The Cavanaugh Quest - Thomas Gifford - ebook

The Cavanaugh Quest ebook

Thomas Gifford

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Backwoods treachery links a string of grisly Minnesota murders. Reporter Paul Cavanaugh is coming home from an afternoon tennis match when he sees an ambulance outside his building's door. A half hour earlier, the mild-mannered Larry Blankenship walked into the lobby, said hello to the doorman, and blew his brains out in front of the elevator bank, leaving behind a note apologizing for the mess. Cavanaugh retreats to his apartment to forget this disturbing scene, thinking the story is over when the police take away the body. But the suicide is only the beginning. A knot of death is tied tight around Blankenship's wife, Kim, an ice-cold beauty from the backwoods of northern Minnesota. As he investigates the string of deaths, Cavanaugh discovers a decades-old atrocity that may explain why the men who know Kim vanish faster than a sunny day in Minneapolis. Review Quote: "A long, smooth con." - Kirkus Reviews "One of the most robust and intelligent thriller writers of the past two decades." - Publishers Weekly Biographical note: Thomas Gifford (1937-2000) was a bestselling author of thriller novels. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, he moved to Minnesota after graduating from Harvard. After eight years as a traveling textbook salesman, he wrote Benchwarmer Bob (1974), a biography of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Bob Lurtsema. The Wind Chill Factor (1975), a novel about dark dealings among ex-Nazis, introduced John Cooper, a character Gifford would revisit in The First Sacrifice (1994). The Wind Chill Factor was one of several books Gifford set in and around Minneapolis. Gifford won an Edgar Award nomination for The Cavanaugh Quest (1976). The Glendower Legacy (1978), a story about an academic who discovers that George Washington may have been a British spy, was adapted for the film Dirty Tricks (1981), starring Elliott Gould. In the 1980s Gifford wrote suspense novels under the pen names Thomas Maxwell and Dana Clarins. In 1996 he moved back to Dubuque to renovate his childhood home. He died of cancer in 2000.

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CONTENTS

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Epilogue

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

Backwoods treachery links a string of grisly Minnesota murders.

Reporter Paul Cavanaugh is coming home from an afternoon tennis match when he sees an ambulance outside his building’s door. A half hour earlier, the mild-mannered Larry Blankenship walked into the lobby, said hello to the doorman, and blew his brains out in front of the elevator bank, leaving behind a note apologizing for the mess. Cavanaugh retreats to his apartment to forget this disturbing scene, thinking the story is over when the police take away the body. But the suicide is only the beginning.

A knot of death is tied tight around Blankenship’s wife, Kim, an ice-cold beauty from the backwoods of northern Minnesota. As he investigates the string of deaths, Cavanaugh discovers a decades-old atrocity that may explain why the men who know Kim vanish faster than a sunny day in Minneapolis.

Review Quote:

“A long, smooth con.” - Kirkus Reviews

“One of the most robust and intelligent thriller writers of the past two decades.” - Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Thomas Gifford (1937–2000) was a bestselling author of thriller novels. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, he moved to Minnesota after graduating from Harvard. After eight years as a traveling textbook salesman, he wrote Benchwarmer Bob (1974), a biography of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Bob Lurtsema. The Wind Chill Factor (1975), a novel about dark dealings among ex-Nazis, introduced John Cooper, a character Gifford would revisit in The First Sacrifice (1994). The Wind Chill Factor was one of several books Gifford set in and around Minneapolis.

Gifford won an Edgar Award nomination for The Cavanaugh Quest (1976). The Glendower Legacy (1978), a story about an academic who discovers that George Washington may have been a British spy, was adapted for the film Dirty Tricks (1981), starring Elliott Gould. In the 1980s Gifford wrote suspense novels under the pen names Thomas Maxwell and Dana Clarins. In 1996 he moved back to Dubuque to renovate his childhood home. He died of cancer in 2000.

The Cavanaugh Quest

Thomas Gifford

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2014 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2012 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1976 by Thomas Gifford

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Michael Vrana

 

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

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-297-1

 

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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.

For my mother and father

I am not I;

he is not he;

they are not they.

quest: a chivalrous enterprise in medieval romance usually involving an adventurous journey.

