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After I'm Gone

Hold Me
July 4, 1976

They left at dusk, about an hour before the fireworks were scheduled, and by the time they were at the old toll bridge over the Susquehanna,  Felix could see glimmers of light

through the one tiny window, little celebrations everywhere. He had told Julie to take the old way to Philadelphia, up Route 40. He was being cautious, yet nostalgic, too. He had gotten his start out here, taking action in the bars.

He sneezed. There was hay on the floor and a horse blanket. If they got pulled over, he would arrange the blanket over him- self and hope for the best. He had started to do just that when the truck slowed about an hour into the trip, then realized that it was the toll on the bridge across the Susquehanna. Bert and Tubby had said they should put a horse in the trailer because then no one would bother to look inside, but he wasn’t going to crouch in a corner for the hundred-mile trip, trying to avoid hooves and shit.

He had said good-bye to Bambi earlier in the day, before she and the girls headed out to the club, where they would stay until well after nightfall. He hadn’t told her what was going on, but it was clear she suspected something was up. Bambi was smart, smart enough not to ask questions. When the feds came snoop- ing, she’d be convincing in her ignorance.

The hardest part had been saying good-bye to his unwitting daughters, keeping it casual. They were used to doing things without him; his work had always demanded long and odd hours, then the house arrest had come along, keeping him on a short leash while on appeal. No one would think twice about Felix Brewer not being at the club on the Fourth of July, not this year. The girls had given him perfunctory kisses, so sure of him, and he had not dared to hold them as close and hard as he wanted to. He did give the baby, three-year-old Michelle, an extra-hard squeeze. “Bring me present?” she asked, which startled him for a second. But Michelle got confused, thought she should get a present every time someone left the house, even if she were the one leaving. He pretended to steal her nose, showed her his thumb between his fingers, refused to give it back until she kissed him again. She had a way of cocking her head and looking at him through her lashes. Just like her mother. It slayed him.

As for Bambi, he kissed her as if it were the first time, which had been February 15, 1959, parked in front of her parents’ house in the car her parents had given her, a last-ditch bribe to persuade her to return to college. The first kiss was at once passionate and chaste, a kiss that contained everything that was to mark their future together—his aching need for her, the slightest sense of re- serve on her part, as if she would always hold back a piece of her- self. Their last kiss contained their entire history. A piece of an old song passed through his head, something about flying plates and broken dates, how that was part of being in love. Bambi would never throw a plate. He wouldn’t have minded if she had, once or twice.

Bambi wouldn’t  have liked that Julie  was driving him—if she were ever going to break some crockery, that might be the moment—but Julie was the best person for the job. Her sister ac- tually had horses, or access to them, so it was plausible for the two of them to be hauling a trailer north. Besides, Julie was going to have it hard, once he was gone. Bambi had the girls, friends, family. Julie didn’t have anyone except her sister, an odd duck and that was being kind. The puss on that one when she took the wheel. “This better be for forever,” she muttered. “You’re getting yours,” he reminded her. Everybody was getting theirs, one way or another.

“Forever.” That was the word that Julie had repeated when he explained things to her last week. It wasn’t quite a question, more like a concept she had never heard before. They had been sitting in the little coffee shop, his one legitimate business. The weekly receipts wouldn’t have kept his girls in hair ribbons. And his girls actually wore hair ribbons. Bambi dressed them like Towson preppies, all pink and green, taught them how to blow-dry their unruly hair into ponytails. Well, not the baby, but the baby was a dead ringer for Bambi—hair as sleek and dark as a seal’s, blue eyes, impossible eyelashes. Linda was the organized one, Rachel was the smart one, and while they were both pretty, Michelle was going to be the beautiful one. They were going to make their mark on the world, each in her own way. And he was going to miss all of it, all of it.

“Forever,” Julie repeated, drawing out the syllables, tracing the watery ring left by her Coke. She hardly drank, this one, although she pretended to at night, sipping scotch to keep him company.

“Looks that way. Unless something unexpected happens.” Another long silence. Julie was one of those odd women who

was prettier when she didn’t smile. Stone-faced, she was a sultry enigma. When she grinned, she still looked like the hick teenager that Tubby scouted in the Rexall four years ago.

“Seven point five percent,” she said at last.


“The country is two hundred years old this year. They’re asking you to give seven point five percent of the country’s entire history. That’s a lot.”

“And you know I don’t give points easily.”

