Manhattan Is My Beat Excerpt
He believed he was safe.
For the first time in six months.
Two identities and three residences behind him, he finally believed he was safe.
An odd feeling came over him — comfort, he finally decided. Yeah, that was it. A feeling he hadn’t experienced for a long time, and he sat on the bed in this fair-to-middling hotel, overlooking that weird silver arch that crowned the river front in St. Louis. Smelling the Midwestern spring air.
An old movie was on television. He loved old movies. This was A Touch of Evil. Orson Welles directing. Charleton Heston playing a Mexican. The actor didn’t look like a Mexican. But then he probably didn’t look like Moses either.
Albert Gittleman laughed to himself at his little joke and told it to a sullen man sitting nearby, reading Guns & Ammo Magazine. The man glanced at the screen. “Mexican?” he asked. Stared at the screen for a minute. “Oh.” He went back to the magazine.
Gittleman lay back in the bed, thinking that it was damn well about time he had some funny thoughts like the one about Heston. Frivolous thoughts. Amount-to-nothing thoughts. He wanted to think about gardening or painting lawn furniture or taking his grandson to a ball game. About taking his daughter and her husband to his wife’s grave — a place he’d been too afraid to visit for over six months.
“So,” the sullen man said, looking up from the magazine, “what’s it gonna be? We gonna do deli tonight?”
Gittleman, who’d lost 30 pounds since Christmas — he was down to 204 — said, “Sure. Sounds good. Deli.”
And he realized it did sound good. He hadn’t looked forward to food for a long time. A nice fat deli sandwich. Pastrami. His mouth started to water. Mustard. Rye bread. A pickle.
“Naw,” said a third man, stepping out of the bathroom. “Pizza. Let’s get pizza.”
The sullen man who read about guns all the time and the pizza man were U.S. Marshals. They were young and stony-faced and gruff and wore cheap suits that fit very badly. But Gittleman knew that these were exactly the kind of men you wanted to be watching over you. Besides, Gittleman had led a pretty tough life himself and he realized that when you looked past their facade these two were pretty decent and smart guys — street smart, at least. Which was all that really counted in life.
Gittleman had taken a liking to them over the past five months. And since he couldn’t have his family around him he’d informally adopted them. He called them Son One and Son Two. He told them that. They weren’t sure what to make of it but he sensed they got a kick out of him saying the words. For one thing, they said, most of the people they protected were complete shits and Gittleman knew that, whatever else, he wasn’t that.
Son One was the man reading the guns magazine, the man who’d suggested deli. He was the fatter of them. Son Two grumbled again that he wanted pizza.
“Forgetaboutit. We did pizza yesterday.”
An irrefutable argument. So it was pastrami and cole slaw.
“On rye,” Gittleman said. “And a pickle. Don’t forget the pickle.”
“They come with pickles.”
“Then extra pickles.”
“Hey, go for it, Al,” Son One said.
Son Two spoke into the microphone pinned to his chest. A wire ran to a black Motorola Handi-Talkie, clipped onto his belt, right next to a big gun that might very well have been reviewed in the magazine his partner was reading. He spoke to the third marshal on the team, sitting by the elevator up the hall. “It’s Sal. I’m coming out.”
“Okay,” the staticky voice responded. “Elevator’s on its way.”
“You wanta beer, Arnie?”
“No,” Gittleman said firmly.
Son Two looked at him curiously.
“I want two goddamn beers.”
The marshal cracked a faint smile. The most response to humor Gittleman had ever seen in his tough face.
“Good for you,” Son One said. The marshals had been after him to lighten up, enjoy life more. Relax.
“You don’t like dark beer, right?” asked his partner.
“Not so much,” Gittleman responded.
“How do they make dark beer anyway?” Son One asked, studying something in the well-thumbed magazine. Gittleman looked. It was a pistol, dark as dark beer, and it looked a lot nastier than the guns his surrogate sons wore.
“Make it?” Gittleman asked absently. He didn’t know. He knew money and how and where to hide it. He knew movies and horse racing and grandchildren. He drank beer but he didn’t know anything about making it. Maybe he’d take that up as a hobby too — in addition to gardening. Hone brewing. He was fifty-six. Too young for retirement from the financial services and accounting profession — but, after the RICO trial, he was definitely going to be retired from now on.
“Clear,” came the radio voice from the hallway.
Son Two disappeared out the door.
Gittleman lay back and watched the movie. Janet Leigh was on screen now. He’d always had a crush on her. Was still pissed at Hitchcock for killing her in the shower. He liked women with short hair.
Smelling the spring air.
Thinking about a sandwich.
Pastrami on rye.
And a pickle.