—Webster’s Third New International

Dictionary

Prologue

DURING THE LATTER PART OF this past summer and the early autumn several people I knew were murdered in the most publicized and bizarre crime wave in the history of Minneapolis. It didn’t last long but things like that don’t have to be lengthy to do the damage. Some lives were blown to pieces which were terribly difficult to reconstruct; others floated soundlessly off into eternity like space garbage. Violent death has a way of attracting money and power and media. Having written a previous book about a crime and a trial, I was commissioned by my publisher to write an on-the-scene journalistic investigation of the murders. I was even expected to do some detecting myself, an expectation smacking of another era altogether. As it turned out, it would have been much too close to autobiography for me to give it the proper treatment. So I returned the advance and retired to lick my assorted wounds. No book was ever written and the whole matter remains so shrouded in inconclusiveness that I seriously doubt if there ever will be one.

Lovers of crime fiction and, even more so, followers of true-life crime stories have a weakness: They want the story to come to a satisfactory climax and denouement which finds justice being evenhandedly meted out, the guilty punished, the innocent freed to resume their normal lives. Neat 360-degree affairs rounded off with legalistic tidiness. In the case of the murders in Minneapolis there just wasn’t that happy, convenient set of conclusions followed by the lights coming up, THE END hanging in limbo as the curtain rattles closed.

The fact was, the murderer was never brought to justice or even revealed; identified by some of us, yes, but never quite brought to heel. The motive remained hidden from the public and the murders remain officially unsolved. And the innocent would never return to the lives they had once found quiet, comforting, normal.

My life was one of those which exploded. I was no writer, no observer, no reporter. I was a participant. And as the story kept peeling away, like a snake dropping away its skins, it was I who held it wriggling and twisting and darting out. The truth, when such extreme efforts are made to conceal it, develops a peculiar life of its own. It struggles to make itself known, to receive the credit it deserves, to achieve the capital T. The Truth dies hard. Maybe it never dies at all, but lies sleeping, waiting for someone to find it, decipher its code.

This, then, is a story about the search for an elusive truth.

The truth exists independent of us all, for its own sake. It has no moral validity. It reminds me of Melville’s white whale. Captain Ahab was wrong: Moby Dick was not evil, he simply was. And so it is with the truth. There it sits, expressionless, a disinterested party. I am what I am, says the truth, and the rest of us are stuck with it.

When you have finished with what I’ve decided to say, you will know the truth and only you will be able to decide if it was worth learning. Worth it for the people involved, worth it for you, and most of all if it was worth it for me.

My name is Paul Cavanaugh. This is what happened.

1

SUMMER FREQUENTLY ENDS ABRUPTLY IN Minneapolis, where the natives speak of the Theater of Seasons with a pride not unlike that they take in the Guthrie Theater and the Minnesota Vikings. It can be there one August day, the summer, and be gone the next as the clouds sift down over the lakes and the beaches go grainy and lonely beside the whitecaps. I knew such a day was coming, had to be coming, but the August warmth was still hanging in the trees and I was sufficiently optimistic to buy some new Slazenger tennis balls the day Hubbard Anthony and I played our monumental world class five-setter. I hadn’t lost the weight I’d promised myself that summer. I was still struggling into my Fred Perry shorts and shirt with the distinctive marking; snug, yes, but I wear them on principle, proving a point which recedes each summer. I was freshly forty and not prepared to make concessions to time.

The day of the five-setter was also the day Larry Blankenship blew his head inside out against the green-and-gold-flocked wallpaper in the main lobby of the building where I lived. I’d played three hours of sweating tennis with Hub at the Norway Creek Club and my ass was dragging. He was sixty years old, hard as the judge’s bench he sat on, and possessed of an infernal stamina which wore me down over five sets.

The temperature hung entrapped at ninety but huge oaks left the clay courts shade-dappled, playable; but Hub craftily used the shadows. After winning the first and third sets I began to go a trifle rubbery in the face of his great, awful cannonading serves. They rocketed down like V-2’s, blurring in and out of the sun and shade, and he took the final two sets, 6-2 and 6-1. I’m a rather boorish loser, but I had to admire the way he’d paced himself.

We stood at the net, Hubbard looking as if he’d been out for a pleasant Sunday-afternoon hit. He was grinning at me, spinning the sixty-dollar Arthur Ashe carpet beater in his large tanned hand.

“I’m sure you cheated somehow,” I said. “Come on back for a drink. Tell me your secrets.” I was puffing.