A quick smile at that. She used to have bad teeth before he fixed them, another reason that she didn’t smile much. Julie didn’t actually have a great sense of humor, anyway. She was a little literal minded for that, a dollars-and-cents girl, very practical. A practical mistress was a good thing. She had never entertained the thought that he would marry her, for example, although there was that tiny little weirdness last year.

She understood that Bambi was the love of his life. It was Julie, after she started some community college class, who told him F. Scott Fitzgerald said the test of a first-class mind was holding two conflicting ideas in your head without going nuts. Felix was an old hand at that. He loved Bambi, he needed other women. Julie had been with him for a year when Michelle was born, but she didn’t act like it was a betrayal, the way some girl- friends might have. Of course he still slept with his wife. She was his wife and very attractive, and he was crazy in love with her. Being with Julie wasn’t an expression of dissatisfaction with Bambi. It’s just that life was better when you ordered à la carte. There had been girls other than Julie, too, a one-nighter here or there. Because he could. Because  he needed to. If only Bambi would let go of that piece of her she kept locked away, if only she weren’t so goddamn self-sufficient.

Then again, she would need to take care of herself now. He couldn’t have left if he wasn’t confident that Bambi could manage. Hell, she had always run things. Had run everything except him and the money part. Voluble and flashy as Felix was, he wasn’t that removed from the old joke, the one about the kid who came home from Hebrew school and told his mother he had been cast as the husband in the school play. “You go back and ask for a speak- ing part,” the mother instructed. Oh, Felix got to speak. Felix got to talk and talk and talk. But at the end of the day, it was the 110- pound girl with the cerulean eyes who ruled the roost without ever raising her voice.

He was flying from  a small airfield outside Philadelphia to Montreal. The Olympics were less than two weeks out, so he fig- ured that was a safe bet, as a starting point. Lots of people were arriving in Montreal right now. From there, he would make his way to Toronto, then to his final location. He had probably over- thought it, which was not his usual style. But he had only one shot at this. The main thing was to treat everyone fairly. It was the practical thing to do. Malcontents would rat him out.

He did the math. He had always loved numbers, which had served him well for so long. Fifteen years. Michelle would be eigh- teen; Rachel, twenty-nine; Linda, almost thirty-one. Bambi would be edging into her fifties. She would probably still be good-looking, too. She was going to age well. Julie—harder to tell. But he wasn’t going to last fifteen years with Julie. They had maybe a year or two, tops. She was getting restless. She was ambitious, wanted to move on. Why else would she be taking those college courses? He hoped Bambi wouldn’t be too pissed about Julie getting the coffee shop, but it’s not like Bambi could run it, and it was the easiest asset to transfer. He would have given Julie the club, too, but she said she didn’t want it. Said this was her opportunity to become respectable. He told her respectable was overrated. Besides, if you had enough money, whatever you did was respectable.

Seven point five percent of a nation’s history. A young nation to be sure, but still—that was a good way of looking at it. Fifteen percent of his life, if he lived to be a hundred. Probably more like 20 percent of his life and not just any 20 percent, but the heart of it, his prime. Even with the legal lottery in place, he was still making good money. Beyond good. The legal lottery seemed to prime the pump in a way he couldn’t quite fathom. His old customers played both lotteries now, street and legal. Things had been going so well that he was on the verge of buying Linda and Rachel horses, another one of Bambi’s ideas. Good thing he hadn’t because those would have been the first things to go. There were going to have to be big changes. He hoped Bambi understood that.

At the airport, he leaned into the car from the passenger side, using his weight to keep the door shut, a barrier between him and Julie. He’d give her a kiss, sure, but not some big Casablanca clinch. That would be a betrayal of Bambi.

Yet even their relatively chaste peck left the sister with that same sour expression. “I’m an accessory,” she had said when they were loading up. He had wanted to say: Well, your face looks like leather, so why not be a bag? He didn’t like ugly women. Lord, it had been a relief when Linda had finally grown into the nose he gave her. And even that had needed a little surgical refinement. He made Bambi do it right after his sentence was handed down, and Linda was now the pretty girl she deserved to be.

He handed Julie the briefcase that he had been sitting on through- out the ride and she gave him his valise, which had been riding up in front with her. He didn’t want his stuff to smell of manure.

“Don’t stop anywhere,” he reminded her. “Take it straight to the place, then open it.”

“I’ll  be okay,” she said. Meaning, he knew, that she didn’t expect or need anything from him. That was part of the reason he had given her as much as he had.

