Tom was four minutes late.
He ran towards the sailboat pond from the south, down Pilgrim Hill. He had started running half way across Madison Avenue after a quick glance at his watch. He could feel panic nibbling at him. He didn’t like the idea of Jim loitering in the park, alone.
But he wasn’t alone. There was a man talking to him on the north side of pond, beside the Hans Christian Andersen statue. Tom forced himself to slow down.
Jim flinched as the man spoke to him. One of the man’s hands was in his raincoat pocket -- holding a gun, Tom was certain. It was in the way the man’s weight shifted to that side. Tom circled behind them, walking. He couldn’t afford to draw attention to himself now.
The man said something. Jim answered.
Tom was fifty yards away. He picked up his pace -- a typical New Yorker, taking a short cut through the park, in a hurry.
Jim reached into his coat and pulled out a manila envelope. It was the story. It had to be. The man took it.
Tom leapt into a run, knees pumping to his chin, arms tight at his sides. The ground was clear ahead of him. Twenty yards, fifteen.
Jim saw him. His eyes flicked over the man’s shoulder, just for a moment, then back again. But it was enough. The man spun around and saw Tom hurtling towards him Tom got one glimpse of his face -- long and dark with a thin pencil mustache -- before he turned his back again.
The man fired three shots, dropped his gun and started running himself, smashing through a group of kids, knocking two of them down.
Jim was on the pavement. Blood was soaking through his coat. In an agonized moment of indecision, Tom knew he should chase down the running man. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t leave Jim to die alone. And Jim was dying, there was no doubt about that.
Tom saw the gun lying a few feet from Jim’s head. He dove, grabbed it, rolled to his knees and aimed at the fleeing killer. He squeezed off three shots before he realized that the gun was empty. Jim groaned. He was trying to talk. Tom scrambled back beside the big black man, screaming “Call an ambulance -- somebody call an ambulance!” Then he turned back to Jim and spoke quietly. “Its okay, we’re gonna get you to the hospital. Just lie still. Don’t try to talk. Just breathe. That’s it. Nice and easy.”
“Tal. ..“ Jim said.
“Shhh. The ambulance is on the way. But Jim was still struggling. Finally he said it:
“Taliafero.” Blood bubbled up at the corners of his mouth. Tom glanced up, but Taliafero was long gone.
When the first cops arrived five minutes later. Tom was kneeling next to Jim Gramble’s body, rocking back and forth, making small keening noises, feeling the fabric of his connection to reality tearing along the seams like an old shirt.
He heard Amos Gramble saying “Are you going to help Jim?” He heard him saying “You’re fighting the good fight. Don’t lose it. Jim’s counting on you. Both of us are.”
But Jim was dead and all his father’s prophesies had come true. There was the sound of an ambulance from far away, but it was too late.
Too late: if Tom had run ten blocks less, gotten on the subway two stops sooner, run instead of jogged across town to the park --
“On your feet, kid.”
“And drop the gun.”
Tom looked up sluggishly. Two policemen were standing over him, weapons drawn. He was indeed still holding Talifero’s .38. Still on his knees, he reached up and handed it over. Had Taliafero planned this final touch? It was possible; Tom’s prints were all over the gun now.
And Taliafero had been wearing gloves.
“You are under arrest for suspicion of felony assault and murder,” the older cop was saying. “You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to speak anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to legal counsel. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you by the court.”
“Wait a second.” Tom stood, His legs were trembling. “I didn’t kill him. It was a cop. I’m a witness. A cop did it. His name is Taliafero -- tall, thin guy. Pencil mustache. He -- “
“Don’t make it worse for yourself, kid. Here’s a tip for ya -- we cops tend to be fraternal. We get pissed off when you accuse other cops of murder. Cuff him, Howie.”
Tom stared down at Jim.
This was what Jim had been talking about. This was Hell on Earth -- a few shrewd deals, a leveraged buy-out or two, floated by junk bonds (the Devil would have to appreciate junk bonds) and Satan had gotten his Kingdom. Everything was lost or given away -- or sold.
And this was what remained: two bulls on Dominic Nosiglia’s payroll, accusing Tom of murder.
But the two fat, brutal faces yanked him back to reality: he couldn’t save Jim, but he still had a mission and it was Jim’s mission, too. These cops thought they could stop him; they had the guns and the handcuffs and they thought that was enough. There were new sirens in the distance -- five or six more sets of guns and handcuffs would be enough -- more than enough.
Tom smiled at the two policemen.
Then he exploded.
He knocked the older one’s gun aside and lunged forward with an elbow smash to the throat. Using his hip as a pivot, he kicked the man’s legs out from under him and slammed him into his partner. Tom kicked the younger one as they fell, and then he leapt over the bodies and started sprinting for Fifth Avenue. He heard people shouting but there were no gunshots. He still had a minute or two. He angled left beside the pond, back towards Pilgrim Hill and the 72nd Street entrance to the Park. As soon as he was on Fifth Avenue he slowed down to a brisk walk. In ten minutes all exits from the park would be blocked. But two minutes later, Tom was walking east down 71st Street, watching police cars roll by and listening to the convergence of sirens.
