WHAT HAPPENED THAT time in New Orleans, they’d had a Jew lawyer they were dealing with and Mr. Perez had lost his patience and wound up an accessory to murder. He had been new in the business and had not yet learned to avoid risks by shifting the brunt of them to someone else.
The situation wasn’t unlike the present one: a woman who’d inherited stock and didn’t know it and her adviser, the Jew lawyer, telling her to hold out and get it all. He had promised the Jew lawyer a commission and had paid him in advance by check on two occasions. That was the first mistake. He’d met the Jew lawyer several times in the Jung Hotel and had been seen with him, in the company of Raymond. Another mistake. The Jew lawyer-in his unpressed seersucker suit, talking and chewing with his mouth open, waving his fork around with red-bean gravy stuck to it-had said, “No, it seems to me it’s a question of my client paying you a commission, what we deem is equitable based on the value of the stock.” Raymond had given him what was equitable in the Jew lawyer’s car parked on Lee Circle, five rounds in the chest as the Jew lawyer was shaking his head no for the last time. The final mistake, pissant thinking, having Raymond staying in the same hotel room with him to save money in those early days-and being there when the police busted in and three of them knelt on Raymond, holding his arm twisted behind him, while the fourth cop poked around and found Raymond’s Army Colt .45 in the toilet tank.
Mr. Perez made lists of eventualities now. One column, if everything worked perfectly. The other column, if everything didn’t.
If everything worked perfectly, Raymond would take the suitcase from the two niggers and that was that. How he did it was up to Raymond. Mr. Perez let Raymond do the heavy work any way he wanted because it was Raymond’s business. He knew how to scare the shit out of people and get things done.
If everything didn’t work perfectly, there was a chance Raymond could get (a) killed; (b) injured, hospitalized, or in need of medical attention; (c) arrested; (d) arrested and injured. The risks were pretty much all Raymond’s.
There was also a chance, if everything didn’t work perfectly, if Raymond messed up and was arrested, the police might try to involve Mr. Perez. Or it might be the niggers’ lucky day and somehow they’d stomp or shoot Raymond. But by anticipating these risks, Mr. Perez was able to minimize them. He was reasonably confident Raymond would walk in with the suitcase. If the niggers came instead, he’d offer them a drink, sit down, and work out a deal. If the police came, he’d offer them a drink and ask if they’d recovered his stolen property yet. “Raymond? You don’t tell me. He did that? Well, officer, it was a lucky thing he had a gun, wasn’t it? Dealing with people like that. No, I simply asked Mr. Gidre if he would speak to them for me. Very frankly, I don’t mind telling you, I was afraid to myself.” Mr. Perez made up lines and rehearsed them.
He had been convicted and served time once, because he had been impatient and not properly prepared. It wasn’t going to happen twice.
The other thing he did during a high-risk period-just in case he was being watched-was maintain an appearance of business as usual.
This time, what Mr. Perez did, he rented an Avis car, drove out to the A&P supermarket in Rochester, and asked Denise Leary if she’d like to have lunch with him. Denise hesitated, then said okay. “But I’m surprised. I thought you’d be busy today.”
Mr. Perez smiled. “Too busy to see my most important client?”
They met at one-thirty and drove to the Burger Chef on the south end of Main. The script Mr. Perez had worked out: he’d play with her today, get her to feel he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Then, while she was relaxed, see if he could plant some doubts in her mind about Ryan and work him loose.
But Denise didn’t give him a chance. They both ordered Ranchers, and as soon as they were seated, while Mr. Perez was still undoing his paper napkin, she said, “Something you should understand. I don’t care that much about the stock or what it’s worth. If I don’t get it, I’m not out anything, am I? I mean, I haven’t lost anything. But I’ll go along with Ryan, whatever he wants to do.”
“Even if he wants to maneuver you out of the whole thing?” Mr. Perez said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I know him. While he was working for me he went along with anything I suggested.”
“That was before.”
“Before what? I’m talking about a week ago. See, he acts intelligent enough, he’s polite, gives you a nice smile. But it turns out he’s a street hustler inside, man trying to live by his wits on a fifth grade education.”
Denise shook her head, eating fries and then dabbing her mouth with a napkin. “Look, and I know what you’re trying to do, too. You’re wasting your time. You don’t know anything about Ryan and me. But even if it was true, if he’s trying to maneuver me as you say, I still wouldn’t be out anything, because I don’t have my heart set on the money. I don’t need it.”
“Everybody needs money,” Mr. Perez said. “Perhaps not a hundred and fifty thousand, but some of it would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“The whole thing is,” Denise said, “you look at money differently than I do. You’d push somebody out a window to get it. And if you said you were going to push me out, I’d give it to you. Because I honest and truly, whether you believe me or not, don’t care about the money.”
“Then why don’t you sign the agreement with me?” Mr. Perez said.
