.
“Told me he hadn’t been feeling good these past few days,” the woman was saying. “I kept telling him to go see the doctor. Yeah, I’ll go, I’ll go, don’t worry, like that, you know? So I stopped by this morning to see how he was, found him just this way. In bed. Dead.”
“So you called the police,” Meyer said, nodding.
Because he’d expected to go out on a narcotics plant this morning, he was wearing blue jeans, a sweat shirt, and Reeboks. Instead, he’d caught this one with Carella and here he was. On a fishing expedition with a woman he felt was lying. Burly and bald, he posed his question with wide, blue-eyed innocence, just as if it did not conceal a hand grenade.
“Yes,” she said, “I called the police. That was the first thing I did.”
“Knew straight off he was dead, is that right?”
“Well … yes. I could see he was dead.”
“You didn’t take his pulse or anything like that, did you?” Carella asked.
Looking trimmer and fitter than he had in a long while—he had deliberately lost six pounds since his fortieth birthday—he was dressed casually this morning in dark blue trousers, a gray corduroy jacket, a plaid sports shirt, and a dark blue knit tie. He had not anticipated this particular squeal at a little past ten in the morning. In fact, he had scheduled a ten-fifteen squadroom interview with a burglary victim. Instead, here he was, talking to a woman he, too, felt was lying.
“No,” she said. “Well, yes. Well, not his pulse. But I leaned over him. To see if he was still breathing. But I could see he was dead. I mean … well, look at him.”
The dead man was lying on his back, covered with a blanket, his eyes and his mouth open, his tongue protruding. Carella glanced at him again, a faint look of sorrow and pain momentarily knifing his eyes. In these moments, he felt particularly vulnerable, wondering as he often did if he was perhaps unsuited to a job that brought him into frequent contact with death.
“So you called the police,” Meyer said again.
“Yes. Told whoever answered the phone …”
“Was this 911 you called? Or the precinct number direct?”
“911. I don’t know the precinct number. I don’t live around here.”
“Told the operator you’d come into your father’s apartment and found him dead, is that right?”
“What time was this, Miss?”
“A little after ten this morning. It’s Mrs., by the way,” she said almost apologetically.
Carella looked at his watch. It was now twenty minutes to eleven. He wondered where the medical examiner was. Couldn’t touch anything in here till the ME pronounced the victim dead. He wanted to see the rest of the body. Wanted to see if the legs matched the feet.
“Mrs. Robert Keating,” the woman said. “Well, Cynthia
“And your father’s name?” Meyer asked.
“Andrew. Andrew Hale.”
Better to let Meyer stay with it for now, Carella thought. He had noticed the same things Carella had, was equally familiar with the telltale signs of a hanging, which this one resembled a great deal, but you couldn’t hang yourself lying flat on your back in bed with no noose around your neck.
“How old was he, can you tell us?”
“And you say he had heart trouble?”
“Two heart attacks in the past eight years.”
“No. Two angioplasties. But his condition was very grave. He almost lost his life each time.”
“And he continued having trouble, is that it?”
“Well … no.”
“You said he had heart trouble.”
“Two serious heart attacks in eight years, yes, that’s heart trouble. But he wasn’t restricted in his activities or anything.”
“Good morning, gentlemen,” a voice said from the bedroom doorway. For a moment, the detectives couldn’t tell whether the man standing there was Carl Blaney or Paul Blaney. Not very many people knew that Carl Blaney and Paul Blaney were twin brothers. Most of the detectives in this city had spoken to them separately, either on the phone or in person at the morgue, but they assumed the similarity of their surnames and the fact that they both worked for the Medical Examiner’s Office were attributable to mere coincidence. As every working cop knew, coincidence was a major factor in police work.
Both Blaneys were five feet, nine inches tall. Paul Blaney weighed a hundred and eighty pounds, whereas his brother Carl weighed a hundred and sixty-five. Carl still had all of his hair. Paul was going a bit bald at the back of his head. Both Paul and Carl had violet eyes, although neither was related to Elizabeth Taylor.
“Carl,” the man in the doorway said, clearing up any confusion at once. He was wearing a lightweight topcoat, a plaid muffler draped loose around his neck. He took off the coat and muffler and threw them over a straight-backed chair just inside the bedroom door.
“You are?” he asked Cynthia.
“His daughter,” she said.
“I’m sorry for your trouble,” he told her, managing to sound as if he actually meant it. “I’d like to examine your father now,” he said. “Would you mind stepping outside, please?”
“Yes, of course,” she said, and started for the doorway, and then stopped, and asked, “Shall I call my husband?”
