I know, I know. It’s been over a month since I posted anything, and those of you who’ve recently signed up to follow this blog may wonder why you ever thought that was a good idea. Look on the bright side. Have I been cluttering your mailbox?
I’ve been away, on a small-ship cruise of the North Atlantic—and, as the proverbial curate said of his breakfast egg, parts of it were excellent. And now I’m back, and I’ve just discovered something on my hard drive that I barely recall writing. It’s an op-ed piece assigned by the Daily News close to twenty years ago, and, well, why take more words to describe it than the thing contains?
Here you go:
MURDER ON LOCATION
So I ambled over to Barnegat Books on East Eleventh to get Bernie Rhodenbarr’s spin on the proposed real estate legislation. It was lunchtime, and my favorite burglar and his buddy, Carolyn Kaiser, were all set to tuck into the blue plate special from the Laotian joint around the corner. Raffles the Cat was in the fiction section, stalking imaginary mice.
“When I sell somebody a book,” Bernie said, “I’m under no obligation to tell the buyer who owned it last.”
“Sometimes you don’t have to,” Carolyn pointed out. “If there’s a bookplate. Or if it’s from a library.”
“Any ex-library copy in this store,” he said icily, “is stamped WITHDRAWN.”
I didn’t ask him where he kept the stamp. “Some people would argue that real estate’s a little different,” I said. “Nobody lives in a book.”
“If you were going to buy a house,” I said, “or move into an apartment, wouldn’t you want to know if something horrible happened there?”
“This is New York,” he said. “Something horrible’s happened everywhere.”
“It’s true,” Carolyn said. “This store, for instance. Remember when we found the dead guy in the john?”
“Edwin Turnquist. A guy named Jacobi killed him and left him there.”
“And then we put him in a wheelchair and left him over by the river,” Carolyn recalled. “It was sort of like a granny-dumping, except he was already dead. And how about the carriage house on West18th where Wanda Colcannon was murdered? Or Abel Crowe’s place on Riverside Drive, where the podiatrist killed him?”
“Or East 67th Street, where J. Francis Flaxford was bludgeoned,” he said. “Or Gramercy Park, where Crystal Sheldrake was stabbed with one of her husband’s dental scalpels. Or the Nugents’ apartment on West End, where I found Luke Santangelo dead in the bathtub. Or Gordon Onderdonk’s apartment at the Charlemagne, or Hugo Candlemas’s floor-through at 76th and Lex.”
“Remember Walter Grabow, Bernie? Killed right in your apartment.”
“Thanks for reminding me,” he said. “But that’s the point, isn’t it? Even ordinary people like us can point to residences all over town where violent scenes have taken place.”
“Like the argument I had with Randy Messinger at my place on Arbor Court,” she said. “We were yelling at the top of our lungs.” She shuddered at the memory. “But you’re right, and think of the other murder sites we know about. The hotel where Kim Dakkinen was chopped to bits with a machete in Eight Million Ways to Die. The Bethune Street apartment where Wendy Hanniford was knifed in The Sins of the Fathers. The house in Sunset Park where Kenan Khoury caught up with his wife’s killer.”
“And what about the arena in Maspeth, where Matt and Mick Ballou faced off against Borden and Olga Stettner?”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Those are all books about Matthew Scudder. They’re novels.”
“They’re fiction,” I said. “Don’t you know the difference?”
He shrugged. “Does anybody? Besides, this is New York. Everybody knows New York’s not about fact or fiction. New York’s about real estate. The facts don’t matter.”
“Then what does?”
Raffles the Cat leapt gracefully, demolishing a fictional mouse.
“Three things,” my larcenous friend said. “Location, location and location.”