by Hy Conrad
The call came in at 17:12. “I think I killed the h-h-hooker.” A man’s voice stammered out a nearby address and rang off.
Patrol Officer Brinks was three blocks away from the Greenwich Village location when he got the dispatch. The cruiser skidded on a patch of ice as Brinks hooked a mid-block U-turn. 223 was a rundown brick two-story, protected by landmark status according to the plaque near the buzzer buttons to five flats. Name plates listed Pryon in 1A and Castelle in 1B. 2A and 2B were blanks and G1 had glitter pasted over it.
The victim, if she existed, would be in 2B. Brinks was about to ring the Pryon bell when he noticed both the front and inside doors ajar. Unusual in Manhattan, especially in February.
Brinks climbed the dimly-lit flight and a half to the second story. As he reached the landing the door on the left opened. A giant hulk of a man dressed in a NHL parka and ski cap stepped out carrying a gym bag. He registered a start.
“You live here?” Brinks demanded, then he recognized the wide face under the cap. “Say, you’re Joey Eggars, aren’t you?” There was no mistaking the face if you were a Slammers fan, and Brinks was. Eggars was one of the top-ranked enforcers on the ice.
Eggars smiled. “I’m headed for the Garden now.”
“Playin’ the Penguins tonight, right?”
Good humoredly Eggars signed an autograph while answering the cop’s questions. Did Joey know his neighbor? Barely. Jill Trainor kept odd hours and stayed mostly to herself. As it happens, he’d seen her not three hours ago when he’d asked to use her phone. Anything wrong?
Brinks was happy to have the brawny Slammer alongside as he shouldered against the door to 2B. It gave easily.
“My God!” Eggars gasped, “Jill.”
The woman lay dead on the floor. Beneath a trenchcoat, her badly bruised body was naked except for panties and on her feet a pair of fur-trimmed rubberized high-heeled winter boots. A stocking was twisted tight around her throat.
Homicide Inspector Hilligan arrived just as Forensics was wrapping up. The small low-ceilinged apartment was spartan but tidy. The closet contained a row of stiletto high-heels, seven identical trenchcoats, some umbrellas and erotic underwear. Hard to imagine the Trainor woman had lived here half a decade with no more belongings than would fit in two large suitcases. Besides the body there was no sign of violence except for some drops of blood on the threshold to the bathroom. As he was leaving, the Forensics team leader called out, “You may have a robbery here too, Hilligan. Except for a Visa card, the woman’s purse is empty.”
Hilligan glanced at the notes he’d taken from Brinks. Along with Eggars, there were only three other people in the building at the time of the slaying. Pablo Castelle, a blind Cuban expatriot directly underneath in 1B, and in the basement apartment Dagmar, a male apparently, despite the makeup, feathers and exotic silk kimono. A Hispanic contract painter had been at work in 1A. Until a week ago that unit had been occupied by Gorge Pryon, a retired stockbroker who had moved out to Long Island with a new bride.
“In five years I never had a conversation with that pootah, yet I feel I lived with her intimately…” The tired old man shook his head bitterly and nervously fingered his braille watch. “Those stilettos of hers were like nails driving into my brain. Five years I listened to every step she took. She’d leave the house for short periods at all hours…only then did I ever manage to get some sleep. I would happily have strangled her myself. Upstairs is nothing but trouble. That hockey player and his girlfriend always fighting. I could strangle them too.”
Being stuck down in the basement hadn’t kept Dagmar in the dark. The flamboyant tall transvestite spoke to Hilligan for over an hour, giving him the scoop on all the tenants. “I haven’t seen Jill in a couple of days, she keeps weird hours. We all knew she was a streetwalker…but hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do–those shoes ain’t cheap. I didn’t hold that against her…we were good friends once, I even helped her get the apartment. But people change… We barely speak now. Too bad you can’t talk to Pryon. He knew her pretty well–told me she reminded him of his daughter–Jill visited him maybe once a day. You should see the doll he’s just married… Now that one really could be his daughter. But he’s a nice guy. Not like Castelle…always complaining about my stereo. The geezer’s psycho about noise. When winter begins and the steam pipes start banging he comes tearing down here to the boiler room and turns off the furnace just for quiet, while we’re all freezing. He looks frail but he’s not. Susan’s the one I’m gonna miss around here…”
Hilligan noticed needle tracks on the man’s forearms as he adjusted his boa. According to Dagmar, Susan was Joey Eggar’s girlfriend and she’d taken off that morning. “She’d been planning it for weeks. Her acting career was going nowhere. Joey could be as abusive as he was possessive. Last night they had another fight. He yanked the phone out of the wall and threw it at her. She had to come down here to call her parents in Tampa. When Joey got home from morning practice and found her gone he went bananas. Raging on the staircase. He thought she was in here and almost beat my door down. I threatened to call the precinct. That was sometime after noon.
Hilligan had a few more questions for Castelle and was starting back upstairs when Dagmar called after him. “I should have given you this right off…” He held out an envelope, looking sheepish. “I opened this by mistake, it was put in the wrong mail box.” The Midtown Bank statement was addressed to Josef Eggars and the top cancelled check, dated four days ago, was made out for $6000 to Jill Trainor.