They slipped and were gone as though he’d only been there for that one day, as though the moment had arrived as soon as he had arrived that morning.
In reality, every single minute of every one of the hours and days he’d spent sat in the same chair, arm propped on the same window sill, hurt him. It was time he would never get back – thirty five years of hurt.
The old Leonard Cohen track ‘Waiting for the miracle’ popped into his head at that moment. It had done so many a time over the years, ever since he’d taken the shabby second floor apartment in the summer of ’77, but this was the only time that the tune in his head had caused a smile to break out across his face.
In ’77, he’d been in mourning when he’d come to view the place – it was the only home he’d ever viewed alone, but he didn’t need his lost soul-mate to tell him it was perfect. A quick glance out of the window had confirmed that – perfect, just perfect then. But today it was everything, the best place on earth he could wish to be.
He leaned back in his chair, gave his back another much needed stretch, took a quick glance around the room. Not too long, as he didn’t want to miss anything outside the window, but long enough to take in the surroundings, knowing that within a matter of moments he’d be moving on, leaving the apartment, leaving everything behind, moving out of town and moving on in his life.
The opposite corner of the room was stacked high with piles of books, crime fiction paperbacks. He’d read them all – never allowed himself to buy one until he’d finished the last one – he had rules. They were a staff for him in the years he had waited, for the most part they gave hope, a sense of justice, good triumphing over evil in its many forms. Sure there were a few in the stack where he thought he was reading retreads of the same story over and over, but there were always twists, diversions along the way to keep him alert and on his toes as he read. They also served as a reminder, good and bad, of his time on the job, for the times that this tired and retired old NYPD detective sat and read of procedural errors that he would find either laugh-out-loud hilarious or frustratingly inaccurate.
Somebody was in for a great find, he thought, knowing that if he’d had half a mind he would have deposited the book collection at a charity, maybe even sold them to a bookstore as a job lot, help him with his continued retirement. But he hadn’t thought to do that and, besides, he’d picked most of them up at flea markets and secondhand bookstores himself anyway. And wasn’t the ass hanging out of the book market now anyway with everyone going for those new e-reader things he’d started to see on the subway?
The books would stay. Those and what other few belongings he had in the apartment. For thirty five long years he’d adapted, grown used to living with just the items he needed day to day. All those years ago something happened to Detective Joseph Bryant which had made him very aware of just what mattered, just what you needed with you in life. It was only when his wife of six years was taken from him that he truly accepted that. And by then, of course, it was too late.
There was a fine drizzle on the window pane, but not sufficient to cloud his view out. He looked out intently, watching the figure who had been walking between the rows of stones for about twenty minutes now. The man was dressed in a dark full length trench-coat, a black fedora-like hat pulled down over his eyes, shielding them from the rain as he continued to pace.
‘Gangster-look to the very end, eh Bishop?’ Bryant muttered under his breath. ‘Very fitting’.
He glanced down at what lay at his feet, but saw no reason to rush things – enough time had passed and this was a moment to savour. So instead of taking up the rifle, he reached for the tumbler of whisky on the table beside him, saw the half-read Lawrence Block book beside it, promised himself he’d buy another copy when he reached his new destination. This afternoon he’d be travelling light – just like Jack Reacher did in those Lee Child novels he loved – finish a mission and then take off. Start afresh. Only different was, he only had this one mission, only one he’d ever had. It wasn’t one he chose to set off on, just happened to be the hand he was dealt on the day Laura was taken from him.
The man outside paused by one of the smaller gravestones, read the inscription and then moved on again, continuing his search.
It was the anniversary, Bryant had realised earlier that morning. An anniversary for the man he was watching through the window and the partner in crime whose grave he was seeking. It was thirty five years to the day that James Bishop’s right hand man, Stevie Donaghue, had been killed right before his eyes.
Both Bryant and Bishop had seen the man die, crushed under the wheels of a pursuing squad car being piloted by one of New York’s finest as he’d run from a bank raid gone wrong.
Bryant had stayed, saw the aftermath of the collision, dealt with the paperwork, the family, the funeral guarding.
Bishop wasn’t seen for months – took off the moment the car struck his partner, disappeared into an alleyway, became like smoke.
It was just five months later that Laura Bryant was stabbed.
She had been on her way back out of the city, she’d seen a movie, had coffee with some friends from work and was heading back to spend the weekend with Joseph.
She never made it to the subway station.
There had been no robbery, her purse was still with her, she hadn’t been sexually attacked. She’d been stabbed and left to die.
There was no concrete evidence then or since, but it had James Bishop written all over the attack – a simple and brutal slaying in revenge against the only officer he had been able to identify before he’d left his own partner under the wheels of a patrol car on eighth avenue that sunny day in 1977.
He’d had the taunts too, letters he’d never show the rest of his squad, damage to the front of his home, threats on his voicemail.
But he’d never told another living soul.
Instead, he’d stored it all up, photographed the damage, copied the notes, recorded the voicemail messages – and it was all held safely now in a safety deposit box at the Pennsylvania Hotel.
The key to the box was taped to the barrel of the rifle and, when the shot had been fired, the gun and the key would be left there for whoever drew the short straw to investigate and choose how to follow up.
Bryant couldn’t second guess how that would go.
Would depend on the cop, would depend on how that cop’s day was going. But the forged ID in his pocket, the heavy beard he’d grown, the unlicensed car he had sitting in the underground car park with a tank full of gas and a trunk full of clothes should enable him the distance he might need to get away from the whole story, to walk out of his own crime novel – 35 years in the making.
He checked again, raised a small set of binoculars to be sure – It was Bishop. Of that he was certain.
He’d finally reached the closing chapter.
He drained the last of his whisky, placed the glass back next to the Elmore Leonard novel, reached down and gently lifted the rifle to his lap.
Checked the key was securely taped in place, that the gun was primed and ready, flicked the catch on the sash window and slowly eased it up a few inches, wincing at the scraping sound it made.
He paused, concerned for a moment that Bishop might have heard and look up – he didn’t.
Bryant saw her face before him – her beautiful eyes, that wonderful smile – all as clear as yesterday.
‘I’m sorry it took so long, babe.’
He spoke the words out loud, knowing she wasn’t really there but at the same time thinking she might somehow hear his voice.
Laura’s face vanished quickly, replaced by a flash from the barrel of the rifle.
He lowered the rifle to the floor, stared out, watched as the dark clothed figure hunched over, buckled at the knees and fell hard against the headstone before landing in the sodden grass.
Bryant took care not to leave the underground car park at any speed, wanted nothing to cause him or his departure to be noticed.
The rain continued to fall. There were queues of yellow cabs ahead as far as the eye could see but, as slow as his movement was, he was moving away.
His eyes glanced into the rear view mirror, half expecting to see her there, Laura back with him, the nightmare over and her returned.
All he saw was the back seat and the queue of traffic behind through the rain-soaked screen.
‘I knew you’d get him, Joseph.’
It was Laura’s voice in his head.
Her reassuring tone, the one she’d used every night when he’d come home to her and removed his gun and badge.
‘I knew you would – you were always worth the wait, Joseph. Always.’
Keith B Walters