If she had known she would be dead in another five minutes maybe
she wouldn't have swatted her son so hard. That's just my guess.
His balloon had been drifting into my face, that was the problem.
It wasn't bugging me but it was bugging his mother. He was a
tow-headed kid with a round, pink face. The balloon was larger than
his head. I couldn't say one way or the other if the kid was having
fun, but Mom clearly wasn't.
"Ezra, if I have to tell you one more time."
She seemed to be wound awfully tight for nine thirty in the
morning. But I've never been a parent, so I'm hardly the person to
judge. Maybe the kid was an absolute handful and his actions
drained his mother daily of her reservoir of patience. Maybe the
reservoir wasn't terribly deep to begin with. Or maybe the two had
been running late that morning and Mom hadn't gotten her caffeine
jangle for the day.
Maybe this, maybe that. Maybes all over the place. Cheaper than a
dime donut, as my father used to growl.
It was a Thursday. Thanksgiving is always a Thursday, so that part
is easy. Fall was playing out nice and slow that year. The trees in
Central Park were more yellow and red than I'd seen them in years.
A high, bright sun was sending down just about zero warmth through
the bracingly crisp air. What they used to call apple cider
I was standing at the corner of Seventy-Second and Central Park
West. I wasn't supposed to be standing there. I was supposed to be
making my way up five flights of stairs in a turn-of-the-century
brownstone halfway down Seventy-First, swinging my bag of bagels
and whistling a happy tune. I had fetched the bagels (three poppy,
three sesame) at a place on Columbus that makes them on premises,
but instead of trotting directly back to Margo's like a good dog, I
had drifted up the street, lured by the sound of crashing cymbals,
and was standing on the corner patiently dodging a white balloon
and watching Mother Goose roll by. Big pointy hat. Over-sized
Mother Goose, that is. Not me. I was hatless. And I wasn't smiling.
When I see a gun being drawn in a crowd and it's not attached to a
cop or to someone I know and trust, generally speaking, I don't
* * *
Central Park West runs north-south. The parade runs south. Been
that was since 1926. Back then, they used to release the big
balloon figures at the end of the parade. There were only a few of
them in those days, so it's not as if the skies of Manhattan
suddenly darkened with a flotilla of giant balloon figures. You
couldn't do it today. You'd have scrambled F-16 fighter jets
intercepting the balloons faster than you could blink.
I was standing on the west side of the street, directly in front of
the Dakota, when I saw the gun being drawn. If you've seen the
movie 'Rosemary's Baby' you've seen the Dakota, although they
called it something different in the movie. In the book, too.
Richard Nixon tried to get his suitcase in the door of the Dakota
not long after he was bounced from the White House, but the
residents there would have none of it. It's that kind of place.
When I think of that story it's actually Nixon's wife I imagine.
Poor beleaguered Pat. I imagine her standing on the sidewalk with
her skinny arms crossed over her skinny chest, one of her dull
practical pumps tapping irritably against the pavement. Well,
Mr. I-am-not-a-crook... what next?
The gun was a Beretta 92F. That's nine-millimeter. Eight and a half
inches long, a fraction over two pounds. Magazine capacity of
fifteen bullets. The Beretta is one of the most popular pistols
these days with both police and military shooters. The guy holding
this one was neither of those. And though it's a good looking gun,
I didn't suspect he was pulling it out simply so he could admire it
in the bright morning sun.
I instinctively slapped at my left shoulder. My gun is a simple
.38. Short barreled Snubbie. No fancy history. A simple workhorse.
I use it in my line of work, which is private investigation. Margo
calls it my 'associate', a little joke she picked up from her
father, from when he was a private investigator and he used
to call his gun his associate. This was before he actually took on
a real associate. A junior partner. Which was me. Green, eager,
fearless, and, at the time, extremely pissed off.
