Calculated Risk - Collin Wilcox - ebook

Calculated Risk ebook

Collin Wilcox

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Opis

A gay man's murder leads Hastings to a blackmail plot. Charles Hardaway climbs the hill to his house, immediately missing the bright lights and conversation of the bar and dreading the return to his lover, who is slowly dying of AIDS. But Hardaway's self-pity is interrupted by a pipe-wielding stranger, who crushes his skull before slipping away. It's nighttime in the Castro, and another gay man has been sent to his grave. Homicide lieutenant Frank Hastings is tempted to write the killing off as another heinous instance of gay-bashing, but witnesses say the killer was alone, and seemed to know the victim. Digging into Hardaway's past, Hastings finds evidence that he was a blackmailer who pushed one of his targets to the breaking point. In a neighborhood where disease and hatred claim more and more lives every day, it seems one man has been done in by plain old-fashioned greed.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

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About the Book

A gay man’s murder leads Hastings to a blackmail plot.

Charles Hardaway climbs the hill to his house, immediately missing the bright lights and conversation of the bar and dreading the return to his lover, who is slowly dying of AIDS. But Hardaway’s self-pity is interrupted by a pipe-wielding stranger, who crushes his skull before slipping away. It’s nighttime in the Castro, and another gay man has been sent to his grave.

Homicide lieutenant Frank Hastings is tempted to write the killing off as another heinous instance of gay-bashing, but witnesses say the killer was alone, and seemed to know the victim. Digging into Hardaway’s past, Hastings finds evidence that he was a blackmailer who pushed one of his targets to the breaking point. In a neighborhood where disease and hatred claim more and more lives every day, it seems one man has been done in by plain old-fashioned greed.

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door - a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.

Calculated Risk

A Lt. Hastings Mystery

Collin Wilcox

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2013 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1995 by Collin Wilcox

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Michel Vrana

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-592-7

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book is dedicated to Conor, he of the knowing eyes.

1

IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE, HARDAWAY realized, to endure this mewling mumble of self-pity, this endless dirge, this constant paean of despair. It was impossible to look into this face that had once been so responsive, the touch of the poet, the perfection of a Grecian youth, stroking the strings of his lute. Adonis, the essence of erotic grace. All of it corroded by terror, distilled into the bitter brew of the doomed, the lamentations of the dying.

Hardaway glanced at his watch, then stretched his arms overhead, arching his back. The time was almost nine. At Toby’s, there was laughter, music—promises to make, promises to keep, the never-ending game.

“So. What d’you think? Toby’s?” It was essential, of course, that he extend the invitation. This, too, was part of the game.

Carpenter shook his head. “Not for me.” He raised the TV wand. “How about The Little Foxes?”

“The Little Foxes? Really? What channel?”

“The Movie Channel. Forty-six.”

He pretended to consider, let the moment linger between them, all part of the ritual. Then: “I don’t think so. Bette Davis—I’m not up for those lips of hers.”

“There’s no commercials, on forty-six.” It was Randy’s way of begging. The prospect of being left alone tonight was more than Randy could bear. Tonight, and every night. Call it the HIV blues, some won, others lost. Tonight, drinks at Toby’s was the prize.

“I won’t be long—an hour or two, no more. Bring you anything?” Hardaway rose, crossed the living room, went to the hall closet. He moved gracefully, easily, aware of his own fluidity. Between them, it was a given that he was the dominant one, the desirable one. Randy was the dreamer, the passive one.

Hardaway pulled on a rough wool lumberjack’s shirt that complemented the jeans and Reeboks he’d changed into before dinner. He glanced at Randy, sunk in his armchair, his chin on his chest, still clutching the TV wand. Pouting. For a long, definitive moment the tableau held: one of them with the TV wand, staring at the TV with hollow, hopeless eyes—the other one seeking liberation from the pall that had descended on them; one of them contemplating death, one of them craving life.

“‘An hour or two,’” Carpenter mimicked. He spoke softly, bitterly. “Saturday, it was almost five hours.”

“Jesus, Randy, how many times do I have to hear it, about Saturday? You were invited. Brian wanted you to come.”

“Brian wanted you to come. He thought you’d be more likely to come if he invited me too.”

“Randy, I’m not going to respond to that. We’ve talked this thing to death, about Brian’s party. And I’m not going to—”

“Brian’s been coming on to you for a year.” As Carpenter stared with hot, hollow eyes at the blank TV screen, his voice registered both resignation and accusation.

Still standing in the short hallway that offered escape, a way out, Hardaway struck a helpless pose, arms spread, palms forward, in a plea for reason, for amity. He said nothing. If the other man insisted—cravenly insisted—then he would return to the living room, sit on the sofa, endure The Little Foxes while he sipped chardonnay. If, in fact, there was any chardonnay on ice, a doubtful prospect.

