The luminous dial of his watch showed ten minutes past two in the morning. The rain had tapered off at about midnight. He would not have come out if it'd still been raining. These writers didn't work in the rain. Didn't want to get their spray cans all wet. Some writers. Scribblers was more like it. Each one scribbling right over the one before him. Kept on scribbling and scribbling till all there was left of a clean white wall was a barbed-wire tangle of words and names you couldn't even read.
The wall he'd chosen tonight was a new one.
You could almost smell the fresh cement.
New walls attracted these writers the way honey did bears. Put up a new wall or a new fence, wouldn't be ten minutes before they were out spraying it. Gave them some kind of thrill, he supposed. He'd once read something about burglars defecating in people's shoes while they were in an apartment stealing things. Added insult to injury. Wasn't enough they were in there taking a man's possessions, they had to go and soil his belongings besides, let him know what contempt they had for him. This was the same thing. Person sprayed his paint scribbles on a wall or a fence, he was telling the citizens of this city he was shitting on them.
He hoped it wouldn't start raining again.
There were lightning flashes in the distance, rumbles of thunder, but he didn't think the rain was moving any closer to where he was standing here waiting for someone to show up.
This was a two-lane street here running under the highway. Your writers never sprayed where their work wouldn't be seen, they always picked a street or a road with traffic on it, so every time you went by you could ooh and aah over the terrific mess they'd made of the wall. There weren't any leaves on the trees yet, no protection that way, nothing to create any kind of shadow, just these naked branches reaching up toward the parkway where every now and again a car's headlights drilled the blackness of the night. Spring was slow coming this year. This was the twenty-third of March, a dreary Monday morning. Even though spring had arrived officially three days earlier, it had been raining on and off ever since. Cold, too. Walking in the cold dank rain, he had worked out his plan.
Tonight would be the first of them.
If anybody showed.
If not, he'd do it tomorrow night.
No rush at all.
Get it done in time enough.
Three of them altogether, one plus one plus one.
He figured these writers had to do their dirty work at night, didn't they, you never saw any of them doing it during the daytime. Probably scouted a new wall or fence during the day, came back at night to mess it up. If anybody showed tonight, he'd wait till they did some messing up before he did a little messing of his own. Catch 'em in the act, bam! The gun in the pocket of his coat was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson.
Lightning way way off in the distance now.
Low growl of thunder far far away.
On the highway overhead, a car's tires hissed on the still-wet roadway. There was a penetrating chill on the air, made a man wish he was home in his own bed, instead of out here waiting for some jackass who didn't know what he was in for.
Well, come on, he thought. Can't stand out here all night, can I? Catch pneumonia out here, night like this one. He never had much cared for the month of March, his own time of year was the fall. Something about the fall always reached him. Nothing uncertain about the fall, you knew where you stood. March, April, forget it. Third day of spring, you'd think it was still the dead of winter, chill out here working its way clear into a man's bones. His gloved hand in the pocket of his coat felt warm around the walnut grip of the pistol.
One plus one plus one again.
Thing was, he was beginning to realize this might take longer than he'd figured. No way of telling when or even if anybody would show, he could be standing out here all night long and nobody'd come and he'd just have to do it all over again each time out, night after night. Wait in the dark till -
Coming up the street. Hands in his pockets. Kid of seventeen, eighteen, looking this way and that, had to be up to some kind of mischief. He moved deeper into the shadow cast by the highway overhead. Lightning again in the distance. Not even the sound of thunder this time, too far away. Another car sped by overhead, tires hissing, headlights casting fallout into the naked branches of the trees. He pulled still farther back into the shadows.
The kid was wearing jeans and a black leather jacket. High-topped sneakers. Turned to look over his shoulder. Turned back again, looked left and right, looked dead ahead, then stopped under the highway, and took a flashlight from his pocket. Light splashed onto the new cement wall. His face cracked into a grin, as if he were looking at a beautiful naked woman. Stood there with the flashlight playing on the wall, moving the flashlight over the wall, inch by inch, raping the clean empty wall with his eyes and the beam of the light. Then he reached inside his jacket and took out a spray can of paint and stood back from the wall a moment, studying it, the flashlight in his left hand, the spray can in his right, deciding where he should start his masterpiece.
