“Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges
“The police are here to see you, Wendt!”
He’d noticed a flicker of shadow on the wall as she passed in front of the open side door to the basement garage. He had his back to her, rooting through the musty papers and manuscripts in the file cabinet, shuffling through a folder of Val’s old poems. They were tugging at his moorings, eyes about to go moist.
“You can’t get me with that, Sam. April Fool’s Day is over!” He didn’t bother to turn around until he heard the footsteps, and then the larger displacement of light that obviously didn’t belong to an eight year old girl.
“Mr. Wendt? Carl Wendt?” It was a woman’s voice, not Angie’s. “Mr. Wendt? San Francisco Police.”
Wendt stuffed the file back into the cabinet, furtive for no apparent reason. He removed his cheaters and slipped them into the pocket of his maroon windbreaker. They had finally caught up with him. Bourdieu had warned that being an autodidact was illegal. He wouldn’t deny it. He had a well practiced appeal ready for the judge.
“Mr. Wendt? SFPD, could you step outside, please?”
The shadow retreated as Wendt stepped out into the light. He squinted in the bright glare of noontime Balboa Street. A woman, dark professional pants suit and shimmering salmon satin blouse, shoes too delicate to be a cop’s but the six-pointed star badge displayed on the belt of her precisely creased slacks saying she was. And she bore herself like police, attractive oval face of a woman maybe mid-forties in an unreadable no-nonsense blank. Her partner, a man in his late twenties, red and gold team jacket, stood off to the side sizing up the situation. The badge and Glock on his belt saying he was more than just a fan.
She presented her identification perfunctorily, “Mr. Carl Wendt?” And without waiting for him to acknowledge, “Mr. Wendt, I’m Inspector Grace Niklia with SFPD and,” indicating the Niners fan, “this is Detective Sergeant Gomez with the Sheriff’s Office.” And repeated, “Mr. Wendt?” There was no question that she had his attention so she continued. “Sergeant Gomez and I are on what is known as a NOK detail.”
Wendt heard NARC and didn’t hide the amused surprise. You’re barking up the wrong tree. But didn’t say it.
“NOK stands for Notification Of Kin, Mr. Wendt, not what you think you just heard.” Now it was her turn to be amused. The Sergeant remained impassive, a stocky, square shouldered Latino of average height, passable moustache, and a slicked-back old school gangster pate. He was merely her back-up, an observer, hands crossed and cupped above his crotch, ready to step in if things were to get dicey.
Wendt flipped through his mental rolodex of dead relatives. Mother, what eight ten years now, two uncles, both under suspicious circumstances, cousins he didn’t think so, his dad a couple of years ago but he had had a second family and so Wendt hadn’t learned of it until someone mailed him the obit from the Indianapolis Star, and his new set of kids, his step brothers, sisters he had never even known their names. He was drawing a blank.
“We’re here to inform you of the recent demise of Jeremiah Beljhar.”
The name didn’t change Wendt’s expression. He returned the detective’s querying look with a body language version of “hunh?” And then, down in the deep dark archives, a file drawer squeaked open. Jeremiah. Ok, that could be Jeremy. What about Jeremy?
“Wait a minute. Jeremiah? Jeremy? The kid? The street poet? Jeremy’s dead?” He didn’t say tweak freak. Why speak ill of the departed. “Are we talking about the same guy?” Wendt put his hands on either side of his head and spread fingers to indicate spiky hair.
The lady cop reached into the tastefully utilitarian black leather bag slung from her shoulder and retrieved a sheet of paper folded in four, holding open the print of a digital photograph for him.
It was Jeremy, a lifeless loll to his features, the harsh exposure revealing every shadowless detail. Wendt brought his gaze up and to the right of the detective’s shoulder to stare at the blue recycle containers at the curb, the honey locust off to one side catching the light with its shiny new leaves and casting a comfortable shadow on the roofs of the cars parked there. From his angle, at the bottom of the driveway to the basement garage, he could only see the tops of passing vehicles. And off to one side, Samantha peering through the white painted balustrades leading up into the house, a worried frown disturbing her young brow, and behind her, her mother, Angie, with the same frown, but more practiced, judgmental even.
The last time he had seen Jeremy they’d had that farcical conversation about a serial killer of poets, that alone nibbling at the edges of his bewilderment. “We were, are, not related. Why are you telling me this? What makes you think we are?”
The detective nodded as if she had anticipated every word. “Mr. Beljhar took his life five days ago. He was a resident of the Powell Hotel. . .”
“In the ‘loin. Header from his window down the air shaft. Thirty feet.”
The lady cop stiffened in surprise which caused the Sergeant to lean a little forward on his toes. “You knew?”
“No. I read about it in the daily. I didn’t make the connection.” Wendt was curious now. “What has that got to do with me? I barely knew the guy. I met him at a poetry reading maybe three, four years ago. Comes up to me, says he’s a big fan. . . I’m a poet,” Wendt added by way of explanation. “He hung around North Beach, the bookstore, Trieste, Vesuvio’s, until I think they eighty-sixed him, ditto Enrico’s, he never got in the door at Tosca, and I think he was eighty-sixed from Spec’s, but then who hasn’t? Giancarlo’s? He was pretty much a burned out crack-head as far as I was concerned. We didn’t move in the same circles, economically or socially.”
The detective’s mouth had clamped into an I’m-dealing-with-an-asshole firmness. “Among Mr. Beljhar’s effects. . .”
Wendt wasn’t listening anymore. He had noticed the roofline of a dark sedan pull to a stop at the top of the driveway and doublepark. The doors opened and two men emerged.
Gomez had seen them too, turning his head away to hiss “Shit!”
A stocky white man of medium height approached with a wide grin, wagging his finger. He was accompanied by a tall black man in a brown leather car coat.