Carpenter drew a long, deep breath, his own appeal for reason. Saying: “You get home from work and you change clothes and you go jogging. You get back, and you shower. We make dinner. By eight, eight thirty, we’ve finished dinner. And now it’s nine o’clock, and you’re going to Toby’s. You’re going to—”

“Jesus, Randy, I asked you to go. I invited you. There’s no reason you shouldn’t go. You’re—Christ—you’re giving up. Okay, you’re sick. Just like half the people we know, you’re sick. But did it ever occur to you that—”

“What occurred to me is that you can’t bear to be with me for more than an hour a day. You might not even realize it, I’ll give you that. But the truth is, you wish you were rid of me.”

“Randy …” He let the word linger between them, both a threat and a plea. “Randy, that’s not true. It’s simply not true.”

Wearily, Carpenter nodded. Then, as if it possessed great weight, he raised the TV wand, aimed it at the TV. For now—tonight—the confrontation had ended. Moving with self-conscious precision, Hardaway went to the hallway door, turned the knob. Never would Toby’s seem so necessary.

2

WITH AN AIR OF gentle resignation, Hardaway placed the empty wineglass on the mahogany bar. The clock behind the bar was set into the center of a garish Klondike movie poster featuring a wild-eyed buxom blonde, bodice gaping over straining breasts, fleeing from a slavering grizzly. The time was exactly eleven o’clock. The Little Foxes was doubtless rolling the credits. His bondage beckoned.

He dropped money on the bar, touched hands with the bartender, and slid off the bar stool. On a warm, inviting Tuesday night in May, Toby’s was crowded shoulder to shoulder, flank to flank. The beat of the music, the answering urgency of the voices, the raw, rhythmic movements of arousal, all of it throbbed with tribal urgency. Responding, the voices were louder, the laughter more frenetic. A dozen faces smiled meaningfully as Hardaway made his way through the crowd toward the door. Some of the faces were friends’, some were strangers’. Voices rose, but the words were lost in the din. Handshakes lingered, accompanied by the smiles, the invitations. From behind, fingers lightly stroked his buttocks.

The sidewalk, too, was crowded. Voices here were pitched to the same register as the voices still audible from inside Toby’s. Tonight, the Castro was ready for anything.

At Eighteenth Street he turned right, uphill. Almost immediately, the press of pedestrians eased. Another block, on Collingwood, and the tempo would slacken to what passed for normal in San Francisco. Castro was avaricious, blatantly commercial. Collingwood was restrained, residential. In its few short blocks, Collingwood featured some of the city’s most dignified Victorian architecture, mostly three-story town houses, now divided into apartments. The sidewalk trees were decades old.

He turned left, began climbing the first steep block of Collingwood. Their apartment was in the second block, up another hill, this one steeper than the first. Earlier in the evening, jogging, he’d taken these two blocks in good time. Now, after a heavy dinner and three—four—glasses of wine, he would walk. He would—

“Charles.”

Instinctively responding, startled, he turned to face the figure materializing from the shadows behind a head-high hedge.

A friend?

No, not a friend.

Hardaway stood motionless, watching as the stranger advanced: a slim black man moving slowly, purposefully. The stranger wore a leather bomber jacket and tight blue jeans, regulation in the Castro. Even the dark glasses conformed to the with-it image the stranger projected. The dark stocking cap, though, was an aberration.

The night was dark, and the sidewalks here were almost deserted. And the Castro could be dangerous, after dark.

And the woman on the phone had threatened him. “You’ll die,” she’d promised.

He began backing away, moving up the hill. One step. Two steps. Cautiously. Watchfully.

“Hey, Charles, what d’you say?” Still purposefully advancing, the stranger spoke in a soft, lilting ghetto patois, wheedling.

“Who—who are you?”

“Who d’you think I am, Charles? Don’t you remember?” Still wheedling. Or were the words really mocking him?

They were almost within reach of each other. Glancing quickly to his right, across the quiet street, Hardaway saw a man and a woman climbing the hill. The woman was laughing at something the man had said.

Quickly, Hardaway turned back to face the black man.

Just as, moving suddenly, silently, a graceful, savage predator, the stranger sprang forward. The pipe struck Hardaway squarely in the solar plexus, a numbing blow. And another blow—and another. He must call out. He must run. But as he wrenched away, stumbling over the curb, he realized that his legs were no longer supporting him. He tried to scream, but heard nothing. He could only raise his right hand against the final blow, to his temple. As he fell, he discovered that he was looking up into the night sky. The ocean fog had come in through the Golden Gate; there were no stars tonight.

His mother—had she heard his scream? Would she—?

3

HASTINGS RAISED HIMSELF ON one elbow, looked across Ann to the nightstand alarm clock. Almost midnight. They’d gone to bed about ten o’clock, both of them with books to read. More than a month ago, they’d taken a vow: no more watching TV in bed, even the late-night news.

