Chapter 26

Shauna shook her head. "Beck hurt someone? That's not possible."

Assistant D.A. Fein's vein started fluttering again. He stepped toward her until his face was right up against hers. "He attacked a police officer in an alley. He probably broke the man's jaw and a couple of ribs." Fein leaned a little closer, his spittle landing on Shauna's cheeks. "You hear what I'm telling you?"

"I hear you," Shauna said. "Now step back, Breath Boy, or I'll knee your balls into your throat."

Fein stayed in place for a screw-you second before turning away. Hester Crimstein did likewise. She started heading back toward Broadway. Shauna chased her.

"Where are you going?"

"I quit," Hester said.


"Find him another lawyer, Shauna."

"You can't be serious."

"I am."

"You can't just walk out on him."

"Watch me."

"It's prejudicial."

"I gave them my word he'd surrender," she said.

"Screw your word. Beck's the priority here, not you."

"To you maybe."

"You're putting yourself before a client?"

"I won't work with a man who'd do something like that."

"Who are you kidding? You've defended serial rapists."

She waved a hand. "I'm out of here."

"You're just a goddamn media-hound hypocrite."

"Ouch, Shauna."

"I'll go to them."


"I'll go to the media."

Hester stopped. "And say what? That I walked away from a dishonest murderer? Great, go ahead. I'll leak so much shit about Beck, he'll make Jeffrey Dahmer look like a good dating prospect."

"You have nothing to leak," Shauna said.

Hester shrugged. "Never stopped me before."

The two women glared. Neither looked away.

"You may think my reputation is irrelevant," Hester said, her voice suddenly soft. "But it's not. If the D.A."s office can't rely on my word, I'm useless to my other clients. I'm also useless to Beck. It's that simple. I won't let my practice  -  and my clients  -  go down the tubes because your boy acted erratically."

Shauna shook her head. "Just get out my face."

"One more thing."


"Innocent men don't run, Shauna. Your boy Beck? Hundred to one he killed Rebecca Schayes."

"You're on," Shauna said. "And one more thing for you too, Hester. You say one word against Beck, and they'll need a soup ladle to bury your remains. We clear?"

Hester didn't reply. She took another step away from Shauna. And that was when the gunfire ripped through the air.

I was in mid-crouch, crawling down a rusted fire escape, when the sound of the gunfire nearly made me topple over. I flattened myself on the grated walk and waited.

More gunfire.

I heard shouts. I should have expected this, but it still packed a wallop. Tyrese told me to climb out here and wait for him. I had wondered how he planned on getting me out. Now I was getting some idea.

A diversion.

In the distance, I heard someone shouting, "White boy shooting up the place!" Then another voice: "White boy with a gun! White boy with a gun!"

More gunfire. But  -  and I strained my ears  -  no more police radio static. I stayed low and tried not to think much. My brain, it seemed, had short-circuited. Three days ago, I was a dedicated doctor sleepwalking through my own life. Since then, I had seen a ghost, gotten emails from the dead, had become a suspect in not one but two murders, was on the run from the law, had assaulted a police officer, and had enlisted the aid of a known drug dealer.

Heck of a seventy-two hours.

I almost laughed.

"Yo, Doc."

I looked down. Tyrese was there. So was another black man, early twenties, only slightly smaller than this building. The big man peered up at me with those sleek up-yours sunglasses that fit perfectly with his deadened facial expression.

"Come on, Doc. Let's roll."

I ran down the fire escape stairs. Tyrese kept glancing left and right. The big guy stood perfectly still, his arms folded across his chest in what we used to call the buffalo stance. I hesitated before the last ladder, trying to figure out how to release it so I could reach the ground.

"Yo, Doc, lever on the left."

I found it, pulled, and the ladder slid down. When I reached the bottom, Tyrese made a face and waved his hand in front of his nose.

"You ripe, Doc."

"I didn't have a chance to shower, sorry."

Tyrese did a quick-walk through the back lot. I followed, having to do a little run to keep up. The big man glided behind us in silence. He never moved his head left or right, but I still got the impression he didn't miss much.

A black BMW with tinted windows, a complicated antenna, and a chain frame on the back license plate was running. The doors were all closed, but I could feel the rap music. The bass vibrated in my chest like a tuning fork.

"The car," I said with a frown. "Isn't it kind of conspicuous?"

"If you five-oh and you looking for a lily-white doctor, where would be the last place you look?"

