Neither of the two cops could have told you how this habit of theirs started, or why.
What they did was watch wreckers pull down the row of tenements where the housing development was going to be built. Whenever they had a chance, they drove over there and parked. Sometimes they got out of the car and sometimes they didn’t. They bet nickels on when a wall would come down or which worker would step out next for a smoke or how long between wheelbarrow loads. They got to know some of the wrecking crew by sight and spoke to them casually, Hello and How’s it going and stuff like that.
Bob Sparrow was a big, plump, broad-shouldered guy; his eyes were very light blue. Dave Wren was tall and rangy. He had buck teeth; so his mouth was never quite closed. He sniffed a lot and had a dry nasal voice.
Bob Sparrow and Wren, detectives. The rest of the boys called them the bird patrol and kidded the pants off them. The result was that Sparrow and Wren stayed away from the precinct house as much as they could. They were stuck with each other, but they got along nicely and made a good team.
On that particular day, they were busy all morning and didn’t get over to the construction site until around two o’clock. They parked across the street from number 862, where the main work was going on. They watched a load of plaster, brick, and broken cement come roaring down a chute and into a truck.
Wren cut the motor. Sparrow coughed and said, “That junk. It gets into your lungs, doesn’t it?”
Wren agreed. Then they stepped out of the car and started across the street.
The truck driver yelled at them. “Hey,” he shouted. “You come for the excitement?”
“What excitement?” Wren asked.
“Guy found some jewels and ran off with them.”
“You kidding?” Sparrow said.
“Ask anybody the driver said. “They’ll tell you.”
Wren glanced at his partner. “I’ll check in,” he said. He walked over to the car, picked up the two-way radio, and told the precinct dispatcher that he and Sparrow were leaving the car for a few minutes on an investigation.
Sparrow waited, staring at the boarding with which the ancient buildings were fenced in, the warped lumber and old doors and disintegrating plywood. When Wren returned, the two of them headed for the shack from which the foreman, Mark Dunlop, superintended the wrecking operation. he saw them coming and stood, a big bloated man, filling the doorway.
“Hi,” he said, in a rough bass. “Anything I can do for you?”
“We’re after the treasure,” Sparrow said, grinning. “Who found it?”
“Oh, that,” Dunlop said. “Tito Patrillo. Maybe you can get it straight; I can’t. Come on.”
He picked up a baseball bat before he crossed the broken sidewalk and stepped into what had once been a store. The smell of damp decay was strong.
“Watch your step,” Dunlop said. He slapped the bat against a plank to test its solidness. “You never know when this stuff is rotted out.”
He led the way up a couple of narrow flights of stairs that no longer had banisters. The third floor was roofless, and he picked his way over the rubbish-strewn floor and headed for a gap in the wall. He crossed a couple of buildings in various stages of ruin and reached one on which a gang was working.
He called out in his deep rasping voice, “Hey, you guys. These officers want to talk to you.”
Wren glanced at the workmen, then at the walls of a room that had once been blue. Big chunks of plaster had been ripped off and the wooden lathing was exposed. A partly dismantled fireplace was open to the sky.
Sparrow did most of the questioning. Tito Patrillo had been taking down the chimney when he’d suddenly yelled out. The other workers thought he was hurt, but he’d merely reached into a hole in the chimney and removed a small black box. He’d stood there, examining the contents. Jewel box, they thought, but they weren’t sure. He snapped it shut before any of them could see inside it.
They all had theories–the box contained jewelry or money or old documents, something like that. But the only certainties were that Tito had found something, had been excited, had put the stuff in his lunchbox and walked off the job.
Wren and Sparrow examined the chimney hiding place. It measured a couple of brick-lengths each way.
“Tito’s a crazy guy,” Dunlop said. “Wait till he comes back, I’ll get it out of him.”
“Where does he live?” Wren asked.
“Come on back to the office and I’ll look it up.”
That was all there was to it. Wren and Sparrow got the address and returned to the car. They were busy the rest of the afternoon and had no time to follow up on Tito Patrillo. Nor did it seem important. He didn’t have the connections for disposing of expensive jewelry. If he tried to get away with something valuable, he’d be caught and if the thing wasn’t worth much, who cared? Besides, Dunlop had said he’d handle it. So sometime tomorrow, they’d stop by and ask him about it.
The next morning they had a robbery to investigate, nothing out of the ordinary, but it would take an hour or so. They were on their way there when the dispatcher called them. Wren was driving, so Sparrow took the call. The dispatcher ordered them up to an alley off Popular Street, where a body had been found.
