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فصل 12

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Chapter twelve

If the price is right

What if nobody knew that O’Neill was at Police Headquarters? That would give us the chance to tell some clever lies - lies that might give us the advantage. I shared my ideas with the captain.

“We don’t know for sure, but let’s say Lorraine Houston planned Steinmann’s murder,” I began. “She’s killed one person and she wants O’Neill badly enough to kill again. Why don’t we try out this plan? Give the news of what happened at the Metro Hotel tonight to the newspapers, TV and radio stations. Some of it can be true, but a few things can be changed. We tell them that O’Neill escaped and is believed to be somewhere in the East Village area. Houston will be very afraid. She has a lot to lose if she doesn’t find O’Neill first and stop him from talking.”

“OK, Marley. So far, so good. What next?” asked Oldenberg.

“If you agree, I could speak with her. I’ll tell her I have something to sell - the secret accounts.”

“Go on,” said Oldenberg. “I’m interested. But why you? Why couldn’t an NYPD officer do it?”

“I’ll tell her I’ve found O’Neill and am keeping him someplace safe - where she’ll never find him. I’ll also tell her I have the accounts, which I’ll offer to sell if the price is right. I’ll make her an offer which she can’t refuse. For $100,000 I’ll return the accounts to her and give O’Neill to the police. Houston will think she has won. The secret accounts will be safe and O’Neill will be in jail for Steinmann’s murder. I’ll meet with her, then try and get her to talk.”

“Come on, Marley. Get real!” said Oldenberg. “You think a hard businesswoman like Houston is just going to say, ‘Oh, by the way, I ordered Steinmann’s murder.’”

“I’ll let her think I’m the same sort of person as her,” I continued. “A businessman who doesn’t care how he earns his money or who he hurts. If she feels comfortable with me, then we might get the truth.”

“This had better work, Marley. I hope you’re a good enough actor,” said Oldenberg.

“Believe me, Oldenberg, on a good day I could win Oscars,” I told him.

“All right. We’ll do it,” replied Oldenberg. “This could be dangerous. You know that as well as I do. You’ll need a full NYPD team behind you. I’ll organize that as soon as you and Houston have a time and a place to meet. So now I’ll talk to the newspapers and Houston will think that O’Neill is still in hiding.”

“OK. And one more thing,” I said. “Mrs. O’Neill and her daughter Julia could be in real danger. Could you move them to an NYPD safe house?”

“Consider it done,” said Oldenberg.


Wednesday had been a very long day. I got home at three o’clock in the morning and I was so tired that I felt like a dead man walking. I fell into bed and slept well.

The next morning I woke up late, feeling much better. After quickly getting dressed, I ran down to the nearest newsstand and picked up the morning newspapers. I took the papers into Slim Pete’s Diner on Main Street to read more carefully. The name “Slim” is a joke. Actually, he has a serious weight problem.

“What’ll it be, Mr. Marley?” asked Pete with a big smile.

“Eggs, pancakes and bacon,” I answered. “And make that coffee strong, will you?”

“You got it. So what’s the famous Mr. Marley doing today?” asked Pete. “Helping New York’s Finest win the war against crime?

“Something like that,” I replied.

“New York’s Finest” - that’s what people call the NYPD. I never thought of myself as one of the “Finest” when I was a cop and I never thought I was fighting a war. I was just doing my job. If there was a little less crime on the streets by the end of the day, that was good enough for me.

I read through the newspapers. Oldenberg had done an excellent job. The O’Neill story was on all the front pages. The headline of the Daily News read, “NYPD’s MOST WANTED ESCAPES”. The New York Post headline made me smile: “KILLER ACCOUNTANT ON THE RUN”. There was some truth, but the rest of the story sounded like something from the movies: “This man is both intelligent and dangerous,” said Captain Oldenberg. This wasn’t the O’Neill that I knew.

While I ate my breakfast, I watched the TV news. Their reporter said, “This is Cindy Lu outside the Metro Hotel on Avenue C. Here, last night, NYPD officers almost caught Patrick O’Neill, the man wanted for the murder of Ronald Steinmann…”

“Well done, Oldenberg,” I thought. Now Houston would get a clear message. Neither her people nor the NYPD had found O’Neill, so she still had a real problem on her hands. I hoped she was one very worried woman.

I got to the office by ten o’clock. Stella had already been there a couple of hours. “That was quite a day, yesterday. You feeling OK, now?” she asked.

“A lot better,” I replied. “And thank you for taking care of Mrs. O’Neill all day. With luck, we’re going to send Lorraine Houston to jail.”

During the morning I agreed on a plan with Oldenberg. I would meet with Houston in a public area, the kind of place where it would be easy for an NYPD team to watch and wait. Our choice was Battery Park, at the foot of Manhattan, with its tall trees and green grass. This is where New York meets the ocean. From here you can look across Upper New York Bay to the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island.

I tried to get through to Houston on my cellphone, but her personal assistant wouldn’t allow me to speak with her. “I’m sorry, sir, but Ms. Houston isn’t taking any calls,” she said.

I wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. “Listen carefully and just do what I say. Your boss lost something of great importance. Tell her I’ve found it and want to return it to her. I’ll call back in ten minutes and expect to speak with her in person. Understood?”

“Careful, now,” I told myself. “No mistakes.” I waited a full fifteen minutes before calling back. People think less clearly when they get impatient. This time I got ahold of Houston immediately.

“Who are you and what do you want?” she asked crossly.

“The name’s Marley. I was working for Mr. O’Neill. He found some interesting papers of yours, which he gave me to look after. Now I’m working for myself and I thought that you might like to have those papers back. I’ll make this offer even more generous. The police will be very interested when I tell them where O’Neill is. The price is $100,000. Wait in your office for my call at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”

“What?” began Houston.

“That’s it, lady!” I shouted. “Be ready in your office, eight o’clock tomorrow with $100,000, OK? And don’t think of doing anything clever or every newspaper in this city will know the truth about Ocean Star’s accounts.”

With that, I ended the call. I felt very pleased with myself. Would I still feel so pleased tomorrow?

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