"You know how he got the virus."

"Sharing needles, as I understand it."

"That's right. He wasn't gay."

"I gathered as much."

"Living in the Village and having AIDS, it'd be natural to assume that he was. But he was straight. Very much so."


"I was sort of in love with him."

"I see."

"What do you do when you fall in love with somebody and he's HIV-positive?" She didn't wait for an answer, which was just as well, because I didn't have one. "Gay men have to face that all the time, don't they? I guess they practice safe sex, or else they just don't date across HIV lines. If they're virus-free they don't let themselves get involved with anybody who's not." She was silent for a moment. "Or they just go ahead and take chances."

"Is that what you did?"

"Oh no. Me? What makes you say that?"

"Something in your voice."

"It's probably envy. Sometimes I wish I were the kind of person who can act on that kind of impulse. I never was, not even in the bad old days. I liked Byron a lot and I had this kind of yearning for him, but his status put each of us off-limits for the other. We had one conversation about it, how if things were different we'd do something about it. But things weren't different, things were the way they were. So we stayed friends. Just friends, as the saying goes, but what's the word 'just' doing in there? Friendship's pretty rare, don't you think?"


"I learned so much from him. He treasured each day. Do you think they'll get the man who killed him?"

"It sounds likely," I said. "He was killed in a public place with witnesses around. And that's the Sixth Precinct, it's not a high-crime area, so it won't get written off as drug-related. The odds are they'll have somebody in custody by the end of the week."

"They might think it's drug-related."


"He used to be a junkie. It'll be on his record, won't it?"

"If he was ever arrested."

"A couple of times. He never had to go to prison, but he told me he'd been arrested a few times."

"Then it'd be on his record, yes."

"And there's drug dealing that goes on in that park. It's not swarming with dealers like Washington Square, but Byron told me how he would sit in the window and looked out at the street and watch people cop."

After a moment I said, "He didn't go back to using dope, did he, Ginnie?"


"Then they won't think the killing was drug-related, unless they figure it for a case of mistaken identity, and maybe that's what it was. It doesn't matter. Either way they'll handle it by the book and run down whatever leads they've got. My guess is they'll find the shooter and close the case."

"I hope so. Matt? Why should it matter to me? It's not going to bring him back."


"And it's not like I've got this thirst for revenge. I don't hate the man who killed Byron. For all I know he did him a favor. He was at peace, Matt. He treasured each day, but I already said that, didn't I?"


"He was still able to get out of the house. He could still go to meetings. He had to use a cane, but he would walk the few blocks to Perry Street, and there was always somebody who would give him a seat. That was the other good thing about AIDS, he said. No worries about skin cancer, and you didn't have to get to Perry Street an hour early to get a good seat. He could joke about it, all of it. I guess it's bad when you can't."

"I guess so."

"There was a friend of mine at work. When he couldn't come to work anymore I used to visit him. Until I couldn't take it anymore. It destroyed his mind, but not all at once. He would go in and out of dementia. I couldn't bear to be around him. It's not as though I was deserting him, he had a lover who was taking care of him, and dozens of friends. I just knew him casually, from the office. Listen to me, will you? Always having to explain myself." She stopped to draw a breath. "I found myself looking for signs of dementia with Byron. But he was spared that."

* * *

I read the coverage in the newspapers, and I was watching New York One, the local news channel, when Melissa Mikawa did a stand-up in Jackson Square in front of the very bench where Byron Leopold was shot to death. The cameraman provided a shot of his apartment building directly across the street, and Mikawa pointed as the camera panned to indicate the killer's escape route.

Then she went on to something else, and I hit the Mute button and answered the phone. It was Adrian, with a couple of new jokes and the wistful report that, once Will had you in his sights, everybody else wanted to draw a bead on you. "The Fourth Estate is hot for me," he said. "If I had the stomach for it, I could be on the tube eighteen hours a day and spend the rest of my time talking to print reporters. Of course everybody wants to marry a virgin."

"How's that?"

"They want an exclusive. Remember what the fellow said after they tarred and feathered him and rode him out of town on a rail?"

"Something about honor, wasn't it?"

" 'But for the honor of it, I'd have preferred to leave town in the usual manner.' I may not have it word for word, but since it's an apocryphal story, how could anybody have it word for word? It's nice to be wanted, but I'm finding it easier and easier to say no. Except for McGraw."

"What did he want?"

"What they all want. An interview."

He said something else, but I didn't catch it. I was off chasing an errant thought, trying to run it down. I said, "No private meetings."

"Come again?"