“It’s only a game,” he said as we walked back to the clubhouse, past the pool with the kids shouting and splashing and the mothers looking eighteen in their bikinis and tans. “But it’s more fun to win than to lose.” Everybody was looking too young, too vigorous. It made me nervous. Hubbard was talking while I watched all the breasts struggling to slip out of their bikinis.

“What?” I said. “I missed that.”

“Zen tennis,” he repeated in that patient, judicial way. “I’ve been playing it for years and now this fellow’s written a book about it. You’ve got to let yourself win, he says, Paul, as opposed to making yourself win.”

“Cutting it a bit close, don’t you think?”

“Well, your body knows how to hit the shots. You must simply let it do what it already knows how to do.” He twirled the racket again.

“My body weighs twenty pounds too much. Twenty pounds larded in between knowing and doing.”

“All you have to do,” he went on, “is let your mind make a picture of how the shot should be hit, how you’ve seen Laver or Rosewall hit it, and let it happen.” He chuckled apologetically. “Of course, I’m oversimplifying.   …”

“Of course,” I said. Sweat was burning nasty little holes in the corners of my eyes. “Let it happen.  …”

Hubbard Anthony was too good for me, a fact which I discovered all over again each summer, but I was counting on time as my ally. In ten years I’d be fifty and he’d be seventy and then, by God, I’d show the old bastard.

Showered and dressed and exhausted, I flung the Porsche around Lake of the Isles Boulevard with a childish daring which I equated with the great Fangio behind the wheel of his Ferrari or whatever it had been. Fangio dated me, of course, and the Porsche looked as old as I felt but driving it fast helped me regain the self-respect I’d labored so long that afternoon to lose, to squander.

I wheeled it up the driveway to the guest’s parking area since I’d have to take Hubbard home later and it was obvious that something was happening. There were two police cars, an ambulance, and a rescue-squad van cluttering up the driveway and a nattering wave of curious tenants lapped at the edges of the red carpet under the canopy. Reflexively I looked up the twenty-five-story façade with its geometry of redwood balconies and sharp angles. It looked as if it were gnashing its teeth at the world. Somebody finally fell off; that’s what I was thinking as I walked toward the apparent disaster area. The pathetic little fountain in the middle of the glaring concrete squirted faintly, tiredly, as if the long day were just too much for it.

“Somebody took a header,” I said. “It was bound to happen, sooner or later.”

Hubbard followed me past the ambulance, between the rescue van and a cop car, and through the delivery entrance tucked in behind a screen of decorative concrete blocks. There was no point in using the front door: Two uniformed cops were blocking it off. There wasn’t a big splotch in the driveway after all. Whatever had happened had happened inside.

The door to the manager’s office was open and the room was empty. The swivel chair behind the desk lay on its side. Someone had gotten up in a hell of a hurry and kicked it over. I used my key on the mailroom door and went through it, out the other end into the lobby with its green thick carpet as soft and yielding as a dune. There were several people standing in a kind of awkward, anticipatory silence and a few more speaking in self-conscious undertone. Bill Oliver, the manager, and his wife, Pat, were standing by the fireplace with its fake fire flickering cheerily behind the plastic log. They were talking to a plainclothesman in a business suit and white shirt while another cop stood staring at something in the corner beside the enormous, sparse, split-leaf philodendron. Two men in white medico costume were bending over the something which appeared to be a pile of green army blankets. Two highly polished penny loafers with virgin tan soles protruded from the bottom of the pile of blankets.

Fritz, one of the caretakers, was standing near the bank of elevators looking past the small crowd, sizing up the situation with soft, pained eyes which looked out from behind a well-creased face that had once been hard and maybe even mean. He was the kind of material they made fiftyish caretakers from: too much booze, too little luck, and a life gone a bit sour.

“Mr. Cavanaugh,” he said hoarsely, dropping his cigarette into a gleaming cylinder of white sand. He looked as if he expected to be blamed for whatever had happened.

“What’s going on?” I asked. Fritz was sweating, per usual. “Who’s under the blankets?” Just looking at Fritz always made me feel peculiarly guilty, as if I’d done something unspeakable to him.

Hubbard couldn’t quite tear himself away from body watching. His long bony arms were resting on his angular hips and he looked very calm. He’d been around, after all.

