K is for Killer Page 79

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"What are those?"

"My dad's got a birthday coming up, and I thought he'd get a kick. Most of these were taken during World War Two."

He passed me a snapshot of a man in pleated pants and a white dress shirt, standing in front of a microphone. "He was forty-two. He'd tried to enlist, but Uncle Sam turned him down. Too old, bad feet, punctured eardrum. He was already working as an announcer at radio station WCPO in Cincinnati, and they told him they needed him for the war effort, keep morale up here at home. He used to take me with him. Probably how I got the bug." He set the album aside. "Let's see what you have."

I took the cassette from my bag and passed it over to him. "Someone was doing a little eavesdropping. I'd rather not say who."

He turned it over in his hand. "I probably can't do much with this. I was hoping you were talking eight- or multitrack. Know how this works?"

"Not at all," I said.

"This is Mylar ribbon, coated on one side with a bonding material containing iron oxide. Signal passes through a coil in a recording head, and that causes a magnetic field to form between the poles of the magnet. Iron particles get magnetized in something called domains. No point in boring you to death," he said. "The point is, professional recording equipment is going to give you far better fidelity than a little tape like this. What was it, some kind of little dingus running off batteries?"

"Exactly. There's a lot of ambient noise, mumbling and static. You can't hear half of it."

"Doesn't surprise me. What'd you use for playback, same thing?"

"Probably the equivalent," I said. "I gather you can't help."

"Well, I can put it on my machine at home and see if that gives you anything. If the sound wasn't laid down in the first place, there's never going to be a way to pick it up on playback, but I got good speakers and could maybe filter out some frequencies, play around with bass and treble, and see what that does."

I pulled out the notes I'd made. "This is what I picked up so far. Anything I couldn't hear, I left blank with a question mark."

"Can you leave the tape with me? I can take a crack at it when I get home tonight and call you sometime tomorrow."

"I'm not sure about that. I swore I'd guard it with my life. I'd hate having to admit I left the tape with you."

"So don't tell. Someone asks for it back, just give me a call and come pick it up."

"You're a very devious person, Hector."

"Aren't we all?"

He took the page of notes I'd made and went into the other room to make a copy while I waited. I gave him my business card with my home address and phone jotted on the back. By the time I left the studio, Beauty had apparently decided I was part of her pack, though much lower in the pecking order and therefore in need of protection. She very kindly walked me to the stairwell, matching her footsteps to mine, and watched as I went up the steps and out into the foyer. I peeked back and found her still standing there, looking up, her gaze fixed on mine. I said, "Good night, Beauty."

Pulling out of the K-SPL parking lot, I caught a glimpse of a lone man on a bike streaking across the intersection. He took the corner wide and disappeared from sight, reflectors on his spokes making circles of light. For a moment I could feel a mounting roar in my ears, darkness gathering at the edges of my vision. I rolled down the window and pulled fresh air into my lungs. A wave of clamminess climbed my frame and passed. I pulled into the empty intersection and slowed, peering right, but there was no sign of him. The street lumps receded in a series of diminishing uprights that narrowed to a point and vanished.

I headed down to lower State Street, cruising Danielle's turf. I needed company or a good night's sleep, whichever came first. If I found Danielle, maybe the two of us would buy champagne and orange juice, drink a toast to Lorna just for old times' sake. Then I'd head for home. I pulled into the parking lot at Neptune's Palace and got out of my car.

From the far end of the parking lot, the noise level was considerably louder than I'd experienced before. The crowd was boisterous. The side doors were opened onto the parking lot, and a knot of revelers had spilled out. Some guy toppled sideways, taking two women with him. The three of them lay on the asphalt, laughing. This was Thursday night trade, nearly manic in its energy, everyone determined to party, gearing up for the coming weekend. Music pounded against the walls. Cigarette smoke drifted on the frigid night air in wisps and curls. I heard the shattering of glass, followed by maniacal laughter as if a genie had been released. I caught sight of a patrol car in the parking lot. The black-and-whites usually come down here every couple of hours. The beat officer parks and works his way through the place in search of liquor violations and petty criminals.

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