He had a point.

The big guy opened the back door. The music blared at the volume of a Black Sabbath concert. Tyrese extended his arm doorman-style. I got in. He slid next to me. The big guy bent into the driver's seat.

I couldn't understand much of what the rapper on the CD was saying, but he was clearly pissed off with "da man." I suddenly understood.

"This here is Brutus," Tyrese said.

He meant the big-guy driver. I tried to catch his eye in the rearview mirror, but I couldn't see them through the sunglasses.

"Nice to meet you," I said.

Brutus didn't respond.

I turned my attention back to Tyrese. "How did you pull this off?"

"Coupla my boys are doing some shooting down a Hundred Forty-seventh Street."

"Won't the cops find them?"

Tyrese snorted. "Yeah, right."

"It's that easy?"

"From there, yeah, it's easy. We got this place, see, in Building Five at Hobart Houses. I give the tenants ten bucks a month to stick their garbage in front of the back doors. Blocks it up, see. Cops can't get through. Good place to conduct bidness. So my boys, they pop off some shots from the windows, you know what I'm saying. By the time the cops get through, poof, they gone."

"And who was yelling about a white man with a gun?"

"Couple other of my boys. They just running down the street yelling about a crazy white man."

"Theoretically, me," I said.

"Theoretically," Tyrese repeated with a smile. "That's a nice big word, Doc."

I laid my head back. Fatigue settled down hard on my bones. Brutus drove east. He crossed that blue bridge by Yankee Stadium  -  I'd never learned the bridge's name  -  and that meant we were in the Bronx. For a while I slumped down in case someone peered into the car, but then I remembered that the windows were tinted. I looked out.

The area was ugly as all hell, like one of those scenes you see in apocalyptic movies after the bomb detonates. There were patches of what might have once been buildings, all in various states of decay. Structures had crumbled, yes, but as though from within, as though the supporting innards had been eaten away.

We drove a little while. I tried to get a grip on what was going on, but my brain kept throwing up roadblocks. Part of me recognized that I was in something approaching shock; the rest of me wouldn't allow me even to consider it. I concentrated on my surroundings. As we drove a little more  -  as we dove deeper into the decay  -  the habitable dwellings dwindled. Though we were probably less than a couple of miles from the clinic, I had no idea where we were. Still the Bronx, I guessed. South Bronx probably.

Worn tires and ripped mattresses lay like war wounded in the middle of the road. Big chunks of cement peeked out from the high grass. There were stripped cars and while there were no fires burning, maybe there should have been.

"You come here much, Doc?" Tyrese said with a small chuckle.

I didn't bother responding.

Brutus pulled the car to a stop in front of yet another condemned building. A chain-link fence encircled the sad edifice. The windows had been boarded over with plywood. I could see a piece of paper glued to the door, probably a demolition warning. The door, too, was plywood. I saw it open. A man stumbled out, raising both hands to shield his eyes from the sun, staggering like Dracula under its onslaught.

My world kept swirling.

"Let's go," Tyrese said.

Brutus was out of the car first. He opened the door for me. I thanked him. Brutus stuck with the stoic. He had the kind of cigar store-Indian face you couldn't imagine  -  and probably wouldn't ever want to see  -  smiling.

On the right, the chain-link had been clipped and pulled back. We crouched through. The stumbling man approached Tyrese. Brutus stiffened, but Tyrese waved him down. The stumbling man and Tyrese greeted each other warmly and performed a complicated handshake. Then they went their separate ways.

"Come in," Tyrese said to me.

I ducked inside, my mind still numb. The stench came first, the acid smells of urine and the never-mistaken stink of fecal matter. Something was burning  -  I think I knew what  -  and the damp yellow odor of sweat seemed to be coming from the walls. But there was something else here. The smell, not of death, but of predeath, like gangrene, like something dying and decomposing while still breathing.

The stifling heat was of the blast furnace variety. Human beings  -  maybe fifty of them, maybe a hundred  -  littered the floor like losing stubs at an OTB. It was dark inside. There seemed to be no electricity, no running water, no furniture of any sort. Wood planks blocked out most of the sun, the only illumination coming through cracks where the sun sliced through like a reaper's scythe. You could make out shadows and shapes and little more.

I admit to being naive about the drug scene. In the emergency room, I'd seen the results plenty of times. But drugs never interested me personally. Booze was my poison of choice, I guess. Still, enough stimuli were getting through that even I could deduce that we were in a crack house.

