Copyright © 2000 Evan Hunter.
All rights reserved.
Detective Steve Carella wasn't sure he had heard the man correctly. This was not what a bereaved husband was supposed to say when his wife lay disemboweled on the bedroom floor in a pool of her own blood. The man was still wearing overcoat and homburg, muffler and gloves. He stood near the telephone on the night table, a tall man with a narrow face, the vertical plane of which was dramatically broken by a well-groomed gray mustache that matched the graying hair at his temples. His eyes were clear and blue and distinctly free of pain or grief. As if to make certain Carella had understood him, he repeated a fragment of his earlier statement, giving it even more emphasis this time around.
"Very glad she's dead," he said.
"Sir," Carella said, "I'm sure I don't have to tell you..."
"That's right," the man said, "you don't have to tell me. It happens I'm a criminal lawyer. I am well aware of my rights, and fully cognizant of the fact that anything I tell you of my own free will may later be used against me. I repeat that my wife was a no-good bitch, and I'm delighted someone killed her."
Carella nodded, opened his pad, glanced at it, and said, "Are you the man who notified the police?"
"Then your name is Gerald Fletcher."
"Your wife's name, Mr. Fletcher?"
"Sarah. Sarah Fletcher."
"Want to tell me what happened?"
"I got home about fifteen minutes ago. I called to my wife from the front door, and got no answer. I came here into the bedroom and found her dead on the floor. I immediately called the police."
"Was the room in this condition when you came in?"
"Nothing. I haven't moved from this spot since I placed the call."
"Anybody in here when you came in?"
"Not a soul. Except my wife, of course."
"And you say you got home about fifteen minutes ago?"
"More or less. You can check it with the elevator operator who took me up."
Carella looked at his watch. "That would have been ten-thirty or thereabouts."
"And you called the police at..." Carella consulted the open notebook. "Ten thirty-four. Is that right?"
"I didn't look at my watch, but I expect that's close enough."
"Well, the call was logged at..."
"Ten thirty-four is close enough."
"Is that your suitcase in the entrance hallway?"
"Just returning home from a trip?"
"I was on the Coast for three days."
"An associate of mine needed advice on a brief he's preparing."
"What time did your plane get in?"
"Nine forty-five. I claimed my bag, caught a taxi, and came directly home."
"And got here about ten-thirty, right?"
"That's right. For the third time."
"You've already ascertained the fact three times. If there remains any doubt in your mind, let me reiterate that I got here at ten-thirty, found my wife dead, and called the police at ten thirty-four."
"Yes, sir, I've got that."
"What's your name?" Fletcher asked suddenly.
"Carella. Detective Steve Carella."
"I'll remember that."
* * *
While Fletcher was remembering Carella's name; and while the police photographer was doing his macabre little jig around the body, flashbulbs popping, death being recorded on Polaroid film for instant verification, pull, wait fifteen seconds, beep, rip, examine the picture to make sure the lady looks good in the rushes, or as good as any lady can look with her belly wide open and her intestines spilling onto a rug; and while two Homicide cops named Monoghan and Monroe beefed about being called away from their homes on a cold night in December, two weeks before Christmas; and while Detective Bert Kling was downstairs talking to the elevator operator and the doorman in an attempt to ascertain the exact hour Mr. Gerald Fletcher had pulled up in a taxicab and entered the apartment building on Silvermine Oval and gone up in the elevator to find his once-beautiful wife, Sarah, spread amoeba-like in ugly death on the bedroom rug; while all this was happening, a laboratory technician named Marshall Davies was in the kitchen of the apartment, occupying himself with busy work while he waited for the Medical Examiner to pronounce the lady dead and state the probable cause (as if it took a genius to determine that someone had ripped her open with a switchblade knife), at which time Davies would go into the bedroom and with delicate care remove the knife protruding from the blood and slime of the lady's guts in an attempt to salvage some good latent prints from the handle of the murder weapon.
Davies was a new technician, but an observant one, and the first thing he noticed in the kitchen was that the window was wide open, not exactly usual for a December night when the temperature outside hovered at twelve degrees Fahrenheit, not to mention Centigrade. Davies leaned over the sink and further noticed that the window opened onto a fire escape on the rear of the building. Whereas he was paid only to examine the superficial aspects of any criminal act such as glass shards in a victim's eyeball, or shotgun pellets in the chest, or, as in the case of the lady in the other room, a knife in the belly he could not resist speculating that perhaps someone, some intruder, had climbed up the fire escape and into the kitchen, after which he had proceeded to the bedroom, where he'd done the lady in.
