The sergeant of city detectives, who had met him by arrangement, walked stolidly beside Wainwright down a gloomy passageway, their footsteps echoing sharply off the ancient, cracked tile floor. The morgue attendant preceding them, who looked as if he would soon be a customer here himself, was wearing rubber-soled shoes and shambled ahead silently.
The detective, whose name was Timberwell, was young, overweight, had unkempt hair and needed a shave. Many things had changed, Nolan Wainwright ruminated, in the twelve years since he had been a city police lieutenant.
Timberwell said, "If the dead guy is your man, when was the last time you saw him?" "Seven weeks ago. Beginning of March." `'Where?" "A little bar across town. The Easy Over." "I know the place. Did you hear from him after that?" "No." "Any idea where he lived?"
Wainwright shook his head. "He didn't want me to know. So I played it his way."
Nolan Wainwright hadn't been sure of the man's name either. He had been given one, but almost certainly it was false. As a matter of fairness he hadn't tried to discover the real one. All he knew was that "Vic" was an ex-con who needed money and was prepared to be an undercover informer.
Last October, on Wainwright's urging, Alex Vandervoort had authorized him to employ an informer to seek out the source of counterfeit Keycharge bank credit cards, then appearing in disquieting numbers. Wainwright put out feelers, using contacts in the inner city, and later, through more intermediaries, a meeting between himself and Vic had been arranged and a deal agreed on. That was in December. The security chief remembered it well because Miles Eastin's trial had taken place the same week.
There were two other encounters between Vic and Wainwright in the months which followed, each in a different out-of-the-way bar, and on all three occasions Wainwright had handed over money, gambling on receiving value for it later. Their communications scheme was one-sided. Vic could telephone him, setting up a meeting at a place of Vic's choosing, though Wainwright had no means of contact in return. But he saw the reasoning behind the arrangement and accepted it.
Wainwright hadn't liked Vic, but then had not expected to. The ex-con was shifty, evasive, with the perpetually drippy nose and other outward signs of a narcotics user. He exhibited contempt for everything, including Wainwright; his lip was permanently curled. But at their third meeting, in March, it seemed as if he might have stumbled on a lead.
He reported a rumor: A big supply of bogus twenty dollar bills of high quality was ready to be spread out through distributors and passers. According to still more scuttlebutt, somewhere back in the shadows behind the distributors was a high-powered, competent organization into other lines of action, including credit cards. This last information was vague, and Wainwright suspected Vic might have made it up to please him. On the other hand he might not.
More specifically, Vic claimed he had been promised a small piece of the action with the counterfeit money. He figured that if he got it, and became trusted, he could work his way deeper into the organization. One or two details which in Wainwright's opinion, Vic would not have had the knowledge or wit to invent, convinced the bank security chief that the main thrust of the information was authentic. The proposed plan also made sense.
Wainwright had always assumed that whoever was producing the fraudulent Keycharge bank cards was likely to be involved with other forms of counterfeiting. He had told Alex Vandervoort so last October. One thing he knew for certain: It would be highly dangerous to try to penetrate the organization and an informer if discovered was dead. He had felt obliged to warn Vic of this and was rewarded for his trouble by a sneer.
After that meeting, Wainwright had not heard from Vic again.
Yesterday a small news item in the Times-Register, about a body found floating in the river, caught his attention.
"I should warn you," Detective Sergeant Timberwell said, "that what's left of this guy isn't pretty. The medics figure he was in the water for a week. Also, there's a lot of traffic on that river and it looks as if some boat propeller cut him up."
Still trailing the elderly attendant, they entered a brightly lighted, long, low-ceilinged room. The air was chill. It smelled of disinfectant. Occupying one wall, facing them, was what looked like a giant file cabinet with stainless steel drawers, each identified by a number. A hum of refrigeration equipment came from behind the cabinet.
The attendant peered shortsightedly at a clipboard he was carrying, then went to a drawer midway down the room. He pulled and the drawer slid out silently on nylon bearings. Inside was the lumpy shape of a body, covered by a paper sheet.
"These are the remains you wanted, officers," the old man said. As casually as if uncovering cucumbers, he folded back the sheet. Wainwright wished he hadn't come. He felt sick.
Once, the body they were looking at had had a face. It didn't have any more, Immersion, putrefaction and something else probably a boat propeller, as Timberwell said had left flesh layers exposed and lacerated. From the mess, white bones protruded'.
They studied the corpse in silence, then the detective asked, "You see anything you can identify?"
"Yes," Wainwright said. He had been peering at the side of the face where what remained of the hairline met the neck. The apple-shaped red scar undoubtedly a birthmark was still dearly visible. Wainwright's trained eye had observed it on each of the three occasions that he and Vic had met. Though the lips that had sneered so frequently were gone, without doubt the body was that of his undercover agent. He told Timberwell, who nodded.
"We identified him ourselves from fingerprints. They weren't the clearest, but good enough." The detective took out a notebook and opened it. "His real name, if you'll believe it, was Clarence Hugo Levinson. He had several other names he used, and a long record, mostly petty stuffy''
"The news report said he died of stab wounds, not drowning.',
"It's what the autopsy showed. Before that he was tortured." "How do you know?"
"His balls were crushed. The pathologist's report said they must have been put in some kind of vise which was tightened until they burst. You want to see?"
Without waiting to be told, the attendant pulled back the remainder of the paper sheet.
Despite shrinkage of the genitals during immersion, autopsy had exposed enough to show the truth of Timberwell's statement. Wainwright gulped. "Oh, Christ'" He motioned to the old man. "Cover him up." Then he urged Tirnberwell, "Let's get out of here."
Over strong black coffee in a tiny restaurant a half block from the morgue, Detective Sergeant Timberwell soliloquized, "Poor bastard! Whatever he'd done, no one deserves that." He produced a cigarette, lit it, and offered the pack. Wainwright shook his head.
"I guess I know how you're feeling," Timberwell said. "You get hardened to some things. But there sure are others that make you think."
"Yes." Wainwright was remembering his own responsibility for what had happened to Clarence Hugo Levinson, alias Vic.
"I'll need a statement from you, Mr. Wainwright. Summarizing those things you told me about your arrangement with the deceased. If it's all the same to you, I'd like to go to the precinct house and take it after we're finished here." "All right."
The policeman blew a smoke ring and sipped his coffee. "What's the score about counterfeit credit cards right now?"
"More and more are being used. Some days it's like an epidemic. It's costing banks like ours a lot of money."
Timberwell said skeptically, "You mean it's costing the public money. Banks like yours pass those losses on. It's why your top management people don't care as much as they should."
"I can't argue with you there." Wainwright remembered his own lost arguments about bigger budgets to fight bank-related crime. "Is the quality of the cards good?" "Excellent.'
The detective ruminated. "That's exactly what the Secret Service tells us about the phony money that's circulating in the city. There's a lot of it. I guess you know." "Yes, I do."
"So maybe that dead guy was right in figuring both things came from the same source."
Neither man spoke, then the detective said abruptly, "There's something I should warn you about. Maybe you've thought of it already." Wainwright waited.
"When he was tortured, whoever did it made him talk. You saw him. There's no way he wouldn't have. So you can figure he sang about everything, including the deal he had with you." "Yes, I'd thought of it."