IV.

 

                        Cap'n Fishbein had been shot once in the head.  What the papers usually refer to as 'gangland' or 'execution style'.   If the victim is not bound, nor bears any evidence of having been bound, cops are going to assume that the murderer was known to the victim.  This is hardly foolproof, but as forensic assumptions go, its not bad.  If you wanted to kill someone by putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger, you could probably do it nine times out of ten before they started flailing around and creating evidence.  You just need a calm, quiet approach.  Which means you're a professional or a person they're used to having at arm's length.  If you are neither of those, your chances of accomplishing the feat without creating evidence are reversed; one in ten.

                        He had been shot as he reached the top of the steps leading up to the boardwalk and then half carried, half dragged fifty feet to his bizarre little crypt where he died, according to the young pathologist's confident pronouncement, within the half hour before Loomis' arrival.  Loomis felt these on-the-scene hotshots were a lot like TV weathermen, except that they were right a little more often and paid a whole lot less.  Still, their job was to construct enormous scenarios with perfect assurance and marginal science.  The work back at the lab was on more solid ground, but a lot of it took weeks to process.  In this case, the kid was probably right.  It had been a miserable day, but much more than a half an hour and someone would have come by and seen him.  And, since Marty had been watching the spot since quarter of one, that would give a pretty tight frame for the dirty deed.  Loomis learned from a friendly uniform that the Cap'n's Stanza had been found half a block away, locked and tidy.  He was told to sit on one park bench and Marty on another while the Asbury Park Police Department gave the scene their closest attention.  He watched the sky, nervous and grey after the storm, and waited for a detective to finish with Marty and cowboy-walk over to him.

                        "So," said Sergeant Hiniker, "why you have to keep a spotter on your own client?  You don't trust him?"

                        "You ever been divorced, Inspector?"

                        Hiniker's whole thing was cool.  Impassive, unrufflable and utterly deadpan.  His props were mirrored sunglasses and a growly little voice.  He stared at Loomis for several moments.

                        "Why?"

                        "It makes you a little crazed.  Even in the best of circumstances.  I had no reason not to trust the Cap'n, but its a volatile situation, you know?  I'm nervous."

                        "You knew someone was going to try for him?"

                        "No.  What I'm saying is that this is fairly standard procedure."

                        "Bullshit.  You knew, or you had reason to suspect that there might be trouble.  There's nothing standard about a backup for meeting your own client."

                        "There is for me.  Like I say, I'm nervous."

                        "Why were you meeting?"

                        "He was paying me off."

                        Hiniker held out his palm.  Loomis looked down at it, Hiniker wiggled his fingers twice and Loomis looked back up at him.

                        "Your report, Loomis.  What did you have for him?"

                        "I gave it to him on the phone.  You want it?  I'll give it to you.  He wanted to know if his wife was fooling around.  She was.  He didn't like hearing that, naturally, and he made some kind of wild noises.  I scare easy, so I got my friend to come along."

                        "No pictures?"

                        "Pictures?"

                        Hiniker took off his shades and regarded Loomis with mild curiosity.

                        "Why you doing this, Loomis?"

                        "To what do you refer, your honor?"

                        "What, am I being an asshole or something?  I don't think so.  I think its just some personality thing.  Well, it happens.  But your client's dead, Loomis.  Help me out." 

                        "Ask me a question I can answer."

                        Hiniker re-equipped himself with his sunglasses.

                        "You're doing this to yourself, Loomis.  Why?  I don't know.  Some guys have a fear of success.  Grab a ride with Officer Nelson over there back to the station and give us your so-called statement."  He walked away, dismissing Loomis from his mind and, virtually, from the face of the earth.

                        In fact, Loomis wasn't precisely sure why he was holding out on Hiniker.  Cops made him nervous, no matter who, no matter where, no matter when.  Sometimes he found himself mouthing off to them or being recalcitrant for no particular reason and he always quickly regretted it.  This one irked him, as well, with his Bad Hand of the Law routine.  But he was being stupid and he knew it.  He was going to have to give up the pictures sooner or later, anyway.  It wasn't as easy to lose a license as the state cops tried to make you think, but as it stood he was skating around the rim of Chapter 55, Title 13, New Jersey Administrative Code (13:55-1.1, A., subsections 2, 3, 5(a), 6 and 8).  Hiniker was perfectly correct.  It was personal and he was fucking himself.

                        "Excuse me, Sergeant Hiniker?"

                        "Aren't you gone yet?"

                        "Just leaving.  I wondered if you wanted to see these photographs here or back at the station."

                        Loomis' theory of eating crow was "smack your lips, take big bites and go 'mmmmmm-ummm'."  Trying to find a thread of consistency in your positions will only prolong the agony and won't fool anyone, ever.  He spilled his guts, making it as entertaining for Hiniker as possible and, while giving his statement at the station, related every fact he knew about the Cap'n and the people involved with him.  Since Marty was working under his license they let him go at the boardwalk.  He was useful in framing the time element, but he couldn't alibi Loomis since they hadn't travelled up together.  That didn't really matter since the second he saw the picture of the gun on the night table and heard Loomis confirm Marty's recollection of Keever's threat Hiniker got what is known as a hard-on.  Loomis told him where Keever lived and started to give him the Cap'n's business card, but stopped, remembering the number the Cap'n had written on it that Loomis had never called.  Hiniker wanted to be rid of Loomis so he could go arrest someone and since the station was only five minutes from Bradley Beach, Loomis was home by 2:30.