"This way," Tyrese said.

We started walking through the wounded. Brutus led. The dearly reclined parted for him as though he were Moses. I fell in behind Tyrese. The ends of pipes would light up, popping through the darkness. It reminded me of going to the Barnum and Bailey circus as a kid and twirling those tiny flashlights around in the dark. That was what this looked liked. I saw dark. I saw shadows. I saw the flashes of light.

No music played. No one seemed to talk much either. I heard a hum. I heard the wet sucking sound of the pipes. Shrieks pierced the air every once in a while, the sound not quite human.

I also heard groaning. People were performing the lewdest of sex acts, out in the open, no shame, no attempt at privacy.

One particular sight  -  I'll spare you the details  -  made me pull up in horror. Tyrese watched my expression with something close to amusement.

"They run out of money, they trade this"  -  Tyrese pointed  -  "for hits."

The bile worked its way into my mouth. I turned to him. He shrugged.

"Commerce, Doc. Makes the world go round."

Tyrese and Brutus kept walking. I staggered alongside. Most of the interior walls had crumbled to the ground. People  -  old, young, black, white, men, women  -  hung everywhere, spineless, flopped over like Dali clocks.

"Are you a crack head Tyrese?" I said.

"Used to be. Got hooked when I was sixteen."

"How did you stop?"

Tyrese smiled. "You see my man Brutus?"

"Hard to miss him."

"I told him I'd give him a thousand dollars for every week I stayed clean. Brutus moved in with me."

I nodded. That sounded far more effective than a week with Betty Ford.

Brutus opened a door. This room, while not exactly well appointed, at least had tables and chairs, even lights and a refrigerator. I noticed a portable generator in the corner.

Tyrese and I stepped inside. Brutus closed the door and stayed in the corridor. We were left alone.

"Welcome to my office," Tyrese said.

"Does Brutus still help you stay off the junk?"

He shook his head. "Nah, TJ does that now. You know what I'm saying?"

I did. "And you don't have a problem with what you do here?"

"I got lots of problems, Doc." Tyrese sat down and invited me to do the same. His eyes flashed at me, and I didn't like what I saw in them. "I ain't one of the good guys."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I changed subjects. "I have to get down to Washington Square Park by five o'clock."

He leaned back. "Tell me what's up."

"It's a long story."

Tyrese took out a blunt blade and started cleaning his nails. "My kid gets sick, I go to the expert, right?"

I nodded.

"You in trouble with the law, you should do likewise."

"That's some analogy."

"Something bad's happening with you, Doc." He spread his arms. "Bad is my world. I'm the best tour guide there is."

So I told him the story. Almost all of it. He nodded a lot, but I doubted he believed me when I said I had nothing to do with the murders. I doubted he cared either.

"Okay," he said when I finished, "let's get you ready. Then we need to talk about something else."


Tyrese did not answer. He moved to what looked like a reinforced metal locker in the corner. He unlocked it with a key, leaned inside, and withdrew a gun.

"Glock, baby, Glock," he said, handing me the gun. I stiffened. An image of black and blood flashed in my mind and quickly fled; I didn't chase it. It had been a long time. I reached out and plucked the gun with two fingers, as though it might be hot. "Gun of champions," he added.

I was going to refuse it, but that would be stupid. They already had me on suspicion of two murders, assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and probably a bunch of stuff for fleeing from the law. What's a concealed-weapon charge on top of all that?

"It's loaded," he said.

"Is there a safety or something?"

"Not anymore."

"Oh," I said. I slowly turned it over and over, remembering the last time I held a weapon in my hand. It felt good, holding a gun again. Something about the weight, I guessed. I liked the texture, the cold of the steel, the way it fit perfectly in my palm, the heft. I didn't like that I liked it.

"Take this too." He handed me what looked like a cell phone.

"What's this?" I asked.

Tyrese frowned. "What it look like? A cell phone. But it's got a stolen number. Can't be traced back to you, see?"

I nodded, feeling very much out of my element.

"Got a bathroom behind that door," Tyrese said, gesturing to my right. "No shower but there's a bath. Wash your smelly ass off. I'll get you some fresh clothes. Then Brutus and me, we'll get you down to Washington Square."

"You said you had something you wanted to talk to me about."

"After you get dressed," Tyrese said. "We'll talk then."