sounded--quite loudly. I nearly jumped out of my chair. "Mr. McGill?" bodiless Mardi Bitterman said. It took me a moment to remember the intercom box on my desk. I hadn't used it in the twenty- one months I'd had the office. Pressing a button, I said, "Yes?" "There's a man out here who says that he's the new financial officer for the building. He wants to talk with you." I remembered the guards at the front desk telling me that there was a new bookkeeper who was going through everyone's overtime. They didn't like him, and I still had enough of my union-organizing father's background to side with the working class. "Send him in, Mardi. Tell him to follow the hall to the far end."
10 T here are no straight lines in the life or labors of the private detective. In gumshoe fiction, the PI gets on the case at about page six and follows it through without a pause or distraction from his, or her, personal life. He certainly doesn't have to deal with accountants who have been charged by their bosses with the ouster of a suspect tenant: me. At least he knocked. "Come in." Though I had not seen his face clearly, I knew Aura's lover by his height and weight, pinstriped suit, and oxblood briefcase. The only hint revealing my murderous heart was a momentary flutter of my eyelashes. "Mr. McGill?" he asked. I nodded and started counting breaths again. "My name is George Toller," he said. "I'm the new chief financial officer of the Tesla." "Oh? I thought CFOs ran corporations," I said. "May I have a seat?" I gestured toward one of the blue and chrome visitor's chairs, and Toller sat down. "You are correct, of course. I run the entire company for Hyman and Schultz. They own nearly three dozen New York properties--thirty-three, to be exact. They have sent me here to clear up some messes left by the previous owners and their representatives." That was another thing about mystery novels: at the end of the story the crime is solved and that's that. The crook is caught, or maybe just found out. But, regardless, the crime is never carried on to the next book in the series. You rarely find the stalwart and self-possessed dick looking for a perpetrator from the previous story. I wasn't so lucky. The crimes I dealt with lagged on for years, sometimes decades. And in this case Toller was the investigator and I was the elusive criminal. The previous manager of the Tesla, Terry Swain, had embezzled a large sum of money over twenty-some years. The new owners looked a little closer than the previous ones and tumbled to the misappropriations. Around the same time, I was between offices and had found out that there was a beautiful suite recently vacated on the seventy-second floor. I offered to muddy the waters of the investigation for a rock-bottom price on a fifteen-year lease. Terry leapt at the deal and I got him off, even saved his retirement fund for him. Ever since that time the owners have had it in for me. First they sent Aura to get me evicted but instead we became lovers. Now they sent my ex-lover's lover. There had to be some kind of meaning to that. "How can I help you, Mr. Toller?" "You could pack your things and move out," he said. "I'd be happy to tear up your lease." He smiled without showing any teeth. It struck me that he had no idea about the relationship between me and Aura. "I couldn't give up this view," I confessed. "Eight rooms and only one employee? Mr. McGill, this is a waste of space." We hated each other without having ever met. What was interesting to me was that our reasons were so far apart. His sense of propriety was bent out of shape by my shadowy dealings with his masters' property. College had taught him contempt for me. Conversely, my abhorrence for him had a genetic basis. This man had stolen my woman. I wanted to cut out his heart right there on my African-wood table. I wondered if there were wars between nations that had begun like this, if whole peoples slaughtered each other without