“You’ll be with me,” he said. “Always.”

“Forever,” she said, the tiniest wisp of a question mark cling- ing to it.

On board the small plane, he reached for his new passport and found, nestled next to it, the letters he meant to pack in the brief- case. Damn. What could he do? Julie was on the road, would be for at least two hours. Even if he could call her, would he dare?

Oh well, everyone knew what to do. It was just sad that he would never have the chance to explain himself to Bambi.

He was the only passenger on the plane, an eight-seater. The pilot was a dark-eyed man who didn’t want to know him or his story. Smart guy. Felix, who had ceased to be Felix the moment he boarded the plane, looked down at the lights of the city, his real city, which he had left behind years ago. His parents were down there somewhere, as was his sister. They hadn’t spoken for almost twenty years. But he didn’t want to speak to them. He wanted to talk to Bambi. She’d be back from the club now, and she’d know. She’d know.

Within ten years, a man of means would be able to make a call from his seat on some airlines. Within twenty years, almost everyone would have a cell phone and be able to call anyone, at any time. Within twenty-five years, the Towers would fall and the rules would change and disappearing via Canada, even with access to a private plane, would be much more difficult.

But Felix Brewer was not a man given to imagination, except when it came to ways of getting people to part with their money voluntarily, through a technically criminal enterprise that re- quired neither gun nor force, just a basic understanding of the human weakness for hope and possibility.

Seven point five percent. Talk about the vig. The government had rigged the game until walking away was the only choice. The plane rose in the sky, city lights gave way to vast swaths of dark empty spaces. He was gone.

Kiss Me
March 2, 2012 

Sandy was at lunch when he got the call that the jury was coming back. They had been out since midday Thurs- day and it was now early Friday afternoon. Normally, he would be confident with a jury coming in after less than eight hours, but he’d known panels that had been broken down by one adamant member on the grounds of TGIF. These twelve weren’t sequestered, but it had been a relatively long trial and they proba- bly yearned to go into the weekend without their civic duty hang- ing over them. They had been seated last Thursday, then heard four days of testimony. He didn’t like the look on number three’s face. It didn’t help that the defendant appeared so frail. The assis- tant state’s attorney had tried to remind the jury that the crime had taken place thirty years ago, that the defendant had been in his forties then, brawny and vital, his victim seventy-three.

She also was the defendant’s mother, for what it was worth. But that could work against them, too. In a group of twelve people, what were the odds that at least two didn’t hate their own moms? Sandy had lost his parents young, which haloed their memories, but it was kind of a miracle that he had never lunged at Nabby, the woman who ended up raising him.

Back at the courthouse, Sandy walked through the metal de- tectors like any civilian, which he now was. No gun, no badge. It bugged him, a little, but only because the absence of those two professional tokens was a reminder that he was on a pension and still working at the age of sixty-three. Wasn’t supposed to be like that. Working for less than he made when he was full-time, when you calculated the lack of overtime and benefits. Then again, he got to cherry-pick his cases, and he was batting a thousand as a result. Not just in clearances, but in actual convictions. It’s not bragging if it’s true.

Too bad his stats also burnished the reputations of the state’s attorney and the chief of police, both of whom he disliked. Big talkers, too slick and glib for his taste.

He took a seat in the back of the courtroom,  hunkering down so he could watch the jurors without making actual eye contact. Juror number three looked constipated, bottled up with something. Could be a problem. People didn’t usually get that angry over a “guilty.” Then again, could be straight-up consti- pation. The foreman was asked if a verdict had been reached, the piece of paper was passed to the judge, then back to the fore- man. Sandy had always wondered at that bit of ceremony, felt it was overdone. If the judge had already read it, why not just have him say it? But, you know, we the people. It was their verdict, they got to deliver it. Other than the $20 a day, what else did they get for their service?

“We find Oliver Lansing guilty of murder in the first degree.” Sandy needed a second to absorb it. Even when his hearing was perfect, Sandy had always experienced this weird time shift

at the moment the verdict was read, as if he were hung up in time while everyone else went forward. But, no, he wasn’t imagining things. Guilty. The jury was thanked, and now the process of processing began for the defendant, guilty of the first-degree homi- cide of his own mother. It was a de facto death sentence, given the guy’s age, and Sandy was happy for that. Think of the thirty years this guy had enjoyed. He was getting off easy, in Sandy’s view.

