Along Came A Spider
I was playing Gershwin on our slightly out-of-tune, formerly grand piano.It was just past 5 A.M., and cold as a meat locker on the porch.I was prepared to sacrifice a little for “An American in Paris.”
The phone jangled in the kitchen.Maybe I'd won the D.C., or Virginia, or Maryland lottery and they'd forgotten to call the night before.I play all three games of misfortune regularly.
' Nana?Can you get that?"I called from the porch.
'It's for you.You might as well get it yourself,“ my testy grandmother called back.”No sense me gettin' up, too.No sense means nonsense in my dictionary."
That's not exactly what was said, but it went some thing like that. It always does.
I hobbled into the kitchen, sidestepping more toys on morning-stiff legs.I was thirty-eight at the time.As the saying goes, if I'd known I was going to live that long, I would have taken better care of myself. The call turned out to be from my partner in crime, John Sampson.Sampson knew I'd be up.Sampson knows me better than my own kids.
“Mornin', brown sugar.You up, aren't you?”he said.No other I.D.was necessary.Sampson and I have been best friends since we were nine years old and took up shoplifting at Park's Corner Variety store near the projects.At the time, we had no idea that old Park would have shot us dead over a pilfered pack of Chesterfields. Nana Mama would have done even worse to us if she'd known about our crime spree.
“If I wasn't up, I am now, ” I said into the phone receiver.“Tell me something good.”
“There's been another murder.Looks like our boy again,” Sampson said."They're waitin' on us.Half the free world's there already.
“It's too early in the morning to see the meat wagon,” I muttered. I could feel my stomach rolling. This wasn't the way I wanted the day to start."Shit. Fuck me.
Nana Mama looked up from her steaming tea and runny eggs.She shot me one of her sanctimonious, lady-of-the-house looks.She was already dressed for school, where she still does volunteer work at seventy-nine.Sampson continued to give me gory details about the day's first homicides.
“Watch your language, Alex,” Nana said.“Please watch your language so long as you're planning to live in this house.”
“I'll be there in about ten minutes,” I told Sampson. “I own this house,” I said to Nana. She groaned as if she were hearing that terrible news for the first time.
“There's been another bad murder over in Langley Terrace.It looks like that killer.I'm afraid that it is,” I told her.
“That's too bad,” Nana Mama said to me.Her soft brown eyes grabbed mine and held.Her white hair looked like one of the doilies she puts on all our livingroom chairs.“That's such a bad part of what the politicians have let become a deplorable city.Sometimes I think we ought to move out of Washington, Alex.”
“Sometimes I think the same thing,” I said, “but we'll probably tough it out.”
“Yes, black people always do.We -persevere.We always suffer in silence.”
“Not always in silence,” I said to her.
I had already decided to wear my old Harris Tweed jacket.It was a murder day, and that meant I'd be seeing white people.Over the sport coat, I put on my Georgetown warm-up jacket.It goes better with the neighborhood.
On the bureau, by the bed, was a picture of Maria Cross.Three years before, my wife had been murdered in a drive-by shooting. That murder, like the majority of murders in Southeast, had never been solved.
I kissed my grandmother on the way out the kitchen door.We've done that since I was eight years old. so say good-bye, just in case we never see each other n.It's been like that for almost thirty years, ever since Nana Mama first took me in and decided she could make something of me.
She made a homicide detective, with a doctorate in psychology, who works and lives in the ghettos of Washington, D.C.
A trio of D.C.Metro blue-and-whites were parked helter-skelter in front of 41-15 Benning Road.A crime lab van with blackened windows had arrived.So had an EMS ambulance.MORTUARY was cheerfully stenciled on the door.
There were a couple of fire engines at the murder house.The neighborhood's ambulance-chasers, mostly eye-fucking males, were hanging around.Older women with winter coats thrown over their pajamas and night gowns, and pink and blue curlers in their hair, were up on their porches shivering in the cold.
The row house was dilapidated clapboard, painted a gaudy Caribbean blue. An old Chevette with a broken, taped-up side window looked as if it had been abandoned in the driveway.
“Fuck this.Let's go back to bed,” Sampson said. “I just remembered what this is going to be like.I hate this job lately.”
“I love my work, love Homicide,” I said with a sneer.“See that? There's the M.E.already in his plastic suit.And there are the crime-lab boys.And who's this coming our way now?” A white sergeant in a puffy blue-black parka with a fur collar came waddling up to Sampson and me as we approached the house.Both his hands were jammed in his pockets for warmth.
“Sampson?Uh, Detective Cross?”The sergeant cracked his lower jaw the way some people do when they're trying to clear their ears in airplanes.He knew exactly who we were.He knew we were cops. He was busting our chops.
“Wuz up, man?”Sampson doesn't like his,chops being busted very much.
“Senior Detective Sampson,” I answered the sergeant.“I'm Deputy Chief Cross.”
The sergeant was a jelly-roll-belly Irish type, probably left over from the Civil War.His face looked like a wedding cake left out in the rain.He didn't seem to be buying my tweed jacket ensemble.
“ Everybody's freezin' their toches off,” he wheezed. “That's wuz up.”
“You could probably lose a little of them toches,” Sampson advised him. "Might give Jenny Craig a call.
“Fuck you,” said the sergeant.It was nice to meet the white Eddie Murphy.“Master of the riposte.”Sampson grinned at me. “You hear what he said?Fuck you?”
Sampson and I are both physical.We work out at the gym attached to St.Anthony's-St.A's.Together, we weigh about five hundred pounds.We can intimidate, if we want to.Sometimes it's necessary in our line of work.
I'm only six three.John is six nine and growing.He always wears Wayfarer sunglasses.Sometimes he wears a raggy Kangol hat, or a yellow bandanna.Some people call him “John-John” because he's so big he could be two Johns.
We walked past the sergeant toward the murder house.Our elite task force team is supposed to be above this kind of confrontation. Sometimes we are.
A couple of uniforms had already been inside the house.A nervous neighbor had called the precinct around four-thirty.She thought she'd spotted a prowler. The, woman had been up with the night-jitters. It comes with the neighborhood.
The two uniformed patrolmen found three bodies inside.When they called it in, they were instructed to wait for the Special Investigator Team.It's made up of eight black officers supposedly slated for better things in the department.
The outside door to the kitchen was ajar.I pushed it all the way open.The doors of every house have a unique sound when they open and close.This one whined like an old man.
It was pitch-black in the house.Eerie.The wind was sucked through the open door, and I could hear something rattling inside.
“We didn't turn on the lights, Sir,” one of the uniforms said from behind me.“You're Dr.Cross, right?”
I nodded.“Was the kitchen door open when you came?”I turned to the patrolman.He was white, babyfaced, growing a little mustache to compensate for it. He was probably twenty-three or twenty-four, real frightened that morning.I couldn't blame him.
"Uh.No.No sign of forced entry.It was unlocked, sir.
The patrolman was very nervous.“It's a real bad mess in there, sir.It's a family.” One of the patrolmen switched on a powerful milled- aluminum flashlight and we all peered inside the kitchen.
There was a cheap Formica breakfast table with matching lime green vinyl chairs.A black Bart Simpson clock was on one wall.It was the kind you see in the front windows of all the People's drugstores. The smells of Lysol and burnt grease melded into something strange to the nose, though not entirely unpleasant.There were a lot worse smells in homicide cases.
Sampson and I hesitated, taking it all in the way the murderer might have just a few hours earlier.
“He was right here,” I said.“He came in through the kitchen. He was here, where we're standing.”