By Ed McBain
Published by Simon & Schuster
January 2003; 0-743-20270-8; 288 pages
Response time -- from the moment someone at the Martin Luther King Memorial Hall dialed 911 to the moment Car 81, in the Eight-Eight's Boy sector rolled up -- was exactly four minutes and twenty-six seconds. Whoever had fired the shots was long gone by then, but a witness outside the Hall had seen someone running from the alleyway on its eastern end and he was eager to tell the police and especially the arriving TV crew all about it.
The witness was very drunk.
In this neighborhood, when you heard shots, you ran. In this neighborhood, if you saw someone running, you knew he wasn't running to catch a bus. This guy wasn't running. Instead, he was struggling to keep his balance, wobbling from one foot to the other. Nine, ten in the morning, whatever the hell it was already, and he could hardly stand up and he stunk like a distillery. He finally sat on one of the garbage cans in the alley. Behind him, rain water from a gutter dripped into a leader and flowed into an open sewer grate.
Slurring his words, the drunk immediately told the responding officers from Car 81 that he was a Vietnam vet, mistakenly believing this would guarantee him a measure of respect. The blues saw only a scabby old black drunk wearing tattered fatigue trousers, an olive-drab tank top, and scuffed black penny loafers without socks. He was having trouble not falling off the garbage can, too. Grabbing for the wall, he told them he'd been about to go into the alley here, yessir, when he saw this guy come bustin out of it...
"Turned left on St. Sab's," he said, "went runnin off uptown."
"Why were you going in the alley?" one of the blues asked.
"To look inna garbage cans there."
"Bottles," he said. "Takes 'em back for deposit, yessir."
"And you say you saw somebody running out of the alley here?" the other blue asked. He was wondering why they were wasting time with this old drunk. They'd responded in swift order, but if they wasted any more time with him, their sergeant would think they'd been laggard. Then again, the TV cameras were rolling.
"Came out the alley like a bat out of shit," the drunk said, much to the dismay of the roving reporter from Channel Four, a pretty blonde wearing a short brown mini and a tan cotton turtleneck sweater. The camera was in tight on the man's face at that moment, and the word "shit" meant they couldn't use the shot unless they bleeped it out. Her program manager didn't like to bleep out too many words because that smacked of censorship instead of fair and balanced reporting. On the other hand, the drunk was great comic relief. The Great Unwashed loved drunks. Put a drunk scene in a movie or a play, the audience still laughed themselves to death. If they only knew how many battered wives Honey had interviewed.
"What'd he look like?" the first blue asked, mindful of the TV cameras and trying to sound like an experienced investigator instead of a rookie who'd just begun patrol duty eight months ago.
"Young dude," the witness said.
"White, black, Hispanic?" the first blue asked, rapping the words out in a manner that he was sure would go over big with TV audiences, unmindful of the fact that the camera was on the witness and not himself.
"White kid," the witness said, "yessir. Wearin jeans and a whut chu call it, a ski parka, an' white sneakers an' a black cap with a big peak. Man, he was movin fast. Almost knocked me down."
"Did he have a gun?"
"I dinn see no gun."
"Gun in his hand, anything like that?"
"No gun, nossir."
"Okay, thanks," the first blue said.
"This is Honey Blair," the Channel Four reporter said, "coming to you from outside King Memorial in Diamondback." She slit her throat with the forefinger of her left hand, said, "That's it, boys," and turned to her crew chief. "Get him to sign a release, will you?" she said. "I'm heading inside." She was walking toward the glass entrance doors when the Vietnam vet, if indeed that's what he was, asked, "Is they a reward?"
you say that on the air? Honey thought.
THIS WAS, and is, and always will be the big bad city.
That will never change, Ollie thought. Never.
And never was it badder than during the springtime. Flowers were blooming everywhere, even in the 88th Precinct, which by the way was no rose garden.
Detective/First Grade Oliver Wendell Weeks had good reason to be smiling on this bright April morning. He had just finished his book. Not finished reading it, mind you, but finished writing it. He was still rereading the last chapter, which was back at the apartment. He didn't think it would need any more work, but the last chapter was often the most important one, he had learned, and he wanted to make sure it was just right. He was now transporting the positively perfect portion of the book to a copying shop not far from the Eight-Eight.
He wondered if the sun was shining and the flowers were blooming next door in the 87th Precinct. He wondered if it was springtime in the Rockies, or in London, or in Paris or Rome, or in Istanbul, wherever that was. He wondered if flowers bloomed all over the world when a person finished his first work of fiction. Now that he was a bona fide writer in his own mind, Ollie could ponder such deep imponderables.
