“Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges
Reardon parked the sedan on the Great Highway between the signs that read No Parking At Anytime, the antique sandblasted seawall to Ocean Beach on the right. Without a word he exited the vehicle and strode toward the access stairs that would take him to the beach below, a goodly breeze tugging at his clothing and parting his hair in an uncomplimentary fashion.
The black detective turned slightly and said “teenagers” and Wendt responded with a “yeah” as if he understood. They sat in silence after that. A patrol car slowed parallel to them. The patrolmen knew by the exempt plates that the sedan was city fleet. They were just double checking. Moore flashed his badge to reassure them. The shotgun cop, a woman, mouthed “everything ok?” and he nodded yes and waved them off.
Wendt felt he needed to do something with his hands. A cigarette to calm his agitation. “Mind if I smoke?”
The detective turned and looked at him impassively. “No smoking in city vehicles.”
“How about I step outside?”
Moore showed a little surprise and then shrugged. “Yeah, sure, why not, I could use a smoke, too.” And “Don’t try any stupid shit.”
They stood next to the sedan on the sandy slope that led up to the walkway, itself covered in a fine layer of shifting sand. They each lit their own and then looked away from each other as the first puff of smoke exited their mouths.
“I think I’ve seen you at Moody’s,” Wendt ventured.
The cop wasn’t impressed. “Oh, yeah, you into jazz?”
Wendt nodded and gave a sheepish grin. “Yeah, old school, you know, Miles, Mingus, Monk. . . the three M’s of Modern Jazz. And Coltrane, of course.”
“That right?” The black cop read Wendt a little closer.
“I wrote a piece on Moody’s and Jimmy Gibbs in my column. In the weekly. Did you happen to read it?” It was a long shot Wendt knew.
“Naw, I don’t have time.” The detective had wandered up to the seawall to check on his partner’s progress. Wendt joined him.
The expanse and the glare off the Pacific were startling at first. A gray line of fog had settled on the far horizon as if waiting for permission to come ashore. It was responsible for the heft of the ocean breeze buffeting anything that didn’t lie flat.
Overhead the bright cloudless blue beat down mercilessly with its undeviating color. The people on the beach below didn’t seem to mind. Wendt noticed the profusion of kites tangling in the sky further down. It appeared crowded for so early in the week. The knots and gaggles of young people, gathered in circles, furtively or not so furtively passing around cigarettes or throwing a football. It all made sense. High school kids on unsanctioned field trips enjoying a gorgeous day at the beach, strutting their stuff, showing off. Some had thought to bring coolers that they camouflaged with blankets.
Wendt could make out Reardon striding toward one group that at his determined approach scattered like gulls before a loping pup. Reardon didn’t seem fazed and headed for another congregation of truants.
“Let me see if I have this right, somebody murdered Reg Meyer?” It had been eating at him the entire ride down Fulton.
The black detective again took a measured appraisal of his charge. He said nothing.
“And you think I had something to do with it?” Wendt realized that it was the wrong thing to ask. Moore smiled ever so slightly, wickedly, and exhaled smoke.
He tried a different tack. “This is all news to me. When did it happen? I should have read about it in the daily.”
Moore shrugged again not wanting to be engaged. “Yeah, I don’t know. Like I said I don’t have time to read the papers.” And then as if tossing a crumb, “We’re coming up on forty-eight so it should be in tomorrow’s edition.”
“So ok, like almost two days ago?” Wendt scanned his internal calendar for the last couple of days: no, no opportunities to bump heads with Reg, or bump him off. He had taken in the print show at the Legion of Honor, lunch with Nora at Cho’s in Chinatown where she had offered him work doing research for a client, mainly chapter and verse on quote attribution and bibliographical verification. Footnote sleuthing, stuff Val used to do. Then the rest of the time he had been by himself in his room on Balboa working on his Poetry Month columns. “What was it, shot, stabbed? Colonel Mustard in the parlor with a monkey wrench?”
The black cop gave him a hard stare. “China Point. Been to China Point lately?”