Since there was a big muddy footprint in the kitchen sink and another one on the floor near the sink, and several others fading in intensity as they traveled inexorably across the waxed kitchen floor to the door that led to the living room, Davies surmised he was onto something hot. Wasn't it entirely possible that an intruder had climbed over the windowsill and into the sink and walked across the room, bearing the switchblade knife that had later been pulled viciously across the lady's belly from left to right, like a rip-top cellophane tab, opening her as effortlessly as it would have a package of cigarettes?
Davies stopped speculating, and photographed the footprint in the sink and the ones on the floor. Then, because the Assistant M.E. was still fussing around with the corpse (Death by stab wound, Davies thought impatiently; evisceration, for Christ's sake!) and seemed reluctant to commit himself without perhaps first calling his superior officer or his mother (Say, we've got a tough one here, lady's belly ripped open with a knife, got any idea what might have caused death?), Davies climbed out onto the fire escape and dusted the lower edge of the window, which the intruder would have had to grab in order to open the window, and then for good measure dusted the iron railings of the ladder leading up to the fire escape.
Now, if the M.E. ever got through with the goddamn body, and if there were any latent prints on the handle of the knife, the boys of the 87th would be halfway home, thanks to Marshall Davies.
He felt pretty good.
* * *
Detective Bert Kling felt pretty lousy.
His condition, he kept telling himself, had nothing to do with the fact that Cindy Forrest had broken their engagement three weeks before. To begin with, it had never been a proper engagement, and a person certainly couldn't go around mourning something that had never truly existed. Besides, Cindy had made it abundantly clear that, whereas they had enjoyed some very good times together, and whereas she would always think upon him fondly and recall with great pleasure the days and months (yea, even years) they had spent together pretending they were in love, she had nonetheless met a very attractive young man who was a practicing psychiatrist at Buenavista Hospital, where she was doing her internship, and seeing as how they shared identical interests, and seeing as how he was quite ready to get married whereas Kling seemed to be married to a .38 Detective's Special, a scarred wooden desk, and a detention cage, Cindy felt it might be best to terminate their relationship immediately rather than court the possibility of trauma induced by slow and painful withdrawal.
That had been three weeks ago, and he had not seen nor called Cindy since, and the pain of the breakup was equaled only by the pain of the bursitis in his right shoulder, despite the fact that he was wearing a copper bracelet on his wrist. The bracelet had been given to him by none other than Meyer Meyer, whom no one would have dreamed of as a superstitious man given to beliefs in ridiculous claims. The bracelet was supposed to begin working in ten days (Well, maybe two weeks, Meyer had said, hedging) and Kling had been wearing it for eleven days now, with no relief for the bursitis, but with a noticeable green stain around his wrist just below the bracelet. Hope springs eternal. Somewhere in his race memory, there lurked a hulking ape-like creature rubbing animal teeth by a fire, praying in grunts for a splendid hunt on the morrow. Somewhere also in his race memory, though not as far back, was the image of Cindy Forrest naked in his arms, and the concomitant fantasy that she would call to say she'd made a terrible mistake and was ready to drop her psychiatrist pal. No Women's Lib man he, Kling nonetheless felt it perfectly all right for Cindy to take the initiative in re-establishing their relationship; it was she, after all, who had taken the first and final step toward ending it. Meanwhile, his bursitis hurt like hell and the elevator operator was not one of those bright snappy young men on the way up (Kling winced; he hated puns even when he made them himself), but rather a stupid clod who had difficulty remembering his own name. Kling went over the same tired ground yet another time.
"Do you know Mr. Fletcher by sight?" he asked.
"Oh, yeah," the elevator operator said.
"What does he look like?"
"Oh, you know, he calls me Max."
"Yes, Max, but..."
" 'Hello, Max,' he says, 'How are you, Max?' I say, 'Hello there, Mr. Fletcher, nice day today, huh?' "
"Could you describe him for me, please?"
"He's nice and handsome."