“Well, if it ain’t Valentino. And Morticia. I sure as hell hope you two are not jumping my call.” He chuckled in a manner entirely devoid of humor. “I thought you were assigned disciplinary detail to the mayor’s office, anyway.”
“Guess again, Reardon, we’re on a NOK.” The lady cop turned and intercepted him half way down the apron. She spoke in a low voice behind the folded paper while he stared over her shoulder at Wendt with a smug shit-eater. The lanky black cop stood off to the side, alert, and the Sergeant, more annoyed than anything else, stood his ground. They knew a pissing contest when they saw one.
Reardon made to sidestep and she blocked him with a shoulder and made one last impassioned low voiced argument before stepping aside.
“Carl Wendt. Mike Reardon, Robbery Homicide.” He threw a thumb over his shoulder. “Roger Moore, ditto.” They weren’t going to bother with ID.
Wendt had yet to breathe.
“We’re interviewing people who might have known Reginald Meyer, his routine, his social contacts, his friends.” The homicide detective paused a practiced beat. “His enemies.”
When someone is referred to in the past tense by the murder police, it does not bode well for the person in question. This had not escaped Wendt.
“Can I ask you, Mr. Wendt, when was the last time you saw or spoke with Reginald Meyers?”
The lady cop and the sergeant had moved up to stand on the sidewalk, their backs to him, heads bent forward in animated conversation.
Wendt turned his attention to the meat mask facing him. The eyes, in a brazen, unwavering stare, were just a little too wide to be effective, the lips, a little too full to be convincingly severe. But there was a cruelty to the corners of the mouth and flare of nostrils that spoke of a low tolerance for wise guys.
Wendt played it straight. “Couple weeks ago, it was a Tuesday, I think, Megan Twohy’s salon.” His mind raced forward to stop him. He reminded himself that Reg had done his usual ape shit routine, and he had succumbed to the moment and grabbed him by the shirt front. That might easily be viewed as threatening. “So what’s this all about? Are you saying Reg is dead, murdered?”
Reardon squared his shoulders and crowded Wendt’s personal space a little more. “I’ll ask the questions, Mr. Wendt.”
Wendt thought to step back but realized that it could be misinterpreted. “Am I to assume Reg Meyer has been murdered?”
“You can assume anything you want, Mr. Wendt. Did you speak with Mr. Meyer on the occasion of Megan Twohy’s salon?” He said the word ‘salon’ like it was an affront to his manhood.
Wendt saw where this was leading and although he always felt that he should cooperate with the police when his ass wasn’t on the line, this was one of those situations where the fewer words spoken the better. “I think I had better consult with my attorney.” Wendt was bluffing. He didn’t exactly have a lawyer. The only lawyer he could think of was Hugh Klidian, Dorian’s lawyer, and he’d met him only once, years ago, at one of the famous Pillsbury author parties.
Reardon’s face lit up like an albino jack-o-lantern. “Of course, Mr. Wendt, your attorney. Why don’t we go down to the precinct and wait for him there.” Reardon seemed pleased with himself. His partner stepped down the apron to block any attempt at bolt.
“Am I under arrest?”
“Not unless you want to be. Otherwise we would like you to accompany us over to Sixth Ave so we can interview you, if you prefer in the presence of your lawyer. Right now I think that you might be in possession of information material to our investigation.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You have a choice, Mr. Wendt. Get in the car. Or.” Reardon indicated his partner, “Inspector Moore will put you in the car.”
The cell phone rang as the sedan pulled away from the curb. It wasn’t Wendt’s cell phone. He didn’t have one. Nor did he have door handles to hold on to as the white cop jammed on the brakes behind the city bus blocking traffic. Reardon put a square of plastic to his ear and spoke loudly.
“What?” as if annoyed. “Of course I’m fucking busy.” He paused, listening, frowning. “Ok, ok, calm down a minute.”
The black detective, peppered close cropped wool, gold wire rimmed glasses on a lean North African nose, glanced over his shoulder at Wendt, checking on the cargo.
“He what? Again? I told him what was going to happen. . .no, no, you listen. . .alright alright, calm down. Yeah, ok, ok. Take a pill. . .well, take another one.” Reardon rolled his eyes at his partner and muttered “fuck’ under his breath. “Just tell me where you think he is.” He listened. “That covers a lot of territory.” And, “Alright, alright, I’ll take care of it!” he spoke with finality to the little square of black plastic. Then to his partner, “We’re gonna take a little detour.”
The sedan headed west on Fulton, Reardon, with an impatient and practiced hand, cutting back and forth across lanes, in and out of traffic, jockeying for the best advantage to move them forward as quickly as possible. There was no doubt in Wendt’s mind that they were heading for the Great Highway. And he wasn’t about to protest. The detour had the effect of easing him out of the panic he’d felt when he realized that he might be a suspect in Reg Meyer’s murder. He had to understand a couple of things. One, that he didn’t do it, and two, that someone else had.
Reg was an equal opportunity offender. The possibilities were legion. And Jeremy, why had the police come to see him about Jeremy? Next of kin? Not by a long shot. Something about the woman cop. The name? Niklia. Faint glimmer on a past horizon? Attractive shapely slimness, professional demeanor, penetrating eyes, dark but of undetermined color, no third finger left hand bauble, he always checked, that kind of job, mixing with the men, probably lesbian. Reardon had called her Morticia. But it fit, black hair to below the shoulders, parted in the middle, wide intelligent forehead accommodating the high arch of eyebrow. And her partner was named Gomez. Funny.
Next Time: Buffeted by a stiff ocean breeze, Wendt is questioned in connection with the murder of his old nemesis, Reg Meyer. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY & WEEK to read the pdf file.
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