He was spraying red paint onto the wall, spraying an S, and then a P, and then an I, and then a D, when he heard movement behind him, and turned sharply and saw a man wearing a black wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes, a dark coat with the collar pulled up high on his neck, a gun in his hand.
"Here," the man said.
And shot him twice in the face.
The boy lay still and silent on the ground under the highway, his life's blood oozing out of his face, the spray can lying beside him. He shot the boy one more time, in the chest this time, and then he reached down to pick up the can in his gloved hand, and pressed the button on top of the can, and squirted red paint all over the boy's face oozing blood, his chest oozing blood, red paint and red blood mingling while overhead another car pierced the night with its headlights and sped off into the distance where now there was no lightning at all.
the rain had changed to snow; it was that kind of spring. At nine o'clock that morning, it was still snowing.
"I remember, Easter Sunday once, it was snowing," Parker said. "This is nothing unusual."
"March twenty-third, it's unusual to be snowing," Kling said.
"Not if it could snow on Easter," Parker said.
"I remember once," Meyer said, "Passover and Easter Sunday fell on the very same day."
"That happens all the time," Carella said.
"That's because the Jews stole Passover from Easter," Parker said, blithely unaware.
Meyer didn't even bother.
The snow kept falling from the dull gray March sky. Beyond the grilled-mesh windows that protected the squad room from the brickbats of society, the day was blustery and bleak.
Andy Parker was looking over the report the graveyard shift had filed on the dead graffiti writer. The paper told him Baker One had found the kid early this morning, under the River Highway on North Eleventh. Kid's name was Alfredo Herrera, street name Spider. That's what he was probably trying to write on the wall, spider, when somebody pumped two into his face and another in his chest and painted him red for good measure. Served him right, Parker thought, fuckin writer. But didn't say. Meanwhile, the city had to spend time and money trying to find out who done it, when who gave a shit, really?
"We supposed to inform next of kin on this, or what?" he asked no one.
"Unless they already did," Carella said.
"That's what I'm askin," Parker said. "Willis typed this up, did he already call whoever, or what?"
"What does it say there?"
"It doesn't say anything."
"Is a next of kin listed?"
"I don't see any."
"How'd they make I.D.?"
"Well, there must've been an address on the license."
"I don't have the license here," Parker said testily, "I only have Willis's report here, where it says they made him from the license."
"Better call the Property Clerk's Office," Kling suggested. "See if they've got the license there."
"Why don't I just call Willis, ask him did he notify the parents, or what?"
"He's probably asleep by now," Meyer suggested tactfully.
"So fuck him," Parker said. "He leaves this shit on my desk to follow up, he should've also left a note telling me did he notify next of kin. Who's got his number?"
"Got enough spit?" Kling asked, but looked up the number in his notebook and read it off to Parker, who began dialing immediately.
Willis picked up on the fourth ring. It was obvious he'd been sleeping. Parker plunged ahead regardless. Willis told him the motorized blues had found the body at a little past six this morning, that it had been removed to the morgue, and that no one had had time to notify next of kin before the shift was relieved. Parker asked him if he knew where the kid's driver's license was. Willis was awake now and getting irritable.
"Why do you need the license?" he asked.
"So I can get an address for him."
"His address is on the report," Willis said. "I typed it in from the driver's license."
"Oh," Parker said.
"Right under his name. Do you see where it says address?" he asked testily. "That's where I typed it in."
"Yeah, I see it now," Parker said.
"Why didn't you see it in the first place," Willis said, "wake a man up he just fell asleep."
"Yeah, I should've," Parker said, and looked at the phone receiver when he heard what sounded like an angry click on the other end of the line. Shrugging, he turned to Carella. "The address was right here all along," he said. "You want to see if there's a phone number for him?"
"Don't you know how to look up a phone number?" Carella asked.
"I hate to call some kid's mother, tell her he's dead."
"Yeah, well, learn how to do it," Carella said.
"Thanks a whole fuckin lot," Parker said, and opened his desk drawer and pulled out a worn telephone directory. "Probably be ten thousand people named Herrera, this city," he said to the phone book, and shook his head.