Nothing came between my slap and my shoulder. My associate was back
at Margo's, in its holster, up on the dresser. Safety on. Facing
The guy with the Beretta was up on the low stone wall that borders
the park. It was a fluke that I had a clear view of him. There was
a gap between the Mother Goose float and the marching band in front
of it, a high-stepping troupe of teenagers from Berlin, Maryland,
and I happened to be standing where I could see right through the
gap. The man stood about five eight or so. He was wearing a green
windbreaker, khaki pants, sunglasses and a baseball cap. I saw him
unzip his windbreaker and pull the Beretta from his belt, then take
a step backwards and drop off the wall, out of sight.
The white balloon drifted into my face again. The mother slapped
the boy on his small arm. Very hard.
"Ezra, for the last time."
I heard the boy beginning to cry as I took off running.
As I hit the street, the shooter's head reappeared above the stone
wall. He planted his elbows on the wall and took aim. His target
was clear. The easiest of all. Mother Goose.
I threw my bag of bagels at the float. It hit the float just below
the platform where Mother Goose was standing. I yelled again.
"Get down! Gun!"
I got her attention. The pointed hat dipped my way, a look of
irritation replacing her waving-at-the-crowd smile. I saw the spark
from the Beretta across the street and heard the shot a
half-instant behind. Mother Goose dropped to her knees...and all
hell broke loose.
I was still running. A chunky policeman who had been stationed on
the corner not twenty feet from the shooter reacted simultaneously
to the gunshot and to the sight of a loony - me - racing from the
curb into the parade route yelling and shouting. He started for me.
I cried out, "Gun! Gun! Gun!" and pointed toward the wall, but the
cop wasn't hearing. He was going for his own gun. Behind him, the
shooter rose calmly to his full height, swung the Beretta to the
street level and fired again.
I swerved, crashing into a copper-skinned teenager holding a bass
drum. More shots rang out as the drummer and I tumbled to the
street. The shots continued. The drum head ripped as another of the
marching band troupe - a tiny girl with a shiny alto sax - planted
her foot on it. Blood was pumping onto the white bib of her
uniform. Nothing had even registered yet on her face.
I got to my feet. The chunky policeman was lying on the ground. He
wasn't moving. People were scrambling for cover, though here and
there were pockets of onlookers who remained frozen, unable to
process. The chunky policeman was on the ground, not moving. The
Mother Goose float had halted, the Styrofoam wings of the goose
still flapping mechanically. The shooter might as well have been
standing at a carnival shooting gallery. He was pointing and
shooting, pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting. To my left,
a skinny guy in a Macy's t-shirt lifted off the ground with the
force of the bullets slamming into his chest. Pop! Pop!
Hunched over, I scuttled across the pavement to the policeman. He
was lying on his right side. I knelt down and shoved him onto his
back. A piece of skull the size of a doorknob was gone from the
right side of his head. Ignoring the gore, I unsnapped his holster
and pulled out his service revolver, then ran to the near side of
the float, putting it between myself and the shooter. I ran along
the float, flipping off the gun's safety, and came around the rear
with the gun in both hands, aimed at the stone wall.
He was gone. A squirrel was perched on the wall almost exactly
where the shooter had been. Tail high. Head high. Tense and alert.
I suppressed a roaring urge to blow it to bits.
I took off running. Holding the pistol down next to my leg, I
crossed the street and started up the paved path that leads into
the park. Some hundred or so feet in from the street, the path
opens to a small plaza. There's a decorative stone circle embedded
in the walkway. The word IMAGINE is inscribed in mosaic on the
circle. The city did this after John Lennon was murdered in 1980
outside the Dakota, which was where he lived. Him they let
Compared to what had just transpired on the street, the plaza was
eerily quiet. As usual, several kids were seated on the periphery
of the IMAGINE circle, strumming guitars and softly singing All
you need is love. A girl in an oversized Army coat was
arranging flowers on the pavement.
The paved path continued on past the memorial into the park.
Benches and bushes line the path for another thirty feet, until it
comes to a small clearing.
That's where the shooter came from.
He dashed from the clearing onto the path and raced on further into
the park, in the direction of the Bethesda Fountain. I chased. He
turned to look back him and he saw me charging after him. His arms
pumped even harder and he reached the small bridge overlooking the
fountain plaza. He veered left and started down the stone steps. As
I approached the bridge two police cars raced past on the roadway,
their sirens shrieking out of synch. I reached the bridge and
started down the steps.