“I don’t know for sure,” Fritz said apologetically. Under stress his German accent surfaced. He was always apologizing; he acted like a friendly old dog who expected to kick square in his fidelity. “I’ve been up on the roof working on the dehumidifier system, see, and I come down here to check on the lobby vents—people been complaining, see, about coming in outa the ninety degrees and not feeling no big change like they oughta. So Bill ast me to get on it.  …” He wiped his grease-stained hands across the olive-green work shirt, eyes flickering softly past my shoulder.

“So, I come outen the elevator and I’m heading through the delivery hallway toward Bill’s office and this guy comes by me, going the other way, goes into the mail room, and I go into the office. Bill’s at his desk there tearing open this here envelope and he looks up and I start telling him about the goddamn vents which are finally putting out cool air—see, nice and cool now—and he’s kinda half listening to me and reading this letter, at the same time like, and sumbitch, he says, ‘Holy shit!’ and he jumps up from behind his desk, the chair falls over, and there’s a hell of a noise … gunshot, I guess, from the lobby area, loud as a bastard, we can hear it through the glass door of the office and the glass door into the lobby, and Bill’s out from behind the desk, through the office door, then he’s gotta fuck with the lobby door, which is locked, naturally.” Fritz took a breath and swallowed. Nothing had changed over by the fireplace, but Hubbard had joined us, smelling of Vetiver and looking cool in his seersucker slacks and Izod shirt. He was watching Fritz and listening carefully, like a judge.

“By the time he got his key out and got into the lobby there,” Fritz continued, “I could see old Mrs. Hemenway come into view and she’s got those little white gloves she always wears, well, she’s got her hand up over her mouth and she’s looking at something …

“Guy fuckin’ shot himself right in the lobby!” Fritz concluded abruptly.

“How long ago?”

“Half an hour, maybe.”

“Did you know him? Was it the guy who passed you and went into the mail room?”

“I guess so … but, hell, he smiled at me, nodded, when he went by me. Seems funny as hell. I didn’t see the dead guy close up, y’know, but he had one of them light-blue summery suits on and so did the guy I saw go past me …” He shook his head. “But the guy said hi, nodded, real friendly. Then he goes out in the lobby and shoots hisself …”

“Did you recognize him?”

“Well, yeah, not by name—but I seen him before, going up and down in the elevator.” Fritz wiped sweat off his forehead and left a bar of grease in the horizontal wrinkles of his supplicant’s brow. “Bannister? No, something like Battleship but that’s not it.” He looked around as the elevator door opened. Margaret, one of the cleaning ladies, got out in her green smock and blue shorts.

“Marge,” he said, “what is the guy’s name? The dead guy? Something like Battleship …”

Margaret looked like a dowager even when she was on the trash run, stopping at every floor. She had iron-gray hair swept back and wore glasses on a chain around her neck and was always calm. Her costume was completed with blue tennies, yet she always appeared to be going to or coming from the Symphony Ball.

“Blankenship,” she said. “Larry Blankenship.”

Hubbard Anthony whisked in a sharp breath and said, “Oh, Jesus, not Larry!”

But there wasn’t time just then to investigate the slightly glazed, uncharacteristic cast in Hubbard’s eye because the little group by the still-warm remains of Larry Blankenship was breaking up and the well-bred inhabitants of the building were backing away, trying to look as if they weren’t really interested in such an unseemly business. Bill Oliver’s gaunt face looked pale and his mouth was clamped shut; a great many rich, elderly people lived in the building so he was used to an occasional death, but guns going off in the lobby was something else, something you didn’t get used to.

The plainclothes cop turned out to be Mark Bernstein, a homicide dick I’d spent some time with while I was writing a book about a celebrated murder investigation and trial a few years before. He was forty-five or so, powdered and cool, neatly barbered with a fringe of hair over the collar and a long handsome face. He always reminded me of Craig Stevens, who used to play Peter Gunn on the tube. He nodded when he saw me and gave a tight-lipped grin.

“No book in this one, Paul,” he said. He nodded to Judge Anthony, who was still distracted, ashen-faced. I suppose Hub’s sudden pallor was the first thing that struck me as peculiar about the whole Blankenship story, other than Blankenship’s manner of departure. The corpse meant nothing to me but Hub was a friend.

“Low marks for neatness, though,” I said.

“Nobody cares about neatness anymore,” Bernstein said.

“What actually happened? Why are you here?”

