Read Dead Man's Hand Page 2

Brennan watched a few interviews with the joker on the street, then turned down the volume on the television set and turned his attention to the computer screen. He wished Hartmann and his joker supporters well, but the day was already getting old and he had his own worries.

  His schedule had come up on the screen, and it promised to be a full day. Archer Landscaping was in the middle of two jobs. Brennan was building a hill garden with a tsutaiochi, a miniature waterfall trickling over a bed of emplaced rocks, for a Japanese-American banker who had just moved into the area, and he was also constructing a multiterraced shrubbery with a fish pond for a doctor who lived down the road. Joachim Ortiz, Brennan’s foreman, would boss the crew at the doctor’s while he took care of the other job. Japanese gardens were his personal specialty.

  Brennan leaned back in the chair, still mildly surprised at the contentment he felt as he contemplated the upcoming day. Abandoning death and destruction and returning to the country to nurture life was the best thing he had ever done. He felt cleansed, content, and at peace for the first time in years. Sometimes he felt guilty for setting aside his vendetta against Kien and the Shadow Fist Society, but over the last few months the guilt had been coming less frequently and with less intensity.

  He took his copy of Sakuteiki, Tachibana Toshisuna’s classic treatise on garden design, from his reference shelf, but before he could look through it to get some ideas for the new job he stopped to stare at the image of a well-remembered woman that filled the television screen. He turned up the volume.

  “… mysterious woman known only as Chrysalis was found dead this morning in the office of her nightclub, the Crystal Palace. The police have so far refused comment, but an ace of spades found on her body has linked the slaying to the mysterious bow-and-arrow vigilante known as Yeoman, who was responsible for at least fifty deaths in 1986 and early 1987.”

  Brennan was still staring at the screen as Jennifer Maloy walked through the wall, damp from her shower, carrying two cups of tea.

  “What’s the matter?” she asked when she saw the expression on his face. “What happened?”

  Brennan turned to her, the coldness back in his eyes, the hardness back on his face. “Chrysalis is dead.”

  “Dead?” she echoed, unbelievingly.


  “How? By who?” Jennifer asked as she sank down into the chair facing him. She handed him one of the cups. He took it mechanically and put it aside.

  “Report didn’t say. But her killer tried to frame me by putting an ace of spades on the body.”

  “Frame you? Why?”

  Brennan looked at her for the first time. “I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.”

  “The police—”

  “The police think I did it.”

  “That’s insane,” Jennifer said. “We haven’t been to the city for over a year.”

  They’d been so busy that it hadn’t seemed that long since Brennan had called off his vendetta against the Shadow Fist crime lord named Kien and left New York City with Jennifer. They’d spent some time traveling, some time resting and healing and learning to love one another, then settled down outside of Goshen, a small town just north of New York City. Jennifer had begun writing what she hoped would become the definitive biography of Robert Tomlin. Brennan, weary of dealing in death, wanting to build rather than destroy, had started a landscaping business. He found that he had a genuine talent for horticulture, and Jennifer was happy researching and writing her book. They’d been quite content with their quiet, peaceful, isolated existence.

  “Someone set me up,” Brennan said in a low voice.


  He looked at Jennifer. “Kien.”

  She leaned back, considering it. “Why?”

  Brennan shrugged. “Maybe he found out that Chrysalis knew he was head of the Shadow Fists. Maybe he thought that he could get rid of her and me at the same time.”

  “The police would never find you if we stay here.”

  “Maybe,” Brennan conceded. “But maybe they’ll never find Chrysalis’s real killer, either.”

  “We’re building something here,” Jennifer said. “We can’t just let it go.”

  Let it go. It should be easy, Brennan told himself, to let the past go, to live for the present and the future. But he couldn’t. Someone had murdered his ex-lover. He couldn’t forget that. And then the murderer had framed him for it. He couldn’t forgive that.

  He stood up. “I’m not letting anything go. I can’t.”

  Jennifer just looked at him. After a moment he turned and went out to the back and unlocked the shed where he kept his bows and guns. He loaded the van and sat waiting in it for several minutes, wondering if Jennifer was going to join him.

  After a while he started the engine and drove away, alone.