"What color are his eyes?"
"Brown? Blue? Something like that."
"How tall is he?"
"Taller than you?"
"Taller than me?" '
"Oh, no. About the same. Mr. Fletcher is about the same."
"What color hair does he have?"
"White? Do you mean gray?"
"White, gray, something like that."
"Which was it, Max, would you remember?"
"Oh, something like that. Ask Phil. He knows. He's good on times and things like that."
Phil was the doorman. He was very good on times and things like that. He was also a garrulous lonely old man who welcomed the opportunity to be in a cops-and-robbers documentary film. Kling could not disabuse Phil of the notion that this was a real investigation; there was a dead lady upstairs and someone had brought about her present condition, and it was the desire of the police to bring that person to justice, ta-ra.
"Oh, yeah, yeah," Phil said, "terrible the way things are getting in this city, ain't it? Even when I was a kid, things wasn't this terrible. I was born over on the South Side, you know, in a neighborhood where if you wore shoes you were considered a sissy. We were all the time fighting with the wop gangs, you know? We used to drop things down on them from the rooftops. Bricks, eggs, scrap iron, a toaster one time yeah, I swear to God, we once threw my mother's old toaster off the roof, bang, it hit one of them wops right on the head, bad place to hit a wop, of course, never does him no damage there. What I'm saying, though, is it never was so bad like it is now. Even when we were beating up the wops all the time, and them vice versa, it was fun, you know what I mean? I mean, it was fun in those days. Nowadays, what happens? Nowadays, you step in the elevator, there's some crazy dope fiend, he shoves a gun under your nose and says he'll blow your head off it you don't give him all your money. That happened to Dr. Haskins, you think I'm kidding? He's coming home three o'clock in the morning, he goes in the elevator and Max is out taking a leak, so it's on self-service. Only there's a guy in the elevator, God knows how he even got in the building, probably came down from the roof, they jump rooftops like mountain goats, them dope fiends, and he sticks the gun right up under Dr. Haskins' nose, right here, right pointing up his nostrils, for Christ's sake, and he says, Give me all your money and also whatever dope you got in that bag. So Dr. Haskins figures What the hell, I'm going to get killed here for a lousy forty dollars and two vials of cocaine, here take it, good riddance. So he gives the guy what he wants, and you know what the guy does, anyway? He beats up Dr. Haskins. They had to take him to the hospital with seven stitches, the son of a bitch split his forehead open with the butt of the pistol, he pistol-whipped him, you know? What kind of thing is that, huh? This city stinks, and especially this neighborhood. I can remember this neighborhood when you could come home three, four, five, even six o'clock in the morning, who cared what time you came home; you could be wearing a tuxedo and a mink coat, who cared what you were wearing, your jewels, your diamond cuff links, nobody bothered you. Try that today. Try walking down the street after dark without a Doberman pinscher on a leash, see how far you get. They smell you coming, these dope fiends, they leap out at you from doorways. We had a lot of burglaries in this building, all dope fiends. They come down from the roof, you know? We must've fixed that lock on the roof door a hundred times, what difference does it make? They're all experts, as soon as we fix it, boom, it's busted open again. Or they come up the fire escapes, who can stop them? Next thing you know, they're in some apartment stealing the whole place, you're lucky if they leave your false teeth in the glass. I don't know what this city's coming to, I swear to God. It's disgraceful."
"What about Mr. Fletcher?" Kling asked.
"What about him? He's a decent man, a lawyer. He comes home, and what does he find? He finds his wife dead on the floor, probably killed by some crazy dope fiend. Is that a way to live? Who needs it? You can't even go in your own bedroom without somebody jumping on you? What kind of thing is that?"
"When did Mr. Fletcher come home tonight?"
"About ten-thirty," Phil said.
"Are you sure of the time?"
"Positive. You know how I remember? There's Mrs. Horowitz, she lives in 12C, she either doesn't have an alarm clock, or else she doesn't know how to set the alarm since her husband passed away two years ago. So every night she calls down to ask me the correct time, and to say would the day-man please call her at such and such a time in the morning, to wake her up. This ain't a hotel, but what the hell, an old woman asks a simple favor, you're supposed to refuse it? Besides, she's very generous at Christmas, which ain't too far away, huh? So tonight, she calls down and says, 'What's the correct time, Phil?' and I look at my watch and tell her it's ten-thirty, and just then Mr. Fletcher pulls up in a taxicab. Mrs. Horowitz says will I please ask the day-man to wake her up at seven-thirty, and I tell her I will and then go to the curb to carry Mr. Fletcher's bag in. That's how I remember exactly what time it was."