“Because it’s up to Ryan,” Denise said, “and for some reason he thinks you’re a tinhorn asshole. But let’s keep in touch, okay?”
It shouldn’t be this difficult, Mr. Perez thought then and at times later on. Why is it? How did it get out of hand?
The process server. Ryan.
It was the first time in Mr. Perez’s career he had misjudged anyone to the degree that it might cost him money. (Even on the New Orleans deal, the woman with the Jew lawyer, he had kept in touch with her while he was in Angola and got her to sign an agreement.) When the feeling gnawed at his insides, he took Gelusil tablets and blamed it on northern cooking. He would not admit his misjudgment as long as Mrs. Leary ate her fries with ketchup in the corner of her mouth and didn’t care about the money. He had to fool with her some more, stroke her, treat her kindly. If that failed, all right, then open the window. He was playing with children, was the trouble. They were unpredictable and threw him off his game.
He said, “If you insist on Mr. Ryan advising you, that’s fine. But why don’t the three of us sit down, forget anything was said before that might’ve made somebody mad, and get this thing worked out. What do you say?”
“If it’s all right with Ryan.”
“Can you call him?”
“He’s supposed to call me later.”
“Where is he, out serving paper?”
“No, he’s doing something with the police.” Denise cut into her hamburger patty. “Mine’s a little well done. How’s yours?”
“The local police, here?”
“The Detroit police,” Denise said, taking a bite of the hamburger patty but watching Mr. Perez. “I mentioned, I thought you’d be busy today.”
Mr. Perez saw it coming. Her delivery wasn’t bad at all, good timing, playing it dumb, but with the glint of awareness in her eyes if he wanted to notice it. Nice touch with the hamburger being well done. Well done-it was a piece of shit, but served as a nice piece of business.
He said, “Where was it I’m supposed to be busy today?” And she says:
“Buying a suitcase.”
He had to smile at that. She was good. “Tell me something,” Mr. Perez said. “Why should I pay to get my own property back?”
“I don’t think you’re gonna get it back,” Denise said.
“Why not? It’s mine.”
“Because Ryan’ll be there and you won’t.”
“How can he claim it if it isn’t his?”
“I’m not saying he will,” Denise said. “What he’ll do is identify the man who tried to kill him. Your friend Raymond.”
“Now we’re talking about something I don’t know anything about,” Mr. Perez said. “What’s it got to do with me, or the suitcase?”
“You better finish your Rancher,” Denise said. “They pick you up, you might not get anything to eat for a while.”
Mr. Perez smiled at her again, watching her dab a couple of fries in the ketchup on her plate.
“Honey, you’re pretty good, you know that? But I’ll make you a bet I have my suitcase back before the day’s over.”
“A dollar,” Mr. Perez said.
Ryan didn’t know if he was supposed to stay or leave. Nobody told him anything. He hung around, looking in the squad room offices that were crowded with old desks. Seeing guys in their shirtsleeves with sidearms drinking coffee. Looking at mug shots of black guys on the wall. Watching a fairly attractive black girl operate a Xerox machine. Dick Speed would pass him without a word, very busy, coming in and out of his office, going into Olsen’s office a couple of times where the suitcase was open on a table. Ryan watched them through the glass picking up papers, looking at them. After about a half hour of being quiet and polite, letting them play their grade school game with him, Ryan left.
The place reminded him of a grade school he’d gone to in Detroit-the principal’s office, waiting, looking up at the picture of George Washington, the high windows that reached to the ceiling, the solemn gray sky outside. He wasn’t a little boy anymore and didn’t have to say please and thank you and kiss ass if he didn’t want to. He left.
He didn’t go far, though. He went to a coffee house across from the Athens Bar on Monroe, a block from police headquarters, ordered a cup of Turkish, and shot bumper pool. Shit, he was still waiting around.
He phoned Denise and told her what had happened and what was going on. She told him about having lunch with Mr. Perez and he felt good again. He didn’t have to be down. If he was down it was because he chose to be down, and that was dumb.
Denise said, “If they don’t want to talk to you, what’re you hanging around for? We’ve got better things to do.”
“Right,” Ryan said. “But what exactly did you have in mind?”
Denise said, “Go home and pack your bag, and when you pick me up I’ll tell you.”
That’s what he did. In fact, he got out most of his summer clothes, his jeans, lightweight stuff, and packed them in the twenty-nine-dollar Sears footlocker, reactivating it, no longer a coffee table, something to put his feet on. It was a good feeling.
But then he sat down and got up and walked around the silent apartment and looked out the window. It was after seven, nearly dark outside.
He phoned Dick Speed.
And Speed, with a tone of mild surprise, said, “Where’d you go? I look around, you’re not here.”
“I didn’t know I was supposed to wait.”
