Blink of An Eye
by Anthony Rain
......It was snowing and the
wind blowing up from Riverside Park was making the flurries do
a danse macabre across the width of West End Avenue. I was outside
Harold Brooks' one bedroom apartment on West 80th Street, and
my plan was to get some information out of the super, who was
putting the week's garbage out front.
......He was a short dark-haired
man who seemed stressed, with a worried look etched on his face.
I wasn't sure if it was the weather that had soured his disposition.
......"Excuse me. I was
wondering if you could give me some information on the apartments
for rent?" I pointed to the sign above the awning advertising
one and two bedroom apartments. He stopped and wiped the snow
off his coat sleeves with work gloves that were grimy. He leaned
on the toes of his feet, like a scared animal ready to flee.
......"You have to speak
to the managing agent about them. I can't show them, only him."
The super said it like he had been warned.
......"That's fine with
me. By the way, my friend Harry lives here. He's the one who
mentioned that there were places to rent."
......"Harry Brooks in 3A?"
His countenance lightened.
......"Yeah. I was wondering
if the vacancies faced the street, or the rear?"
......"Only A and B apartments
face West End, like Mr. Brooks'. The ones for rent are C's and
D's and they face the rear. Like I said though, you have to call
the managing agent."
......"Sure. Hey, would
you happen to know if Harry and his girlfriend are home right
......The man looked at me with
dirt brown eyes that shifted gradually from my face to the ground,
like a mudslide gaining momentum. "I haven't seen Mr. Brooks
today. I wouldn't know about a girlfriend." He bent back
down to the garbage. The worried look returned, like his face
muscles had it memorized.
I thanked him and walked away. So, it was possible Janet Brooks
was mistaken about her husband, her soon-to-be ex-husband, that
is. Sitting across from me in my office the day before, she had
seemed so certain that her husband was cheating on her. She was
a strong-minded woman who wore her convictions hard and bright,
like a diamond, but maybe she had lost the truth in the glare
of her collapsing marriage.
......Janet wanted me to collect
evidence of adultery, and then her lawyers would slap Harold
Brooks in the face with it. No-fault divorce may have hurt PI's
in some ways, but there were always people, like Janet, who wanted
leverage for their support proceedings, or who just wanted revenge.
I wasn't quite sure which she was after, but she was willing
to pay me to get it.
......I walked away from Harold's
building stopping midpoint up the block, my steps silent on the
white powder. If the super knew nothing about a girlfriend, it
could mean Brooks was being careful, or maybe Brooks had paid
him to be quiet.
......In any case, I'd found
out what I wanted to know -- that I could see Brooks' apartment
from the street. I looked up to the third floor. Both corner
apartments were dark.
......I waited a few hours, keeping
watch on the building. The snow had stopped falling. I saw nannies
walk by holding hands with their bundled up charges, and later,
men and women come home from work. I saw streetlights flicker
on and dogs come out with their owners for an evening walk. By
the time I left, heading for the subway on Broadway and 79th
Street, I hadn't seen Brooks.
......The following day, I went
to the apartment again in the afternoon and stationed myself
a few doors down from a New York Sports Club facility. At twilight,
the long shadows of the apartment houses stretched out. I watched
a blood-orange sun sink behind Riverside Park. Then the shadows
vanished and were replaced by thousands of lights.
......Brooks came walking down
the block at roughly seven. He was about my height, six foot,
and was wearing a suit and tie and overcoat. A few minutes after
he went in, lights came on in the north apartment. Eventually
Brooks passed by the living room window. He was talking on the
phone and had a drink in his right hand. He was smiling.
......Two hours passed, the lights
in the apartment were turned off and Brooks came back outside.
He was dressed casual in tan chinos and a black cashmere coat
and he carried a backpack. He seemed relaxed and I could hear
him whistling. If the divorce--or anything else, for that matter--was
bothering him, he didn't show it. He walked erect and cut through
the night chill with squared shoulders.
There were no cabs on West End, so he walked over to Broadway
and hailed one going downtown. I jumped into a cab behind him
and told the driver to follow Brooks' taxi. The driver looked
at me through the rear view mirror with hooded eyes under a green
wool watch hat.