"Did Mr. Fletcher go directly upstairs?"
"Directly," Phil said. "Why? Where would he go? For a walk in this neighborhood at ten-thirty in the night? That's like taking a walk off a gangplank."
"Well, thanks a lot," Kling said.
"Don't mention it," Phil said. "They shot another movie around here one time."
* * *
Back at the ranch, they weren't shooting a movie. They were standing in an informal triangle around Gerald Fletcher, and raising their eyebrows at the answers he gave them. The three points of the triangle were Detective-Lieutenant Peter Byrnes and Detectives Meyer and Carella. Fletcher sat in a chair with his arms crossed over his chest. He was still wearing homburg, muffler, overcoat, and gloves, as if he expected to be called outdoors at any moment and wanted to be fully prepared for the inclement weather. The interrogation was being conducted in a windowless cubicle euphemistically labeled on its frosted glass door INTERROGATION ROOM. Opulently furnished in Institutional Wood, circa 1919, the room sported a long table, two straight-backed chairs, and a framed mirror. The mirror hung on a wall opposite the table. It was (heh-heh) a one-way mirror, which meant that on this side you saw your own reflection when you looked into the glass, but if you were standing on the other side, you could look into the room and observe all sorts of criminal behavior while remaining unseen yourself; devious are the ways of law enforcers the world over. Devious, too, are the ways of criminals; there was not a single criminal in the entire city who did not recognize a one-way mirror the minute he laid eyes upon it. Quite often, in fact, criminals with a comic flair had been known to approach the mirror, place a thumb to the nose, and waggle the fingers of the hand as a gesture of esteem and affection to the eavesdropping cops on the other side of the glass. In such ways were mutual respect and admiration built between the men who broke the law and the men who tried to uphold it. Crime does not pay but it doesn't hurt to have a few laughs along the way, as Euripides once remarked.
The cops standing in their loose triangle around Gerald Fletcher were amazed but not too terribly amused by his honesty; or, to be more exact, his downright brutal frankness. It was one thing to discuss the death of one's spouse without frills or furbelows; it was quite another to court lifelong imprisonment in a state penitentary. Gerald Fletcher seemed to be doing precisely that.
"I hated her guts," he said, and Meyer raised his eyebrows and glanced at Byrnes, who in turn raised his eyebrows and glanced at Carella, who was facing the one-way mirror and had the opportunity of witnessing his own reflection raising its eyebrows.
"Mr. Fletcher," Byrnes said, "I know you understand your rights, as we explained them to you..."
"I understood them long before you explained them," Fletcher said.
"And I know you've chosen to answer our questions without an attorney present..."
"I am an attorney."
"What I meant..."
"I know what you meant. Yes, I'm willing to answer any and all questions without counsel."
"I still feel I must warn you that a woman has been murdered..."
"Yes, my dear, wonderful wife," Fletcher said sarcastically.
"Which is a serious crime..."
"Which, among felonies, may very well be the choicest of the lot," Fletcher said.
"Yes," Byrnes said. He was not an articulate man, but he felt somewhat tongue-tied in Fletcher's presence. Bullet-headed, hair turning from iron-gray to ice-white (slight bald spot beginning to show at the back), blue-eyed, built like a compact linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, Byrnes straightened the knot in his tie, cleared his throat, and looked to his colleagues for support. Both Meyer and Carella were watching their shoelaces.
"Well, look," Byrnes said, "if you understand what you're doing, go right ahead. We warned you."
"Indeed you have warned me. Repeatedly. I can't imagine why," Fletcher said, "since I don't feel myself to be in any particular danger. My wife is dead, someone killed the bitch. But it was not me."
