I DIDN'T WANT to come back to New York.
Nothing was there for me anymore. After a year, I almost had the city out of my system. No nostalgia, no sense of loss, no reluctance at having abandoned a place that had been so much a part of my life.
All I felt was annoyance at having to return to a town I had flushed away in one wild firefight-a firefight that nobody but me remembered.
Even before I'd left, so-called progress had squeezed out the great old neighborhood spots, leaving sad relics behind that had become sophisticated corrals for the idiotic “in” crowd. When they tore down the old Blue Ribbon Restaurant on West Forty-fourth Street, it was the beginning of the end. Why the hell ever go back?
Only a call from Pat Chambers could have changed my mind-the captain of Homicide who had hounded and helped me over a bloodstained career that had made the tabloids thrive and the Powers That Be apoplectic.
Pat's voice had been friendly, but not questioning, almost as if he understood why I chose to disappear, and that it was all right with him.
The Ocean View Motel had two floors of rooms and half a dozen cabins. I had one of the latter and was in the midst of an afternoon nap when the phone rang. It didn't surprise me he'd got the number somehow. Nobody had been informed of where I was because I wanted nobody to know, not even my best friend, which is what Pat was.
But a good New York cop can find anybody, if he wants to badly enough.
“Mike, Bill Doolan is dead. They're having services for him tomorrow night at eight at McCormick's Funeral Home.”
It was as if a year hadn't passed at all.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“He shot himself.”
“. . . You sure?”
“I'm sure.” He knew I wouldn't question him any further, so added, “He was dying of cancer. The big-pain part was coming up just ahead, and he decided to bypass it.”
Outside palm trees riffled in the wind. Beyond, blue endless ocean rippled under a butterscotch sun. No palms in Manhattan. The ocean there was endless, too, only gray, and the sun was blotted out by skyscraper tombstones.
“There's an afternoon flight out of here tomorrow around three,” I said with a sigh. “I should get in about supper time.”
“Cutting it a little close.”
“Don't want a minute more in that town than I have to.”
“So when did you start to hate New York?”
“When the medic yanked me out of a nice warm womb,” I said, “and slapped my tiny ass.”
“And you been trying to find your way back into one ever since.”
“No shit.” I paused, trying to fit details of the city back in my mind. “The Pub still open?”
“Get a reservation.”
“Nothing changes with you.”
“Still telling me what to do.”
“So do it,” I said, and hung up, and for a minute just lay there. Finally, I said, “Damn,” and hauled my behind off the bed.
The soft-pac suitcase was still in a corner of the closet and it didn't take me more than five minutes to lay out what I needed. One thing good about late spring-it packed easily. The three medicine vials went into a side pocket with the worn address book and I zipped the bag shut.
When I looked at myself in the mirror, I could only shake my head. It had been twelve months since I had worn a tie, and my suit jacket was loose around my waist, but dropping eighteen pounds will do that. There was no flab at all now, which was good, but the minimal exercise I was allowed hadn't done much for muscle ¬tissue.
I knelt to get the oiled and loaded .45 and its shoulder rig out of the box under the closet floorboard, but then stood up quickly, like I'd almost touched something hot. The old days were gone now and it could stay where it was.
The weather forecast said it was raining in New York, so I packed the trench coat and got my hat out of the plastic bag, the last of God knew how many Stetson porkpies I'd bought over the years-a nice new feel to the gray felt. I snapped the brim into place, rolling the edge until I had it just right-that was one thing I still had. Nobody could wear hats anymore, but I had that down.
Then I took the porkpie off and carried it in my hand. Down here among the sun and palms and sand, a felt hat was a little too much.
Bag in my left hand, hat in my right, I walked over to the main building and called Marty out of the pool, where he was clowning around with two well-tanned beauties, a blonde and brunette, who spent the weekends working as mates on a headboat out of Key West.
The big ex-Marine motel manager with the white crewcut and dark tan stood there dripping, looking at me in my city clothes as he held back a grin in that well-grooved, blue-eyed face.
“Where are you going?” He nodded toward the bikinis. “There's one for you. Betty or Veronica. Take your pick.”
“Not in the mood.”
He grunted a laugh. “Still carrying the torch for that secretary of yours?”
I gave a look that said cool it.
Then I said, “I'll be gone a few days.”
“I had a feeling,” he said. He seemed to be considering bringing up the subject of my secretary again, but apparently thought better of it.
“Tomorrow the doc will be stopping by,” I said. “Just tell him I feel fine, that I'll be taking it easy, and not to have a cow over it.”
A frown flashed across Marty's face. “He's gonna be pissed off, pal . . . and you know how he gets.”
I nodded toward the pool. “Loan him your extra girl . . . Look, man, I'm going to a funeral. It's an old, old friend, and something I have to do.”
He nodded. No grin. Eyes slitted. “One question, Mike.”
“You gonna attend a funeral or are you gonna cause one?”
I just looked at him.
“Damnit, Mike, I'm serious . . .”
I waved it off. “No action this time, Marty. Strictly a pallbearer.”
“Yeah, but whose?” His shrug was one of resignation. “Okay, I guess I'll believe you. You been here a year and haven't killed anybody yet, and that must be a record.” A sigh accompanied a second shrug. “Shit, I'll just keep your cabin locked up and hope you don't come back in a body bag. What about your car?”
“I'll leave it at the airport.”
“Any idea when you'll be heading back?”
“Like I said-a few days. I'll call ahead of time. When Buzz comes in tonight, cancel that fishing trip.”
“Sure thing.” He let a long moment go by, then asked me with a frown, “Who knew where to get a hold of you down here?”
“I told you before, Marty-I left word with nobody. But the caller was a cop. He's a damn good friend and probably knew where I was all along.”
“Really. Probably tracked me right from the beginning, which would've been hard but not impossible. I wasn't in good enough shape to lay a decent cover down.”
His eyes widened. “But if your cop pal could find you, so could somebody else . . .”
I waved that off, too. ...