......I handed him a twenty to
lessen his reluctance and told him not to lose the cab. He took
off and didn't speak for the remainder of the ride, and he drove
with the precision of a surgeon. Indian music played from the
......I watched restaurants and
bars fly by, too many to count, crowds of people dressed up or
casual, moving en masse like a giant wave seeking the shore at
night's tide. Overhead, the tall massive buildings made everything
else seem so vulnerable and fragile.
......Brooks got out on Sixth
Avenue. The streets were filled with NYU students and the usual
downtown bridge and tunnel crowds juiced up for Friday night
action. He walked a few blocks over to a jazz supper club on
Grove Street, where he greeted a young redhead seated at a table
under soft lights and next to the window. The lights and her
aloneness made her stand out, like a rare jewel. Brooks and his
sweet young thing didn't kiss hello, which seemed strange. She
looked to be in her early twenties, and she couldn't have been
more unlike Janet Brooks. Janet had been the quintessential uptown,
Junior Leaguer, perfectly turned out even when her marriage was
falling apart. This one was bohemian looking, black turtleneck
and funky black glasses, with turquoise earrings pointing down
to her thin shoulders. She raised a Cosmopolitan to full lips
covered with a glossy brown lipstick.
......I stationed myself diagonally
across the street and snapped a few pictures with my .35mm. The
camera was beat-up, but using black and white film and a Kodak
infrared filter, it still took good night pictures. A tourist
couple walked by, and seeing me taking photos, they decided to
ask me to take one of them with their disposable. I told them
no and walked away from their shocked faces. Someone had to keep
up the New York bad ass attitude.
......I put my camera away and
went into the restaurant. I asked the hostess for a table close
to the bar, which was behind and diagonal from Brooks. The restaurant
was painted in warm yellows and burgundy, with lots of drapery
and a hip looking wait staff. I asked how the steak was and the
waiter said "fabulous." So I ordered a "fabulous"
steak, well done, and a "fabulous" glass of Merlot.
Across the restaurant, Brooks took a folded piece of paper out
of his backpack, and he and the woman consulted it while Brooks
spoke. He had a strong chin, but the overhead lights revealed
a soft, feminine mouth. She looked up occasionally and touched
her hair a couple of times, but kept her blue eyes on the paper.
They seemed more like teacher and pupil than lovers.
......When waiters brought plates
of food over, Brooks put the paper away and they ate dinner.
A jazz ensemble had finished setting up and started playing a
Mingus cover called Cryin' Blues. The jazz and the Merlot were
mellowing me out. Brooks and the redhead were just beginning
to eat, so I focused my attention on the band. If I could've
been something else, I would have been a musician. As it was,
I stuck to being a PI, which was fortunate for me. My musical
talent was all in my ear.
......Two hours later, Brooks
and the redhead finished their meal, and the band was taking
a breather at the bar, knocking back a few and smoking. Brooks
tossed some cash on the table, the redhead picked up her own
black leather backpack from the floor, and they split. I did
......When they were outside,
I snapped a few more photos from a discreet distance. Janet Brooks
and her lawyer wouldn't be able to do much with them. Walking
down the street with another woman was hardly evidence of an
affair. I needed to see some French kissing, some butt grabbing.
But it wasn't happening. With any luck, though, they'd go back
to his place and heat up the sheets. He would let loose his fantasies
and she her tempered passion, and his lawyers wouldn't stand
......My two subjects crossed
Sixth Avenue and walked over to St. Mark's Place, where they
went into a Barnes and Noble. I followed them inside and saw
them both head towards the restrooms. No point in following them
in there. I went back outside and waited. By now it was 11:30.
......A half-hour later, I saw
a female police officer come out of the store and stand in front.
Since I was looking that way watching for Brooks and the woman,
I gave the cop a once-over and then recognized the features under
the cap bill. It was the redhead, minus the black glasses. I
checked her uniform and badge with my zoom lens, and though the
uniform was authentic, the badge was bogus. She didn't have precinct
numbers on her collar points either, and her belt only held a
gun. Five minutes later, Brooks came out also dressed as a police
officer. I snapped another photo and followed them.
......They walked south on Sixth
Avenue at a leisurely pace, looking like any other patrol. At
Spring Street, they turned left and headed east into Soho. I
knew the area well.