The alley was a dead-end between two buildings, one of which contained a pizza joint. The cop on the beat was holding off a small crowd that kept shoving forward to get a look. Wren and Sparrow cleared the alley and walked back. Some garbage cans partly hid the body of a muscular little guy in a brown suit. He was lying on his stomach, and his head was bashed in.
The uniformed cop explained, “The restaurant people put their garbage out at night and leave it in the alley overnight. In the morning the dishwasher lugs it out to the sidewalk, where it gets picked up around ten o’clock. When he came out this morning, he saw this. Says he didn’t touch anything.”
Sparrow bent down and felt the wrist of the corpse. He stood up quickly. “Feels cold,” he said. “Killed sometime during the night.”
Killed over there,” Wren said. He pointed to some stains near the mouth of the alley. “Dragged back and dumped where nobody’d notice him for awhile.”
Sparrow grimaced, drew back, and stared at the body. The face was partly hidden by the outstretched arm. “I’ve seen that guy somewhere,” he said.
“You and your memory,” Wren said, squinting. His lips pursed out more than usual as he forced himself to bend down and examine what he could see of the face. He stood up. “Yeah,” he said. “Seems like I’ve seen him, too.”
Sparrow swung around and walked rapidly to the rear of the alley. Wren rocked on his heels and let his eyes drag themselves along the surface of the pavement and come to rest on the body. The garbage can must have been knocked over the night before, because cheese and sauce from the pizza was smeared on the ground and spattered against the brick wall. With his fingernail, Wren dislodged a small blob. It had dried out and hardened like cement, but it was also powdery and flaked off into nothing.
The crowd kept watching him expectantly. He heard someone say, “What is it? What’s he got?”
“Cheese,” somebody answered.
Then another voice exploded in a guffaw. “Cheese it,” it said, “the cops!”
The crowd laughed, but with a jeering note that made Wren uncomfortable. He supposed they wanted him to do something dramatic–or at least interesting–and were tired of waiting. He never could figure out civilians. Either they were scared of you or else they hated you for no reason.
With a gesture of disdain, Wren opened his jacket, took a deep breath and let his holstered gun show. This display of power gave him a certain satisfaction. Stony-faced, he pulled the jacket lapels together again, smoothed down his coat, and buttoned it.
When Sparrow came back from the other end of the alley, Wren said in a low voice, “I’m sure it’s him. You know who I mean?”
Sparrow gave a decisive nod. “Right,” he said.
Neither of them mentioned Tito Patrillo’s name, but they both felt that Tito must have found a genuine treasure and been killed on account of it.
“He always showed up first with a wheelbarrow,” Sparrow said. “Won me quite a few nickels.”
Wren grunted, moved to the wall opposite the restaurant, and leaned against the brick. There was nothing more to do until Lieutenant Cooper and the headquarters brass showed up and took charge. But Sparrow pranced around energetically, while his eyes made quick, darting glances at everything. Suddenly Wren called to him.
“Look,” Wren said, pointing. “Guy stepped in some garbage and left us a nice footprint. That heel–perfect, huh?”
Sparrow jerked to attention, started to march forward and stopped himself. He lifted his shoe awkwardly and studied the bottom of his shoe.
“Mine,“ he said tersely. “Just stepped in the stuff.”
He rubbed his shoe methodically to scrape off the goo. A couple of minutes later, the first siren sounded.
The lieutenant listened to what Wren and Sparrow had to say and then brought them over to the commissioner.
“These boys of mine are right on the ball,” Lieutenant Cooper said. “They know who the decedent was and why he was killed. Now, if we can just learn what Patrillo found we’re on our way. Otherwise, this case can mean trouble.”
“Thorough conscientious police work will do the trick,” the commissioner said pompously. He gave Wren and Sparrow the privilege of his personal attention. “Men,” he said in a stentorian tone, “I know you’ll do honor to the department. What are your names?”
Sparrow stuttered out his answer and the commissioner repeated the names in surprise.
“Well, they’re easy enough to remember,” he boomed out, and laughed. “But don’t go after a goose chase, you hear, because I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
Wren nodded, turned, and started elbowing his way through the crowd. He felt a tug at his sleeve and looked down at a small boy.
“Mister,” the boy said, “I found this. It was behind one of those cartons.” He pointed to some rubbish at the entrance to the alley, and he handed Wren a green lunchbox.
Wren examined the box. It had a mottled surface, the kind that won’t take fingerprints, and there was a smear of cheese near one corner. There was nothing inside.
