He had an odd expression on his face. Half smile, half grimace. Part puzzlement. That may add up to more than a whole. But death does strange things to people.
He was lying face up. His right arm was twisted behind his back. He clutched something in his left hand. I couldn’t make out what it was.
He was in black tie. Tuxedo. White ruffled shirt. Bow tie. Bare feet. Clean, though. As though recently shod.
Oh, Brendan, I whispered. What have you done?
A guy in a lumpy brown suit waved me back.
Hey, I said. That’s my friend.
Sure, he said. And I’m J. Edgar Hoover.
Who’s in charge here? I asked.
Who wants to know?
I told you. He’s my friend.
And I told you. I’m J. Edgar Hoover.
I wasn’t getting any respect.
Maybe it was the squid-shaped wine stain on the front of my shirt. My bleary eyes. The two days’ growth of intermittent beard.
J. Edgar, on the other hand, presented a more imposing figure. Sagging belly. Stick legs. That lumpy brown suit. And a gun.
There was no way around that last bit. I had to go over his head.
I stepped back. Unholstered my cell phone. Called my buddy, Butch Hardiman. New York cop. Shaved head. Mammoth shoulders. Not a bad poker player. He’d probably say he was better than me. I’d disagree.
Butch, I said.
Rick, he said in his big baritone voice.
You’re fucking with me, he said, his voice suddenly smaller, far away.
No, I’m not. I wish I were. I’m at the casino. They won’t let me near him. Can you pull some rank?
I’ll pull whatever rank I have down here. Which isn’t much.
Do your best.
Have I ever done less?
No, I had to admit. He hadn’t.
He called some friends who called some friends. It’s a small world, law enforcement. Butch could almost always find someone. Someone who knew someone who could call someone who could call in a favor, real or imagined. Even in Vegas. Especially if the favor was a minor one. Like letting him and his buddy past a bit of crime scene tape.
I waited for him at a long bar studded with the usual array of electronic keno and poker machines. You barely had room to put down your glass. Why waste a moment of drinking time when you could be losing some more money to the house? I stared at the plasma screen behind the bar. Some goddamn horse race. Never understood that horse race thing. Lack of empathy, I guess. But it seemed like only the most degenerate gamblers played the horses.
I couldn’t identify.
I drank a scotch. I drank another one.
A hand on my shoulder. I turned around. Butch.
What the fuck? he said.
I don’t know, I said. I don’t know anything. He’s over there.
Butch strode over. Asked for Detective Warren. The stick-leg guy. Butch introduced himself. Mentioned a name. The name did it.
Call me Earl, J. Edgar said, extending a hand to Butch.
Guy had a lot of names.
Rick Redman, I said, extending my own hand.
J. Edgar ignored it.
He lifted up the yellow tape. We ducked under it. Walked towards the huddle of uniforms. The well-dressed remains of my former brother-in-law.
I hung back a bit. I didn’t want to get too close. See too much. I’d never get it out of my dreams. There were enough dead bodies in there already.
Butch went right up. Nudged a couple of blue shirts aside. Knelt down. I felt stupid, hanging back. So I followed, blank.
I looked. I didn’t want to look.
The technicians were doing their technician thing. Butch wasn’t there to interfere. He wasn’t there to help, either. He wanted to see the scene for himself. Do what I couldn’t. File it away. Every scratch mark and dust mote. Every stain on the elaborately tiled lobby floor. What Brendan had in his hand.
The hell is that? I asked. A chopstick?
It’s a knitting needle, said Butch.
I leaned in to get a look. A technician bagging evidence looked up, nodded.
Jesus, I said. The hell does that mean?
I wandered over to the lobby’s central grotesquerie. Concrete fishes and small boys were respectively spouting and pissing into a green pool. Generating little fountains of splash. One of which was slowly soaking the jacket of an old guy sitting on the low retaining wall. Old and spotted and hunched forward. The Universal Loser.
A couple of cops wandered over, poked him with a stick. He looked up. Calm. Resigned. Too far gone to be startled.
The cops asked questions. How long had he been there? What was his name? Had he seen anything unusual?
Unusual? I stared blankly at the concrete fish, the pissing boys. I guessed it was a matter of context.
I heard Butch’s voice. Rick, he said. I turned around. Saw his extra-wide smile. Trying to be reassuring. Succeeding, a bit.
Come on, he said. Let’s go home.
Home. The Dusty Angel Motel.
I felt his arm around my shoulder.
I suppose, I said, as Brendan’s closest known relative, even if by defunct marriage, I should hang around. Find out what they’re planning to do with him.
They have my cell number. They’ll call.
Okay, I shrugged.
I’d seen a morgue or two before. There’d be time for the formalities later.
We flagged a cab. It smelled of sardines and sweat.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Drawing Dead by Grant McCrea. Copyright © 2009 by Grant McCrea. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Canada, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.