The original detectives on the case had looked at Lansing back then. Of course they had. Sandy had yet to work a cold case where the name wasn’t in the file. But this guy was so sick that he had the presence of mind to take his own mother’s panties off. Oh, he knew what he was doing, the sick fuck. No one could imagine a guy doing that to his mother’s body. The other thing was, he didn’t cover up her face, just left her lying on her back in her own blood, skirt flipped up, naked between the waist and the knee-high nylons. Who does that? This guy did, and the prosecutor hadn’t been squeamish about hitting that note during testimony and closing arguments.

But when Sandy decided to work the case, he had focused on a background detail in the photos from the scene—a cup in the sink, when all the other dishes were washed and on the drain- board. It was Sandy’s opinion that the victim was not the kind of woman to leave a cup in the sink for even thirty seconds. Her house was that neat, based on the photos. Obviously, the cup had been tested for fingerprints at the time, but it came up clean.

Sandy had studied the cup in the photo, compared it to the ones on the drying rack. The others were part of a set, dainty and flower flecked, while this was a mug, solid and sturdy. He’d bet anything that this mug wasn’t chosen because it was at hand, that someone had reached deep into the shelves for this cup. The cup wasn’t random. It was someone’s favorite, the way people get about mugs. He had the photo blown up, then blown up again, so he could read the logo. No, it didn’t say world’s best son on it or carry the stamp of the guy’s high school, nothing that obvious. It was a Jiffy Lube mug. But it didn’t feel random to Sandy.

So he found the son and talked to him. Lansing didn’t confess, but he talked too much, began embroidering the story, then contradicting himself. Sandy reconstructed the time line of that weekend, put the guy in the neighborhood, which didn’t jibe with his original statement. He found a relative who was willing to tes- tify that there had been a quarrel about money. Lansing wanted to open a car wash, but his mother wouldn’t help him out.

Lansing never did open the car wash, but he sold his mother’s house and took an interest in a duckpin lane, only to see it close within five years. Stupid. Not that Sandy sat in judgment of people who made bad financial decisions, but even in the early 1980s, a duckpin lane was a piss-poor investment. There were maybe two left in the city now.

Okay, done. RIP Agnes Lansing. Time to find another case. Given that the city paid him only $35,000 a year, he tried not to start a new file until the last one was done. During the downtime, he continued to organize the files, which had been a mess when he proposed this gig—strewn everywhere, some actually water damaged. He had found some cast-off filing cabinets, wrangled a corner to work in, putting aside cases for future consideration. People left him alone, which was all he could ask for.

He preferred elderly victims. Even if they were shrewish or unkind—and there was evidence that Agnes Lansing was a piece of work, that her son’s rage didn’t come out of nowhere—they were seldom complicit in their own deaths. Didn’t sell drugs or engage in other criminal enterprises. Sandy couldn’t help think- ing that there was a lack of urgency when the victims were old, that sympathy for them was muted by the fact that they had been playing for small stakes.

He grabbed several folders he had put aside, sat at the empty desk that they let him use. It’s not that he was looking for dunkers. If they were dunkers, they would have been solved at some point. But he wasn’t going to assign himself something if he didn’t think he had a shot of bringing it home.

A photograph slipped from one of the files. He stooped to pick it up, knees and back protesting. Mary was right. Maintaining the same weight, give or take ten pounds, wasn’t enough to be healthy. He needed to exercise, stay flexible. The photograph had landed facedown, and the back said Julie “Juliet Romeo” Saxony. When Sandy flipped it over, he was staring at a stripper, and she was staring back at him. He remembered this one. Except he didn’t. Killed by her pimp? Because most of those girls were not much better than whores. No, that wasn’t it. But something nota- ble, something notorious.

He opened the file, actually one of several folders, running, he estimated, to almost eight hundred pages. Thick, but not the thickest he had ever seen. Wildly disordered; he had to dig to find the original report, which came out of Harford County. So why was this in the city files? Oh, the body had been discovered in Leakin Park in 2001. That was it. Julie Saxony, Felix Brewer’s girl. Probably danced under the other name. Brewer disappeared in

1976, and she went missing ten years later. Gossips assumed she had gone to be with Felix. There was a “Missing Person” flyer, circulated by the Havre de Grace Merchants Association, with a black-and-white photocopy of Julie Saxony as she had looked in

1986. Sandy did the math—thirty-three. She wasn’t aging well. Too thin, which wasn’t good for that kind of heart-shaped face, just left her eyes sunken, her forehead creased. Last seen July 3,

1986, the flyer noted. Reward for any information, etc., etc.

