The Sins of the Fathers Page 1

Chapter 1

He was a big man, about my height with a little more flesh on his heavy frame. His eyebrows, arched and prominent, were still black. The hair on his head was iron gray, combed straight back, giving his massive head a leonine appearance. He had been wearing glasses but had placed them on the oak table between us. His dark brown eyes kept searching my face for secret messages. If he found any, his eyes didn't reflect them. His features were sharply chiseled-a hawk-bill nose, a full mouth, a craggy jawline-but the full effect of his face was as a blank stone tablet waiting for someone to scratch commandments on it.

He said, "I don't know very much about you, Scudder."

I knew a little about him. His name was Cale Hanniford. He was around fifty-five years old. He lived upstate in Utica where he had a wholesale drug business and some real estate holdings. He had last year's Cadillac parked outside at the curb. He had a wife waiting for him in his room at the Carlyle.

He had a daughter in a cold steel drawer at the city mortuary.

"There's not much to know," I said. "I used to be a cop."

"An excellent one, according to Lieutenant Koehler."

I shrugged.

"And now you're a private detective."


"I thought-"

"Private detectives are licensed. They tap telephones and follow people. They fill out forms, they keep records, all of that. I don't do those things. Sometimes I do favors for people. They give me gifts."

"I see."

I took a sip of coffee. I was drinking coffee spiked with bourbon. Hanniford had a Dewar's and water in front of him but wasn't taking much interest in it. We were in Armstrong's, a good sound saloon with dark wood walls and a stamped tin ceiling. It was two in the afternoon on the second Tuesday in January, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. A couple of nurses from Roosevelt Hospital were nursing beers at the far end of the bar, and a kid with a tentative beard was eating a hamburger at one of the window tables.

He said, "It's difficult for me to explain what I want you to do for me, Scudder."

"I'm not sure that there's anything I can do for you. Your daughter is dead. I can't change that. The boy who killed her was picked up on the spot. From what I read in the papers, it couldn't be more open-and-shut if they had the homicide on film." His face darkened; he was seeing that film now, the knife slashing. I went on quickly. "They picked him up and booked him and slapped him in the Tombs. That was Thursday?" He nodded. "And Saturday morning they found him hanging in his cell. Case closed."

"Is that your view? That the case is closed?"

"From a law enforcement standpoint."

"That's not what I meant. Of course the police have to see it that way. They apprehended the killer, and he's beyond punishment." He leaned forward. "But there are things I have to know."

"Like what?"

"I want to know why she was killed. I want to know who she was. I've had no real contact with Wendy in the past three years. Christ, I didn't even know for certain that she was living in New York." His eyes slipped away from mine. "They say she didn't have a job. No apparent source of income. I saw the building she lived in. I wanted to go up to her apartment, but I couldn't. Her rent was almost four hundred dollars a month. What does that suggest to you?"

"That some man was paying her rent."

"She shared that apartment with the Vanderpoel boy. The boy who killed her. He worked for an antiques importer. He earned something in the neighborhood of a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week. If a man were keeping her as his mistress, he wouldn't let her have Vanderpoel as a roommate, would he?" He drew a breath. "I guess it must be fairly obvious that she was a prostitute. The police didn't tell me that in so many words. They were tactful. The newspapers were somewhat less tactful."

They usually are. And the case was the kind the newspapers like to play with. The girl was attractive, the murder took place in the Village, and there was a nice core of sex to it. And they had picked up Richard Vanderpoel running in the streets with her blood all over him. No city editor worth a damn would let that one slide past him.

He said, "Scudder? Do you see why the case isn't closed for me?"

"I guess I do." I made myself look deep into his dark eyes. "The murder was a door starting to open for you. Now you have to know what's inside the room."

"Then you do understand."

I did, and wished I didn't. I had not wanted the job. I work as infrequently as I can. I had no present need to work. I don't need much money. My room rent is cheap, my day-to-day expenses low enough. Besides, I had no reason to dislike this man. I have always felt more comfortable taking money from men I dislike.

"Lieutenant Koehler didn't understand what I wanted. I'm sure he only gave me your name as a polite way of getting rid of me." That wasn't all there was to it, but I let it pass. "But I really need to know these things. Who was she? Who did Wendy turn into? And why would anyone want to kill her?"

Why did anyone want to kill anybody? The act of murder is performed four or five times a day in New York. One hot week last summer the count ran to fifty-three. People kill their friends, their relatives, their lovers. A man on Long Island demonstrated karate to his older children by chopping his two-year-old daughter to death. Why did people do these things?

Cain said he wasn't Abel's keeper. Are those the only choices, keeper or killer?

