MANDARIN PLAID (Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series) (2 page)

BOOK: MANDARIN PLAID (Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series)
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When she spoke, all she said was, “Can you do it?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Lyd—”

“I took the job, Andrew.”

“I know. I know.” He sounded resigned. “But at least don’t do it alone, okay? Take Bill with you?”

“Ma would kill you if she heard you say that.”

“Ma will kill me and chase me through all the caves of hell with a cleaver if you get in trouble and it’s my fault.”

“That’s true.” I grinned.

“Who’s Bill?” Genna asked.

“Another investigator, someone I work with a lot. Sort of my partner.”

“Your mother doesn’t like him?”

“She hates him.”

“Let me guess: he’s not Chinese.”

Genna and I smiled, the same smile.

Then Genna’s faded. “I don’t know,” she said. “They said to keep this quiet. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to bring in so many people. Will you feel safer if he’s there?”

“Not safer.” Dispel that thought right away, that Lydia Chin might need someone to keep her safe. “Dropping money that someone’s waiting for isn’t likely to be dangerous. The bad guys will be as interested as we are in having things go smoothly. But if Bill were
there, he might get a chance to see who makes the pickup.”

“They said no cops,” John growled, from the window.

“We’re not talking about cops. Not to grab the guy, just to have a look at him. Even if Bill doesn’t follow him—” which I knew he would, especially if I told him to, and probably even if I didn’t “—he can describe the guy to us. Maybe it’ll turn out to be somebody you know.”

“What if it is?” John asked testily, looking out over the purple spring evening on Twentieth Street. “What are we going to do about it?”

“That will be up to you. But at least you’ll know.”

Which is how I came to be in Madison Square Park on a bright March morning, heading for the fifth trash can in from the corner, which Bill had already scoped out so he’d know where to plant himself.

Madison Square Park, which spreads north and east from Twenty-third and Fifth, is a happening place in the early morning. Rising young executives hurrying to work maneuver around dog-walkers and their dogs, while others, whose positions in their companies are either more secure or more hopeless, sit drinking coffee and chatting before they go on. Some of the benches are occupied by the homeless, who stretched out on them the night before and are in no hurry to move anywhere. At this time of year, this early in the morning, half the park is in shadow from the tall buildings on Madison, while the sun billows through the budding trees and into the other half. The line between the two halves keeps moving. If you watch you can see it.

My instructions, which Genna had gotten over the phone, were to leave the envelope in the can and keep walking. I’d been given a time, 7:30, and a warning: no funny business. The thief had been told I was a friend of Genna’s who was doing this for her because Genna was spooked. I didn’t know if he believed that, but I didn’t care. I was too annoyed that, although this was my case, Bill was going to have all the fun.

Once I dropped off the money I’d have to follow the instructions
to make myself scarce; to the client, a successful operation meant having the exclusive rights to her own sketches again, and my first responsibility was not to jeopardize that. I’d probably head back to Chinatown and my office, where I’d call Genna, report in, and then sit and wait for Bill to call me.

Bill, meanwhile, would be waiting for, spotting, and then shadowing the bag man all over town.

I looked at him, up there ahead on his bench, probably full of adrenaline already, edgy to start the cat-and-mouse. He hides that rush better than I do—he’s been in this business longer, and he’s got more self-control in general—but I know he feels it.

I was feeling a little of it myself as I neared the trash can, even though I completely expected nothing at all to happen. Reaching into my pocket to pull out the envelope, dropping it casually on yesterday’s
Post
and a half-eaten hot dog, I felt that jumpy sense of triumph you get when an important job’s successfully done. Plus that irrational disappointment that now there’s no more to do, that now it’s over.

That’s the part I was wrong about. It wasn’t over.

I heard the bang and whine as soon as I’d turned away from the can. Instinct took over from thought. Something caught me in the face as I dove behind a tree. I rubbed at it: a splash of mud thrown up by the impact of the bullet. The second shot sprayed gravel from the path into the air. Dogs barked and howled. Executives hit the dirt. Screeching birds wheeled into the sky. People ran and yelled and ran some more.

I crouched in the mud and forced myself to count to sixty. I gave it up at five. My heart was pounding and time took forever.