Wendt laughed. “If I walk around China Point I’ve got a cruiser tagging my heels in less than five minutes.”
“Who said anything about walking?
“I don’t drive.”
The detective nodded as if that had answered something.
Wendt took it as a sign to continue. “I was at the Legion Of Honor a couple of days ago. That’s close to China Point,” he volunteered.
“About what time?”
“Late afternoon. You can check with security. I had to show my press pass and sign in on their log.”
Moore produced a small yellow notepad from his pocket and jotted a reminder.
“And why me? I’m sure Reg had issues with more people than just me.”
The detective laughed in spite of himself. “His partner provided us with a list of people, his associates. You weren’t on that list. Until we began talking to Mr. Meyer’s associates. Then your name came up more than a few times.” His hard gaze turned perplexed for a moment. “You poets are a bunch of nasty, finger pointing little bitches, you know that? No compunction at all about dropping a dime on each other.”
“Are you saying that everyone thinks I did it?”
“You and Mr. Meyer had some disagreements in the past, is that correct?” The detective had flipped a page in his notebook.
“Ok, listen, Reg Meyer? I’ve known Reg Meyer since I came to the city over thirty years ago. We were friends once, but Reg doesn’t make it easy to be friends. You’re either with him or without him. It was less of a hassle to be without him, if you get my meaning. And besides, once he got to be book review editor for the daily, he was pretty much unbearable. So I let it go. But he always found ways to snipe at me. I used to write book reviews for the daily back in the day. It was an easy buck. But with Reg at the helm? He would edit the shit out of my reviews and make them read like I was an idiot. So I stopped doing that, too. I tried to avoid Reg but we know a lot of the same people, poets, in common. He thinks he’s a hotshot but really he’s just a put-down artist looking for someone to zing. He is, was, infantile and immature.”
“So you have a history of adversity with Mr. Meyer.”
“Like I said, I tried to keep my distance. He was the one who kept getting in my face.”
“Like the incident at Mrs. Twohy’s apartment?”
Wendt flushed. “Yeah, I guess I kind of lost it.”
“He threatened your livelihood, to have you fired from. . .from the weekly?”
“Yeah, all that was bullshit, a bluff. See, Reg has the illusion of power. He’s not the book editor for the daily anymore, but I don’t think that’s sunk in. He has no clout at the weekly, anyway. So, yeah, I grabbed him by the shirt. He was annoying me.”
“You threatened to hit him.”
“No, no way. I never did.”
“Do you deny saying,” and the detective referred to his notes, “Don’t make me club you?”
“I didn’t!” Wendt laughed, “Oh, ok, ok. No, no that’s not what I said. I said, ‘don’t make me love you.’”
The detective’s expression said “You expect me to believe that?”
“I was being ironic!”
“You and Mr. Meyer were not lovers or sex partners?”
“I’d like to know who told you that.”
“Did you not turn down Mr. Meyer’s offer of fellatio at which he became outraged?”
“No, no, no, you got that all wrong. You wanna know why Reg acted that way and has acted that way whenever we’re within spitting distance of each other?”
“I get the feeling you’re going to tell me.”
“I screwed his girlfriend. She was a lousy lay and I told her so. She complained to Reg. Now, not only had I fucked his girlfriend, but I had insulted her as well. Besides the fact that I had fucked his girlfriend in the first place.” Wendt dropped his cigarette in the sand of the walkway and stepped on it. He could make out Reardon further down the beach making a bee line for another coven of youth who also wandered off at his approach. All except for one. Reardon raised his arms in a gesture of surrender, anger, frustration confronting the lone figure.
“You think he should be pushed off a cliff?” Moore glanced up from his note pad to gauge Wendt’s reaction.
Wendt exhaled wearily. “Tell me he wasn’t pushed off a cliff.”
The detective kept his focus, reading the body language. “Can you account for your whereabouts in the last forty eight hours, preferably verified by at least one other person?”