                        He had hoped Martha had closed up because of the weather and come home, but, of course, she hadn't.  Things hadn't been going that well between them lately.  Tension building up and it was getting harder and harder to talk to each other.  He didn't like to think about it. 

                        He checked his machine at the office, which was blank, and fixed himself some lunch -- a mozzarella and tomato sandwich.  He opened the drapes and sat at the table eating and watching the sun look for the beach.

                        Loomis had had one other client die on him.  Guy got one look at Gallagher's pictures of his sweetie and a software salesman from Atlanta and he by-passed his by-pass.  Ka-boom.  That one he had gotten paid for, though, and he hadn't much liked the guy anyway.

                        He thought about placing a bet with himself on the outcome of all this but decided to save his money.  Loomis guessed the gun in the picture was a Colt, probably a Delta Elite or the new Double Eagle only because he carried an MK IV himself.  The cops should be able to exactly identify the gun from the picture and if they had a bullet from a similar gun they had pretty much all they needed to make Mrs. Fishbein, Keever or both look real good for the killing.  If they found the gun it was a lock.  This is without even considering the divorce, the various affairs or the boat.

                        Personally, Loomis was rooting for Keever as suspect.  Mrs. Fishbein had seemed like a nice lady in a real tough spot and Loomis knew she was hurting plenty bad enough without everything she would have to endure if she had actually drilled her husband.  Besides, Keever was poking both Mrs. Fishbein and Arlene Babayev.  He deserved a few headaches.

                        Come to think of it, Arlene was probably in for a bad week or two.  Loomis hadn't told the cops that she was the Cap'n's girlfriend because he didn't know that for a fact, but he had assumed it from the beginning and, most likely, the cops would, too.  Did the Cap'n know that he wasn't her one true love?  If so, that meant that she had probably seduced Keever to put an ear in the enemy camp and that explained how the Cap'n knew where his wife was meeting Keever the night before.  If not, that probably meant that Keever and Arlene were up to something on their own which might have amounted to separating the Cap'n from his boat or any number of nasty possibilities.

                        Of course, it was just as possible that the Cap'n's girlfriend was a waitress at the OB and that Keever was guilty of nothing more than being as unlucky as he looked.  Maybe Mrs. Fishbein did kill him, or maybe it was a junky or a mugger.  Maybe he owed a bookie.  Whatever it was, it was the type of crime that he would be able to follow in the Press every day for weeks.  There's only a couple of murders a year in Asbury Park and one with a tangle of romance, divorce and apparent greed will sell a lot of papers.

                        Loomis went to get himself a Pepsi, but they were out.  They were out of everything but rancid yogurt, dried up horseradish and the last of the mozzarella.  He had been playing with the idea of cooking something fairly elaborate for Martha to make up for being out the last six evenings, but he would have to go shopping.  He would also have to bounce a check.  Martha often left small wads of folding money in drawers, pockets and the little doo-dad boxes she liked.  They were all swept clean so she was probably in about the same financial state as Loomis. 

                        There was a Cypriot bakery on Beach Avenue that would cash a check for him but to cover it he would have to spent the whole next day leaning on people who owed him money.  The prospect was appalling, but unavoidable.  If everyone who hired him felt an obligation to pay for his services that was half as compelling as the obligation he felt to perform those services he would be solvent.  He wouldn't be rich -- Chester Conforti, the Jersey City detective Loomis got his license under had made it clear that an independent PI was a poor PI.  The only real money to be made in this business was in building up one of those multi-service agencies with a bunch of operatives doing divorce work and location work, plus retailing security gadgets, plus running an armed security guard service, plus a polygraph service, plus industrial espionage, plus running a tab for various insurance companies and law firms, plus swimming pool accessories and any other damn thing you could think of.  Each one of these tentacles would be run by experts and staffed by hot-shots and you just sign the checks and show up for the office picnic.  Then you get your cash flow.  Then you get lawyers going 'whatdya mean he didn't pay?  We'll see about that.'  Loomis had no problem getting Small Claims judgements against welshers but, of course, it still was up to him to collect.  Chester was not above slashing tires and even kidnapping a dog to compel payment, but somehow Loomis was almost helpless against a person who had money, owed him money and wouldn't give him any.  He was embarrassed for them.  Once he had paid Goz to go around collecting on the theory that people would certainly pay up just so he would go away.  He collected a little, but wrote off a fairly large account when the lady started to cry.  The next day Loomis got a letter from the lady's lawyer saying that Goz was Loomis' agent and his forgiveness was a legal act.  Loomis would have settled for half of what she had paid the lawyer.

                        He thought about the money he owed Gallagher, Goz and Marty.  He thought about the three thousand dollars that he had come so close to collecting.  Yesterday he was fifteen minutes away from a fully restored '67 Impala and today he had half an ounce of mozzarella in the refrigerator.  His chances of seeing that money were almost nothing and far in the future.  Especially, it occurred to him, if anyone other than Mrs. Fishbein had killed the Cap'n.  If the Cap'n's estate fell to his wife she wasn't going to be crazy about paying Loomis' bill.  If she took the fall for it he might get his money eventually, providing he kept after it, but it still didn't make him wish she was the killer.  He wished he was a dentist.

                        He threw out the horseradish and yogurt, dug out his checkbook and headed for the street.  Tacos, he thought.  I want tacos.