The Book of Judges

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine|October 2016

The Book of Judges

McNulty’s apartment had the look and feel of a wake. In the front room, guys from the job milled around with beer bottles tight in their hands.

Kevin Egan

Along the wall, scraps of cold cuts and shards of potato chips littered a white plastic tablecloth that covered a foldaway banquet table. In the air, the aroma of coffee hung thick.

Foxx shouldered his way through the crowd. Some of the guys nodded, others grunted hello. Most eyed him with vague uneasiness as if suspecting something about him they could not quite articulate. In the kitchen, Prete and LaBate huddled at a small round table.

“He still with us?” said Foxx.

“Yeah,” said Prete. “Says he’ll talk only to you.”

“So it’s about goddam time you got here,” said LaBate.

Prete grunted in assent.

At least they agreed on one thing, thought Foxx. He hooked a sharp left out of the kitchen and walked down the hallway that led to the bedroom. McNulty lay flat on his back, an oxygen tube clipped to his nose and an IV stuck in a raw space among the sharp tendons and gnarled veins on the back of his hand. Gina, small in the chair beside the nightstand, set her knitting on the floor. Foxx liked her weathered beauty, especially the lines around her mouth and the redness about her eyes. He pecked her on the cheek.

“Sorry I’m late.” He stared until McNulty’s chest rose with a breath. “Prete and LaBate. I can’t stand them.”

“Boys will be boys.” “Boys will be assholes,” said Gina. “They don’t have my sympathy when he’s all I have.”

She and McNulty had been together for many years without getting married. McNulty, Foxx knew, never said no but never said yes, maintaining instead an endless discourse on the subject, like the King of Munster keeping Queen Elizabeth at bay with his blarney.

Foxx leaned down close enough to feel the oxygen jetting out of the tubes. For years, the younger officers referred to McNulty as the old white haired guy when in fact his hair was pale blond. His hair now had caught up with his nickname.

“Wally,” Foxx whispered.

McNulty’s eyes opened.

“Hey, Foxx.”

“How you feeling, Wally?”

“Been better.” McNulty’s eyes glazed until he caught himself and focused on Foxx again.

“They want to know,” said Foxx.

“They can wait,” said McNulty. “You make that clear. I’ll tell you when I tell you.”

Foxx patted McNulty on the shoulder and began to take his leave.

“Hey, Foxx.” McNulty pinched a button on Foxx’s shirt and tugged lightly.

“The Book,” he whispered. “I tried to fix it. Remember that.”

“I will,” said Foxx.

Out in the kitchen, he relayed McNulty’s message.

“He’ll tell you when he tells you?” said Prete. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He’s not ready,” said Foxx.

“He’s on his deathbed,” said LaBate. “When else will he be ready?”

“Seems strong enough to me,” said Foxx.

“Even a drowning man surfaces one last time,” said Prete.

“I say we decide the matter ourselves,” said LaBate.

“You can’t go in there,” said Foxx.

“Not going to,” said LaBate. He shot a glance at Prete.

“What?” said Foxx.

“Longest serving officer is custodian of the Book,” said Prete. “That’s the rule. We started the same day, so it has to be one of us.”

“What are you two going to do?” said Foxx. “Flip a coin?”

“Nothing so crass,” said LaBate.

The cell phone in Foxx’s pocket buzzed. Two letters—IG—marched across the tiny screen. Foxx went out of the apartment to answer.

“Need you to deliver something,” said Bev.

The only light in the inspector general’s office was the banker’s lamp on Bev’s desk. Bev herself hovered outside its glare. Foxx could see her chest but scrupulously kept his eyes on the subpoena, which was taped to a manila envelope.

“You need to take this to Judge Weeks’s chambers,” said Bev.

“At this hour?”

“They’re expecting it.” “They?”

“The judge and his wife.”

Foxx twisted his neck to align himself with the envelope.

“That’s a D.A.’s subpoena. Weeks sits in civil court.”

Bev leaned into the light. She had thick dark hair shot through with

strands of gray, a blunt nose, and a slight underbite.

“His wife is head of major crimes in the D.A.’s office,” she said. “She issued the subpoena.” Foxx lifted the envelope.

“Feels like there’s nothing inside.”

“Can’t turn over what doesn’t exist,” said Bev.

Foxx popped out of the subway in the middle of a quiet and empty Foley Square. The courthouse, known as 60 Centre Street, loomed above him, dark except for the three big lanterns hanging on the portico and a smattering of lights from the judges’ chambers on the fifth and sixth floors. He had a key but thought it better politics to slap his ID card on the glass and allow the night officer to admit him. Judge Weeks’s chambers was on the fifth floor, halfway around the corridor that followed the hexagonal shape of the building. The chambers floors had an eerie feel at night, with their dark transoms and sharp shadows, odd noises and sudden drafts.

Judge Weeks himself answered the door. He was a tall man, light skinned with reddish hair tight to his lightbulb skull and a strong jaw. His gray pinstriped pants and white shirt looked as crisp as morning.

“Is that from the IG’s office?” he said.

Foxx nodded.

The judge backed away from the door, then turned to sit at his secretary’s desk. In an adjoining room, a gorgeous woman in a red cocktail dress paced while talking on a cell phone. She spotted Foxx and swung the door shut.

Foxx handed the envelope to Judge Weeks.

“I’ve seen you in the building,” said the judge. “You work for the IG too?”

“I just deliver the mail,” Foxx said, unsurprised that the judge recognized him because people noticed his silver hair and Caribbean blue eyes, his well-oiled gait, and wiry physique.

Behind the door, the woman’s voice rose.

“No, no. Absolutely not. That is unacceptable.”

The judge sliced the manila’s flap with a letter opener, then smoothly removed the single sheet of paper with the IG’s letterhead at the top and Bev’s looping signature below a very short paragraph of typescript.

“That’s it?” said the judge.

“Should there be more?” said Foxx.

Behind the door, the woman started to shout. Judge Weeks, his hands visibly shaking, worked the paper back into the envelope.

“I think you’d better leave,” he said.

Back at McNulty’s apartment, the folded-up banquet table leaned against the wall. Two plump garbage bags cinched with red plastic cords nestled in a corner. No trace of coffee lingered in the air.

“He spoke,” said Gina. Barefoot now, she looked even smaller than she had at McNulty’s bedside. One hand clutched the collar of her bathrobe tight to her throat. “He wants you to have it.”

“Me?” said Foxx. He was about to debate the point when he remembered that Gina was only the messenger. “I need to see him.”

But the sight of McNulty shocked Foxx. In three hours, McNulty had declined precipitously. He lay on his side now, his knees drawn up toward his chest. Pain etched his face, and his breathing sounded wet and uneven.

“He fell apart after everyone left. He was holding out, putting up a front. Always for the guys, you know?”

Foxx nodded.

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October 2016