I peered out. Around me were people lying still like fallen park statues. Even the squirrels were hiding; nothing moved. Somewhere at the other end of the park a dog was barking, over and over. At that end people were running and shouting. I looked for Bill. His book was lying alone and open on the bench, its pages flipping forlornly in the wind. No third shot came. I emerged from behind my tree.

In the distance, approaching fast, I heard the wail of a police siren. People stirred and stood. I moved a little way from my tree and
blended into the quickly gathering crowd. I examined the faces around me. Fear, anger, and confusion bathed them all. I glanced into the trash can.

The envelope, of course, was gone.

T
WO

 

B
y the time the detective on the case arrived, the scene had picked up quite a crowd. Dogs sniffed each other suspiciously as their owners whispered questions. Executives brushed dirt from the fronts of their business suits, glanced at their watches, and frowned, but didn’t leave. Everyone peered around everyone, in case there was something to see. The cops wouldn’t say anything; the crowd asked its own questions and answered itself, with stories that grew wilder and wilder. A shooting, everybody knew; but where was the body? Gone already; too disgusting to look at, riddled with bullets. Drugs. Gangs. Terrorists.

The detective was a big, thick, sour cop from the Thirteenth Precinct. I watched him bark questions and orders at the uniforms, squint irately at the bullet they showed him, snap back at civilians asking questions. He elbowed his way through the crowd as though that was the part he enjoyed. “Shooter in the park in the goddamn morning,” I heard him mutter as he lit a cigarette. “Jesus, I’m glad my granddaughter don’t live in this city.”

Chainsmoking, he waited for reports from the uniforms talking to people over by the stand of trees the shots had come from. They’d already interviewed those of us standing closer. I’d told them the truth, when they got to me: I’d just passed the trash can, heard the first shot, hid behind a tree. I hadn’t seen the shooter and couldn’t even tell them exactly where he’d been.

As the uniforms came back with their reports, the grim-faced
detective snarled at the crowd again. His eyes swept over me, moved on, came back.

Okay, Lydia, I thought, time for you to go, as his attention was taken by a patrolman with a question. I turned to leave and saw Bill behind me, hanging at the back of the crowd.

He’d obviously been watching me, because he gestured me over as soon as he saw I’d seen him. The crowd had thinned out by then; I wondered why he hadn’t come through it, or at least called my name.

“Are you okay?” he asked as I reached him.

“Why were you sneaking up on me?”

“Not on you. Come with me, before—”

I didn’t get to hear before what. What I heard was a shout.

“Hey, you! Smith!” It was the detective. He made Bill’s name sound like an accusation.

I looked at Bill. “Before that?” I asked.

He shrugged.

The detective plowed through the crowd to reach us. “So,” he said, planting his feet as though the park were swaying but he was intending to stay put. His heavy tweed jacket reeked of cigarette smoke, and his face radiated disgust. He looked Bill up and down.

“And here I thought I just had the asshole du jour.” The detective’s words were addressed to Bill, as though no one else was standing around us. “Just your average wacko taking target practice in the park. But no, Krch. You got a better-than-average asshole. You got someone brings Smith out. Who’s your girlfriend?” he asked abruptly.

Bill sighed. “I was just trying to get to know the lady, Harry. You don’t be careful, you’ll ruin my social life.” He leered in a friendly, lecherous way down at me.

I looked from Bill’s leer to Krch’s scowl. I scowled, too. “Don’t wolly. You luin it all by yourself. Clazy Amellican.” I wheeled around and righteously stomped away.

I headed north along the path, still stomping, kicking pebbles out of my way. I had to stop myself from punching a tree. An easy job, a job I’d promised my favorite brother wouldn’t be dangerous, had ended in gunshots. At
me
. The client’s money was gone. Pumped with adrenaline,
I had made myself stand quietly and watch as the cops came up with nothing. And now my own partner—not even my partner, my employee, someone I’d hired!—had told me to go get lost while he talked to Detective Harry Krch.

Of course, there was a good reason for that one. There had to be, or he wouldn’t have done it, which is why I’d played along. When I’m not furious with the world for shooting at me and at myself for being a stupid, incompetent, hopeless excuse for a private eye, I know that Bill thinks highly of me and would never just sweep me under the rug and take over my case.

And when I stopped being furious, I would remember that.

I halted in a sunny spot at the edge of the park, near a particularly bright splash of crocuses. I took some deep, calming breaths, which didn’t work, and thought about my next move.