......Brooks and the redhead
crossed West Broadway and stopped at an alleyway gate halfway
up the avenue. I watched them unlock the gate and go through.
......I waited, unsure what to
do. Uneasiness settled into my bones and snaked its way through
the marrow, coming out by my throat and coiling tight, making
it hard to breathe. Above me, a thin and vaporous half-moon dissolved
into the evening sky.
......After ten minutes, I could
detect a flashlight beam in the Brickman Gallery, a high-end
art place to the left of the alley. I crossed West Broadway and
tried the gate. They had left the lock open, and I passed through,
making sure to lock it behind me.
......I cautiously tried the
back door to the gallery and it was open, too. I went in and
let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I was standing in a small
back office, desks and filing cabinets around me. A security
guard was lying on the floor by one of the desks, with heavy
black tape over his mouth and eyes. He had more heavy tape binding
his wrists behind his back. He smelled slightly of alcohol and
I figured that Brooks had interrupted his good time. He was unconscious,
and his breathing was labored.
......Brooks had probably whacked
him over the head, for good measure. I undid his hands and brought
his arms forward and removed the mouth tape, all quietly, to
make sure he could breathe more comfortably.
......Standing back up, a security
box was immediately to my right. Someone had unscrewed the cover
and I could see the wires were covered in ice. My guess was that
Brooks had used liquid nitrogen to disable the alarm.
......I walked through the entryway
into the next room, which was a gallery space. In the darkness,
I could faintly make out paintings on the walls, a funky paper
collage hanging from the ceiling, which looked like a mutated
spider in the dark. Several standing sculptures completed the
room. There was an opening into another, smaller room, which
faced the street.
......Near the right wall were
two standing figures. I could hear a knife cutting against stiff
material. I saw a light switch to my left. I took out my gun,
raised it, and threw the light switch.
......Brooks had a knife in his
right hand and a dangling canvas in his left. His eyes registered
surprise for an instant, then settled down. One of the overhead
lights reflected off his fake badge.
......"Let me guess,"
I said. "You saw it and you just had to have it."
......A large grin crossed his
face. He held up the stiff canvas covered in a mass of colors
and textures. "I'm taking this for an interested gentleman."
......"We're in a gallery.
Why doesn't he do it the old-fashioned way, come in and buy it?"
......"This one's not for
sale. It's a loan from the Museum of Modern Art. Hence the security
guard you passed on your way in. You can buy the rest, but the
bulk of them are shit. This one is the real deal." He unfolded
it and looked at it, like he had to reassure himself. "At
least, that's what the buyer says. I'm really just filling the
......I focused my eyes upon
the woman. She didn't seem like a jewel now, more like a paste
diamond. "I know who he is, but who are you?" She didn't
respond, so I looked over at Brooks.
......"She's my protegee,"
he said. "How did you find out about this, and who the hell
are you?" He seemed curious, more like a child trying to
figure out a puzzle than a man about to face felony charges.
"The name is Beckett. I'm a PI hired by your wife. She thinks
you're having an affair. It would have been better for you, if
you had been balling this chick."
......"Fuck you," said
the redhead. She pointed the knife she was holding at my face.
Her blue bloodless eyes told me she could cut me as easily as
she helped cut away the canvass. Woven cloth, or tendon and muscle,
it was a flip of the coin for her.
......"She's easily offended,"
said Brooks, "and sometimes a hothead. Besides, we're professionals."
He grinned in a relaxed manner, though his shoulders were bunched
up with tension.
......"You're a pro, all
right," I said. "Dummy keys, cop uniforms to fool the
security guard, the liquid nitrogen. You the man, Brooks. Unfortunately,
your bad luck was having me on your ass. I want you and the protégée
to put the knives and the canvas down, slowly. Take out your
guns with the thumb and forefinger of your left hands. Do that
......"Are you punching
a clock? Hold on. I'm willing to split this three ways. That's
sixty grand for you. I'm meeting the buyer in an hour. Some German
dot com guy with way too much money." He glanced at the
girl who didn't react, then back at me. "Sixty grand, man."
He gave me a wide frat boy smile.
......Unluckily for him, I didn't
have a frat boy's sensibility. Since I'd become a private
eye, I'd never stolen or killed for hire. If shit happened, it
happened. Sometimes it even helped me out. But I wouldn't knowingly
help it along. I shook my head.