By eleven, Ann had yawned, kissed him dutifully, yawned again, and switched off her light. He’d promised not to be long, and by eleven thirty the bedroom had been dark. Beside him, Ann was deep in sleep, softly snoring. Sometimes she asked him whether she snored, whether she kept to her side of the bed, whether she was a restless sleeper. Some women sought the reassurance of “Yes, I love you.” Ann asked only about that which she couldn’t control, her sleeping self. They’d never talked about love, never said the words. It was, he realized, the nature of their relationship. They’d both been married before, both had children, both suffered when their marriages ended. His ex-wife, a socialite who’d flaunted her affair with a tennis pro, had asked for a divorce. Ann’s ex-husband, a psychiatrist who specialized in the neuroses of affluent divorcées, had ended their marriage.

Hastings had met her two years ago, when Ann’s teenage son had been a witness to murder, and briefly a suspect. Hastings had contrived to return to Ann’s spacious, gracefully furnished Victorian flat often enough to screw up the courage it took to ask her out for dinner at a neighborhood restaurant. Dinner became a weekly event for them, and soon they were lovers. Comfortable, companionable lovers. If Ann’s ex-husband took the two sons for the weekend, Hastings spent Saturday night and Sunday morning at Ann’s place. Often, though, Ann came to his bachelor apartment in the Marina, with a view across San Francisco Bay to the hills of Marin County. Sometimes they cooked shish kebab in the fireplace and ate it with French bread and a tossed green salad. Sometimes they had crab, bought live at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Then, only a few months after they met, during the apprehension of a wild-eyed drug cultist, he’d made the mistake of turning his back on one of the cultist’s spaced-out followers. The youth had taken an ancient Mayan war club from a wall display, and put Hastings in the hospital for five days with a concussion. For at least two weeks, the doctors had warned, he should stay in bed convalescing. Ann had picked him up at the hospital. She’d taken him home, moved him into her bedroom. Her two teenage sons had apparently approved. They’d—

Close beside him, muted, the telephone warbled.

“Yes?” Softly.

“It’s Canelli, Lieutenant.”

“I’ll call you right back.” He cradled the phone, slipped out of bed, stood for a moment looking down at Ann. She stirred, mumbled something, sighed, went back to sleep. Hastings took his robe from “his” chair, found his slippers under the bed. Moments later, in the living room, he touch-toned the number for the inspector’s squadroom. Canelli answered on the third ring as Hastings clicked his ballpoint pen over the notepad that was always kept beside the telephone. During the year he’d lived with Ann and the boys, his only demand had been that there always be a notepad beside the living room phone.

“So?”

“Well,” Canelli said, “it’s a guy on Collingwood, just up from Eighteenth. Collingwood’s just a couple of blocks long, very steep, all residential. The guy was walking up Collingwood from Eighteenth, and another guy stepped out from behind a hedge. Something was said, but it wasn’t an argument, no voices raised, nothing like that. But the next thing, the victim was on the ground. There’re just two witnesses, a couple who was also walking up Collingwood on the other side of the street from the victim, and a little farther up the hill. They didn’t know anything was wrong until the guy was already down, and the assailant was walking down Collingwood to Eighteenth, real calm, it sounds like.”

“When’d it happen?”

“About ten minutes after eleven. Call it fifty minutes ago.”

“Is the scene secure?”

“No problem. Three cars, five men. Or, really, four men and one woman. Sergeant Serrano, from Mission station, he’s in charge. Good man.”

“What about the witnesses?”

“Well, they’d been to dinner, on Castro, and they were just going to get their car and go home. They live out in the Sunset. Serrano talked them into hanging around until one of our guys got there, to talk to them.”

“Who’s on the board?”

“Well, that’s why I’m calling, Lieutenant. I mean, there’s that Harris surveillance, which is taking at least six guys, including two of ours. Plus that gang thing out at Hunter’s Point, that’s still active. So the only one available from our squad is”—a momentary pause—“is Janet Collier.”

In the other man’s voice, Hastings could clearly hear it: the subtle reticence, the suggestion of discomfort. It was the price he knew he’d pay for arranging Janet Collier’s transfer to Homicide. Intuition was a good detective’s principal tool.

Meaning that every man in his command certainly sensed that Hastings had fallen in love with Janet Collier.

He hadn’t meant for it to happen. He’d been shorthanded on a stakeout, and Janet had been available—

“Lieutenant?”

“Sorry.” He cleared his throat. Saying: “Send Collier. Tell her she’ll be the officer of record. I’ll meet her at the scene.”

“Yessir.”

4

“JOSEPH SERRANO,” THE SQUAT, chunky sergeant said, introducing himself.

“Frank Hastings.” He nodded, smiled, offered his hand. Then, in unison, the two ranking officers at the scene turned to face the figure sprawled on the sidewalk. In the dim light from the tree-lined block’s two streetlamps, the figure was amorphous, no more than a lump of lifeless flesh covered by clothing. With its blood no longer circulating, the lump was flattened at the bottom. Because the muscles had gone slack, excrement combined with the rivulet of blood that had run down the gutter. The figure lay on its back, head and shoulders in the gutter, torso and legs on the sidewalk.

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