“I was in the office, that’s all. Slow Sunday afternoon. The call came in and I figured what the hell, I’d go out myself. All we had was a guy’d been shot …”

I followed along beside him. Bill Oliver was heading on into the office and we went with him. Bernstein looked at my tennis racket. “You win?”

“Nope, the judge here did it to me again.”

“I never get a chance to play tennis anymore,” he said.

“You’re too damned busy trying to become mayor in your spare time. Dumb priorities. Tennis you can play all your life, being mayor is a sometime thing.”

“Bullshit,” he said. He was sensitive about his political ambitions and I didn’t really think he was wrong. Anything is better than being a homicide dick, even being mayor.

Nobody said we couldn’t tag along so Hub and I went on into the office. Pat Oliver had gotten there first and was putting the desk chair in place. She looked worried, her deep-set eyes downcast and hiding. She sighed heavily and leaned against the filing cabinet and watched the lads in white with stretchers go in to wrap up their bundle.

Bernstein said, “May I see this letter, please?”

Oliver picked it up off the neatly arranged desk and handed it to him. “Goddamnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. His jaw was rigid and his pale blue eyes flickered nervously from Bernstein, who was reading the note, to me. “He comes in here, Paul, and says hi to Pat and me, just as normal as hell, all dressed up like he’s going out to dinner or something, fresh clean suit, tie, like all he’s got on is brand new … I could smell the Old Spice. He says he’s got this for me, hands me the envelope, and I figure it’s rent or something. Rent’s the only thing people come in here with in an envelope, and I don’t even give it a second thought. I took it from him, said, ‘Okay, Mr. B.,’ and he just smiles and goes back out. Fritz is coming in at the same time and he’s going on with some song and dance about the goddamn air conditioner and I’m opening the envelope and I read the note and I can hear Fritz talking, at first it doesn’t take—and then, holy shit, I get the point and right away the gun goes off …”

His voice was shaking and he was short of breath. He shrugged his square farm boy’s shoulders and took off his bifocals. He grabbed a Kleenex from the desk dispenser and began polishing them. “Christ, I hardly knew the guy, but still, it hits you when a guy does that to himself in your goddamn lobby …” He turned to look out of the window where the sun’s waves jumped and quivered on the cars.

Hubbard sat down in a straight-backed chair. He hadn’t said a word since his quiet little exclamation in the lobby. I knew him well enough to know that he was getting himself under control by an expenditure of will; I’d seen him do it on the tennis court, counteracting a bad shot or a miscalculated placement I’d returned for a winner.

Bernstein bit his lip and said, “Funny, very funny, this one,” and shook his head.

“So what does it say?” I asked.

He handed it to me.

“Read it out loud,” he said. “Slowly, conversationally. I want to hear what it sounds like.”

It was written in green Flair ink on cream-colored stationery of high quality. His name, Lawrence Blankenship, was printed in simple, unexaggerated capital letters across the top of the sheet, centered. No address, no occupation. Just the name. Very classy.

“ ‘Dear Mr. Oliver,’ ” I read. “ ‘I’m very sorry to cause you the inconvenience of doing this in your lobby but I do have my reasons. As you know, I live alone. It bothers me to think that my body might go undiscovered for several days and suffer the unhappy effects of hot weather. Particularly with this lousy air conditioning. So accept my apologies and my goodbyes to you and Mrs. Oliver. Sincerely, Larry Blankenship.’ ”

Nobody said anything and I read it again to myself.

Bernstein went to the window facing into the entranceway and the lobby. They were bringing the stretcher out, all covered up, and that was the end of Larry Blankenship.

But of course it wasn’t. It was only the beginning.

I built us a pitcher of Pimm’s Cup No. One with brandy, apples, cucumber slices, and lime wedges, sloshed over a seventy-nine-cent bag of sanitary ice cubes, all in a silver pitcher that had long ago been a wedding present and which I had stolen from what had once been my own home. Hubbard was sitting in an Italian deck chair with his feet tilted up on the rim of a flowerpot. I put the pitcher on a little plastic cube between us, poured two glass mugs full, and sat down on a porch swing I’d stolen from my father’s garage. The best things in life are quite frequently the things you steal.

He sat staring into the evening sky, the sun slanting across the skyline of Minneapolis to the north, a view set off by the towering glass monument to Investment Diversified Services. The lake below us in Loring Park was green and ducks paddled about in geometric precision which you could see only if you were far enough above. The breeze on the shady side of the building almost made you forget the heat. Hub’s face looked as if it had melted from the cheekbones downward, forming a pouch of jowls where his chin was tucked back against his long throat. At just that moment I figured I could have taken him, 6-0, 6-0.

