A NOVEL BY RICH LEDER
YOU GET THE BOX
Shavelson was sitting at his desk, eating a pastrami sandwich and smoking two cigarettes—one Lucky Strike and one Winston, from different ashtrays—while washing it down with a cup of scalding black coffee and a glass of Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks. It was ten thirty on Monday morning. While he was chewing the pastrami, he took a drag from the Winston. With the food in his mouth. While he was chewing. I had never seen that before.
“You going to cry?” he said, food and coffee and cigarette smoke all mixed in his mouth at once.
“All cried out,” I said, lying. I might cry for the rest of my life. Who could tell? It had been a terrible weekend. A trip to the city morgue, a visit to Jimmy’s girlfriend’s place to retrieve his things, a sad lunch with Matthew to tell him the news, a dozen weepy trips down Memory Lane.
Shavelson was overweight in a way that made it impossible for him to keep his shirt tucked in. His tie was loose at his neck, which was wider than his head, which was as big as the moon. He had dark, unruly hair and small eyes black as ink. He needed a shave. Or maybe he shaved an hour ago and always looked like this. I pegged him for fifty-five years old. Jimmy’s will had pastrami stains around the edges.
“I’m going to charge you for this call. Client pays for long distance.”
“I’m not your client.”
I was sitting in the chair across from his desk. His office was near the corner of Broadway and 98th Street, above Epstein’s Deli, a small, smelly storefront in the middle of a two-story building that stretched the length of the whole city block facing Broadway. It was an odd and charmless place for a law office, so it was perfect for him. The room was paneled in dark wood and decorated with framed black-and-white photographs of nude women (surprise!), old-time baseball players, and New York City skyscrapers. There was leather furniture, a big walnut desk and credenza, some file cabinets, a small conference table, a television, and a stuffed Kodiak bear. There were no law diplomas on the walls. No indication that he had ever gone to school anywhere.
“That’s what Jimmy used to say.” He polished off the last of his sandwich, took a swig of coffee, a gulp of Johnnie Walker, a hit off the Lucky Strike, and punched a button on the speakerphone.
“My name is Mel Shavelson. I’m Jimmy’s lawyer. This is the reading of his will. On this conference call right now is his older daughter, Marilyn, in Cleveland, his brother Kevin, in Las Vegas, his Uncle Mike, in Tampa, and his cousin John in San Diego. Sitting in my office is Jimmy’s younger daughter, Kate.”
“Just because she stayed in New York doesn’t mean she should get everything.”
That was Marilyn. She was six years older than me and was gone by the time I got pregnant. She went off to Cleveland State and never came home. We were as close as a zebra and a lion. She became a dental hygienist, married a dentist, and had two houses, two cars, two kids, and two dogs, neither of which was trained. The kids, I mean.
“Cleveland, right?” Shavelson said.
“Yes,” my sister said.
“You talk again, I’ll disconnect you and give your share to the Salvation Army. Understand?”
There was silence for a moment, and then Marilyn said, “Yes.”
“That goes for everyone. You’re Jimmy’s family, not mine, and I don’t give a rat’s ass about any of you. I got two more wills to do today, plus a shit-storm divorce mediation, so we’re going make this short and sweet. Any objections? Don’t answer. It’s rhetorical. I don’t care.”
He took a pack of Pall Malls from his pocket and lit one—he now had three different packs of cigarettes on his desk, one from each of them burning in the ashtrays—sucked half of it down, chased it with Johnnie Black, blew hot smoke into the air, and said, “I, James Patrick McCall, being of sound mind and sound body, hereby, upon my death, disperse and dispose of my earthly possessions as follows: To my cousin John in San Diego, I leave my blue suit in the hope that he’ll wear it and get a job for a change. To my Uncle Mike in Tampa, I leave my Volvo, though I’m leaving the keys to his wife, Bonnie. Sober up, Uncle Mike. To my brother, Kevin, I leave my house in the Poconos. It needs a new roof, but the fishing’s good, and all my gear’s inside. Catch one for me, Kev.”
He paused, sucked down the rest of the Lucky Strike, rubbed it out while finishing the coffee, lit another one, filled his glass with Johnnie, and continued.
“To Marilyn, I leave the only thing she cares about: money. I hereby direct my attorney to sell what’s left of my earthly possessions, except for the box, deposit the money in my savings account, and transfer the balance to Marilyn. I hope she buys something that reminds her of me, but I doubt she will.”
He took a final drag of the Winston and, with that smoke still in his mouth, immediately hit the Pall Mall. Then he lit another Lucky.
“It is my further wish that my remains be cremated as soon as possible and put in a suitable urn. I’d like there to be a little ceremony, but I’m not too particular about what kind. My final words are just this: ‘Whatever you think you know, you don’t. That’s the only thing I know.’”
Shavelson picked up a loose piece of pastrami and dropped it in his mouth. “I took care of the cremation over the weekend, so that concludes my business with all of you. Stay on the line, and my secretary will handle the details. If you have any questions, ask anybody but me.”
He clicked off the call, picked up the Pall Mall, and sat back in his chair.
“I get the box?” I said.
“You get the box.”
“What’s in it?”
“The business. He left you his business. The urn’s in there too. His gun. Some other shit I didn’t look at. Don’t grill me, all right? I’m not in the mood.”
“Jimmy was murdered,” I said. “Somebody shot him in the eyes.”
“Talk about seeing it coming.”
“Any idea who killed him?”
“I narrowed it down to seventy-three people. Ask Harriman; it’s his case.”
I knew that name. Detective Harriman. I was right. He was calling to tell me about Jimmy. “He’s the homicide cop?”
“Thirteenth Precinct. My secretary’s got his number. She’s got the box too.” He gestured at the door while lighting cigarette number six. Another Winston. “Pick it up on your way out.”
“That’s it?” I said.
“Unless we’re on a date.”
I stood up and moved to the door, but I turned back to him before I left. “It’s your divorce, isn’t it? The mediation today?”
“It’s a shit storm,” he said. “She wants everything, including the bear.”