Wendt realized that it might be hard to do. He’d been under the gun to get his column finished. He’d also spent the last couple of days sorting through boxes of manuscripts and old letters, deciding what had to go and what he would keep in storage in anticipation of Angie moving up the coast. One night Angie had gone to ACT with some women friends from Weight Watchers, and Samantha had been at a sleepover with a school friend. He really didn’t have an alibi.
In the distance he could see that Reardon had his miscreant in tow trudging back toward them. The rather rotund boy was not going willingly. Wendt had an idea of how that might feel. “Listen, let me make your job real easy. I had nothing to do with Reg Meyer’s death. I have not seen Reg Meyer since that night at Megan Twohy’s. I know nothing about the circumstances of his demise. This is the first I’ve heard of it. I’m sorry he’s dead. I have no idea who could have done it. And you’re sure it’s murder, not suicide? Or have you talked with his girlfriend? That well may be his motive for the big adios. But if you think I had anything to do with it, you are way, way off!”
Moore laughed and put his notebook away. Reardon and what Wendt now presumed was his son approached the bottom of the stairway. The white cop appeared winded, the boy merely agitated and chagrined. Moore laughed again, this time at his partner’s plight. He turned to Wendt. “Relax, you’re not a suspect. Though a lot of your so-called friends think you should be.”
“Ok, that’s a relief, I guess. So did someone really push him off a cliff?”
“More likely dumped. Blunt force trauma. You can understand why when someone reported that you had said ‘don’t make me club you’ that we had to look into it. His car had been towed from China Point as an abandoned vehicle. Then later in the day a maintenance worker at the park found the body over the side.”
“So that would make it around the first of the month?”
“The first, exactly.”
“Well, well, the cruelest month strikes again.”
“Nothing, just some poet thing, April being the cruelest month and all that. Do you think it could be random? Or do you have a suspect?”
“Oh, we have a person or persons of interest. Proving it is the hard part. That’s why we do the interviews. Otherwise the computer down at the office does everything for us.”
“A computer solves the murder?” Wendt didn’t want to sound incredulous.
“Yeah, it’s something one of our IT guys developed. A relational database with a social media algorithm. You have to plug in the basic stuff, you know, location of the crime, timeline, vitals, all that, the vic’s name and circumstance of his death. Then you enter in the names and stats on his family and his business associates, his friends, his enemies, field interview data and tie them to the timeline. Once you think you’ve got it all in there, you press the magic button. Of course like anything with computers, it’s garbage in, garbage out. And data entry is a bitch, especially if you don’t spend a lot of time around a keyboard.” The detective shrugged. “The data is sorted, crosschecked with NCIC in case anyone has a record of previous convictions, for violent crime say, and you get a ranked list from the most likely to the least likely, and the majority of the time the killer is in the top five names on the list.”
“No shit, a computer fingers the murderer for you?”
“More like narrows it down to the most viable suspects.”
“And I didn’t make the cut.” Wendt felt elated. “But who did?”
“Now why would I tell you that? And don’t get too cocky, you could move up in the standings at any time based on future intelligence.” Moore had turned to meet his partner at the top of the stairs. “So you caught him, huh? What’s his name? Jesse James?” And then to the boy, an overweight kid who would always wear his clothing wrong, misfit flesh with a close resemblance to his father, the angry white cop. “Hey, Tommy! School let out early today?”
Reardon directed his son to the sedan. “Get in the back!” And then to his partner, “Well?”
Moore shook his head. “He checks out.”
“Ok, Mr. Wendt, if Inspector Moore here says you passed the attitude test, I’m good with that. He’s a human polygraph. He can read you like a cheap paperback.”
Wendt nodded that he understood. “Ok, so I’m free to go?”
“Yeah, sure,” Reardon agreed, walking away, “Just don’t leave town.”
Wendt shouldn’t have pushed it, but he did anyway. “Hey, how am I supposed to get back home?”
Reardon didn’t answer until he’d reached the driver’s side and leaned an elbow on top of the open door. “Such a beautiful day for a walk.” And laughed like he’d said something really funny.
Next Time: On his walk back to Balboa, Wendt recalls the real reason Reg Meyer was pissed at him, and considers the options for his Poetry Month columns. 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.