“So who the hell was he?” I finally asked.

Hubbard sighed and sipped his Pimm’s Cup. He wiped his lank white hair back straight, the way it was combed. I’d seen pictures of him up north in the thirties with my father, the two of them standing grinning at opposite ends of a string of bass or whatever it was they caught up there. He was tall and thin then, wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up above his elbows, and he hadn’t changed much in nearly forty years. His hair had been black then, shining in the sunlight that hid his eyes in dark shadows.

“Larry Blankenship was an innocent, an authentic innocent. A victim.” He paused, looking off the balcony, sipping, trying to sum up a man’s life to someone who’d never met him. “It was almost a pathology, his instinct for finding a way to be hurt in any given situation, by everyone he became involved with … The way some people are looked upon as being trouble, trouble for everyone else, well, Larry was always trouble for himself. Maybe he wanted to be hurt. I’m sure a two-bit psychologist would say he was self-destructive …”

“That theory looks pretty good right now,” I said.

“Perhaps, but I don’t really believe he was that complex, at least he never struck me as a deep person. He just wanted everything to turn out all right but it never seemed to. I’m sure he was an identifiable type. But saying he was a loser wasn’t quite fair.”

“Who said he was?”

He stuck a cigarette into his inconspicuous little holder and lit it, beginning to relax and move death a convenient distance away. The inner vista was fading but I’d never seen it before, had never known he was prey to such things.

“His wife, for one. She wasn’t being unreasonable either, not from her point of view. He must have seemed a loser to her. At least when she said that.” He shook his head.

“You knew him well, then?” I wasn’t following very well and from inside my apartment I could hear the Twins game on the radio. They were in the twelfth inning at Oakland and Carew had just laid down a bunt and beaten it out. Rollie Fingers was pitching for Oakland and Larry Blankenship was nothing to me. He was a dead guy and I was just trying to provide some company for Hub. Larry Blankenship was just a name and two penny loafers under a blanket and an eccentric suicide note.

“Off and on, I kept running across him. Larry and his wife just kept turning up at the edges of things. His wife was the kind of woman who makes a strong impression on people. But that didn’t work out for him either—they’re separated or divorced by now. And they had a child who didn’t turn out right. A mongoloid, something wrong like that, put away in a home somewhere. I don’t believe I ever actually knew the details. Just things I heard … Larry and Kim weren’t ever at the center of things and of course they were much younger, your age or even a bit younger, she was younger, I’d think. Maybe thirty-five now. And Larry must have been forty or so. I’m not at all sure my figures are right. But I couldn’t be far off.

“Larry was in sales at the beginning, had a job working for some people I knew. He was a fair-haired lad who was making it on his own, went over into the marketing end of things … but there was always a problem of some kind that would come up. I don’t think I ever heard his name come up in a really happy conversation. There was always a soap-opera quality about him.” He crossed his ankles on the flowerpot, drained the Pimm’s Cup. I filled his mug again.

Darwin struck out on a Fingers change-up and Hisle hit a long fly to, center. Two out and Killebrew was up, the designated hitter. Fingers got a quick strike on the outside corner away from his power and I longed for the summers of the Killer’s youth when there wouldn’t have been enough left of Fingers to clog a drain. Strike two.

“And then I heard his name down in the lobby and it hit me rather close to home. I wouldn’t have thought he meant a thing to me, Larry Blankenship, just the name of a troubled man … but when I saw him dead, then the circle of his life seemed so sadly complete. Such a bitter waste. Maybe the tennis wore me down, made me susceptible. Maybe I’m just getting old. How the hell should I know?”

Fingers made a mistake with a fastball, let it get inside, and the old man pulled the trigger. Reggie Jackson was going back, back, and the announcer was screaming that it might be, it could be, it was. The Twins suddenly had a 4-2 lead and Hubbard Anthony hadn’t noticed. I controlled my enthusiasm but it was there, the summer joy of a man who wasn’t young anymore. Me and the Killer. Without giving it a thought, I wondered if Larry Blankenship had been a baseball fan.