"I wouldn't see anyone," I said, "without your bodyguards present in the room."

"Not even a fat old newspaperman, eh?"

"Not even the cardinal."

"Really? There's something about the guy that inspires confidence. I guess it's the red hat, makes him look like one of the Guardian Angels." He laughed and I laughed with him, and he told me to relax. "The cardinal hasn't called," he said, "and Marty didn't want a meeting, just a phoner. Five minutes of my time, and could I please hand him something his and his alone that he could make a column out of. I don't think I gave him anything, but he can always spin a column out of thin air. He's done it often enough in the past."

We told each other good-bye and I hung up the phone and turned off the TV without finding out what the silent figures were chattering about. I had an idea, and I sat there and let myself play with it. It seemed farfetched, and it struck me as something the police would have long since ruled out, but you never know. If nothing else, it gave me something to do.

* * *

As it turned out, a few hours on the telephone put me right back at square one. You couldn't say it was pointless, in that I was now able to let go of a stray thought that had come my way, but neither could I get much feeling of accomplishment out of it.

Meanwhile Marty McGraw did manage to conjure up a column out of what Adrian had given him, a ruminative piece on the pluses and minuses of celebrity status. Another columnist in the same paper started out musing on the fate of Byron Leopold, but after a paragraph or two he went on to something else, and so did I. I could hardly claim close ties with Byron, I hadn't even known his last name, and the apprehension of his murderer was the responsibility of the fellows at the Sixth Precinct. They could handle it just fine without any help from me.

Except they didn't, not right away, and I found myself being drawn in for no good reason. On Thursday, two days after the murder, I realized in my wanderings that I was a five-minute walk from the murder scene. I went over there and sat on a park bench for half an hour. I got into a couple of conversations, then went over and exchanged a few words with the doorman at Byron's building.

Saturday afternoon there was a memorial service for him at St. Luke's on Hudson Street. People who had known him during the years he was sober shared reminiscences. I listened as if for clues.

Afterward I had a cup of coffee with Ginnie. "It's funny," she said. "I keep having the feeling that I ought to hire you."

"To find the guy who shot Byron? The cops can do a better job of that than I can."

"I know. The feeling persists all the same. You know what I think it is? I'd be doing something for him, Matt. And there's nothing else I can do for him."

* * *

Later that day I had a call from Adrian Whitfield. "You know what?" he said. "I've figured out how the son of a bitch is going to get me. He's fixing it so I die of boredom."

"You hear about people dying of boredom," I said, "but you don't see it listed as 'cause of death' on a whole lot of autopsy reports."

"It's a cover-up, like the Catholics do with suicide. People who die of boredom can't be buried in hallowed ground. Did you ever know a fellow named Benedetto Nappi?"

"I think I saw a couple of his paintings at the Frick."

"Not unless there's a side to the man that I don't know about. Benny the Suitcase is what they called him, although I couldn't tell you why. The story goes that he had a job starting Tony Furillo's car. He'd warm up the engine, and then if there was no explosion that meant it was safe for Tony to go for a ride."

"Like a food taster."

"Exactly like a food taster. You turned the key in the ignition and when nothing happened you went back home and watched cartoons. Benny did this for a couple of months and then quit. Not because he couldn't take the pressure. I don't think he noticed any pressure. 'Nothing ever happens,' he complained. Of course if anything ever did happen you'd have had to pick him up with a sponge, but all he knew was the boredom was too much for him."

"And you know how he feels."

"I do, and in point of fact I've got less right to complain than Benny ever had. I could gripe about having to wear body armor during a heat wave, but the truth of the matter is that I go from an air-conditioned apartment to an air-conditioned limo to an air-conditioned office. It's hotter than hell on the street, but I don't get to spend enough time out there to matter."

"You're not missing a thing."

"I'll take your word for it. I don't know that Kevlar flatters my figure much, and it's not the last word in comfort, but it's not like a hair shirt. So here I am living my life and waiting for the bomb to go off, and when it doesn't I start feeling cheated. What about you? Are you getting anywhere at all?"

"As a matter of fact," I said, "I've been thinking about sending you your money back."

"Why's that?"

"Because I can't think of a good way to earn it. I've put in some hours, but I don't think I've learned anything I didn't already know, and I'm certainly in no position to improve on the official investigation."


"I beg your pardon?"

"There's something else, isn't there?"

"Well, there is," I said, and I told him about Byron Leopold.

He said, "He's what, a friend of a friend?"

"Essentially, yes. I knew him, but just to say hello to."

"But not so closely that you can't sleep as long as his killer walks the streets."