His book, which was titled Report to the Commissioner, was securely nestled in a dispatch case that rested on the back seat of the car Ollie drove hither and yon around this fair city, one of the perks of being a minion of the law, ah yes. The windows of the Chevy sedan were open wide to the breezes that flowed from river to river. It was 10:30 on a lovely sunlit Monday morning. Ollie had signed in at 7:50 (five minutes late, but who was counting?), had taken care of some odds-and-ends bullshit on his desk, and was now on his way to the copying shop on Culver Avenue, not four blocks from the station house. So far, the day --
The dash radio.
"King Memorial, St. Sebastian and South Thirtieth, man with a gun. 10-40, 10-40, King Memorial..."
Ollie hit the hammer.
"Well, well, if it isn't The Large Man," a voice said.
Once upon a time, Ollie's sister Isabelle had referred to him as "large," which he knew was a euphonium for "obese." He had not taken it kindly. In fact, he had not bought her a birthday present that year. Ollie knew that there were colleagues in this city who called him "Fat Ollie," but he took it as a measure of respect that they never called him this to his face. "Large Man" came close, though. He was ready to take serious offense when he recognized Detectives Monoghan and Monroe of the Homicide Division, already on the scene, and looking like somewhat stout penguins themselves. So someone had been aced. Big deal. Here in the Eight-Eight, it sometimes felt like someone got murdered every ten seconds. Monoghan was the one who'd called him "The Large Man." Monroe was standing beside him, grinning as if in agreement. A pair of bookends in black -- the color of death, the unofficial color of Homicide -- the two jackasses were the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of law enforcement. Ollie wanted to punch them both in the mouth.
"Who got it?" he asked.
"You kidding me?"
"Would we kid a master detective?" Monoghan said.
"A super sleuth?" Monroe said, still grinning.
"Stick it up your ass," Ollie explained. "Anybody else from the Eight-Eight here?"
"You're the first."
"Then that puts me in charge," Ollie said.
In this city, the appearance of Homicide detectives at the scene of any murder was mandatory if not necessary. Presumably, they were here in an "advisory and supervisory capacity," which meant they only got in the way of the precinct detectives who caught the squeal. Since Ollie was the so-called First Man Up, the case was his. All he had to do was file his reports in triplicate with Homicide, and then go his merry way. He did not think he needed to remind the M&Ms that this was a fact of police life in this fair metropolis, ah yes. They knew full well that except on television, the glory days of Homicide were long gone.
The dead man lay on his back in a disorganized heap alongside a podium draped with red, white, and blue bunting. A sign above the podium read LESTER MEANS LAW. Ollie didn't know what that meant. The dead man was wearing blue jeans, brown loafers without socks, and a pink crewneck cotton sweater. The front of the sweater was blotted with blood.
"So what happened?" Ollie asked.
"He got shot from the wings," Monroe said. "They were setting up for the big rally tonight..."
"Who was setting up?"
"All these people here?"
"All these people."
"Too many people," Ollie said.
"Big fund raiser. Putting up lights, American flags, cameras, bunting, the whole shmear."
"So somebody fired half a dozen shots from the wings there."
"Is that an accurate count, or are you guessing?"
"That's what his aide told us. Five, six shots, something like that."
"His aide? Who's that?"
"Guy with all those reporters over there."
"Who let them in?"
"They were already here when we responded," Monroe said.
"Terrific security," Ollie said. "What's the aide's name?"
The corpse lay in angular disarray, surrounded now by the Mobile Lab techs and the Medical Examiner, who was kneeling beside the dead man and delicately lifting his pink cotton sweater. Not fifteen feet from this concerned knot of professionals, a man wearing blue jeans similar to the dead man's, and a blue denim shirt, and black loafers with blue socks stood at the center of a moving mass of reporters wielding pencils and pads, microphones, and flash cameras. A tall, slender man, who looked as if he jogged and swam and lifted weights and watched his calories -- all the things Ollie considered a waste of time -- Pierce appeared pale and stunned but nonetheless in control of the situation. Like a bunch of third graders waving their hands for a bathroom pass, the reporters swarmed around him.
"Yes, Honey?" Pierce said, and a cute little blonde with a short skirt showing plenty of leg and thigh thrust a microphone in Pierce's face. Ollie recognized her as Honey Blair, the roving reporter for the Eleven O'Clock News.
