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Grant McCrea

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Dead Money

I’d been at the wolf’s lair til closing the night before. Not for any special reason. Just because. I dragged myself into the office. The place had a foggy, unnatural air. I sat down. The message light on my phone was blinking. It made my head hurt. I checked the voice mail, to make it go away. Nothing urgent. That was a relief. I deleted a few dozen e-mails. Maybe some of them were important. I couldn’t really tell.

The phone rang. Please hold for Mr. Warwick.

Shit. Please hold for Mr. Warwick. The lard-ass can’t dial four digits for himself. Has to delegate it.


Yes, Charles.

I heard an unsubstantiated rumor.

They’re the best kind.

Someone resembling you was seen in the elevator this morning.


At ten forty-five.


In sneakers.

Well, yes. I’ve got plantar fasciitis. Very painful. Something to do with tendons in the arches. Common in
basketball players. Anyway, I change my shoes when I get to the office.

Well, I don’t doubt you, Redman. I really don’t. Well then. But we’ve got to think of morale.


Yes. Morale.

All right then.

All right?

Yes. I’ll think about it. Morale, that is.

Good. Good. You think about that.

Yes, I will.




Jesus. What was wrong with these people?

I’d never figure it out.

My stomach hurt. My head felt light and heavy at the same time. I thought about the hours of my shrink’s time my conversation with Warwick was going to eat up, at two hundred dollars per. Time that could much better be spent talking about my sex life. Why I didn’t have one.

All I could do was close my door. Pretend it wasn’t there. This job. My life.

And call Dorita.

Guess what now? I said.

Don’t tell me.

But I must. Listen here, darling. They’re monitoring my appearance in the morning.

Who is?

Them. They. You know, the ubiquitous, omnipotent, omnivorous They.

I do. I know them well. Pesky.

Yes. Get over here.

In seconds she was at my office door.

Ricky? she inquired.

Her legs were impossibly long. Her back was army straight. Her breasts, voluptuous. To be desired.

But not for me. No. I’d thought about it, more than once. Something in my wiser self had held me back, appraised the situation and realized, as clear as vodka in a martini glass, that this was not a good idea. Not at all.

So, we were friends. And friends we would remain.

Dorita closed the office door behind her.

Why did I ever get into this business? I asked.

Because you’re brilliant at it. Come on, Ricky, do I have to tell you that every day?

Well, yes. If you don’t, who will?

You’ve got a point. Anyway, what’s today’s little crisis?

That damn Warwick again, what else? He thinks I’m bad for morale.

Dorita pulled out a cigarette and a platinum blowtorch of a lighter. The blue flame shot a good six inches toward the ceiling. She sat down, took a generous haul of the smoke, blew it decisively about the room.

That’s a laugh, she said.

Of course it is. How can wearing sneakers in the elevator compete with five-page memoranda about how to train your secretary to stop wasting file folders?

They’re a scarce resource.


File folders.

So I understand. Damn, why did I ever get started in this business?

We already resolved that question.

That was a resolution?

As much as the topic merits.

I should have been a poker pro.

Yes, darling. And how does your poker bankroll stand today? Don’t lie now.

Minus eighteen thousand. But that was tuition. I don’t lose anymore.

That’s some expensive school you went to.

Yes, well. I did some stupid things.

Nobody never loses at poker.

You know what I mean. I’m in control now. I almost never lose. Long term, it’s a lock. I know that if I stay at the table long enough I’ll be up at the end of the night.

Let’s see. Maybe you could quit your job. Minus eighteen thousand times two — it’s been six months, right? — that’s minus thirty-six thousand a year. You could probably live on that. You’d have to cut back on those happy lunches at Michel’s though.

That’s what I love about you. Always a sympathetic ear.

The fact was, she was a sympathetic ear, in her twisted way. Or, rather, more than that. She was my eccentric anchor in the heaving seas of temptation. Had I been less embarrassed about it, had shared with her, somewhere along the way, my bad luck streak, and that my cure for it had been to raise the stakes to get back all that money quick, it never would have happened. Or at least it would have stopped somewhere short of eighteen thousand. She’d have kicked some sense into me.

I’d like to kill him, I said. I really would.


Who else?

That’s quite a segue.

Isn’t it, though? I rather liked it myself.

Drinks later?

Twist my arm.

Dorita left.

The image of her legs lingered.

My back hurt. My head hurt. I worried about these pains. What did they mean? Was I ill? Was it cancer? Cancer of the lower back? Hadn’t heard of it. That didn’t mean it didn’t exist, of course. I made a mental note to look it up.

Why wait? I googled it. God bless modern technology. ‘Lower back pain, cancer.’ Several hundred hits turned up. Alarming. I opened the first. ‘Cancer is a rare cause of low back pain,’ I read.

I relaxed.

‘But not unknown.’

I flinched.

‘When cancer does occur in the lower back, it usually has spread from the prostate, lungs or kidneys.’
Jesus, I thought, I’m a dead man.

I called in Judy. Told her to make an appointment with Dr. Altmeier.

Five minutes later she buzzed me.

Next Monday at one, she said.

The pain went away.

Tomorrow I’d tell her to cancel the appointment.

I turned to the deposition of Lawrence Wells. The transcript lay unopened on my desk. It had been there
for days. I resented it. It sat accusing me. Read me! it shouted, you irresponsible lout! The hearing’s in two days! You’ve got to prepare a cross examination, fat man!

I wasn’t fat, actually. A little rounded at the edges, perhaps. But the transcript liked the sound of it: fat man!

Well, I thought, I guess I’ve procrastinated enough. I picked up the transcript. I set my chair to optimum lean. I adjusted the lumbar support. I dove in.

Halfway through the first page, my mind began to wander. I thought about last week’s oral argument before the Court of Appeals. Just as I was reliving my brilliant riposte to a particularly sticky question posed by the Chief Justice, my computer beeped three times.

Reverie interrupted. E-mails. All from Warwick. Damn.

I’d missed another meeting, it seemed.

Warwick loved meetings. Endless meetings packed to bursting with trivia. Secretarial evaluations. The need for new coffee machines. The latest seminars for junior associates. A new committee on office decoration.

With a heavy heart and a trembling hand — trembling not from trepidation, mind you, but from lack of sleep and excessive beverage consumption — I dialed Warwick’s extension. While the phone rang I rehearsed my tale of incapacitating illness. Lower back pain. Of course. That would do the trick. Hell, it was almost true.

Mr. Warwick’s office, chirped his terminally cheerful assistant, Cherise.

Hi, Cherise, I said.

Hello, Mr. Redman! she fairly screamed. I’ll see if he’s in!

A curious exercise, that. In light of the fact that her desk sat immediately outside his office door, one would think she’d be aware if he was in.

After a suitably pompous interval, Warwick’s voice arrived on the line.

Redman, it said. Come to my office at once.

I composed myself. Rubbed some color into my face. I’d forgotten to shave. Fortunately, I’m blessed with the facial hair of a blond adolescent, so it wasn’t obvious.

Warwick was sitting ramrod straight in his chair, chewing on an unlit cigar. Doing his best General Patton. I pulled back the visitor’s chair a foot or two. I knew that in my condition a mere whiff of chewed cigar and cloying cologne would make me gag.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Drawing Dead

Drawing Dead

also available: Paperback
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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.

Brendan’s dead.

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?

Butch shrugged.

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.

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