Thinking: the marshal’s service was doing a good job at making sure he stayed that way. The rooms on either side of this one had adjoining doors but they’d been bolted shut and the rooms were unoccupied; the U.S. government actually paid for all three rooms. The hallway was covered by the marshal near the elevator. The nearest shooting position a sniper could find was two miles away, across the Mississippi River and Son One — the Guns & Ammo subscriber — had told him there was nobody in the universe who could make a shot like that.
Thinking that tomorrow he’d be on his way to California, with a new identity. There’d be some plastic surgery. He’d be safe. The people who wanted to kill him would eventually forget about him.
Letting himself get lost in the movie with Moses and Janet Leigh.
It was really a great film. The very opening scene was somebody setting the hands of the timer on a bomb to three minutes and twenty seconds. Then planting it. Welles had made one continuous shot for that exact amount of time, until the bomb went off, setting the story in motion.
Talk about building the suspense.
Wait. . . .
What was that?
Gittleman glanced out the window. He sat up slightly.
Outside the window was . . . what was that?
It seemed like a small box of some sort. Sitting on the window ledge. Connected to it was a thin wire, which ran upward and disappeared out of view. As if somebody’d lowered the little box from the room above.
Because of the movie — the opening scene — his first thought was that the box was a bomb. But he lunged forward and saw that, no, it looked like a camera, a small video camera.
He rolled out of bed, walked to the window. Looked at it closely.
Yep. That’s what it was. A camera.
“Arnie, you know the drill,” Son One said. Because he was heavy he sweated a lot and he sweated now. The man wiped his face. “Stay away from the windows.”
“But . . . what’s that?” Gittleman pointed.
The marshal dropped the magazine to the floor, rose and stepped to the window.
“A video camera?” Gittleman said.
“Well, it looks like it. It does. Yeah.”
“Is it . . . But it’s not yours, is it?”
“No,” the marshal muttered, frowning. “We don’t have surveillance outside.”
The marshal glanced at the cable that disappeared up, presumably to the room above them. His eyes continued up until they came to rest on the ceiling.
“Shit!” he said, reaching for his radio.
The first cluster of bullets from the silenced machine gun tore though the plaster above them and ripped into Son One, who danced like a puppet.
After a few seconds he dropped to the floor, bloody and torn. Shivering as he died.
“No!” Gittleman cried. “Jesus, no!”
He leapt toward the phone. A stream a bullets followed him; upstairs the killer would be watching on the video camera, knowing exactly where he was.
Gittleman pressed himself flat against the wall. The gunman fired another shot. A single. It was close. Then two more. Inches away. Teasing him, it seemed like. Nobody would hear. The only sound was the cracking of plaster and wood.
More shots followed him as he dodged toward the bathroom. Debris flew around him. There was a pause. He thought the killer had given up and fled. But it turned out that he was after the phone — so Gittleman couldn’t call for help. Two bullets cracked through the ceiling, hit the beige telephone unit and shattered it into a hundred pieces.
“Help!” he cried, nauseous with fear. But, of course, the rooms on either side of this one were empty — a fact so reassuring a few moments ago, so horrifying now.
Tears of fright in his eyes. . . .
He rolled into the corner of the room, knocked a lamp over to darken the room.
More bullets crashed down. Closer, testing. Trying to find him. The gunman upstairs, watching a TV screen of his own, just like Gittleman had been watching Charlton Heston a few minutes ago.
Do something, Gittleman raged to himself. Come on!
He eased forward again and shoved the TV set, on a roller stand, toward the window. It slammed into the pane, cracked it and blocked the view the video camera had of the room.
There were several more shots but the gunman was blind now.
“Please,” he prayed quietly. “Please. Someone help me.”
Hugging the walls, Gittleman walked to the doorway. He fumbled the chain and dead bolt, shivering in panic, sure the man was right above him, aiming down. About to pull the trigger.
But there were no more shots and he swung the door open fast and leapt into the hallway. Calling to the marshal at the elevator — not one of the Sons, an officer named Gibson. “He’s shooting — there’s a man upstairs with a gun! You—”
But Gittleman stopped speaking. At the end of the hallway Gibson lay face down. Blood pooled around his head. Another puppet — this one with cut strings.
“Oh, no,” he gasped. Turned around to run.
He stopped. Looking at what he now realized was the inevitable.
A handsome man, dark-complected, wearing a suit, standing in the hallway. He carried a Polaroid camera in one hand and, in the other, a black pistol mounted with a silencer.
“You’re Gittleman, aren’t you?” the man asked. He sounded polite, as if he were merely curious.
Gittleman couldn’t respond. But the man squinted and then nodded. “Yeah, sure you are.”
“But . . .” Gittleman looked back into his hotel room.
“Oh, my partner wasn’t trying to hit you in there. Just to flush you. We need to get you outside and confirm the kill.” The man gave a little shrug, nodding at the camera. “‘Causa what we’re getting paid they want proof. You know.”
And he shot Gittleman three times in the chest.
* * *