“Might be a good idea,” Carella said.
“He works nearby,” she said to no one in particular and then went out into the kitchen. They could hear her dialing the wall phone there.
“What’s it look like?” Blaney asked.
“Asphyxia,” Carella said.
Blaney was already at the bed, leaning over the dead man as if about to kiss him on the lips. He noticed the eyes at once. “This what you mean?” he asked. “The petechiae?”
“By no means conclusive evidence of death by asphyxia,” Blaney said flatly. “You should know that, Detective. This how he was found? On his back this way?”
“According to the daughter.”
“Couldn’t have accidentally smothered then, could he?”
“I guess not.”
“You have any reason to disbelieve her?”
“Just the blood spots. And the blue feet.”
“Oh? Do we have blue feet as well?” Blaney asked, and looked toward the foot of the bed. “Are we suspecting death by hanging then? Is that it?”
“The daughter says he had a history of heart disease,” Carella said. “Maybe it was heart failure. Who knows?”
“Who knows indeed?” Blaney asked the dead man’s feet. “Let’s see what else we’ve got here, shall we?” he said, and threw back the blanket.
The dead man was wearing a white shirt open at the throat, gray flannel trousers fastened with a black belt. No shoes or socks.
“Goes to bed with all his clothes on, I see,” Blaney said dryly.
“Barefoot though,” Carella said.
Blaney grunted, unbuttoned the shirt, and slid a stethoscope onto the dead man’s chest, not expecting to find a heart beat, and not surprised when he didn’t. He removed all the man’s garments—he was also wearing striped boxer shorts—and noticed at once the grayish-blue coloration of the corpse’s legs, forearms, and hands. “ If
he was hanged,” he told Carella, “and I’m not saying he was, then it was in an upright position. And if
he was moved to the bed here, and I’m not saying he was, then it wasn’t too soon after he died. Otherwise the postmortem lividity would have faded from the extremities and moved to the back and buttocks. Let’s take a look,” he said and rolled the dead man onto his side. His back was pale, his ass as white as a full moon. “Nope,” he said, and rolled the corpse onto his back again. The man’s penis was swollen and distended. “Postmortem lividity,” Blaney explained. “Settling of tissue fluids.” There were dried stains in the corpse’s undershorts. “Probably semen,” Blaney said. “We don’t know why, but a seminal discharge is commonplace in cases of asphyxia. Has nothing whatever to do with any sexual activity. Rigor mortis in the seminal vesicles causes it.” He looked at Carella. Carella merely nodded. “No rope burns,” Blaney said, examining the neck, “no imprint of a noose, no blisters from pinching or squeezing of the skin. A knot may have caused this,” he said, indicating a small bruise under the chin. “Did you find any kind of noose?”
“We haven’t really made a search yet,” Carella said.
“Well, it certainly looks
like a hanging,” Blaney said, “but who knows?”
“Who knows indeed?” Carella echoed, as if they were going through a familiar vaudeville routine.
“If I were you, I’d talk to the daughter some more,” Blaney said. “Let’s see what the autopsy shows. Meanwhile, he’s dead and he’s yours.”
The mobile crime unit arrived some ten minutes later, after the body and Blaney were both gone. Carella told them to keep a special lookout for fibers. The chief technician told him they were always
on the lookout for fibers, what did he mean by a special
lookout? Carella cut his eyes toward where Meyer was talking to Cynthia Keating across the room. The chief technician still didn’t know why a special lookout for fibers was necessary, but he didn’t ask Carella anything else.
It was starting to rain.
The mandatory date for turning on the heat in this city was October fifteenth—birthdate of great men, Carella thought, but did not say. This was already the twenty-ninth but too many buildings took their time complying with the law. The rain and the falling temperature outside combined to make it a little chilly in the apartment. The technicians, who had just come in from the cold, kept their coats on. Carella put his coat back on before ambling over to where Meyer was idly and casually chatting up the dead man’s daughter. They both wanted to know if she’d found the body exactly where she’d said she’d found it, but they weren’t asking that just yet.
“… or did you just drop by?” Meyer said.
“He knew I was coming.”
“Did he know what time?”
“No. I just said I’d be by sometime this morning.”
“But he was still in bed when you got here?”
The key question.
“Yes,” she said.
No hesitation on her part.
“Wearing all his clothes?” Carella asked.
She turned toward him. Bad Cop flashed in her eyes. Too many damn television shows these days, everyone knew all the cop tricks.
“Yes,” she said. “Well, not his shoes and socks.”
