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The attendant at Faxon Towing and Storage looked surprised to see me back so soon, and a little wary.
"You all set?"
"I need to use your phone."
"There's a pay phone over to the station."
"I haven't got a dime."
"It's a quarter now."
"I haven't got a quarter, and the Albany police department doesn't accept collect calls from people they don't want to hear from. I know, I've tried it."
He had a broad fatigued face with heavily bagged eyes, one blue and white, one blue and red, not the result of patriotism but of a burst blood vessel in the corner of the right one. He smelled of grease and cold sweat, and this mixed with the stench of the kerosene heater and the Mr. Coffee machine, whose crud-stained pot contained two cups of a substance the EPA probably had on a list somewhere. Wet snow was starting to thud sloppily against the windowpane.
"You want the cops? Somethin' wrong with your car?"
"Somebody left something in it," I said.
"Oh yeah? Well, you could leave it here, case somebody calls."
"That wouldn't work. It's too hot in here."
He looked at me as if I might be one of the deinstitutionalized, a new social class that merchants and tradesmen feel compelled to gingerly indulge up to a point.
Shrugging, he said, "Phone's yours. Just make it quick. I got calls coming in." He lifted the filthy apparatus-no Trimline-off a pile of oil-smudged documents and set it on the counter. I dialed.
"Detective Lieutenant Bowman, please. This is Donald Strachey."
"Hang on, I think he's still here."
The snow was pounding down hard now in the last light of the January afternoon. I said, "This entire section of the North American continent should be declared unfit for human habitation."
"It's snowing again."
The attendant shook his head. "That's Albany for ya. Winter gets some people down. Me, I don't mind."
"You must be half penguin."
"English, Irish, German, Norwegian-yeah, there might be some penguin in there somewhere."
There were squawking and banging sounds at the other end of the line, then a voice: "This is Bowman. Who's this?"
"Don Strachey. I'm calling about a police matter."
"Hey, it's my least favorite fruitcake-the wimp of Washington Park, the Georgie Boy of Crow Street. I was heading out the door, but I'm always happy to wait around and accept a call from the only man I know who went to Kentucky for an artificial-wrist transplant." He chortled inanely.
I said, "This is not a social call, it's police business. I'm at Faxon Towing.
My car was hauled out here last night, and now there's a problem. You should drive out."
"What the hell are you talking about, Strachey? This is the homicide division, and you got a beef with traffic you won't get me involved, oh no, I'll not act as an impediment to those officers. Anyway, it was plainly announced on the medias which streets were gonna get plowed last night, and if you're too dumb or too contrary to move your car out of the way, I've got no sympathy. The snow removal crews have a job to do, and-"
I cut him off. "There's a man in it. He's dead."
"There's what? In what? What's there a dead man in?"
"In the back seat of my car. Timothy Callahan-you know Timmy-he drove me out here to pick up my car. Timmy dropped me off, I paid the extortionate towing fee, and I located my car. When I opened the door it caught my notice that the rear backrest had been lowered, and a man was curled up back there. His eyes were open wide, but he didn't say 'Cold enough for ya?' or 'What do you think of all this snow?' or 'Ciao, baby' or anything else at all."
"What man? This man was dead, you say?"
"Under the dome light I could make out little icicles of blood extending down from his mouth and nose and ears. I did not check his vital signs, but when the human body temperature falls below thirty-two degrees Farenheit, death ensues. He's gone. I thought you ought to know."
"Is this some stunt of yours?"
"It better not be. I'm driving out there."
"No rush. I shut the heater off. But I'll need my car, or a ride downtown."
"Don't you touch anything till I get out there, you got that?"
I hung up and handed the phone back to the attendant, whose blue-and-red eye was twitching.
"You shittin' me? There's a dead guy in your car?"
"Yep. Did you put him in there?"
"No! Holy Christ, no!"
"When was my car brought in?"
With a jittery hand he leafed through a stack of forms, leaving a black thumbprint on each one. "This here one's yours, ain't it?"
I examined the form, in the boxed spaces of which were handwritten my license number, the make and model of my car, and the notation that it had arrived at Faxon's at 3:20 A.M. and had been checked in by "Pert" or "Fert."
"This is it. Who's Fert, the truck operator? Or is there somebody here who checks them in?"
"That'd be Ferd. He was driving last night, I know."
"What's Ferd's last name?"
"Plumber. Frederick Plumber's his right name. Hey, you're not the cops.
Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this. Are the cops really on their way out?"
The door opened and a woman wearing a coat crafted from six endangered species strode in brushing snow from two of them. Atop the grimy counter she dropped a receipt from the traffic division showing that she had paid her fine, along with two fifties. In a voice as icy as the evening, she said,
"I — want — my — car."
"No problem," the attendant said, and started messing with some papers.
As I went out the door, the woman said to the attendant, "Don't you ever wash your hands?" If there was a reply, it was not immediate. Maybe he'd placate her by offering her some coffee.
I walked back to the car through the gobs of blowing snow. With a gloved hand I lifted the hatch where it had been jimmied. The body was frozen in a fetal position, and I reached up under its peacoat and pulled a wallet out of the back pocket of the man's faded Levi's. The driver's license belonged to John C. Lenihan, Swan Street, Albany. The other two cards showed that Lenihan had been a member of the Albany Public Library and was eligible for discounted admissions to the Third Street Cinema in Rensselaer. Otherwise he had not been a joiner. The portion of Lenihan's estate left in his wallet amounted to six one-dollar bills.
The wallet contained one photograph of a middle-aged woman. Also stuffed in a small slot in the wallet were three scraps of paper with names and phone numbers, each in a different script, presumably but not necessarily that of the person whose name appeared. The names were those of men prominent in Albany community affairs.
I got out my notebook and copied all this down and replaced the wallet in the pocket of the cold Levi's. I had thought the man's face looked familiar, and the name was one I'd heard before too, but I couldn't connect either of them to a time or place. I checked the front pocket of the man's Levi's and found some small change but no keys. Nor were there keys hung from his belt.
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