  Maseryk played the good cop, Kant played the bad cop, and both of them deserved rave reviews. Jay Ackroyd had seen the act before, though. Maseryk was lean and dark, with intense violet eyes. Kant was a hairless scaled joker with nictitating membranes and pointed teeth. As Jay ran through his story for the seventh time, he found himself wondering whether they swapped roles when the suspect was a joker. He took one look at Kant and decided not to ask.

  By lunchtime, even the two detectives had gotten tired of going round the mulberry bush. “If you’re playing games with us, you’re going to be real sorry,” Kant said, showing his incisors.

  Jay gave him a who, me? look. “I’m sure Mr. Ackroyd’s told us everything he knows, Harv,” Maseryk said. “If you do happen to remember anything else that might be of use, you’ll give us a call.” Maseryk gave him his card, Kant told him not to leave town, and they walked him to the squad room to sign a copy of his statement.

  The precinct house was full of familiar faces. The doorman from the Crystal Palace was giving a statement to a uniformed cop while a waitress that Chrysalis has fired last month sobbed loudly in the corner. Other Palace employees waited on long wooden benches by the window. He recognized three waiters, a dishwasher, and the guy who played ragtime piano in the Green Room on Thursday nights. But the most important faces were the ones he didn’t see.

  Lupo, the relief bartender, sat alone by an unoccupied desk. After he’d dealt with the paperwork, Jay drifted over. “Can you believe it?” the joker asked. “What’s going to happen to us?” Lupo had deep-set red eyes and a wolf’s face. He’d been shedding; there were hairs all over the shoulders of his denim shirt. Jay brushed them off. Lupo hardly seemed to notice. “I hear it was you found the body,” he said. “Was it really the ace-of-spades guy?”

  “There was a card next to the body,” Jay said.

  “Yeoman,” Lupo muttered angrily. “Son of a bitch. I thought he was gone for good. He used to drink Tullamore Dew. I served him once or twice.”

  “Ever see him without the mask?”

  Lupo shook his head. “No. I hope they catch the fucker.” His long red tongue lolled from a corner of his mouth.

  Jay looked around the room again. “Where’s Elmo?”

  “No one’s seen him. I heard the cops got a whatchacallit, a APB, out on him.”

  Kant came up behind them. “Your turn, Lupo,” he said, gesturing toward an interrogation room. He stared at Jay. “You still here.”

  “I’m going, I’m going,” Jay said. “As soon as I use the little cops’ room.”

  Kant told him where to find it. By the time Jay emerged, Kant and Maseryk and Lupo were off doing their thing. Jay went back to the captain’s cubicle and walked in unannounced.

  Captain Angela Ellis was behind the desk, chain-smoking as she scanned a file, flipping pages like a speed reader. She was a tiny Asian woman with green eyes, long black hair, and the toughest job in the NYPD. Her immediate predecessor had been found dead in this office, supposedly of a heart attack, but there were still people who didn’t buy that. The captain before him had been murdered, too.

  “So,” he asked, “you have a lead on
Elmo yet?”

  Ellis took a drag on her cigarette and looked at him. It took her a moment to remember who he was. “Ackroyd,” she finally said, with distaste. “I was just reading your statement. There are holes in your story I could drive a truck through.’”

  “I can’t help that, it’s the only story I’ve got. What kind of story did you get from Sascha?”

  “A short one.” Ellis stood and began to pace. “He woke up, sensed a strange mind in the building, and came downstairs to find you sneaking out of Chrysalis’s office.”

  “I didn’t sneak,” Jay said. “I sneak very well, I majored in sneaking in detective school, but on this particular occasion I didn’t happen to be sneaking. And there’s nothing strange about my mind, thank you. So you don’t have a thing on Elmo yet?”

  “What do you know about Elmo?” Ellis asked.

  “Short guy,” Jay said.

  “Strong guy,” Ellis mused. “Strong enough to smash a woman’s head into blood pudding, maybe.”

  “Real good,” Jay said, “only wrong. Elmo was devoted to the lady. Utterly. No way he’d hurt her.”

  Her laugh was hard and humorless. “Ackroyd, you may be the world’s chief authority on philandering husbands, but you don’t know much about killers. They don’t waste the real atrocities on strangers, they save them for family and friends.” She started to pace again. Ash fell off the end of her cigarette. “Maybe your friend Elmo was a little too devoted. I heard Chrysalis fucked around a lot. Maybe he got tired of seeing the parade go in and out of her bedroom, or maybe he made a pass of his own and she laughed at him.”