“Thanks, son,” Wren said and kept on going. He put the lunchbox in the trunk of the car and got in behind the wheel. He figured he’d look like a jackass if he went back and admitted that a kid had spotted something which he and Sparrow had missed–and, it was likely, the kid had found it before they arrived on the scene. Besides, he couldn’t take any more of the commissioner’s hot air.
After a couple of minutes, Sparrow climbed into the front seat of the car. “Glad to be clear of that guy,” he said. “Him and his sense of humor.” Wren snorted with contempt. “You know what he said after you left? He wanted us to report to him direct, so he’d be sure we didn’t pull any boners.”
“No kidding?” Wren said. He started the car and raced the motor. “Can’t he read the manual? Don’t he know we’re working out of the precinct?”
“That’s what the lieutenant told him; so His Nibs said okay, just so we made an arrest before morning. Said that ought to be easy, with the start we got.”
“Didn’t tell us who to arrest, did he?” Wren asked dryly.
“Sure he did. He said get the killer, or else.” Sparrow tapped his partner’s arm. “Or else means back in uniform.”
“He can’t do that,” Wren said angrily, “except for cause. That’s what the manual says. We could go to court on that.”
“And get our pictures in the paper? Sparrow and Wren. We couldn’t show our faces after the ribbing we’d take.”
“Yeah,” Wren said with distaste. “So what do we do now?”
“Go to Patrillo’s. Lieutenant Cooper’s going to check on who lived in that apartment where the stuff was found. He’ll let us know, as soon as he can run it down.”
“Right,” Wren said.
He shot the car forward and headed toward the boulevard. Neither he nor Sparrow mentioned the commissioner again, but they were both sullen, edgy, and anticipated trouble.
Tito Patrillo’s house was in a rural development at the other end of town. His wife opened the door. She had a pretty enough face, and later on–when they were talking about her–Sparrow figured her waist at fifty inches, while wren held out for forty-five. They never did find out.
“You come about Tito?” she asked, as soon as they’d identified themselves.
“What about Tito?” Sparrow asked.
“Did something happen to him?” she asked anxiously. “He wasn’t home all night. I’ve been worried.”
“Where’d he go?”
“He didn’t say. Officer, did something happen? Tell me.”
Sparrow looked at Wren and Wren looked at Sparrow.
“He found something on the job,” Sparrow said. “What was it?”
“I don’t know. He came back early, around five, and I cleaned his lunchbox. He stayed near the phone and he got two calls.” She let out her breath in a sigh. “Nobody calls Tito that early, he’s never home before six.”
“Who called him?”
“I don’t know. I was in the kitchen.”
“When did he go out again?”
“Right after dinner. He took his lunchbox and said he might get home late, but Tito doesn’t stay out all night. Not him. Tell me–what happened?”
“He got killed,” Wren said quietly. Turning to Sparrow, he said, “Better ask one of the neighbors to come over.”
On the way back to the car, Wren remembered the lunchbox. “I got it in the trunk,” he said. “I’ll get it, so you can see it.”
Sparrow glanced at the lunchbox without interest. “Anything inside it?”
“Better let Mrs. Patrillo take a look at it. Find out if it’s Tito’s.”
Wren nodded, picked up the lunchbox, and went back in the house. When he returned he said, “It’s his all right.” he made out an identification tag and tied it onto the handle. Sparrow watched, then climbed into the car and picked up the radio to report.
The dispatcher had a message. “The apartment Patrillo found the stuff in,” the dispatcher said, “belonged to a man named Teondre Matías. Landlord says Matías moved out a year ago, owing rent. Employed by the telephone company. Lieutenant says to find out what you can from the company.”
“Right,” Sparrow said.
Wren started to turn the ignition key, but Sparrow stopped him. Wait a minute,” Sparrow said. “This guy Matías, Teondre Matías. We had a bulletin on him. Let me think.”
“You can think while I’m driving, can’t you?”
“I’ll place the guy after a while,” Sparrow said. “While you were inside, this woman next door–she told me there was a car parked across the road last night. Lights were off, but somebody was sitting in it, smoking. Over there, by those trees.”
“What kind of car?”
Sparrow shrugged. “Two-tone with a white trunk.”
Wren punched the door open. “Let’s have a look,” he said.
They went over to the clump of trees and examined the surface of the road. There was a small patch of oil slick on the tar, and the dirt shoulder showed tire marks. The two detectives studied the soil carefully.