The shooter was already standing at the bottom of the steps. In a
wide stance. Facing me. Aiming the Beretta. Behind him, the wings
of the huge angel in the fountain stretched majestically against
the blue sky. I dropped as the gun barked, getting off three shots
myself before I hit the steps. One of them took the shooter in the
right shoulder, near the collarbone. The Beretta fell to the bricks
as the shooter staggered backwards.
I lunged forward, knowing the instant I did it that it was the
wrong thing to do. I was half running, half falling down the steps.
Somewhere in the tumbling I lost my grip on the policeman's service
revolver. Below me, the shooter was hugging his bad arm with his
good, taking Frankenstein steps toward his gun. He'd reach it years
before I could.
A body went flying past me down the stone steps. It was a cop. Gun
drawn and shouting. A second cop grabbed me from behind and stopped
my tumbling descent. It was a good strong grip.
"Fucking move, you're fucking dead! Just freeze!"
I did. Below me, the other cop reached the wounded shooter. With a
nifty sweep of a foot, he brought the shooter to the ground.
Ignoring the wounded shoulder, the cop jerked the guy's hands
behind him and cuffed him. I was cuffed, too. I offered no
resistance and no explanations. My cop was a tall, fierce-looking
black man. His heartbeat was probably nearing two hundred blows a
minute. Mine sure as hell was. Way too many engines running way too
high. I relaxed into custody. There would be time to talk.
The shooter was dragged back up the steps and shoved into the back
of a patrol car. My cop was joined by another one, his partner.
Squatty guy shaped like a gumdrop. The gumdrop patted me down for
weapons then shoved me into the back of a second patrol car. I was
separated from the front seat by a cage. The black guy got behind
the wheel. Gumdrop took shotgun.
They did the next part without sirens, which surprised me. It also
surprised me that they didn't take the eastern exit out of the
park, or the exit to the south. Either would have taken us away
from the parade mess. Instead, the two cars rolled along up to
Seventy-Second Street, where at least a dozen more police cars and
several ambulances were already criss-crossing the street, lights
whirling. The screaming had ceased. Now it was time for the crying.
The crying and the wailing. People hugging people. People
staggering in a daze. Faces registering disbelief, horror, shock.
Gumdrop muttered, "Jesus god damn Christ," as we inched our way
The parade was in tatters. Band instruments were strewn all over
the place. I spotted the Pink Panther far to the south, around
Columbus Circle, hovering precariously above the street. The wind
had kicked up and the huge figure looked like it was being uppity,
bucking and shifting against its ropes.
As we crossed Central Park West at a walker's pace I spotted a
second balloon. This one was much smaller. A white balloon. The
tow-headed kid was still clutching the string. As the stretcher
bearing the boy's mother was being slid into the back of an
ambulance, one of the EMS workers gathered the boy up into her arms
and the balloon drifted lightly against her face.
Ezra, for the last time...
The little boy released the string.
We hit Broadway and went left. I figured I was being taken to the
Midtown North station on Fifty-fourth, a five-minute drive, tops,
with the cherry spinning and the siren clearing the way. But the
accessories remained undeployed, and as we drifted past
Fifty-third, I leaned forward in the seat. "Boys. You missed the
The driver said nothing. Gumdrop half turned in his seat.
The radio crackled, and a female voice spit out a series of numbers
and letters. Gumdrop glanced curiously at his partner, who nodded
tersely. Gumdrop fished a headset from the glove compartment and
put it on, glancing at me briefly as he leaned forward to plug it
into the radio, which suddenly went silent. I placed both the cops
somewhere in their early thirties, which meant I was the senior man
in the car. The driver looked up in his mirror and saw that I was
still leaning forward.
"Just so you know," I said, "I'm the good guy here."
I sat back. We crossed to Ninth Avenue and passed a restaurant
called Zen Palate. Margo loves that place. There are three of them
in the city, the closest one to her being the one on Broadway in
the mid-Seventies. She's dragged me there a couple times. I like
half the stuff I've tried there with her. The other half tastes
With all that had just happened, it was hard for me to imagine that
Margo could still just be sitting up on her pillows, dressed in her
oversize Rangers jersey, waiting for me to come back with the
bagels. But maybe she was. Margo can balance on the precipice of a
moment better than anyone I know.