  “You setting up Elmo to take the fall?” he asked.

  Ellis paused over her desk just long enough to stub out her cigarette in an ashtray overflowing with butts. “No one gets set up in this precinct.”

  “Since when?” Jay asked.

  “Since I took over as captain,” she told him. She took a pack of Camels out of her jacket, tapped one out, lit up, and resumed pacing. “You’re supposed to be a detective. Look at the facts.” She stopped at the wall long enough to straighten a framed diploma, then spun back toward him. “Her head looked like a cantaloupe run over by a semi. Both legs broken, every finger in her left hand snapped, her pelvis shattered in six places, massive internal hemorrhaging.” She jabbed the cigarette at him for emphasis. “I had a case once, back when I was on the street, where some Gambione capos went to work on a guy with tire irons. Broke every bone in his body. Another time I saw what was left of a hooker who’d been done in by a pimp fried on angel dust. He’d used a baseball bat. Those were pretty ugly, but they looked a. lot better than Chrysalis. Those weren’t normal blows. Nobody’s that strong. Nobody but an ace, or a joker with superhuman strength.”

  “A lot of people fit that description,” Jay pointed out.

  “Only one of them lived in the Crystal Palace,” Ellis pointed out. She crossed behind the desk, sat down, opened a file folder. “Elmo was strong enough—”

  “Maybe,” Jay said. Elmo was way stronger than a nat, that was true enough, but there were others who made him look like a ninety-seven-pound weakling. The Harlem Hammer, Troll, Carnifex, the Oddity, even that golden asshole Jack Braun. Whether Elmo actually had the raw power to do what had been done to Chrysalis was a question Jay didn’t have the expertise to answer.

  Captain Ellis ignored his quibbling. “He also had the opportunity, anytime he wanted.” She began rearranging a stack of files in her OUT basket, dropping ash on them in the process.

  “I don’t buy it,” Jay said.

  “If Elmo is so goddamned innocent, where is he?” Ellis asked, toying with her stapler. “We searched his room. The bed hadn’t been slept in. He hasn’t returned to the Palace. Where’d he go?”

  Jay shrugged. “Out.” She had him there, but he was damned if he was going to admit it. “Seems to me you got another candidate who’s a lot riper than Elmo.”

  Captain Angela Ellis slammed down the stapler and blew a long plume of smoke across the room. “Ah. Right. The ace-of-spades killer.” She didn’t sound impressed. “We’re going to find Elmo,” she promised, crushing out her cigarette. “And when we do, five’ll get you ten it turns out your dwarf pal dropped that card. You can buy a deck of playing cards at any five-and-ten. You’re supposed to be a bright boy, Ackroyd. Figure it out for yourself.”

  “Maybe I will,” Jay said.

  Angela Ellis didn’t like that one bit. Her bright green eyes narrowed as she stood up. “Lemme make one thing real clear. I don’t like PIs. And I don’t like aces. So you can probably guess how I feel about ace PIs. You start getting in our way on this one, you can just kiss your license good-bye.”

  “You’re beautiful when you’re angry,” Jay said.

  Ellis ignored him. “I don’t like bodies cluttering up my precinct either.”

  “You must be unhappy a lot of the time,” Jay said as he headed for the door. He paused in the doorway to study her little glass-walled cubicle. “This really where they killed Captain Black?” he asked innocently.

  “Yes,” she snapped, irritated. Jay figured he’d hit a sore point. Knowing the NYPD, they probably hadn’t even gotten her a new chair. “What the hell are you doing?” she said.

  “Getting a good picture of the place in my head,” Jay said. He smiled crookedly and made his right hand into a gun, three fingers folded down, thumb cocked like a hammer, index finger pointed at Angela Ellis. “I’m a good boy, Captain. If I bump into your killer, I’ll want to send him right here to you.”

  She looked puzzled for a moment, then flushed when she remembered what he could do. “Aces,” she muttered. “Get the hell out of here.”

  He did. Kant and Maseryk were back in the squad room. “Captain on the rag?” Jay asked as he passed. They exchanged looks and watched him leave. Jay went out the front door, walked around the block, went back in, and took the steps down to the basement.