“Did he always sleep with his clothes on?” Carella asked.
“No. He must have gotten up and …”
“Yes?” Meyer said.
She turned to look at him, suspecting Good Cop, but not yet certain.
“Gone back to bed again,” she explained.
“I see,” Meyer said, and turned to Carella as if seeking approval of this perfectly reasonable explanation of why a man was in bed with all his clothes on except for his shoes and socks.
“Maybe he felt something coming on,” Cynthia said further.
“Something coming on?” Meyer said, encouraging her.
“Yes. A heart attack. People know when they’re coming.”
“I see. And you figure he might have gone to lie down.”
“Didn’t call an ambulance or anything,” Carella said. “Just went to lie down.”
“Yes. Thinking it might pass. The heart attack.”
“Took off his shoes and socks and went to lie down.”
“Was the door locked when you got here?” Carella asked.
“I have a key.”
“Then it was locked.”
“Did you knock?”
“I knocked, but there was no answer. So I let myself in.”
“And found your father in bed.”
“Were his shoes and socks where they are now?”
“On the floor there? Near the easy chair?”
“So you called the police,” Meyer said for the third time.
“Yes,” Cynthia said, and looked at him.
“Did you suspect foul play of any sort?” Carella asked.
“No. Of course not.”
“But you called the police,” Meyer said.
“Why is that important?” she snapped, suddenly tipping to what was going on here, Good Cop becoming Bad Cop in the wink of an eye.
“He’s merely asking,” Carella said.
“No, he’s not merely asking, he seems to think it’s important. He keeps asking me over and over again did I call the police, did I call the police, when you know
I called the police, otherwise you wouldn’t be
“We have to ask certain questions,” Carella said gently.
“But why that particular question?”
“Because some people wouldn’t necessarily call the police if they found someone dead from apparent natural causes.”
“Who would they call? Necessarily?”
“Relatives, friends, even a lawyer. Not necessarily the police, is all my partner’s saying,” Carella explained gently.
“Then why doesn’t he say it?” Cynthia snapped. “Instead of asking me all the time did I call the police?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Meyer said in his most abject voice. “I didn’t mean to suggest there was anything peculiar about your calling the police.”
“Well, your partner
here seems to think it was peculiar,” Cynthia said, thoroughly confused now. “ He
seems to think I should have called my husband or my girlfriend or my priest or anybody but
the police, what is
it with you two?”
“We simply have to investigate every possibility,” Carella said, more convinced than ever that she was lying. “By all appearances, your father died in bed, possibly from a heart attack, possibly from some other cause, we won’t know that until the autopsy results are …”
“He was an old man who’d suffered two previous heart attacks,” Cynthia said. “What do you think
he died of?”
“I don’t know, ma’am,” Carella said. “Do you?”
Cynthia looked him dead in the eye.
“My husband’s a lawyer, you know,” she said.
“Is your mother still alive?” Meyer asked, ducking the question and its implied threat.
“He’s on the way here now,” she said, not turning to look at Meyer, her gaze still fastened on Carella, as if willing him to melt before her very eyes. Green, he noticed. A person could easily melt under a green-eyed laser beam.
“Is she?” Meyer asked.
“She’s alive,” Cynthia said. “But they’re divorced.”
“Any other children besides you?”
She glared at Carella a moment ...
Présentation de l'éditeur
The fiftieth novel in the 87th Precinct series, Ed McBain returns to Isola, where detectives Meyer Meyer and Steve Carella investigate a murder which leads them to the seedy strip clubs and bright lights of the theater district.
In this city, you can get anything done for a price. If you want someone's eyeglasses smashed, it’ll cost you a subway token. You want his fingernails pulled out? His legs broken? You want him more seriously injured? You want him hurt so he’s an invalid his whole life? You want him skinned, you want him burned, you want him—don’t even mention it in a whisper—killed? It can be done. Let me talk to someone. It can be done.
The hanging death of a nondescript old man in a shabby little apartment in a meager section of the 87th Precinct was nothing much in this city, especially to detectives Carella and Meyer. But everyone has a story, and this old man’s story stood to make some people a lot of money. His story takes Carella, Meyer, Brown, and Weeks on a search through Isola’s seedy strip clubs and to the bright lights of the theater district. There they discover an upcoming musical with ties to a mysterious drug and a killer who stays until the last dance.
The Last Dance is Ed McBain's fiftieth novel of the 87th Precinct and certainly one of his best. The series began in 1956 with Cop Hater and proves him to be the man who has been called “so good he should be arrested.”
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