Bill and I have this thing we do when we’re working together and we get separated. Whoever can leave heads a few blocks north of where we’d been. You find a place, sit and wait, and after a while the other one shows up.

Trying to think like Bill trying to think like me, I considered the options.

There were benches, of course, all through the park between where he was and where I was. I could plunk myself right down and wait for him here; but Krch might notice Bill finding me, and since Bill had clearly made an effort to suggest that we didn’t know each other, it seemed I ought to at least find out why before I gave the game away.

Bill had seen me stomp away east on the park path. I could settle in the first coffee shop north up Madison, which was on the east side of the park. Bill would eventually find me there, but I wasn’t sure I could sit still over a cup of tea in the mood I was in.

I looked around. Across Madison and up two blocks was a big gray building with a small gray plaza. It had wide steps up into it and planters with ivy and budding trees. You could pace back and forth or sit on the planters and swing your legs and consider the evil, not to mention the incompetence, so deeply ingrained in the human soul.

I headed there.

The walk, which I took very fast, soaked up some of the jumpiness.
I marched up the sidewalk between looming, shadowed buildings on one side and, on the other, buildings with sunlight blazing off their windows, obscuring what was inside as completely as the shadows. As I went, I examined, weighed, and dismissed the possibility that the shooting, as Krch had suggested, was just some home-grown loony taking target practice in the park, and that the payoff had actually gone as planned, with the thief seizing the opportunity to grab his envelope in the confusion.

Not likely. Coincidences happen all the time, but not when you need them.

I reached the plaza slightly out of breath. Good. Exercise regulates the system. All around me, business-suited figures of both genders trotted up the steps and into their offices, where they would go through another peaceful, secure nine-to-five day where no one would shoot at them and they wouldn’t lose track of fifty thousand dollars of their client’s money. A delivery man took the steps two at a time, carrying someone’s breakfast, singing to himself. Speeding up the sidewalk, a bike messenger narrowly missed a kid on rollerblades shooting the steps.

I wished I had my skates myself, to work off my nerves while I waited for Bill.

I circumnavigated the plaza, then crisscrossed it, then divided it into quarters and traversed each one. I bought a cup of hot cocoa from a sidewalk cart and tried to warm myself up with it as I paced. Come
on
, Bill, I thought, as I passed from sunlight to shade and back to sunlight again, watching the stream of office workers grow to a torrent as nine o’clock approached.

When my cocoa was gone and Bill still hadn’t shown, I called Genna. I’d been holding off because I’d wanted to talk to Bill first. He might have seen the shooter, or the guy who took the money, or something. But Genna must be beyond jumpy by now, sitting by her phone. I hated to call a client and tell her I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I hated worse to do nothing at all.

The phone was snatched up before the first ring was over. “Hello!” Genna’s voice demanded.

“Genna, it’s Lydia.”

“Lydia! My God, what happened?”

“There was a problem.” I leaned into the phone’s metal enclosure, trying to drown out the noises of passing traffic. “Do you know already?”

“I got a call,” she said. Her voice was high and fast. “I was waiting for you, but it was them.”

“What did they say?”

“He said, either I was being way too cute or I was real unlucky, but either way it was too bad for me. He said he’d call again if he decided to give me another chance. Lydia, what’s he talking about?”

“Someone took two shots at me after I dropped the envelope.”


Shots?
They shot at you? My God, are you all right?”

“Yes. But when the dust cleared the envelope was gone.”

“Gone? Someone took it?”

“Someone must have. And I guess what the guy on the phone was telling you was that it wasn’t them.”

She was silent, but someone in the background wasn’t. “Get on the phone in the conference room,” Genna said, not to me. “It’s Lydia.”

A pause, a click, then, “Lydia? It’s John. What the hell is Genna talking about? Shots? What happened?”

I repeated the story. “Someone else must have known,” I said. “If the thieves called you and they don’t have the money, this must have been a hijacking.”

“But who?” John said. “Who else knew, besides you and me and Genna and Andrew? And Brad, but my God, he was the one who suggested hiring you.”

“And he doesn’t really know,” Genna said, from the other line. “He thinks we hired Lydia to investigate the robbery. I didn’t tell him about the ransom demand.”