"Can you tell us if it's true that Mr. Henderson had definitely decided to run for the Mayor's office?" she asked.
"I did not have a chance to discuss that with him before...before this happened," Pierce said. "I can say that he met with Governor Carson's people this weekend, and that was the main reason we flew upstate."
"We've heard rumors that you yourself have your eye on City Hall," Honey said. "Is that so?"
"This is the first I'm hearing of it," Pierce said.
Me, too, Ollie thought. But that's very interesting, Mr. Pierce.
Honey would not let it go.
"Well, had you planned on running for Deputy Mayor? Assuming Mr. Henderson ran for Mayor?"
"He and I never discussed that. Yes, David?"
A man Ollie had seen a few times here and there around City Hall shoved a microphone at Pierce.
"Sir," he said, "can you tell us where you were when Mr. Henderson...?"
"That's it, thank you very much," Ollie said, and strolled into the crowd. Flashing his shield like a proud father exhibiting a photograph of his first born, he said, "This is all under control here, let's go home, okay?" and then signaled to one of the blues to get this mob out of here. Grumbling, the reporters allowed themselves to be herded offstage. Ollie stepped into Honey's path just as she was turning to go, and said, "Hey, what's your hurry? No hello?"
She looked at him, puzzled.
"Oliver Weeks," he said. "The Eighty-eighth Precinct. Remember the zoo? The lady getting eaten by lions? Christmastime?"
"Oh yes," Honey said without the slightest interest, and turned again to go.
"Stick around," Ollie said. "We'll have coffee later."
"Thanks, I have a deadline," she said, and followed her tits offstage.
Ollie showed Pierce his shield. "Detective Weeks," he said, "Eighty-eighth Squad. Sorry to interrupt the conference, sir, but I'd rather you told us what you saw and heard."
"Yes, of course," Pierce said.
"You were here when Mr. Henderson got shot, is that it?"
"I was standing right alongside him."
"Did you see the shooter?"
"No, I did not."
"You told the other detectives the shots came from the wings."
"That's what it seemed like, yes."
"Oh? Have you changed your mind about that?"
"No, no. I still think they came from the wings."
"But you didn't see the shooter."
"No, I did not."
"Guy fired five, six shots, you didn't see him."
"I ducked when I heard the first shot."
"I woulda done the same thing," Ollie said understandingly. "How about the second shot?"
"Lester was falling. I tried to catch him. I wasn't looking into the wings."
"And all the other shots?"
"I was kneeling over Lester. I heard someone running off, but I didn't see anything. There was a lot of confusion, you know."
"Were you planning to run for Deputy Mayor?"
"I wasn't asked to do so. I was only Lester's aide."
"What does that mean, anyway?" Ollie asked. "Being an aide?"
"Like his right hand man," Pierce said.
"Sort of like a secretary?"
"More like an assistant."
"So you don't have any political aspirations, is that correct?"
"I didn't say that."
"Then you do?"
"I wouldn't be in politics if I didn't have political aspirations."
"Excuse me, Alan," a voice said.
Ollie turned to see a slight and narrow, precise little man wearing a blue blazer, a red tie, a white shirt, gray slacks, gray socks, and black loafers. Ever since the terrorist bombing at Clarendon Hall, everybody in this city dressed like an American flag. Ollie figured half of them were faking it.
"We're having a conversation here," he said.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I wanted to ask..."
"You know this man?" Ollie asked Pierce.
"Yes, he's our press rep. Josh Coogan."
"Excuse me, Alan," Coogan said, "but I was wondering if I should get back to headquarters. I know there'll be hundreds of calls..."
"No, this is a crime scene," Ollie said. "Stick around."
Coogan looked flustered for a moment. He was maybe twenty-four, twenty-five years old, but he suddenly looked like a high school kid who hadn't done his assignment and had got called on while he was trying to catch a nap. Ollie didn't have much sympathy for politicians, but all at once this seemed very sad here, two guys who all at once didn't know what to do with themselves. He almost felt like taking them out for a beer. Instead, he said, "Were you here in the hall when all this happened, Mr. Coogan?"
"Yes, I was."
"Where in the hall?"
"In the balcony."
"What were you doing up there?"
"Listening to sound checks."
"While you were listening to these sound checks, did you happen to hear the sound of a gun going off?"
"In the balcony?"
"From somewhere down below."
"Where down below?"
"Which side of the stage?"
"I couldn't tell."
"Right or left?"
"I really couldn't tell."