The car hit a pothole, and my head slammed hard against the roof. I
tallied no fewer than four ways I could have sued the city. A
minute later, Gumdrop pulled off the headset. He turned to his
partner. "We're supposed to get a bag."
The driver gave him a look. "A bag?"
"Yeah. That's what they said. We've got to cover his whole
The driver looked at me in his mirror. "You hear that?"
I nodded. "I heard. You're supposed to cover my whole head.
Whatever the hell that means."
We hit another pothole. The driver swore softly, then glanced into
the mirror again. "What's your name?"
"Malone," I said. "Fritz Malone."
The driver nodded. "You prefer paper or plastic?"
After fetching the bag (paper) from a market on Forty-eighth, the
cops drove to a spot under the West Side Highway, just north of the
U.S.S. Intrepid. I could make out the tail wing of one of
the jet fighters on the rear of the aircraft carrier. Before they
put the bag over my head, the black guy blindfolded me. He was
leaning in the back door, one knee on the seat. His partner stood
behind him, looking around anxiously. Gumdrop looked pale. I'd have
given him a cocky wink right before getting the blindfold, just to
make him a little more nervous, but to tell God's honest truth, I
wasn't feeling too happy myself.
Something was seriously wrong here. I had lifted a service revolver
from a freshly murdered policeman, given chase to the shooter, and
discharged three bullets from the police revolver, striking the
shooter once in the shoulder. Taking me into custody was the right
thing to do. But pulling the squad car over beneath the West Side
Highway and putting a blindfold on me, that wasn't the right thing
to do. The fat trails of sweat on Gumdrop's fleshy face told me
that he knew it, too.
"What the hell is this?" I snapped as my world went black.
"Down on the floor."
The black guy took hold of my shoulders and guided me into
position, semifetal, my ear against the hump. The cops got back
into the front seat. The engine fired up. They spoke not a word.
This was all wrong.
Wherever it was I was being taken, the driver didn't take the
direct route. Most of Manhattan is a grid. You go
north–south, you go east–west. In the Village, it gets
all screwy, as well as down in Chinatown and in the Wall Street
area. But where we were, midtown, everything is straight streets
and ninety-degree turns. From the floor of the car, I tried to
track our course, but after several sets of turns that could only
suggest redundancies and doubling back, I was lost. Which I assumed
was the point.
I thought again about Margo. By now even Margo would have moved off
the bed. She'd have heard all the sirens coming up from near the
park, and she'd have flipped on her television. She'd be one of the
many millions of New Yorkers who were now glued to their sets. What
was I saying? Not just New Yorkers, people all across the country.
The network jinglemeisters were probably scrambling right now to
lay down little five-second tracks in just the right tone: solemn
yet provocatively urgent. The graphics people would have worked
even faster. Their work was probably already up on the screen,
blending with the horrific images.
thanksgiving day massacre
mayhem in manhattan
parade of terror
Margo would be sitting at her kitchen table watching the breaking
reports. I could picture her, bare feet pulled up onto the chair,
the Rangers jersey pulled over her legs, covering her like a tent.
Her stomach would be grumbling for want of bagels.
And she'd know. Margo knows me. The same way her mother knew her
old man when he was still in the game. My being gone this long,
she'd know that somehow I had gotten myself involved. But Margo
also knows the odds. She'd know in her heart of hearts that in all
likelihood, I was probably okay. As she likes to say, I seem to
have been born under the watchful eye of the Saint of Reckless Dumb
Even so, she'd be having fingernails for breakfast.
We stopped. Twenty minutes of driving, by my estimate. Taking into
account the little maneuvers to throw me off, we were still in
Manhattan. I would have sussed out easily enough if we had traveled
over a bridge or through a tunnel. My ear was close to the ground.
The two policemen got out of the car. Nothing happened for the next
five minutes except that my calves cramped, first one, then the
other. Finally, the men in blue returned and the rear door was
opened. Unfolding me from the floor was not exactly a ballet, but
we all did what we had to do. Outside the car, one of the cops
adjusted the bag to sit straighter on my head. "Thank you."