“Can’t identify tires from that,” Wren said. “No detail. What time did the car leave?”
“She thought about eleven. I don’t see any cigarette butts, either.”
“Ashtray,” Wren said laconically, and headed back to the car.
He drove jerkily and faster than usual. Sparrow stared through the windshield and was busy with his own thoughts. He said suddenly, “Teondre Matías. I got it now. A Missing Persons bulletin. No follow-up that I can remember.”
“Then there was none,” Wren said. “Better tell the lieutenant.”
Sparrow leaned forward to call the precinct.
The guy they saw at the phone company was a district manager or an exchange superintendent or a personnel supervisor, they didn’t get his title straight, nor did they care. He was polite enough and he dug up Matías’ record.
“He hasn’t been with us for more than a year,” the phone guy said.
“Why not?” Wren asked.
“It doesn’t say.”
“What does it say?”
“Can I have a look at that?” Wren asked.
Wren stood up irritably. His worry, his anger at the commissioner, all his pent-up feelings came to a head. “Let’s have that piece of paper,” he said. “Confidential stuff–I don’t buy that line.”
“Officer,” the phone guy said. “You have no right–”
Wren grabbed the sheet out of the man’s hand. It read, “Discharged for cause.” He slapped the sheet of paper down on the desk and said, “What was the cause?”
“I don’t know.”
“Listen, buster–you want trouble, you’ll get it.”
Sparrow slid between the two men. “Skip it,” he said. “Let the lieutenant handle him.”
Wren swung around. “Sure,” he said. “I got maybe an idea, anyhow.”
Wren didn’t mention what it was, but he would have given heavy odds that Sparrow had the same idea. Wiretap.
The rest of the day they tried to forget the commissioner, and they worked the way cops work. They made no smart deductions and concocted no theories. They knew if they waited long enough, witnesses would turn up, police files would be consulted, important information would drop in their laps. Other men were busy with other leads, and then Lieutenant Cooper would tie everything together. Patience and a minimum of imagination–that was their dish. The lieutenant would go to bat for them. He was paid to worry; they weren’t. Still–
Wren ticketed the lunchbox and turned it in for the lab boys to examine. He signed for it, and he and Sparrow left. They proceeded quietly on their rounds.
The next item that dropped in their laps came from the dispatcher. “Proceed to the B.J. Television and Computer Shop, 8624 10th Street, Northeast, and question Jim Rusnacko. Patrillo tried to contact him yesterday.”
After Sparrow had repeated the address, the dispatcher’s voice dropped to a casual tone. “Hey,” he said, “what’s with you and the commissioner? He called a little while ago and said he wanted the pair of you in his office first thing in the morning. Said he likes fowls for breakfast. You been making jokes with him?”
“Just mind your own business,” Wren said.
The dispatcher laughed. “My, my!” he said, “aren’t we touchy!”
On the way to the TV shop he and Sparrow settled down.
Jim Rusnacko, young, black-eyed, was waiting for them. He said he was Tito Patrillo’s nephew and that Tito had dropped in on him yesterday afternoon around two-thirty.
“I wasn’t here,” Rusnacko said. “He left word he’d be at the corner place for a while–my uncle liked his beer–and that he had to see me.”
“About what?” Sparrow asked.
“He didn’t say. I got back a little after five and I called him. He asked if he could come up and use my tape player, but I was busy then, and had date with my girl for that night. I tried to stall him off, but he said it was important and that he’d be here right after dinner. Well, he never got here.”
“How long did you wait?” Sparrow asked.
“Till around eight-thirty. My girl–”
“So maybe he did get here, after you left.”
“If he did,” Rusnacko said, “he’d have gone down to the corner for beer and I’d have seen him, because that’s where I was.”
“Did he say what he wanted to hear on your machine? Did he say anything about the tape?”
“Nothing. Officer, he was such an innocent little guy, he couldn’t be involved in anything crooked.”
“What makes you think there was something crooked?” Wren asked.
“Well . . . “ Rusnacko blinked uncomfortably, as if he was sorry he’d made the remark. “He was killed, wasn’t he?”
Sparrow, fussing around the far corner of the shop, said suddenly, “You do all kinds of repair work, don’t you?”
“Anything with wires, I can fix it.”
“You and Matías?” Sparrow asked casually
Rusbancko looked startled. “Who’s Matías?” he asked.
Sparrow didn’t answer. He glanced at Wren and started out. Wren followed him to the car and said, “He didn’t bite on that one, but who knows? So how about a beer?”