"Was anyone with you up there in the balcony?"
"No, I was alone."
"Incidentally, Mr. Pierce," Ollie said, turning to him, "did I hear you tell those reporters you went upstate with Mr. Henderson?"
"Yes, I did."
"We flew up together on Saturday morning. I'm his aide. I was his aide," he said, correcting himself.
"Did you fly back together, too?"
"No. I left on Sunday morning. Caught a seven A.M. plane."
"So he spent all day Sunday up there alone, is that it?"
"Yes," Pierce said. "Alone."
"You the detective in charge here?" the ME asked.
"I am," Ollie said.
"Your cause of death is gunshot wounds to the chest."
Big revelation, Ollie thought.
"You can move him out whenever you like. We may find some surprises at the morgue, but I doubt it. Good luck."
Monoghan was walking over with a man wearing a red bandana tied across his forehead, high-topped workman's shoes, and bib overalls showing naked muscular arms, the left one tattooed on the bicep with the words SEMPER FIDELIS.
"Weeks, this is Charles Mastroiani, man in charge of decorating the hall here, you might want to talk to him."
"No relation to Marcello," Mastroiani promptly told Ollie, which was a total waste since Ollie didn't know who the hell he was talking about. "My company's called Festive, Inc.," he said, exuding a sense of professional pride and enthusiasm that was all too rare in today's workplace. "We're listed in the city's yellow pages under 'Decoration Contractors.' What we do is we supply everything you need for a special occasion. I'm not talking about a wedding or a bar-mitzvah, those we leave to the caterers. Festive operates on a much larger scale. Dressing the stage here at King Memorial is a good example. We supplied the bunting, the balloons, the banners, the audio equipment, the lighting, everything. We would've supplied a band, too, if it was called for, but this wasn't that kind of affair. As it was, we dressed the hall and wired it, made it user-friendly and user-ready. All the councilman had to do was step up to the podium and speak."
All the councilman had to do, Ollie thought, was step up to the podium and get shot.
"Will you get paid, anyway?" he asked.
"What?" Mastroiani said.
"For the gig. Him getting killed and all."
"Oh sure. Well, I suppose so."
"Who contracted for the job?"
"The Committee for Henderson."
"It says that on the contract?"
"That's what it says."
"Who signed the contract?"
"I have no idea. It came in the mail."
"You still got it?"
"I can find it for you."
"Good. I'd like to see who hired you."
"All these people who were onstage with you when he got killed," Ollie said. "Were they regulars?"
"What do you mean, regulars?"
"Have you worked with them before?"
"Oh sure. All the time."
"All of them reliable?"
"None of them strangers to you, is that right? What I'm driving at, would any of these guys have come in here with a concealed..."
"...weapon and popped Henderson, is what I'm asking."
"None of them. I can vouch for each and every one of them."
"Cause what I'll have to do, anyway, I'm gonna have to send some of my colleagues from up the Eight-Eight around to talk to them individually, just in case one of them got a bug up his ass to shoot the councilman."
"I don't think you need to worry about that."
"Yeah, well, I worry about such things. Which is why I'll need a list of all your people here on the job."
"Sure. But they're all bonded, so I'm sure you won't find anything out of the way."
"Why are they bonded?"
"Well, we sometimes do these very big affairs where there's jewelry and such laying around..."
"Precious antiques, things like that, on these big estates, you know..."
"You're saying these men are honest individuals, is what you're saying."
"Wouldn't harm a fly, is what you're saying."
"Is basically what I'm saying."
"We'll have to talk to them anyway," Ollie said. "So what I'm saying, after you give me all their names, you might advise them not to leave the city for the next couple of days, till my people have a chance to talk to them."
"I'll be happy to do that."
"Good. So tell me, Mr. Master-yonny..."
"Ain't that what I said?"
"No, you said...I don't know what you said, but it wasn't Mastroiani."
"You know, have you ever thought of changing your name?"
"To something simpler?"
"No. Like what?"
"Like Weeks, for example. Short and sweet and easy to say. And people would think you're related to an American police detective."
"I don't think I'd like to do that."
"Entirely up to you, my friend, ah yes," Ollie said.
"And I am American," Mastroiani said.
"Of course you are," Ollie said. "But tell me, Charles, may I call you Charles?"
"Most people call me Chuck."
"Even though most Chucks are fags?"
"You're not Chuck?"
"I'm not a fag."
"Then should I call you Charles?"
"Actually, I'd prefer being called Mr. Mastroiani."