“Coincidence always has interested me,” Hub went on, his voice oiling up with the drink. “I’m always amazed at how much of it I’m asked to believe in when I’m sitting on a criminal case. A met B by sheer coincidence and was observed by C, who put an incorrect interpretation on the meeting—it happens all the time and the problem is you never know when it’s true and when it isn’t.

“Last week I saw Kim Blankenship at Norway Creek. She was playing tennis with the pro, McGill, and I was having lunch on the porch with your father, as a matter of fact. A very nice Rhine wine, I think, with the Dover sole amandine, my treat, and your father said he thought that was Kim Roderick down there on the courts—Roderick, that was her maiden name, of course. So there she was, playing just as well as ever—”

“How the hell did my father know her maiden name?”

“Oh, Kim had been a waitress at the club when she was in her teens, used to bring lemonade down to the pool, and eventually she became lifeguard, then McGill’s assistant, giving lessons and working in the pro shop … I said she was the sort of person, both as a girl and as a woman, who made a strong impression on you.” He leaned his head back, eyes squinting shut to give himself a better view of the past. “You’d never see Kim Roderick loafing. She was always busy, being helpful, making herself useful. Self-improvement was what my generation called it, always bettering herself … talking about her correspondence-school courses …” There was admiration in his voice as if he were a boy again with long black hair all shined back with Brilliantine, stuck on a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. On the radio Bill Campbell shut out the Athletics in the bottom of the twelfth for the win but my boys were still also-rans.

“Upwardly mobile,” I said. “That’s what they’d call it now. Chronic overachiever.”

Hubbard stood up and ejected his cigarette stub into my Cinzano ashtray.

“Well,” he said, “there were those who thought she was a little pushy. Never could see it myself.” He shrugged. “Let’s go. I’m bushed.” He looked it.

By the time I got back a wind with wetness in it had come up and the old wooden swing on my balcony was moving by itself. I kicked off my tattered penny loafers and padded out to watch the storm coming across the western suburbs. The purple clouds reflected darkly in the face of the IDS building and the downtown lights glowed yellow. It was still hot but I could see the rain like a frail curtain hanging on the outskirts of the city.

I was thinking about Larry Blankenship and his wife, Kim, the sad little pile of lifeless flesh which had been the sum of what he’d left behind. Hubbard Anthony had called him a natural victim, a man determined to be a victim, and his wife had called him a loser. That was all I knew about Larry Blankenship and even that clung like a scab on the side of my consciousness. It was seeing the body that did it; take away the body and it would have bothered me no more than any of a thousand other sad stories you’re always hearing somewhere.

Lightning walked across the horizon like a regiment of stick soldiers and I flinched at the crack of thunder. Then the rain began to swish past the balcony and I took a deep swallow of Pimm’s Cup. Headlamps probed at the swirling rain below me and I went inside and put an old Freddy Gardner saxophone record on and went back to my chair hearing the lonely, elegant, sad music. I suppose the music was a stupid idea because it only deepened the mood which had grown so steadily since the sunshiny afternoon of tennis.

But what the hell. I was giving up to it, the sense of reflection, more and more lately. Closing in on forty, I’d decided that life was no longer quite the endless parade of possibilities it once had seemed. Every time I turned around I caught sight of another option being shot to pieces. Still, I was better off than Larry Blankenship. As far as options went, Larry Blankenship was fresh out.

Unhappy marriages are all alike. I wondered if all marriages are unhappy. Probably not, but then you never knew. Kim and Larry, in their upwardly mobile way, had tried to make it on their own. She’d made herself useful at Norway Creek, where no one was upwardly mobile because no one in Minneapolis had found anything higher to aspire to. They must have served as wonderful models for Kim Roderick as she made her move from waitress to tennis instructor. How many passes had the rich made, how many by the sons of the rich? How many tennis lessons had turned into something else?

I’d finished the pitcher and I was thinking like Scott Fitzgerald in his “Winter Dreams” period. Freddy Gardner kept playing, now “Roses of Picardy,” and I was withstanding a mixed-media assault. A woman on another balcony was laughing, a woman who sounded like Anne, from whom I’d stolen the wedding-present pitcher. I hadn’t seen her in several weeks but the laugh was like hers and she had hated my Freddy Gardner saxophone records. Thank God, we’d had no children. Maybe I was lucky, not a victim; Larry and Kim had had a child and naturally there’d been something wrong with it. Naturally. And it had been stuck away somewhere. And his wife had called him a loser and had left him and a while later he blew his brains out in my lobby. It was the saddest story I’d ever heard and the wind had changed, shifting to blow across the park toward me. I was getting wet so I went back inside and left the sliding door wide open to keep me in touch with nature. I was a romantic; Anne had hated romantics. But then she was one of those from the Norway Creek Club who had nowhere left to go, at least not upward. Those people, by and large, are not romantics, are not so afflicted with what is clearly a condition of the middle classes. Kim and Larry probably had had fairly advanced cases. I’d have bet on it.