  The precinct records were kept in a dimly lit, low-ceilinged room next to the boiler, part of which had been the coal cellar once upon a time. Now it held a couple of computer consoles, a xerox machine, a wall of overflowing steel filing cabinets, and one very pale, very short, very nearsighted policeman.

  “Hello, Joe,” Jay said.

  Joe Mo turned around and sniffed at the stale air. He was just under five feet tall, stooped and potbellied, with a complexion the color of a mushroom. Tiny pink eyes peered out from behind the largest, thickest pair of tinted spectacles that Jay had ever seen. White, hairless hands rubbed together nervously. Mo had been the first joker on the NYPD, and for more than a decade he’d been the only joker on the NYPD. His appointment, forced through under the banner of affirmative action during Mayor Hartmann’s administration in the early seventies, had drawn so much fire that the department had promptly hidden him down in Records to keep him out of public view. Joe hadn’t minded. He liked Records almost as much as he liked basements. They called him Sergeant Mole.

  “Popinjay,” Mo said. He adjusted his glasses. The milk white of his skin was shocking against the dark blue of his uniform, and he always wore his cap, night and day, even indoors. “Is it true?”

  “Yeah, it’s true,” Jay told him. Mo had been a pariah when he’d joined the force, even in Fort Freak. No one had wanted to partner him, and he’d been made unwelcome in the usual cop bars. He’d been doing his off-duty drinking in the Crystal Palace since its doors first opened, paying for every drink in a rather ostentatious show of rectitude, and collecting ten times his tab under the table for acting as Chrysalis’s eyes and ears in the cophouse.

  “I heard you were the one found the body,” Joe Mo said. “Nasty business, wasn’t it? Makes you wonder what Jokertown is coming to. You’d think she’d be safe, if anyone was.” He blinked behind the dark, thick lenses. “What can I do for you, dear boy?”

  “I need to see the file on the ace-of-spades killer.”

  “Yeoman,” Joe Mo said.

  “Yeoman,” Jay
Ackroyd repeated thoughtfully. It came back to him then. Yeoman, I don’t care for this, Chrysalis had said with ice in her voice, that night a year and a half ago when they’d faced off in the darkened taproom of the Palace. She was always a master of understatement. “I remember,” he said.

  “Why, there hasn’t been a new bow-and-arrow killing in more than a year,” Mo said. “You really think he’s the one?”

  “I hope not,” Jay said. Yeoman had entered the taproom silent as smoke, and before anyone even noticed him, he’d had a hunting arrow notched and ready. But Hiram Worchester had stepped in the way in righteous indignation, and Jay had gotten the drop on the guy. Suddenly Yeoman was gone in a pop of in-rushing air. Jay Ackroyd was a projecting teleport. When his right hand made a gun, he could pop his targets anyplace he knew well enough to visualize.

  Only he’d sent that fucker Yeoman to the wrong damn place. “I had the sonofabitch dead to rights, Joe,” he said. “I could have popped him right into the Tombs. Instead I sent him to the middle of the Holland Tunnel, God knows why.” Something about his tone when he’d replied to Chrysalis, maybe, or the loathing in his eyes when he glanced toward Wyrm, or maybe the fact that he’d had the decency to hesitate when Hiram stepped forward and blocked his shot. Or it could have been the girl he had with him, the masked blonde in the string bikini who seemed so fresh and innocent.

  It hadn’t been what you call a deliberate, conscious decision; a lot of the time Jay just went on gut instinct. But if he’d been wrong that night, then Chrysalis had paid for it with her life. “I really need to see that file,” he said.

  Joe Mo made a sad little clucking sound. “Why, that file’s up on the captain’s desk, Jay. She sent down for it right away, soon as the squeal came in. Of course, I made a xerox before I sent it up. It always pays to make a xerox. Sometimes things get misplaced, and you don’t want to lose any valuable documents.” He blinked slowly, looked around. “Now where did I put that? It’s a wonder I ever find anything, with my eyes.”

  The copies were on top of the xerox machine. Jay riffled through the folder, rolled up the papers and slid them under his blazer, replaced them with two twenties. “I’m sure you’ll sniff them out,” he said.