I was taken by both elbows and led forward. "Step up," one of the
cops said. About twenty steps later, he said it again. I heard the
click of a door being opened, and I was led inside. Even under the
bag, I could practically taste the staleness of the air. I was
We walked a few more feet and then stopped. I waited. After about
twenty seconds, I said, "I hope you guys appreciate how docile I'm
Gumdrop told me to shut up. This seemed to be his specialty.
"Listen," I said. "I don't know what academy you two attended, but
you've both got a lot to learn about bringing a person in. This is
bullshit. Take this goddamn bag off my head."
Nothing. A moment later, I heard a small metallic squeaking sound.
"Take three steps," the black guy instructed. My elbows were
released. I took the three steps.
"Later," Gumdrop muttered, and I heard Nothing. Then the ground
was pretty sure I was alone now.
Someone was waiting for me when the elevator door slid open. My arm
was grabbed tightly and I was yanked forward. I stumbled a few
steps and jerked free.
"Whoever you are, fuck you."
A gravelly voice muttered, "Just c'mon."
My arm was taken again and I let myself be led forward. Tile floor,
not wood. Something in the slap of the shoes. My other senses were
already picking up the slack. We walked about fifty paces before we
I lowered myself carefully. The fingers of my cuffed hands found
the chair before the rest of me did. Straight-backed metal chair. I
perched lightly on the edge. Between the tumble down the steps at
the Bethesda Fountain and my being curled up on the floor of a
police car, my muscles were beginning to show me their aches. Even
so, I tensed my legs, ready to leap. The bag was lifted from my
head. The gravelly voice sounded. "Oh shit."
The handcuffs were unlocked. I heard them being tossed onto a table
as I kneaded the circulation back into my wrists, then I reached up
and tugged off the blindfold.
I was in a room about the size of a small classroom. No win dows,
completely unadorned. The walls were painted infirmary green, circa
several decades ago. A ridgeline of what looked like coffee stains
ran about four feet off the floor along the wall facing me.
Overhead, a bank of fluorescent lights buzzed, giving off cold,
I was seated at the long end of a rectangular wooden table. The
paper bag was on the table. So were the handcuffs. Seated across
from me was a large man in his late fifties. Huge chest. He was in
a charcoal suit with a red tiepin. The tented handkerchief in his
front pocket was a pale blue that somewhat matched his eyes, which
were small, hard, clear and currently boring angrily into mine. His
salty hair was cropped short and sat flat on his scalp, sort of a
modified Roman-emperor look. On the local news, you don't tend to
notice the old acne scars. You see putty-colored skin, a
twice-broken nose and an imposing ugliness that, in his job, seems
to work in his favor. You also don't notice the labored breathing.
The man in front of me looked like he had just finished a couple of
laps around a horse corral.
"Hello, Commissioner," I said coolly. I massaged my right wrist
again as I glanced about the dreary room. "I don't know. Perhaps
maybe a nice landscape over there? Pick the place right up. What do
Police Commissioner Tommy Carroll came forward, resting his arms
heavily on the table. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
I met his angry gaze with as placid a one as I could muster under
the circumstances. "I don't even know where ‘here' is."
"We're in the Municipal Building."
"Oh. Really? What floor?"
"Jesus fucking Christ."
I could practically see the gears spinning in his head. The eyes
were like blue-tinted windows behind which the thoughts were
tumbling at high speed. Carroll probed the inside of his cheek with
his tongue, as if fiddling with a jawbreaker. He stared hard at me
a few seconds. Then he checked his watch. "I need to be across the
street in fifteen minutes. You can imagine the hell that's breaking
"I've just been through a little hell breaking loose myself, Tommy.
I gather you've heard."
"There were two guys with guns out there. That's the report I got.
You were one of them?"
"Not my gun. I lifted it from a dead cop."
"We didn't have the chance to properly introduce ourselves." I
indicated the bag on the table. "What gives, Tommy? Some bizarre
new suspect-protection program? I know you've got budget crunches,
but paper bags? What are we doing here? Why aren't we in a police
"I can't talk right now." He looked at his watch once more.
