When The Sacred Ginmill Closes Page 37

I stuffed the note in my pocket. I took the little gun from her fingers, checked routinely for a pulse, then wrapped a sofa pillow around the gun to muffle its report.

I fired one round into the soft tissue below the rib cage, another into her open mouth.

I dropped the gun into a pocket and got out of there.

THEY found the gun in Tommy Tillary\s house on Colonial Road, stuffed between the cushions of the living-room sofa. The outside of the gun had been wiped clean of prints, but they found an identifiable print inside, on the clip, and it turned out to be Tommy\s.

Ballistics got a perfect match. Bullets can shatter when they hit bone, but the shot into her abdomen didn\ hit any bones and it was recovered intact.

After the story made the papers, I picked up the phone and called Drew Kaplan. ’’I don\ understand it,’’ I said. ’’He was free and clear, why the hell did he go and kill the girl?’’

’’Ask him yourself,’’ Kaplan said. He did not sound happy. ’’You want my opinion, he\s a lunatic. I honestly didn\ think he was. I figured maybe he killed his wife, maybe he didn\ , not my job to try him, right? But I didn\ figure the son of a bitch for a homicidal maniac.’’

’’There\s no question he killed the girl?’’

’’No question that I can see. The gun\s pretty strong evidence. Talk about finding somebody with the smoking pistol in his hand, here it was in Tommy\s couch. The idiot.’’

’’Funny he kept it.’’

’’Maybe he had other people he wanted to shoot. Go figure a crazy man. No, the gun\s damning evidence, and there was a phone tip, some man called in the shooting, reported a man running out of the building and gave a description that fitted Tommy better than his clothes. In fact his clothes were in the description. Had him wearing that red blazer of his, tacky thing makes him look like an usher at the old Brooklyn Paramount.’’

’’It sounds tough to square.’’

’’Well, somebody else\ll have to try to do it,’’ Kaplan said. ’’I told him it wouldn\ be appropriate for me to defend him this time. What it amounts to, I wash my hands of him.’’

* * *

I thought of all this when I read that Angel Herrera got out just the other day. He did all ten years of a five-to-ten because he was at least as good at getting into trouble inside the walls as he had been outside.

Somebody killed Tommy Tillary with a homemade knife after he\d served two years and three months of a manslaughter stretch. I wondered at the time if that was Herrera getting even, and I don\ suppose I\ll ever know. Maybe the checks stopped going to Santurce and Herrera took it the wrong way. Or maybe Tommy made the wrong remark to some other hard case, and did it face-to-face instead of over the phone.

So many things have changed, so many people are gone.

Antares &Spiro\s, the Greek bar on the corner, is gone. It\s a Korean fruit store now. Polly\s Cage is now Cafe 57, changed from sleazy to chic, with the red flocked wallpaper and the neon parrot long gone. The Red Flame is gone, and the Blue Jay. There\s a steak house called Desmond\s where McGovern\s used to be. Miss Kitty\s closed about a year and a half after they bought their books back. John and Skip sold the lease and got out. The new owners opened a gay club called Kid Gloves, and two years later it was out and something else was in.

The gym where I watched Skip do lat-machine pulldowns went out of business within the year. A modern-dance studio took over the premises, and then a couple of years ago the whole building came down and a new one went up. Of the two side-by-side French restaurants, the one where I had dinner with Fran is gone, and the latest tenant is a fancy Indian restaurant. The other French place is still there, and I still haven\ eaten there.

So many changes.

Jack Diebold is dead. A heart attack. He was dead six months before I even heard about it, but then we didn\ have much contact after the Tillary incident.

John Kasabian left the city after he and Skip sold Miss Kitty\s. He opened up a similar joint out in the Hamptons, and I heard he got married.

Morrissey\s closed late in \77. Tim Pat skipped bail on a federal gunrunning charge and his brothers disappeared. The ground-floor theater is still running, oddly enough.

Skip is dead. He sort of hung around after Miss Kitty\s closed, spending more and more of his time by himself in his apartment. Then one day he got an attack of acute pancreatitis and died on the table at Roosevelt.

Billie Keegan left Armstrong\s in early \76, if I remember it right. Left Armstrong\s and left New York, too. The last I heard he was off the drink entirely, living north of San Francisco and making candles or silk flowers or something equally unlikely. And I ran into Dennis a month or so ago in a bookstore on lower Fifth Avenue, full of odd volumes on yoga and spiritualism and holistic healing.

Eddie Koehler retired from the NYPD a couple of years back. I got cards from him the first two Christmases, mailed from a little fishing village in the Florida panhandle, I didn\ hear from him last year, which probably only means that he\s dropped me from his list, which is what happens to people who don\ send cards in return.

Jesus, where did ten years go? I\ve got one son in college now, and another in the service. I couldn\ tell you the last time we went to a ball game together, let alone a museum.

Anita\s remarried. She still lives in Syosset, but I don\ send money there anymore.

So many changes, eating away at the world like water dripping on a rock. For God\s sake, last summer the sacred ginmill closed, if you want to call it that. The lease on Armstrong\s came up for renewal and Jimmy walked away from it, and now there\s yet another goddamned Chinese restaurant where the old joint used to be. He reopened a block farther west, at the corner of Fifty-seventh and Tenth, but that\s a little out of my way these days.

In more ways than one. Because I don\ drink anymore, one day at a time, and thus have no business in ginmills, be they sacred or profane. I spend less of my time lighting candles and more in church basements, drinking my coffee without bourbon, and out of Styrofoam cups.

So when I look ten years into the past I can say that I would very likely have handled things differently now, but everything is different now. Everything. All changed, changed utterly. I live in the same hotel, I walk the same streets, I go to a fight or a ball game the same as ever, but ten years ago I was always drinking and now I don\ drink at all. I don\ regret a single one of the drinks I took, and I hope to God I never take another.

Because that, you see, is the less-traveled road on which I find myself these days, and it has made all the difference. Oh, yes. All the difference.

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