"Will you work for me, Scudder?" He managed a small smile. "I'll rephrase that. Will you do me a favor? And it would be a favor."

"I wonder if that's true."

"How do you mean?"

"That open door. There might be things in that room you won't want to look at."

"I know that."

"And that's why you have to."

"That's right."

I finished my coffee. I put the cup down and took a deep breath. "Yeah," I said, "I'll give it a shot."

He settled into his chair, took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one. It was his first since he'd walked in. Some people reach for a cigarette when they're tense, others when the tension passes. He was looser now, and looked as though he felt he had accomplished something.

I had a new cup of coffee in front of me and a couple of pages filled in my notebook. Hanniford was still working on the same drink. He had told me a lot of things I would never need to know about his daughter. But any of the things he said might turn out to matter, and there was no way to guess which it might be. I had learned long ago to listen to everything a man had to say.

So I learned that Wendy was an only child, that she had done well in high school, that she had been popular with her classmates but had not dated much. I was getting a picture of a girl, not sharply defined, but a picture that would eventually have to find a way of blending with one of a slashed-up whore in a Village apartment.

The picture started to blur when she went away to college in Indiana. That was evidently when they began to lose her. She majored in English, minored in government. A couple of months before she was due to graduate she packed a suitcase and disappeared.

"The school got in touch with us. I was very worried, she had never done anything like this before. I didn't know what to do. Then we had a postcard. She was in New York, she had a job, there were some things she had to work out. We had another card several months after that from Miami. I didn't know whether she had moved there or was vacationing."

And then nothing until the telephone rang and they learned she was dead. She was seventeen when she finished high school, twenty-one when she dropped out of college, twenty-four when Richard Vanderpoel cut her up. That was as old as she was ever going to get.

He began telling me things I would learn over again in more detail from Koehler. Names, addresses, dates, times. I let him talk. Something bothered me, and I let it sort itself out in my mind.

He said, "The boy who killed her. Richard Vanderpoel. He was younger than she was. He was only twenty." He frowned at a memory. "When I heard what happened, what he had done, I wanted to kill that boy. I wanted to put him to death with my hands." His hands tightened into fists at the recollection, then opened slowly. "But after he committed suicide, I don't know, something changed inside me. It struck me that he was a victim, too. His father is a minister."

"Yes, I know."

"A church in Brooklyn somewhere. I had an impulse. I wanted to talk to the man. I don't know what I thought I might want to say to him. Whatever it was, after a moment's reflection I realized I could never have that conversation. And yet-"

"You want to know the boy. In order to know your daughter."

He nodded.

I said, "Do you know what an Identikit portrait is, Mr. Hanniford? You've probably seen them in newspaper stories. When the police have an eyewitness, they use this kit of transparent overlays to piece together a composite picture of a suspect. 'Is this nose like this? Or is this one more like it? Bigger? Wider? How about the ears? Which set of ears comes the closest?' And so on until the features add up to a face."

"Yes, I've seen how that works."

"Then you've probably also seen actual photographs of the suspect side by side with the Identikit portraits. They never seem to resemble one another, especially to the untrained eye. But there is a factual resemblance, and a trained officer can often make very good use of it. Do you see what I'm getting at? You want photographs of your daughter and the boy who killed her. I'm not equipped to offer you that. No one is. I can dig up enough facts and impressions to make composite Identikit portraits for you, but the result may not be all that close to what you really want."

"I understand."

"You want me to go ahead?"

"Yes. Definitely."

"I'm probably more expensive than one of the big agencies. They'd work for you either per diem or on an hourly basis. Plus expenses. I take a certain amount of money and pay my own expenses out of it. I don't like keeping records. I also don't like writing reports, or checking in periodically when there's nothing to say for the sake of keeping a client contented."

"How much money do you want?"

I never know how to set prices. How do you put a value on your time when its only value is personal? And when your life has been deliberately restructured to minimize involvement in the lives of others, how much do you charge the man who forces you to involve yourself?

"I want two thousand dollars from you now. I don't know how long this will take or when you'll decide you've seen enough of the dark room. I may ask you for more money somewhere along the way, or after it's over. Of course you always have the option of not paying me."

He smiled suddenly. "You're a very unorthodox businessman."

"I suppose so."

"I've never had occasion to hire a detective, so I don't really know how this is usually done. Do you mind a check?"

I told him a check was fine, and while he was writing it out, I figured out what had been bothering me earlier. I said, "You never hired detectives after Wendy disappeared from college?"

"No." He looked up. "It wasn't that long before we received the first of the two postcards. I'd considered hiring detectives, of course, but once we knew she was all right I dropped the idea."

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