"Look. I need to hear your story. I need it short and sweet. We'l
talk again later. And I mean soon. An hour. But I've got to be
three fucking places at once right now, and one of them can't be
here. For the record, you're not here, either. Now, what the fuck
happened out there? Give it to me clean. And quick. I mean
Carroll glanced at his watch three more times in the two minutes it
took me to tell my side of the story. As I spoke, his eyes moved to
the wall behind me, as if maybe he was using it as a place to
project my story.
"That's it," I said when I was finished. "How many casualties are
His eyes snapped back to me. "First reports from the scene have
seven confirmed dead. That could change, of course. It's nuts out
there. We don't know what they're getting at the hospitals. Maybe
we'l get lucky."
I sent an eyebrow up the pole. "You've got seven dead. One cop and
at least a couple of kids. You might want to think about putting
the word ‘lucky' away for another day."
"Seven isn't seventeen."
"It's not zero, either."
He waved it off. "Were there any other people in the vicinity when
you shot this guy? Did you notice?"
I shrugged. "Nobody else was by the fountain. I know that much. If
there had been, I wouldn't have shot. Why? Are you looking for
"I'm just trying to picture the scene."
"I didn't see anybody."
"Look. I don't want you talking to anyone about this. Okay? Nobody.
It's important. Not until you and I have had a chance to
"This isn't a talk?"
"Not enough of one. I've got to get over to City Hall. The mayor is
facing the cameras in about ten minutes. I'm sure he'l want me to
say a few words."
Of course he would. My father had held Tommy Carroll's post for
four years before his abrupt resignation nearly fifteen years ago.
I know how it works. During the time my old man was top cop, it
seemed that I used to see him more often on the tube than I did in
real life. The other large reason for that was that he didn't live
with my mother and me. He hadn't been married to my mother. He was
married to another woman. The real wife. That's why I don't share
his name. He and the wife lived uptown, in every sense of the word,
just off Park Avenue, along with their two kids. So he didn't get
down to see us all that much. It was less than a week after he
stepped down from his post that he disappeared. Then no one saw him
at all, not even the rich wife and the well-tended kids. It was
soon after this that I met Margo's father. I hired him to nose
about for the old man, and before the year was out, I had a PI
license of my very own. It made it easier to join in the hunt. For
all the good it did.
I was twenty-five then, a couple of years of John Jay already under
my belt, followed by something of a flameout, then a couple of
years behind a bar on Ludlow Street. Now I finally had a legal gun
in my pocket. It wasn't exactly following in the old man's
footsteps, but I'd say overall it has worked out fine. I'm my own
boss. I fetch my own coffee. I answer my own phone. If I don't like
a case, I don't take the case. Life could be worse . . . as that
little flameout showed me.
And I'm one up on the old man's former colleague sitting across the
table from me: I've had my nose broken only once.
Tommy Carroll leaned forward. "Look, I want you to sit
I cut him off. "I'm not going to sit in this hole waiting for
"I just told you, I've got to get the hell over to City
"I'l come with you."
"Not a good idea."
"You know the Three Roses?"
"I know it."
"Go there. I'm sure they'l have the tube on. You can watch the
show. Give me another ten minutes after Leavitt and I wrap things
up, then come over to City Hall. You know Stacy, my assistant? I'l
have her positioned out on the steps to look for you. She'l escort
you in." He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He
handed me a twenty. "Live it up."
"Thank you, kind sir," I said, pocketing the bill. "But may I say
for the record that something is very fucked up here?"
He stood up. Tommy Carroll standing up is like an ocean liner
rising up on its aft.
"You may say it," Carroll said. "But not for the record." He jabbed
a thick finger against the tabletop. "There is no record."
Commissioner Carroll let me out through a basement door. It led out
to the corner of Police Plaza, where on weekdays you've got a
half-dozen or so food kiosks waiting to serve lunch to the hundreds
of civil servants who've been up in the Municipal Building all
morning, passing the city bureaucracy around from office to office
and desk to desk. This being Thanksgiving, the plaza was deserted.