“The beer’ll keep,” Sparrow said. “We got a session with the Lieutenant Cooper ahead of us and he can smell a beer breath a mile off.”
At the precinct the lieutenant was waiting for them in his office, and they went right in. He was strictly business.
“I got the medical and the lab reports here,” he said, “and there’s one little item you better think about, because the commissioner’s likely to mention it.” He glared coldly. “They found a fingerprint on that lunchbox, and you know whose it is? One of my own detectives!”
“They’re cockeyed,” Wren said angrily. “That surface won’t take prints. Impossible.”
“Some cheese got rubbed on it, and that’s what took the print.”
“Oh,” Wren said. “Look, Lieutenant Cooper–those things happen–”
“They shouldn’t,” the lieutenant said crisply. “Particularly when the commissioner is on your neck.”
“The lab boys could have skipped it,” Sparrow said.
The lieutenant cleared his throat. “Well, let’s get down to business. They found wood splinters in Patrillo’s skull, so we know he was hit with some kind of a club. Lab says it’s hardwood stained brown. He got killed around eleven or twelve, maybe a little earlier but not after midnight. Now–what did you boys come up with?”
He listened attentively while they spoke. He kept thumping his feet against the desk, which annoyed Wren. Sparrow, however, seemed to enjoy the sound.
“Any leads on Matías?” Sparrow asked.
Lieutenant Cooper shook his head. “He just dropped out of sight. No trace of him.”
“Could have left town,” Wren remarked.
“And the state and the country,” the lieutenant added. “And this physical world, too.”
The detectives tried to look sorrowful, without success. The lieutenant stopped thumping.
“It’s beginning to shape up,” he said. “There was this wiretapping business a year ago.”
He didn’t have to tell them about that. The lieutenant had been the guy who broke the case and he’d exposed a few cops whom had been in on the racket. A departmental shakeup had followed, and the lieutenant had gotten his big promotion from the ranks.
“I don’t remember coming across Matías’ name,” he said thoughtfully, “but he could have been one of the mechanics that hooked up wires. The phone company did some investigating of their own and fired quite a few people. I guess Matías was one of them.”
“We figured it that way,” Wren said.
“Let’s say Matías got hold of one of the tapes that was a recording of a phone conversation,” the lieutenant said. “It incriminated somebody. When Matías got fired, he needed money and decided to shake this somebody down. But instead of collecting, he got knocked off.”
“And left the tape, or a copy of it, in his apartment,” Sparrow said. Hidden in the chimney, until Tito found it.”
“And Tito got in touch with this same somebody who’d knocked off Matías,” the lieutenant said, “and tried to put the bite in him. That tells us the motive for killing Tito. And I’d say the killer got the tape and destroyed it. That’s where we stand, right now.”
“How,” said Wren, “did Tito know who this guy was? Tito hadn’t heard the tape played because he never got together with his nephew.”
“That’s what the nephew says,” Sparrow said mildly.
“Let’s cut the guesswork,” Lieutenant Cooper said. “We know Tito got two calls yesterday and one of them was from his nephew. The second was from someone who knew Tito had gone home early and maybe knew Tito had found the tape. Well, who qualifies?”
“There was the gang working on the job with him,” Wren said, “but I can’t see how they’d tie in. Just a bunch of bricklayers.”
Lieutenant Cooper leaned back. “I think we’re getting somewhere,” he said. “Dunlop. Bring him in.”
Wren stood up dutifully.
Sparrow said, “About that lab report–could it tell if those splinters came from a baseball bat?”
“Maybe,” the lieutenant said. “Why?”
“Dunlop had one at his shack. He used it to test the planking. Want us to get hold of it?”
“I’ll send someone else for it,” the lieutenant said. “And you’d better have dinner first. Anyway, I want to get a line on Dunlop before you bring him in.”
He picked up the phone and was working as Wren and Sparrow left the room.
Dunlop’s house was a lot fancier than anything you’d expect a construction foreman to have. Dunlop opened the door himself and said in his raspy voice. “My family’s away, out in Arizona, so I’m all alone. Glad to see you, boys. What’s on your mind?”
“Lieutenant Cooper wants to talk to you,” Sparrow said.
“He’ll tell you,” Wren said. “Come on.”
“Now look, boys, don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s sit down and have a drink, and we can talk things over.”
“No soap,” Sparrow said.
Dunlop stiffened. “I got a right to know,” he said hoarsely.
Neither of the cops answered, but they moved in on him from both sides, ready for trouble, each of them knowing exactly what the other one would do.