"Sure, but that don't sound American, does it? Tell me, Chuck, where were you exactly when the councilman got shot?"
"I was standing near the podium there."
"I heard shots. And he was falling."
"Heard shots from the wings there?"
"No. From the balcony."
"Tell me what happened, Chuck. In your own words."
"Who else's words would I use?" Mastroiani asked.
"That's very funny, Chuck," Ollie said, and grinned like a dragon. "Tell me."
The way Mastroiani tells it, the councilman is this energetic little guy who gets to the Hall at about a quarter to nine, dressed for work in jeans and a crewneck cotton sweater, loafers, real casual, you know? He's all over the place, conferring with his aide and this kid he has with him looks like a college boy, giving directions to Mastroiani and his crew, arms waving all over the place like a windmill, running here, running there, going out front to check how the stage looks every time a new balloon goes up, sending the college kid up to the balcony to hear how the sound is, then going up there himself to listen while his aide talks into the mike, then coming down again and making sure the podium is draped right and the sign is just where he wants it, and checking the sound again, waving up to the kid in the balcony who gives him a thumbs up signal, and then starting to check the lights, wanting to know where the spot would pick him up after he was introduced...
"That's what he was doing when he got shot. He was crossing the stage to the podium, making sure the spot was following him."
"Where were you?"
"At the podium, I told you. Looking up at the guy in the booth, waiting for the councilman to..."
"What guy in the booth?"
"The guy on the follow spot."
"One of your people?"
"I have no idea. My guess is he works here at the Hall."
"Who would know?"
"You got me."
"I thought you supplied everything. The sound, the lighting..."
"The onstage lighting. Usually, when we do an auditorium like this one, they have their own lighting facilities and their own lighting technician or engineer, they're sometimes called, a lighting engineer."
"Did you talk to this guy in the booth? This technician or engineer or whatever he was?"
"No, I did not."
"Who talked to him?"
"Mr. Pierce was yelling up to him -- Henderson's aide -- and so was the councilman himself. I think the college kid was giving him instructions, too. From up in the balcony."
"Was the kid up there when the shooting started?"
"I think so."
"Well, didn't you look up there? You told me that's where the shots came from, didn't you look up there to see who was shooting?"
"Yes, but I was blinded by the spot. The spot had followed the councilman to the podium, and that was when he got shot, just as he reached the podium."
"So the guy working the spot was still up there, is that right?"
"He would've had to be up there, yes, sir."
"So let's find out who he was," Ollie said.
A uniformed inspector with braid all over him was walking over. Ollie deemed it necessary to perhaps introduce himself.
"Detective Weeks, sir," he said. "The Eight-Eight. First man up."
"Like hell you are," the inspector said, and walked off.
© 2003 Hui Corp.
Murders happen every day in the big bad city. They're not such a big deal, you know. Even when the victim is a city councilman as well known as Lester Henderson.
But this is the first time Fat Ollie Weeks of the 88th Precinct has written a novel, ah yes. Called Report to the Commissioner, it follows a cunning detective named Olivia Wesley Watts, who, apart from being female and slim, is rather like Fat Ollie himself. While Ollie's responding to the squeal about the dead councilman, his leather dispatch case is stolen from the back of his car -- and in it, the only copy of his precious manuscript.
Joined by Carella and Kling from the neighboring 87th Precinct, Ollie investigates the homicide with all the exquisite crudeness, insensitivity, and determination for which he is famous. But the theft of his first novel fills Ollie with a renewed passion for old-fashioned detective work.
Following the exploits of one of Ed McBain's most beloved detectives, this lively and complicated novel -- the fifty-second in the award-winning 87th Precinct series -- is perhaps his best book yet.(back to top)
Ed McBain is the first American to receive the Diamond Dagger, the British Crime Writers Association's highest award. He also holds the Mystery Writers of America's prestigious Grand Master Award. He has written more than eighty novels, writing under several names, but most famously as Evan Hunter and Ed McBain.
As Ed McBain, he is the author of the 87th Precinct novels, the longest, the most varied, and possibly the most popular crime series in the world. These novels are about a team of policemen, usually including Detective Steve Carella, and are set in an "imaginary city".
Under his own name -- Evan Hunter -- he has enjoyed a writing career that has spanned almost five decades, from his first novel, The Blackboard Jungle, in 1954, to the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.
He married Dragica Dimitrijevic in 1997, his third wife. He has 3 sons and 1 stepdaughter from his previous marriages.