Two police cars were parked at the curb on Centre Street. The two
cops who had brought me in, plus the one who had collared the
shooter, stood next to the cars. One of these patrol cars, I
thought, should be parked in front of a hospital, not here.
"Avoid them," Carroll said. "Just circle around them and get to the
bar. And I'm serious about this, Fritz, don't breathe a word to
anyone until after we've talked. Promise me."
I nodded. A nod is not a promise. I was calling Margo the moment I
got to the bar. And no big ugly police commissioner was going to
I traced a wide circle around the two police cars. Only Gumdrop
looked over my way. I shot him with a finger pistol and trotted
across the street.
The Three Roses is tucked into an alley-like street that sees all
of a single wedge of sunshine for approximately ten to twenty
minutes once a day, depending on the season. The bar is two doors
in from the corner, between a pizza joint and a bail bondsman's
office. I moved into the shadowed street, went flat against the
wall of the pizza joint, and looked back over toward the cop cars.
The police commissioner was talking with his men. Whatever he was
saying, he was using his hands to emphasize his point, slapping the
knuckles of one into the open palm of the other. I couldn't tell if
he was angry or he was just being emphatic. My experience with
Tommy Carroll is that there's not much difference. This went on for
about a minute, then he checked his watch for maybe the hundredth
time, turned and started back for the door he and I had used. One
of the cops went with him. The one who had nabbed the
I went back down the shadowy street and into the bar. As Carroll
had predicted, the television set was on. The handful of patrons
were all gazing up at it. The expressions on their faces were
pretty much identical. They were watching a replay of footage that
had been taken several minutes after the Beretta had done its
damage. The Mother Goose float was in the center of the screen.
Several bodies were visible lying on the street and on the far
sidewalk, being tended to by either EMS or regular folks from the
crowd. People wandered in zigzags all over the street. An old-timer
at the bar was shaking his bony head in dismay. "That's one
I asked the bartender for a glass of seltzer and took it to the
rear of the place, where I wedged my shoulder into a corner so I
could use the pay phone on the wall and still keep an eye on the
television. Margo answered on the second ring.
"I misplaced the bagels," I said. "I'm sorry."
I heard a sound that I took to be a long breath being let out.
Either that or my sweetie had suffered a puncture and was
"Where are you?"
"I'm in a bar."
"Ten-thirty in the morning," Margo said. "How colorful."
"Trust me. They're not letting too many colors into this
"I feel stupid asking, but you do know what happened up at the
parade while you were out, right?"
"Don't feel stupid. Yes. I wandered up to take a peek."
"Before or after?"
There was another pause. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. A little scrape here, a little banged up there."
"You got caught up in the stampede?"
Up on the television, they were showing footage of the parade prior
to all hell breaking loose. The Spider-Man float. The Pink Panther.
A two-story dog poking its head out of a Christmas stocking.
"I got caught up chasing after the shooter," I said.
"Is that right? Hmmm. I'm not surprised."
"I'm not surprised you're not surprised."
"The television is saying that the guy who did it was caught. They
say he was shot by the police."
"By the police? That's not what happened. I shot him, Margo. I
chased him into the park. I winged him at the Bethesda
This was the conversation Tommy Carroll had warned me not to have.
"But for the moment I think it would be best if you kept that piece
of information between you, me and the pillow."
"What do you mean you shot him? Your gun's here. The cute little
fellow's been keeping me company in your absence."
"I borrowed a gun from a policeman."
"Borrowed a . . . Why couldn't he just shoot him himself?"
"He was already dead."
There was another pause. The longest one yet. Finally she
"Could you just do me one favor? Could you drag yourself away from
your little bar and get back over here? We were having a very sweet
morning until you went out for the damn bagels."
"I'd love to, but I can't, I'm sorry. Not yet. I've got a little
sorting out to do on account of my sticking my nose where it didn't
"You're going to sort it out in a bar?"
"It's a long story. To be honest, I don't know how it goes yet. I'm
not even supposed to be talking to you."
"Me? What have I done?"