Almost everything Parker said bordered on the thin edge of open bigotry. Everything else he said was open bigotry. It depended on who was in his immediate presence. He knew that someone like Meyer, for example, might possibly take offense if he called him a chiseling kike bastard, so instead he merely mentioned that the Jews had ripped off Easter Sunday. And whereas Carella wasn't Hispanic, he had a name full of vowels and he might get on his high horse if Parker suggested that the city was overrun by spics, so he'd simply addressed his comment to the telephone book instead.
As it turned out, he was mistaken.
There were not ten thousand Herreras in the book, there were only a hundred and forty-six. But that was in this section of the city alone. There were four other sections to this bustling metropolis, and just because the dead writer had been found here didn't mean he lived here. All Parker knew was that he was right now looking at a hundred and forty-six fuckin names that would take him all fuckin day to call all of them. For what? To tell some lady who couldn't speak English that her shithead son was dead, which it served him right, anyway?
Sometimes he wished he wasn't so dedicated.
He hit pay dirt on the forty-fourth number he tried. He considered this fortunate. This was now close to twelve noon and he wanted to go out to lunch.
The woman's name was Catalina Herrera. When he asked her if she had a son named Alfredo Herrera, she said, "Yes, I have. Who is this calling, please?"
Heavy Spanish accent. Naturally.
"This is Detective Andrew Parker of the Eighty-Seventh Precinct," he said. "Is your son eighteen years old?"
"Eighteen, yes. Is something...?"
"Birth date September fourteenth?"
"He's dead," Parker said.
He told her where the body was, asked her if she could meet him there later to make positive identification, and then told the other detectives he was heading out for lunch.
"Nice bedside manner you got there," Carella said.
"Thanks," Parker said, and went out smiling.
"There's this ship in the middle of the Pacific," Meyer said. "This is World War II. The loudspeaker goes off and the chief bosun's voice says, 'All hands, fall to on the quarterdeck. All hands, fall to on the quarterdeck.'"
"I think I heard this story," Kling said.
"Seaman Shavorsky?" Meyer asked.
"Well, all the sailors gather on the quarterdeck, and the bosun says, 'At ease, we just got a radio message from the States. Seaman O'Neill, your mother is dead.' Well, the captain overhears this, and he calls the bosun into his cabin, and he says, 'That's no way to break news of this sort. These men are a long way from home, you've got to be more considerate if anything like this happens again.' The bosun salutes and says, 'Yes, sir, I'm sorry, sir, I certainly will be more careful next time if there is a next time, sir.'"
"Are you sure I didn't hear this?" Kling asked.
"How should I know if you heard it or not? Anyway, a couple of months later, the bosun's voice comes over the speaker again, 'All hands, fall to on the quarterdeck, all hands fall to on the quarterdeck,' and all the sailors gather again, and the bosun says, 'We just got a radio message from the States. All you men whose mothers are still living, take one step forw - not so fast, Seaman Shavorsky!' "
Carella burst out laughing.
"I don't get it," Kling said.
"Maybe cause you heard it already," Meyer said.
"No, I don't think I ever heard it. I just don't get it."
"It has to do with Parker and the dead kid's mother," Meyer said.
"Is that the dead kid's name? Shavorsky?"
"Forget it," Meyer said.
"I thought it was a Latino name."
"Forget it," Meyer said again, and went to answer the telephone ringing on his desk.
"Shavorsky doesn't sound Latino at all," Kling said, and winked at Carella.
"Forget it, forget it," Meyer said, and picked up the receiver. 'Eighty-Seventh Squad, Detective Meyer," he said. He listened, nodded, said, "Just a second, please," and then, "For you, Steve. On four."
Carella hit the four button on his desk extension, and picked up the receiver.
"Detective Carella," he said.
"Good morning," a pleasant voice said. "Or is it afternoon already?"
"Twenty past twelve, sir," Carella answered, glancing up at the wall clock. "How can I help you?"
"You'll have to speak louder," the voice said. "I'm a little hard of hearing."
Detective-Lieutenant Peter Byrnes told the three of them they'd already spent too damn much time on it.
"I don't care if it's the Deaf Man again, or the Deaf Man's brother, I don't want another minute wasted on his damn tomfoolery.
Excerpted from Mischief by Ed McBain Copyright © 2000 by Ed McBain. Excerpted by permission.
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