......He made a face and then
a clumsy move to his gun with his right hand. Reflex took over
and I pulled off two quick shots, which struck Brooks square
in the chest. He dropped his Glock and fell face first to the
......While I was pumping two
into Brooks, the redhead took the opportunity to run into the
next room. I ran after her. She was trying to break open the
front door, then quickly turned and took several shots at me,
missing wide to the left and hitting a piece of sculpture. It
was obvious she had never fired a gun before. I moved slightly
to the right and fired twice, hitting her first in the gun hand
and second in the upper arm. She yelled and dropped the gun.
Her arm wound was probably superficial, but she slumped to the
......I picked up the Glock and
pulled her away from the door, dragging her by her gun belt.
Her wounds were not life threatening. I was more concerned about
Brooks. I took out a pair of cuffs that I always carry as a precaution
and cuffed her hands behind her back and went into the main room.
Brooks' body was gone.
......I put the girl's gun down
on a table and looked at the floor. There was no blood, but I
saw a flattened bullet head. The sonofabitch had been wearing
a bulletproof vest.
......I raced out to the alleyway
and saw Brooks trying to climb the chain link fence. He must
have been surprised to find I locked the gate and then couldn't
find the key in his panic.
......"Brooks, get down
or I'm going to shoot you in your sorry ass."
......He looked over his left
shoulder and grinned. He climbed back down, and dropped gently
to the ground.
......"I guess the warden
won't have to worry about you making a break over the top."
He took his police cap off and ran his fingers through his
hair. "I swore I would never eat pork butt and macaroni
and cheese again."
......"Sounds like you're
speaking from experience, Harold."
......He nodded. "I did
state time when I was twenty-five. Five years for robbing houses
in Coral Gables. They sent me to Marianna. I was in with a bunch
of morons and psychopaths."
......"It's not supposed
to be Club Med. How long did you stay straight?"
Six years. I studied computers and started my own business. What
can I say? I'm not the kind of guy who does well with routine.
Life got predictable. Doing heists again was the only way for
me to juice it up. And it paid well. Janet knows nothing about
any of this."
......I found myself liking Brooks.
There was something about his disregard for the norm that I empathized
with. I became a PI for almost the same reasons. The chase juiced
me up, and while I upheld the laws of society, I remained on
the sidelines looking in.
......"Listen, forget the
girl," he said. "I'll split this two ways. You and
me. That's ninety grand. Come on." I saw a trapped energy
in his eyes shining out at me. His voice was edged with desperation.
......"No can do. So let's
just drop it, Brooks. Take your gun out and place it on the ground.
And no stunts this time."
......The light faded from his
eyes and he started to get the Glock out of his holster. Behind
me I heard a sound. At first, I thought the girl had managed
to make it to her feet and come outside. Then, three shots registered
and I felt the bullets breeze past my left ear. I saw Brooks
take hits to the shoulder and the head. He grunted, buckled and
fell to the ground. I turned and looked. The security guard was
standing there, his right hand holding onto the doorframe, his
left holding the redhead's Glock that I had left inside. He still
had tape stuck to his chin.
......"The son of a bitch
was drawing on you chief."
......I went over to Brooks and
felt for a pulse under his jaw. I didn't expect to find one.
His skin was still warm, but there was no subtle thumping coming
from the artery. His head was a mess.
......I walked back to the guard
and took the Glock away from him carefully with the sleeve of
my shirt, so I didn't mar the prints. The alcohol smell was still
......He walked over to the body
and then back to me. "He was drawing on you, right? I saw
I took out my cell phone and dialed 911. After the police arrived
and after I gave them my statement at the precinct, I would go
over to Janet Brooks' apartment and tell her the bad news, much
as I didn't want to. There was no telling how she would react.
......It was getting colder now
and the night sky was thick with clouds. I was pretty sure it
would start snowing soon. I hoped it would be a big fall, a couple
of feet at least. I went back inside the gallery.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Anthony Rain
lives in New York City. He has previously published with EWG
Presents: Without A Clue and with Plots With Guns.
He is currently working on his first mystery novel.
Like it? Head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct comments on the above
story and inquiries about submissions to the fiction
editor, or check out this page.
"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking
to a man that likes to talk."
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