On the television, the picture cut to what appeared to be a scene
from a Broadway musical. The stage held a mock-up of the broad side
of an ocean liner, and a chorus of about twenty male singers in
scrubbed white sailor suits, sailor caps and hundred-watt smiles
were lined up at the rail, engaged in some sort of manic clog
dancing. While their feet smacked out the vigorous patty-cake,
their arms were swinging and jerking as they waved snappy red and
blue semaphores in perfect unison. I have to admit, my
musical-theater gene is profoundly underdeveloped, so maybe what
looked like utter inanity to me was actually Tony-winning
choreographic genius. Whatever it was, I couldn't figure out what
it was doing on the television screen right in the middle of live
news coverage of a bloody massacre.
A lifeboat appeared from above the earnest seamen, lowering on
cables. A slender-waisted woman in a modified sailor suit designed
to give her bare arms and legs maximum freedom and exposure was
standing in the middle of the lifeboat singing her little lungs
out. Even from the rear of the bar, I could catch the tinny sounds
of her voice. Her face was framed by a headful of blond ringlets
that I was sure was a wig, topped by a sailor cap of her own, raked
at the jauntiest of angles.
I recognized the face.
"What's on your screen right now?" I asked into the phone.
". . . They're showing a reporter standing in front of City Hall.
"You're looking for a girl singing in a lifeboat."
"It's a show. Broadway musical. You got it?"
"I got it." She laughed. "Gosh, Fritz, let's run right out and buy
tickets! It looks great."
I asked, "Who is she?"
"The singer-sailor. Who is she?" Margo writes for magazines. She
knows who all these people are. The scene on the television had
switched. I was looking at the same woman, without the blond
ringlets, this time sitting on a cushy chair being interviewed by
Katie Couric. The sailor woman was a redhead, which was how I had
"That's Rebecca Gilpin," Margo said.
"And Rebecca Gilbert is?"
"Gilpin. Don't they have People magazine under your rock? Rebecca
Gilpin of the TV show Trial Date?"
"Trial Date. Is that where a couple go out together first to see if
they might want to actually go out together?"
"You're not as obtuse as I know you'd like to be. You've heard of
She was right. I had. It was a popular TV show. Cops, robbers,
lawyers, judges, juries, witnesses and suspects. I wasn't sure what
its particular twist was, but it must have had one. It had been
around for a while.
"Rebecca Gilpin is on the show?"
"She was. She left it."
"What did she play?"
"She was a prosecuting attorney. She was the character with no
scruples. Lie, cheat, sleep with the enemy."
On-screen, Rebecca Gilpin and Katie Couric were enjoying a huge
laugh together. Sisters. On top of the world.
"So now she's on Broadway?"
"Yep," Margo said. "Lies, cheats, sleeps with the enemy and she can
dance and sing. Whatta gal, eh?"
I frowned. The old guy sitting under the television set launched
into a world-class smoker's cough. "Rebecca Gilpin was Mother Goose
in the parade today," I said.
"The guy who killed all those people took a shot at her
"They're not certain about that," Margo said.
"I am. I was right there." The picture on the screen switched from
the Today show footage. We were back to the scene of the parade,
post-shooting. I asked, "Do you know if she was hit?"
The television showed two policemen. One was holding the pointy
Mother Goose hat that Rebecca Gilpin had been wearing. The camera
zoomed in as the cop holding the hat turned it in his hand to show
something to his colleague. It was a pair of small holes. One going
in, one going out. The second cop produced a large plastic bag. The
hat went into the bag.
"Apparently, she's fine," Margo said. She added, "One bright spot
for the mayor."
"The mayor? What do you mean?"
"You really do live under a rock. You don't know about the mayor
and the Broadway star? Are you completely out of the
"Mayor Leavitt and Rebecca Gilpin are an item?"
Margo laughed. "An item."
"And everyone knows this?"
"Everyone but you, my sweets. Common knowledge."
The old guy beneath the television set hadn't stopped coughing. Ten
more seconds of this and his ruined lungs would be on the
"I'l call you," I said. And I hung up.
Excerpted from SPEAK OF THE DEVIL © Copyright 2011 by
Richard Hawke. Reprinted with permission by Random House. All