He was free for the moment. But he was a fugitive now. Hitting those cops had changed everything. If Heller wanted to stop him he could use the full force of official law enforcement. But would Heller want to stop him? There was no immediate need to panic. If he wasn’t recognized at the crime scene, if Taliafero was just a mob goon with no connection to Heller ... Tom pressed his hands to his eyes.
No -- they had to be connected. That was Jim’s whole point. Everything was linked together now. Taliafero might even be some kind of liaison: a crooked cop who had dealt with the Secret Service over the years would be a perfect go-between. If Taliafero was working for Heller --
Tom cut himself off. He didn’t have time to second guess Heller now. He didn’t have time for anything but a frantic search of Jim’s apartment: he had to find the papers Jim had hidden there before the cops and the Mafia and the Secret Service figured out that was where he was going next.
Or maybe they had figured it out already -- maybe they were waiting for him right now, loading their guns and checking their watches.
There was only one way to find out.
Tom hailed a cab on Park Avenue.
“Ninetieth and West End,” he told the driver. He wanted to walk the last few blocks. A little prudent reconnaissance might just save his life.
Everything depended on the next hour. Tom sat back, shut his eyes and concentrated on breathing. He needed to be calm and focused -- he had a puzzle to solve, along with everything else.
“Don’t let the bunny stump you again.”
Tom ran Jim’s words around in his head, trying to recall the various Easter Sundays he’d spent with Jim and Eleanor as a child. He was baffled; hopefully the apartment itself would give him some ideas.
Tom paid off the cabbie and started walking uptown on West End Avenue. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperature was in the mid-sixties. There was a light breeze blowing off the Hudson River.
There were some mornings when late March in New York made April in Paris look mundane by comparison. The city opened like a flower in these first days when winter fled. It was picnic-on-the-roof weather, window shopping weather, softball-in-the-Park weather.
And he was going to war. The very air seemed to chastise him. Tom wondered if the hostile factions in Beirut and Ulster and Sarajevo felt reproved in the same way when spring finally came to their battered cities and they continued killing each other in the bright air, their coats off at last, amid the melting snow and the new mud, with that gentle southern wind in their faces. Probably they did, though they went right on killing each other anyway.
Jim’s apartment was being watched.
As Tom approached he saw a gray Secret Service Dodge pull up and double park door to door with the blue Secret Service Plymouth that had taken the last shift. Ordinarily Tom would have assumed that it was just a routine changing of the guard. But today he wasn’t sure. If Heller knew he was free after a botched meeting with Jim Gramble -- and Tom had to assume that was the case -- then it would make sense to increase security around the three or four most like places for him to show up.
The anger from the Park welled up in him again. He saw the absolute, impossible stillness of Jim’s body, ground his teeth at the obscene, casual ease with which that brave irreplaceable life had been taken. That it was tactically appropriate to eliminate these two surveillance teams was a secondary matter.
He wanted to hurt them.
It was four to one, but he had certain advantages: greater skill and the element of surprise, and his rage, if he could control it. Even the weather was on his side. Hand-to-hand combat was much more difficult, much riskier, in the cold. It was harder to punch with chilled hands, harder to run on icy streets.
A moment before he launched his attack, he smiled to himself. Now he knew a little bit better how the Bosnian freedom fighters had felt when spring came to Sarajevo.
Ed Joseph was leaning against the roof of his car, in the crook of the open door, with his back to the traffic. He was listening as Nate Billings leaned over in the narrow alley between the cars, speaking into the open window to Joel Pressman and Bobby Cross. In the hum and rustle of traffic behind him, Ed didn’t even hear the footsteps until his car door was slamming him unconscious against the edge of the roof.
Before Ed could fall to the greasy asphalt, Tom was rolling over the roof, dropping between the two cars. He clamped Nate Billings in a head lock that cut off the blood to his brain and punched in through the open car window, knocking Joel Pressman out with one blow to the temple. As Pressman slumped against his seat belt, Tom pulled the agent’s gun from his shoulder holster and jammed it into Bobby Cross’ neck. Ed Joseph was unconscious in the crook of Tom’s elbow from his blocked carotid artery.
Tom let him crumple to the street before brain damage set in, not that you could necessarily tell the difference with these guys. He hit Cross with the butt of his partner’s gun, rolled Ed Joseph and Nate Billings under their car and turned on their emergency blinkers.
Traffic streamed past both ways on West End Avenue. Probably some people had seen him. But no one stopped and he was reasonably sure that no one even called the police on their car phones. No one wanted to deal with the cops.
Tom felt calmed by his outburst of violence. He let himself into Jim’s building with his own set of keys, still trying to remember Easters past, keenly aware that as soon as the unconscious Secret Service men were due to check in, the alarms would start to go off. He had ten or fifteen minutes at most.
It was quiet in Jim’s building, and stuffy; perhaps ten degrees warmer than the air outside. Tom took the stairs three at a time, As Jake Gritzky invariably did, with his habit of making a punishing exercise regimen out of any routine activity. On the third floor there were the sounds of classical music from one apartment, a television bleating from another and the soft grumbling of the building itself -- the mutter of the furnace, the whine of the elevator, not disturbing the quiet but enriching it. There was no guard posted at Jim’s door. Tom let himself in and shut it softly behind him.