“Well, what about that other detective?” John asked. “The one working with you. Lydia, how well do you—”

“Well,” I said shortly. “Did you guys tell anyone? Anyone at all?”

“No,” said Genna.

“No way,” said John.

“Well,” I said, “it doesn’t have to be us. It could be them.”

Genna asked, “What do you mean?”

John answered her before I could. “That they double-crossed each other, Gen. Right, Lydia? They stole the money from each other?”

“Yes,” I said. “Or one of them was blabbing in a bar to the wrong stranger about his clever plan.”

“What’s going to happen now?” I could hear a thin edge of hysteria creeping into Genna’s voice.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But it sounds like your thief didn’t get what he wanted.”

“No. And he said he’d call.”

“It’ll be okay, Gen.” John was firm and gentle. “Money was what he wanted. When he gets over being mad, he’ll call and ask for more money.”

“But it’s gone.” Genna seemed on the verge of tears. “The money’s gone.”

“Genna, that’s not a problem. You know that.”

“John—”

“Genna, baby, one problem at a time, okay? I know how much you hate the idea of my money. But this is your whole damn career, Gen. Can we not worry about the money right now? Lydia, what happens next?”

“We wait for him to call,” I said in my most in-charge voice. “When he does, call me at my office. We’ll work out a plan from there.”

“Thanks, Lydia.” Genna sounded grateful.

John said nothing, and we hung up.

It was another ten minutes before Bill turned up. I’d been about to give him thirty more seconds and then go do something when he came loping across Madison Avenue. Stopping my pacing, I glared at him across the plaza.

“Buy you a drink?” he called.

I nodded. He transacted the business at the sidewalk cart, carried over two steaming cups, leaned against a planter, and grinned.

“Clazy Amellican, huh?”

“Why did you do that?” I demanded. “Get rid of me?”

He pulled a cigarette from his jacket pocket. “Krch and I go back a long way. He thinks I’m the offspring of Satan and a snake. You obviously didn’t want the cops to know who you were or you wouldn’t have been just another face in the crowd like that. I was trying to protect your secret identity, Batman.”

Humor was a mistake, right then. “The money’s gone,” I snapped.

“I saw.”

“Did you see the guy who took it?”

He shook his head. “I was chasing the shooter.”

“Your job was watching the money!”

He gave me a strange look. “Lydia? Someone fired two shots in a busy park. At
you
. I’m not going to sit around and wait to see what happens next.”

“No, you’re going to go charging off like some comic book superhero chasing the bad guys—”

“—while you’re trapped behind a tree not able to do anything. Which is what you’re really mad about.” He sipped his coffee. High overhead a silver jet streaked west. He followed it with his eyes.

“You’re right,” I finally said.

“I know.”

“Do I have to apologize?”

“No.” He grinned. “But you really should wash your face.”

I’d forgotten about the clump of mud that had hit me. I rubbed at my cheek. “Better?”

“No, but more adorable. You want to hear about the shooter?”

I nodded.

“Red and tan baseball jacket, dark baseball cap, jeans, sneakers. Light-skinned. I chased him half a mile up Fifth and never saw his face.”

“Rats. You couldn’t ID him?”

“No.

“Where did he go?”

“East at Thirty-fourth. He was gone by the time I got to the corner. I told Krch about it; maybe he’ll send someone to see if he ditched the gun. I’m not sure he believed me, though.”

“What did you tell him you were doing in the park?”

“Reading
War and Peace
.” He riffled the pages of the book sticking out of his pocket.

“I’ll bet he didn’t believe that either.” I leaned against the stone planter, staring at a big fluffy cloud high in the sky. “I called Genna,” I said. “The thieves had called already. At least, one of them did.” I told Bill about my talk with Genna and John. “John Ryan proposed you as a possible source of the leak,” I added, at the end.

“That’s gratitude for you. I haven’t even
taken
a leak since early this morning.”

“If you want to remedy that, don’t let me stop you.”

“You couldn’t. But first tell me what we’re going to do now.”

“Now? What can we do now?” I realized I was snapping at Bill again. I controlled myself and said, “I’m going back to my office to wait for Genna to call.”

“And I’m going home to wait for you to call.”

“What makes you think I’ll call you?”

“If you didn’t call me, who would you blame when things go wrong?”

BOOK: MANDARIN PLAID (Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series)
12.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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