Sparrow held back a couple of feet and slid his hand underneath his jacket and rested his hand on his gun.
Wren stepped forward, grabbed Dunlop by the arm and spun him around. “Come on,” he said, “and stop arguing.”
Before they took Dunlop in Sparrow opened the garage door of Dunlop’s house. He saw a two-tone car with a white trunk. When he marched over to Wren, he gave a half-wink.
Back at the precinct, it was routine. The questioning, the relay of cops, the gradual breaking down. At eight o’clock, Dunlop was saying he’d been home alone the night before watching TV, that he’d never phoned Tito or thought of Tito or even guessed that Tito had found a tape. As for the baseball bat that had been in his shack, Dunlop couldn’t explain its disappearance. Somebody must have taken it, he said. Maybe to frame him.
By nine, Lieutenant Cooper had Dunlop involved in last year’s wiretapping and Dunlop was making vague admissions about paying somebody off for keeping quiet about padded payroll and labor kickbacks.
By ten, the lieutenant had Dunlop reeling and Dunlop began making more admissions. Yes, he’d spoken to Tito when Tito had walked off yesterday. Yes, he knew what Tito had found; he’d figured Tito might be onto a good thing and he’d wanted a piece of it, so he’d phoned Tito later in the afternoon and Tito had promised to bring the tape, but Tito hadn’t kept his promise. Yes, the car across the road had been Dunlop’s. He’d gone to find Tito, but he insisted that he’d missed Tito and had never seen or spoken to him since the phone call. Dunlop claimed he’d waited from eight until after eleven, when he finally gave up and went home. That was the story he stuck to for the next hour.
With no confession in sight for a while, the lieutenant took Sparrow and Wren into his office for a coffee break. They were tired, brain-weary, and not too hopeful.
“We got him on the ropes, but not knocked out,” Cooper said. He pushed the pile of reports out of his way, so that he’d have more elbow room to stir his coffee. “Even if the lab proves Tito was killed with a baseball bat, how do we prove that the bat was Dunlop’s and that Dunlop swung it? What we need right now is a bright idea.”
Wren fingered the reports. He was an unhappy guy, being on the spot with the commissioner. It was just his luck to get his fingerprint on the one spot on the lunchbox that would take a print. Suddenly he had an idea all right, but he wasn’t sure he had the nerve to come out with it. Guessing was no good, unless you could back up your guess with proof.
“The funny thing is,” he said, slowly, carefully, “I believe that last story of Dunlop’s.”
“Huh?” Sparrow said, surprised. “Why?”
“Because,” Wren answered, still slowly, as if he were groping for something. “Dunlop admits he left Tito’s house around eleven and went home. That leaves him wide open. If he’s guilty, why didn’t he claim he stayed there until one or two in the morning? That would make sense.”
The lieutenant sipped his coffee. “What are you driving at?” he asked. “The nephew?”
Wren lowered his eyes and fidgeted with the reports. The one on top was about the fingerprint on the pizza cheese. He read the brief sentences and hid heart abruptly lurched. He knew, knew definitely, his hunch was right.
“No,” Wren said. “I mean us. Sparrow and me–we also knew all about Tito’s finding that tape.”
“Go ahead,” Lieutenant Cooper said.
“You hooked a lot of cops in the wiretap,” Wren said, “but it looks like you missed out on at least one. The one who got Matías and Tito Patrillo.”
“Go on,” the lieutenant said.
“Dunlop was framed all right–by somebody who knew he had a baseball bat and who used it. As for me, last night I went to a birthday party where a dozen people saw me all evening. What about you, Sparrow? Where were you?”
“You’re off your rocker,” Sparrow said. “What about evidence?”
“Your footprint was there in the alley. That’s evidence.”
“I explained that.”
“But it got me thinking. Now here’s this fingerprint. I thought it was mine, but it says here in the report that the print’s yours. From the time the kid gave me the lunchbox you never even touched it. Besides, when I got the box, that cheese was too hard to take a print; the cheese crumpled when you touched it. But when the garbage pail was knocked over around midnight, the cheese was undoubtedly soft, and that’s when you took the incriminating tape out of the lunchbox, after you killed Tito . . . “
Sparrow gaped and started stammering a denial.
Wren, watching, wondered who his next partner would be. Someone, he hoped, with a nice ordinary name–like Frietzche, say–so the boys couldn’t make jokes.
Neither of the two cops could have told you how this habit of theirs started, or why.