Gerald Davis: A Murder Too Personal

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Gerald Davis A Murder Too Personal
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    A Murder Too Personal
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Gerald J. Davis

A Murder Too Personal


The last call she ever made to me came in just before eight-thirty that night. I was still in the office wrapping up the final details on the file I was scheduled to deliver to the bank the next morning.

Working late gave you a chance to think in the stillness. Think about the sad bastard vice-president who was sweating like a stuck pig in front of his giant plasma screen picture-in-a-picture digital sound HDTV right now, wondering when I was going to hand over the file and how much damage it contained.

What it contained was a ream of printout that would put this joker away for a significant chunk of his active sex life. The only hitch was that the bank didn’t like the sound of the word embezzlement and the fact that it would besmirch their lily-white reputation.

I knew what was going to happen. It didn’t matter that this guy had lifted twelve million bucks because of a minor infraction like unauthorized use of the access code. The pantywaists at the holding company would have him make some kind of token restitution and plead nolo contendere-I never did it and I promise never to do it again.

The phone gave off its soft purring sound. It was almost like an apologetic sorry-to-bother-you tap on the shoulder. I still hadn’t gotten used to the new phone system. The thing kept on malfunctioning, with its goddam chips and electronic switching devices. At first I didn’t know if it was a real call or another false alarm. Whatever happened to the old comforting embrace of Ma Bell?

“Rogan,” I said into the speakerphone.

“Hello, Ed,” came her husky reply.

I didn’t answer for a long minute.

“Hello, Alicia,” I said finally. It had been a long time between drinks.

“I’m sorry to trouble you like this, Ed.”

I knew she wasn’t.

“How’ve you been?” I asked.

“Oh, fair to maudlin, I guess.” It was an old joke between us. She paused. “Actually, I’m doing very well on the professional front. I’ve gotten a lot of recognition from my peers over the last couple of years and my name is being mentioned on some of the outstanding analysts lists. But that’s not why I’m calling you, Ed. I’m calling because I’m having some personal problems.”

She didn’t have to tell me that. She was the kind of girl to whom the words interpersonal relationships were mutually-exclusive.

“I see.”

There was a long silence, as if she expected me to say more. When I didn’t, she said, “Ed, I’d like to hire you. I’d pay you whatever your going rate is.” She stopped and then added quickly, “It would be strictly a business transaction.”

She sounded just like she used to — bright and brisk and full of phony bravado.

I loosened my tie, swiveled my seat around and stared out the window at the darkening sky. You can get used to anything — even the view out of the forty-eighth floor of the Pan Am building looking north up Park. At least, what they used to call the Pan Am building before the airline went deep six.

“I don’t do that kind of work, Alicia. My clients are corporations. I do business investigations.”

I tried not to sound too harsh with her. Four years was a long time to carry a grudge.

“Couldn’t you just make a single exception — for me — for old times’ sake?”

Don’t push your luck, I thought. For old times’ sake was the very reason I wouldn’t do it.

Instead, I said, “You couldn’t afford my fee.” She didn’t know that was a load of guano. My fee was whatever deal I could squeeze out of the unsuspecting client. And sometimes even less than that. But she bought it. Why shouldn’t she? I’d never lied to her before. I’d always been as straight as Mother Teresa in the confessional.

My response surprised her. She hesitated.

I waited. The only sound in the office was the muted whir of the laser printer. I felt like getting up and pouring my eighty-third cup of decaf.

“Oh, Ed. You wouldn’t turn me down.” There was a plaintive note in her voice I’d never heard before.

I didn’t think she could generate a response from me anymore, but I guess I was wrong. Her tone was so different from the self-assured mask she always wore.

“The hell I wouldn’t.” I wasn’t going to sing that old song again.

“Oh, Ed. I’ll serve you linguini with white clam sauce and a chilled bottle of Pouilly Fuisse.”

She remembered.

I didn’t say anything. It was becoming a conversation of long pauses. I looked out the window at the June evening and thought about another time and another existence. A time when a man and a woman took endless walks of discovery through the city.

“Please,” she managed finally, “I need your help.” There was that note again. She never would have pleaded before.

I thought about it for a while. About a nanosecond. Then I said, “No, Alicia, I don’t think so.”

I could hear a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. Then I couldn’t hear anything. She was probably thinking about whether it was worthwhile to try to change my mind.

The laser printer finished its work and fell silent. Now there was no sound at all. It was strange to be in a city of eight million and not hear a single sound. Like someone had pressed the mute button.

Then she sighed. It was an anguished sigh and, for a moment, I almost regretted the decision.

“All right,” she said. Silence again. “Good-bye, Ed.”

She hung up.

Sure, it hurt. But I told myself it would hurt less this way.

She crowded into my thoughts a lot the next couple of days. You can’t be married for five years without building up a storehouse of memories. They say you remember the good times and forget the bad. But I remembered both the good and the bad — mostly the bad.

I delivered my report to the CEO of the bank the next morning at nine-thirty. Just the two of us in an amphitheater that could have held the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and had room left over for the third Roman legion plus its camp followers.

As I sat opposite him at the boardroom table, he kept shaking his bald head and flipping the pages of the printout. His face was so ashen it looked like it was covered with a layer of talcum. From time to time, he would murmur, “Son of a bitch.” He said it maybe seven or eight times.

I wondered how many different ways he could inflect those words. Here was a man making six point one million, including bonus, according to the proxy statement, and that was the extent of his vocabulary.

While he scanned the numbers, I thought about her. Had she changed her hair? Probably. Why did women feel this strange compulsion to change their appearance at regular intervals like clockwork? When I knew her, she wore her blond hair long and flowing, like her dresses.

She was a tall gal, six-one, almost as tall as me and she always held herself ramrod straight. She liked to have people stare at her. With her angular face and thin frame, she was striking. When she wore those full-length dresses that she loved, she looked like a Viking goddess here on a temporary visa from Valhalla.

I knew she was fragile but no one else did — and it wasn’t often that she let me see her frailty.

I glanced back at the CEO. He’d been reading the report for the better part of an hour. As he read, I looked around the board room. It was expensively but sedately furnished. The style was some indeterminate historical period between Periclean Athens and the Fall of Constantinople. The purpose was to create an atmosphere of solidity and timelessness, even though the bank was only seventy years old. The bank was medium-sized, striving mightily to enter the top ranks, so nothing was overstated. There was a Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington on the wall. How many of these damn things did Stuart paint? I’d seen them in at least a dozen corporate headquarters.

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