"Well, it's nice to have your assurance of that, Mr. Fletcher, but your assurance alone doesn't necessarily still our doubts," Carella said, hearing the words and wondering where the hell they were coming from. He was, he realized, trying to impress Fletcher, trying to ward off the man's obvious condescension by courting his acceptance. Look at me, he was pleading, listen to me. I'm not just a dumb bull, I'm a man of sensitivity and intelligence, able to understand your vocabulary, your sarcasm, and even your vituperative wit. Half-sitting upon, half-leaning against the scarred wooden table, a tall athletic-looking man with straight brown hair, brown eyes curiously slanted downwards, Carella folded his arms across his chest in unconscious imitation of Fletcher. The moment he realized what he was doing, he uncrossed his arms at once, and stared intently at Fletcher, waiting for an answer. Fletcher stared intently back.
"Well?" Carella said.
"Well what, Detective Carella?"
"Well, what do you have to say?"
"How do we know it wasn't you who stabbed her?"
"To begin with," Fletcher said, "there were signs of forcible entry in the kitchen and hasty departure in the bedroom witness the wide-open window in the aforementioned room, and the shattered window in the latter. The drawers in the dining-room sideboard were open..."
"You're a very observant person," Meyer said suddenly. "Did you notice all this in the four minutes it took you to enter the apartment and call the police?"
"It's my job to be an observant person," Fletcher said, "but to answer your question, no. I noticed all this after I had spoken to Detective Carella here, and while he was on the phone reporting to your lieutenant. I might add that I've lived in that apartment on Silvermine Oval for the past twelve years, and that it doesn't take a particularly sharp-eyed man to notice that a bedroom window is smashed or a kitchen window open. Nor does it take a sleuth to realize that the family silver has been pilfered especially when there are several serving spoons, soup ladles, and butter knives scattered on the bedroom floor beneath the shattered window. Have you checked the alleyway below the window? You're liable to find your murderer still lying there."
"Your apartment is on the second floor, Mr. Fletcher," Meyer said.
"Which is why I suggested he might still be there," Fletcher answered. "Nursing a broken leg or a fractured skull."
"In all my years of experience," Meyer said, and Carella suddenly realized that he, too, was trying to impress Fletcher, "I have never known a criminal to jump out a window on the second floor of a building." (Carella was surprised he hadn't used the word "defenestrate.")
"This criminal may have had good reason for imprudent action," Fletcher said. "He had just killed a woman, probably after coming upon her unexpectedly in an apartment he thought was empty. He had heard someone opening the front door, and had realized he could not leave the apartment the way he'd come in, the kitchen being too close to the entrance. He undoubtedly figured he would rather risk a broken leg than the penitentiary for life. How does that portrait compare to those of other Criminals You Have Known?"
"I've known lots of criminals," Meyer said inanely, "and some of them are too smart for their own damn good." He felt idiotic even as he delivered his little preachment, but Fletcher had a way of making a man feel like a cretin. Meyer ran his hand self-consciously over his bald pate, his eyes avoiding the glances of Carella and Byrnes. Somehow, he felt he had let them all down. Somehow, a rapier thrust had been called for, and he had delivered only a puny mumbletypeg penknife flip. "What about that knife, Mr. Fletcher?" he said. "Ever see it before?"
"It doesn't happen to be your knife, does it?" Carella asked.
"It does not."
"Did your wife say anything to you when you entered the bedroom?"
"My wife was dead when I entered the bedroom."
"You're sure of that?"
"I'm positive of it."
"All right, Mr. Fletcher," Byrnes said abruptly. "You want to wait outside, please?"
"Certainly," Fletcher said, and rose, and left the room. The three detectives stood in silence for a respectable number of minutes. Then Byrnes said, "What do you think?"
"I think he did it," Carella said.
"What makes you think so?"
"Let me revise that."
"Go ahead, revise it."
"I think he could have done it."
"Even with all those signs of a burglary?"
"Especially with all those signs."
"Spell it out, Steve."
"He could have come home, found his wife stabbed but not fatally and finished her off by yanking the knife across her belly. The M.E.'s report says that death was probably instantaneous, either caused by severance of the abdominal aorta, or reflex shock, or both. Fletcher had four minutes when all he needed was maybe four seconds."
"It's possible," Meyer said.
"Or maybe I just don't like the son of a bitch," Carella added.
"Let's see what the lab comes up with," Byrnes said.
Excerpted from Sadie When She Died by Ed McBain. Copyright © 2000 by Evan Hunter. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.