“Did I say it was okay for you to go?” Still playing the game, punishing the bad boy.
“You want me to come down and wait some more?”
“You’re too late,” Dick Speed said. “You waited, you’d have seen your friend Mr. Perez.”
“You picked him up?”
“No, he walked in by himself. Had a very interesting discussion-not with me so much, with Olsen. Left a few minutes ago.”
“Can I ask you,” Ryan said, trying hard to sound calm, “did you give him the suitcase?”
“Let’s talk about it in the morning,” Dick Speed said. “I’m about to piss on the fire and head for the ranch.”
“Dick, come on, for Christ’s sake, just tell me, will you?”
“There’re a few things I want to sit down and talk to you about, as I’m sure you know, you rascal. Long as you’re not gonna leave town, there’s no rush.”
A good sign, the light side of the cop beginning to shine through again.
Be calm and show him a little humility. “Dick, if I can ask you to wait just fifteen minutes, okay? Please.”
“Well,” the son of a bitch said, “all right, I’ll be here. But don’t putz around.”
“I’m leaving now.”
“And, Jackie?” Dick Speed said. “Bring the papers you took out of the suitcase.”
It was quiet in the squad rooms this time. The offices that Ryan could see, with their worn, cluttered desks butted against each other, were empty. He didn’t like offices at night with fluorescent lights on. Offices were depressing enough with people in them. He didn’t like waiting in offices either, sitting in a straight chair by the desk; he felt at a disadvantage. “Sit down,” Dick Speed had said, and walked out. Ryan sat with the papers he’d taken from the suitcase, Mr. Perez’s letters and the hotel stationery, in a manila envelope on his lap. He didn’t know where Dick Speed had gone-until he got up, dropped the manila envelope on the desk, and walked out, not to leave, to move around. There was more room in the squad rooms’ outer office where he had waited this afternoon, but there wasn’t anything to look at he hadn’t seen before: the mug shots on the wall, a calendar, the Xerox machine, the coffee maker.
He heard Mr. Perez’s voice.
Ryan turned. He saw Dick Speed through the glass partition of Detective Olsen’s office, where the suitcase had been this afternoon. Dick Speed was alone, looking down at something on the desk.
“Hey, Ryan, come here!”
He called to him before he saw Ryan through the glass, then waved for him to come in.
A tape recorder was on the desk.
Ryan saw it-Dick Speed fooling with it, rewinding, then stopping the tape-but he didn’t see the black Samsonite two-suiter anywhere. He looked around the office again to be sure.
“You want to hear an act,” Dick Speed said, “listen to this.”
“You gave it to him, huh?”
“His papers. When he was here.”
“That was part of the act, walking in, showing he’s got nothing to hide.”
“If you didn’t pick him up, how’d he find out?”
“He says he went to the bar to meet his friend Gidre and they told him what happened. He even went to the morgue and identified Gidre before he came here.”
“To see if Raymond had the suitcase,” Ryan said.
“So he walks in and wants to know if we recovered his property. Well, we’ve got a few questions to ask him first, three people getting killed over a suitcase he says is his.” Dick Speed punched a button on the tape recorder.
PEREZ:… that the theft was reported. Naturally I told the hotel management.
“That’s Perez,” Dick Speed said. “The other one’s Olsen, questioning him. You’ll hear me a few times.”
OLSEN: The management. Who’d you tell, exactly?
PEREZ: I don’t know, some assistant. Young fella with slick hair and pointed shoulders in his coat.
OLSEN: Pointed shoulders. You asked him to report the robbery to the police?
PEREZ: I assumed he would, something’s stolen from a room. Wouldn’t you?
SPEED: Did you know Mr. Gidre was carrying a gun?
PEREZ: I told him, I said, “Raymond, I’d just like you to talk to them.” I don’t mind telling you I was afraid to, not knowing anything about them, who they were. I said just talk to them nice, see if we can come to some kind of agreement.
SPEED: You didn’t answer my question. Did you know Mr. Gidre was carrying a gun?
PEREZ: No, I didn’t.
SPEED: Did you know he owned a gun?
PEREZ: I believe he might’ve told me that, yes. But I didn’t know he was carrying it with him today. See, I spoke to him about it last night.
OLSEN: You said you spoke to one of them on the phone. Do you know which one?
PEREZ: I don’t know. They all sound alike to me.
OLSEN: Did he ask you for money?
PEREZ: He said he wanted to meet with me and have a talk. I suppose feel me out, see how much he could get.
OLSEN: Were you willing to pay him?
PEREZ: Within reason.
OLSEN: If it was just to talk, why do you suppose they had the suitcase with them?
PEREZ: That’s what concerns me right now, if it is my suitcase and if my documents and papers are in it. See, I don’t know if they might’ve been trying to pull something.
SPEED: Mr. Gidre apparently took the suitcase from them. He’d know, wouldn’t he, if he was taking the right one?