I didn’t much like the way my mind was running. The thunder was smashing steadily at the city like artillery trained on the enemy campfires and lightning kept going off like rocket fire. I went down the dark hallway, hung a left, took off my clothes, switched off the telephone, turned on the old wicker lamp by the bed, opened the windows, which sent the curtains billowing, and lay down on the bed with The Baseball Encyclopedia, which meant that I was afraid of the night.

Two of the most important treasures anyone can find in life are, one, something which can effectively take your mind off yourself and, two, something which can put you to sleep when the nighttime is your adversary. For $17.95 The Baseball Encyclopedia does both and consequently, dollar for dollar, it is the most valuable object ever devised by man. On page 687 I began rummaging through the career of one of my favorite players of the forties, Bill Nicholson, also known as Big Swish, who played the outfield for the Cubs from 1939 until 1948, when, almost sacrilegiously, he was traded to the Phillies, where he ended his career in 1953.

When my father had been a professor at the University of Chicago I had frequently gone to Wrigley Field, where the green vines grew thick on the outfield walls. Nicholson had been a six-foot, 200-pounder with a reputation as a home-run hitter, though his totals don’t realize that World War II baseball was sort of a make-do-with-what-you-could-find proposition. When I was ten years old, in 1944, and when Nicholson was thirty he led the National League with 33 home runs, 116 runs scored, and 122 runs batted in. I’d never heard of anybody quite like Bill Nicholson before and one day while I stood watching some teenagers play baseball on a vacant lot I heard one of them refer to the one who was batting as Big Bill Nicholson. I felt my heart jerk and I swallowed hard, inconspicuously edging around the sun-bleached grass until I could see if this guy really was Bill Nicholson; after all, the Cubs had an off day before Brooklyn came in and maybe this was how he spent his spare time. But it wasn’t Bill Nicholson, of course. It was a big muscular kid with boils on the back of his neck and he could hit hell out of the ball. But he was a long way from being Bill Nicholson.

It was thundering again and rain was spraying through the window onto my bare feet. The huge volume had slipped down on my lap and my eyelids felt as if somebody were rubbing sand into them but my brain hadn’t cut out yet. I was still thinking about Larry Blankenship and wondering why it all works out for some people and doesn’t work out at all for others. It was a train of thought which could drive you crazy and maybe nothing really worked out for anybody. Maybe that was why everybody got so tired.

2

I HAD SHOWERED BUT WAS still in my underwear and gaping robe when I went to fetch the morning Tribune from the hallway. Her voice came like the muffled caw of a bird; everything about her was birdlike, the sharp darting nose, the gray feathery hair, the overquick jerks and snaps of her head. “Why, Paul”—quick breath, mouth snapping shut between words, eyes poking about in a random pattern, flighty—“how are you this morning?” It was her perfunctory way of getting to whatever was really on her mind. She was rubbing her nose with a Kleenex, ready to begin the next remark.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Dierker,” I said, “just getting my paper.”

She always looked as if she’d only just that moment come across a conspiracy of some significance. I’d known her all my life, through my parents. The Dierkers had recently sold their elaborate Lake of the Isles mansion and moved into the building, waiting for the end. Harriet Dierker looked as if she had a way to go.

“Well, I’m so upset I don’t know what to do …” She twisted her hands, an elderly woman acting like a child, tailoring the performance to her audience. “Tim just sits there and eats his Rice Krispies, dribbling cream on his Pendleton robe, telling me to calm down—it’s so frustrating, so upsetting. And he’s not at all well, you know. There’s been something particularly bothering him lately.”

I looked bland. She always sounded the same, whether discussing the weather or a natural disaster.

“You’ve heard about what happened yesterday, haven’t you?” Her voice eased out in a long phony chord of consolation, exaggerated. She didn’t really care, I’d always thought, but pretended that she cared. She was the Spirit of Gossip; she would have fitted well into The School for Scandal.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!