Leakin Park, Baltimore’s favorite dumping ground. Although usually not for white ladies from Havre de Grace. How had she ended up there? He reminded himself of his credo: The name is in the file. And the file is eight hundred pages. The obvious thing is to look to Felix Brewer. Maybe Julie knew something. Girlfriends tend to know a lot. More than wives.

Others would call what flashed through Sandy’s mind at this moment a hunch, but it wasn’t. It was an equation as neat as arith- metic. Or, more accurately, a proof in geometry. You take certain postulates, work toward a theorem. Sandy picked up a phone, dialing—okay, punching buttons, but he liked the word “dialing” and wasn’t going to give it up; his English was too hard won to abandon a single word—dialing one of the few reporters he still knew at the Beacon-Light, Herman Peters.

“Roberto Sanchez,” he said to the voice-mail box. He almost never got a human on the first try anymore. He didn’t use his nickname with reporters and got feisty if they tried to appropri- ate it without his invitation. Sandy was for other cops, friends, although he didn’t really have any friends. Mary had called him Roberto most of the time. Peters was okay, though. Might even know the nickname’s  origins, come to think of it, not that he heard it from Sandy. Whenever anyone asked if he was called Sandy because of his hair, he said: “Yes.” And when people asked how a Cuban boy named Sanchez had ended up living in Reming- ton, he said: “Just lucky I guess.”

Peters called him back within fifteen minutes. “What’s up?” No niceties, no shooting the shit, no parlay. There was no time for that anymore. The reporters, the few who were left at the Beacon- Light, were blogging and tweeting, writing more than ever and yet missing more than ever. Reporters used to actually work in the police headquarters, come by, ask about family, make small talk. Sandy had hated that. Then it stopped and he sort of hated that, too. Then Mary died and everything went to shit, and he was glad now that no one ever asked him anything beyond: “What’s up?” And didn’t really care about the answer, if it came to that.

“You remember Felix Brewer?”

“I know the story,” Peters said. “Before my time, but they send me out to his wife’s place every now and then, around the anni- versary of his disappearance, just to see if she’s ready to talk.”

“The wife—yeah, what was her name?” 

“Bambi Brewer.”

“Bambi?” Funny, the stripper had the normal name, and the wife had the stripper name.

“That’s what everyone calls her. Her given name was some- thing else. I don’t remember it off the top of my head.”

“She a Baltimore girl?”

“Yeah, Forest Park High School, around the time of Barry Levinson. Married Felix when she was only nineteen. Her family was in the grocery business, success story of sorts, from peddlers to a decent produce wholesaler in one generation.”

“Can you find out where she grew up? I mean, what street?” “Why?”

“A bet with McLarney,” he said, referencing one of the few homicide detectives left over from his time. “We got to talking about the case and he thought she was a Pikesville girl, but I said she grew up in the city.”

“Bullshit,” the  reporter  said. “You  couldn’t  remember  her name five seconds ago, but you were having some random con- versation about where she grew up?”

“Look, it’s nothing now. If it becomes something, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Really?” “Yes.” No.

“Does it have something to do with her husband?”

“I don’t think so.” He didn’t think it did and he didn’t think it didn’t. What was he thinking? He was thinking that Julie Saxony, in her Juliet Romeo incarnation, all but looked him in the eyes and asked him to help her out. And that the older, thinner Julie seemed to need him even more.

He heard a series of clicks on the other end of the line. The world was full of clicks now. At ticket counters, at hotels, all you heard was clicks. At least this one yielded something useful. “She grew up on Talbot Road in Windsor Hills. It would have been nice then, I think. Even into the ’60s.”

“I’ve heard.” Sandy had spent the 1960s in Remington and didn’t think it was possible to go far enough back in time to say Remington was ever nice. Maybe around the time the Ark and the Dove made land in 1634.

“That meaningful? The address. Did I settle your bet?”

“Naw. I thought she was from Butchers Hill. Nobody wins.” “Something going on in Butchers Hill?”

“Always. Gotta go.”

He checked the city map, although he already knew what he was going to find. He knew before he picked up the phone. That’s how good he was at his job. Talbot Road snaked through Windsor Hills on the southern edge of the neighborhood. It sat on a bluff, high above a deep ravine and Gwynns Falls—and not even a mile from the section of Leakin Park where Julie Saxony’s body had been discovered.

After I'm Gone
by by Laura Lippman

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062083414
  • ISBN-13: 9780062083418