PEREZ: Well, it was a Samsonite, black. Fairly good size. That the one you have?
OLSEN: Were your initials on it?
PEREZ: No, I don’t believe on that one.
OLSEN: Can you describe the contents?
PEREZ: Well, as I said, there were letters, legal documents, pretty much all of a business nature.
OLSEN: Uh, did any of the letters, or any of the papers, have your name on them?
PEREZ: Of course they did. My name, my business stationery. There might’ve been some hotel stationery in there, too. The Pontchartrain.
Dick Speed looked at Ryan. Ryan kept staring at the tape recorder.
OLSEN: What does your business letterhead say?
PEREZ: What does it say? It says my name, “F.X. Perez and Associates. Investment Consultants.”
OLSEN: You’re sure you had letterhead stationery in the suitcase.
PEREZ: I didn’t keep it in the suitcase, they put it in. If my letters and stationery aren’t in there, then the niggers took ’em out or lost ’em, I don’t know. All I do know is they cleaned out every piece of paper I had in the hotel room.
OLSEN: That seems unusual, doesn’t it? Taking only papers. Was anything of value taken?
Dick Speed looked at Ryan, grinning, anticipating Mr. Perez’s answer.
PEREZ: Of value? Like a wristwatch or something? Christ Almighty, they took my business!
As Olsen began to speak, Dick Speed said, “More of the same.” He punched the rewind button and the tapes raced in reverse. “We asked him to describe his business. He told us. We asked if he had ever contacted a Mrs. Robert Leary. He said yes. Had he ever met Robert Leary? No. Or Virgil Royal? He said he’d never heard of Virgil Royal. Then what did he think happened at Watts Club Mozambique this shitty afternoon at ten after two? He said, ‘It sounds to me like a misunderstanding.’ Do you like that? A misunderstanding.”
“If they both had guns,” Ryan said, “I can see it. They shoot people.”
“All three had guns. None of them registered.”
“So what did you do with him? Perez.”
“Took his statement and let him go.”
Ryan asked the question. “With his suitcase, uh?”
And waited while Dick Speed watched the takeup reel spin with the tape on it and pressed the off button.
“We gave him every opportunity to identify it as his property, but he couldn’t. At least, not to our satisfaction.”
“You mean you didn’t give it to him?”
“We told him if he’d reported it stolen and given us a description…” Dick Speed paused, taking the reel off the recorder and slipping it into a box. Ryan watched him.
Answer the fucking question.
“… but to just walk in and claim something, that put a different light on it. He got irritable and important then and said he demanded we hand over his property. I told him we’d be happy to, if we had it, if and when he identified it properly.”
“What’d he say then?”
“He said if we didn’t hand it over, he’d get us served with an injunction and take us to court.”
“He probably will, too. He knows what he’s doing.”
“Well, we know what he’s been doing. I reminded him his friend or employee killed two people during an attempted robbery. Robbery! He started to go into it being his property and all that again. And I said, ‘You already served time for accessory to murder, didn’t you? In the state of Louisiana?’ I can thank you for having that one.”
“Did it stop him?”
“Well, for the time being. But since he wasn’t at the scene with Gidre, and if there’s no way to prove he actually hired or induced Gidre to kill them, I don’t see how we’d be able to pin an accessory on him.” Dick Speed turned from the desk and started out of the office. “Come on. I’ll tell you something, though. I can read that asshole and I don’t care for him. And if I can’t nail him, then at least I can let the air out of his tires, if you follow me. Slow him up.”
Going into Dick Speed’s office, Ryan saw the manila envelope on the near side of the desk, where he’d dropped it. He reached over and picked it up as he sat down.
Dick Speed was swiveling around in his chair. He said, “What’s that?” Then seemed to realize what it was and shook his head. “Never mind, don’t tell me. What’s in the suitcase is what we found in it. I don’t want to have to explain anything else or have to arrest anybody for petty theft and have to appear at Frank Murphy on my day off and hang around Common Pleas all morning.”
“I appreciate it,” Ryan said.
“I hope to Christ so,” Dick Speed said, “you dumb shit. I hope you know where your ass’d be if I wasn’t sitting here.”
“I know,” Ryan said, nodding. “I appreciate it, I really do.” He took a cigarette out and lit it. Sitting back then, he blew the smoke out slowly.
Dick Speed was watching him. “But what?”
“Nothing,” Ryan said. “I was just wondering if the suitcase was still around.”
“Well, if it is-is it?”
“If it is, you think it would hurt anything if I looked through it? You can watch me if you want. I mean, I’m not going to take anything, I just want to look up something.”
“Well, maybe use your Xerox machine.”
“Jesus,” Dick Speed said.
“I’ll even pay for it,” Ryan said. “Give you a dime a sheet.”