It was past midnight and I had just come out of the movie
theater on Eighty-fourth and Broadway when I noticed this homeless
guy following me. He followed me past the Chinese take-out, past
Citibank, and across Broadway as I headed toward West End Avenue.
Every now and then I snuck a look back at him. He was shorter
than me–I’m six-two–and he had greasy brown hair that hung in his
face. He wore an old gray hooded sweatshirt and a ripped denim
jacket that looked like they came right out of the garbage. He
walked unsteadily–like he was drunk or on something–and he had
the tired, burnt-out look of a junkie. I was going to just forget
about him–some burn-out with nothing better to do than follow a
guy home from the movies–when I realized I’d seen him before, on
the number 1 train. He was the guy who was always harassing people,
cursing, screaming, demanding money. I once even saw him spit in a
woman’s face because she wouldn’t give him any change.
I let him follow me for a couple of blocks, acting like I
didn’t know he was there. Then, on Eighty-eighth Street, I ducked
inside the doorway of an apartment building. When he came by, I
jumped out and tackled him from behind. We rolled around awhile,
then I started hitting him. I hit his head against the sidewalk and
punched him in the ribs and stomach. When I finally realized what
I was doing–beating up some homeless drug addict guy for no reason
at all–I walked away.
In my apartment, I looked out my window to see if he was still
lying there. He wasn’t. I had a little scratch on my face and the
knuckles on my right hand ached, but other than that I was okay. I
told myself it was over and to forget about it.
There was a pile of bills I needed to pay and rent and alimony
checks I needed to write, but I wasn’t in the mood to think about
any of that. I took a cold shower and went to sleep.
The next day I was at work by eight-thirty. I was a computer
supply salesman, working out of an office on Thirty-Eighth Street.
It was a commission-only job that I was planning to quit as soon as
something better came along. During the first break, I went down to
the street to smoke a cigarette. Howie, another salesman, was
eating a sandwich.
“Making any money?”
Howie shook his head.
“Had this guy by the balls yesterday, but I let him slip away.
Big office, Soho, sixty employees, all on computers. Was gonna do
the whole office, then backs down at the last minute. I never
woulda let one get away like that in the old days. The old days I
got that guy on his hands and knees begging to me.”
“Market’s tough,” I said, lighting a cigarette.
“Not for you it ain’t. I saw your numbers on the board. You’re
having yourself a pretty good week.”
“Not good enough,” I said.
“You kiddin’ me? I had your money I’d burn mine. Hey, you ever
see that movie last night?”
“Yeah, I saw it.”
“What’d you think?”
“Good action but the plot sucked.”
“You don’t go to those movies for the plot,” Howie said. “You
want a plot you go see that artsy shit downtown.”
I saw Howie looking at me a little closer now.
“Hey, where’d you get that cut on your face?”
“What cut?” I said. “Oh, that. It was nothing. I just tripped
last night in my apartment.”
“It looks like somebody scratched you.”
I told Howie that I’d talk to him later, that I had to get
back to work.
The rest of the morning I worked the phones, following up some
old leads, then I went out to lunch at about noon. I had a sales
appointment at two and I didn’t want to go into it hungry. The
appointment went well. The guy tried to put me off at first, but I
sweet talked him and wound up selling him screen guards for sixteen
terminals and a year’s supply of computer cleaning equipment. The
whole shebang brought me two hundred bucks in commish.
Riding the subway home, I was in a good mood. I’d been
skimping on food lately, trying to save money, and I decided I’d
treat myself tonight. A new Italian place had opened last week on
Amsterdam and I figured I’d change out of my work clothes and then
give it a shot.
It was a warm spring day and a lot of women were out roller
blading in their skimpy outfits. There was this one blonde,
couldn’t be older than twenty, I turned around and watched skate
When I turned on to my block, I saw this big commotion in
front of my building. There were two cop cars, a few officers, and
some neighbors I recognized. I went up to this old guy I always saw
walking his German Shepherd at two in the morning and asked him
what was going on. He looked at me weird, like I scared him or
something, and then I saw this tall, red-haired cop coming over to
“What’s going on?” on I said.
“You Raymond Briggs?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Can I help you with something?”
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to take you in for
“Questioning? Questioning for what?”
The cop looked at me closer, like he was trying to see into
me. I remembered what had happened last night with that junkie and
I thought, The son of a bitch, he must’ve ratted on me. I was about
to deny everything, make up some story, when the cop said, “There
was a murder last night. Your ex-wife was killed in her apartment.
We want to ask you a few questions, Mr. Briggs.”
During the short ride to the station house on Eighty-third
Street I tried to tell the two officers in the car with me that
there was a mistake–that I was at the movies at the time my ex-
wife was killed–but they wouldn’t listen to me. They kept telling
me I’d be questioned by a detective when we got to the station
house and not to waste my breath now.
At the precinct, they took me to this room that had nothing
except a desk, three chairs and a telephone. They said I could call
somebody if I wanted to, but I didn’t know who the hell I was gonna
call. I didn’t have any friends, except guys I knew from work, and
I’d only been at my job six months. I thought about calling my
sister in Hackensack, but I hadn’t spoken to her in years and I
wasn’t even sure she was living in Jersey anymore. But I didn’t
want to make it look bad to the cops, like I was the loner-psycho
type or something, so I called Weather Phone and made like I was
talking to a friend of mine.
An hour went by, then this young guy in a suit and tie came
into the room and sat at the other end of the table. He was stocky
and had his hair slicked-back with no part. He wore wire-rimmed
glasses and the same kind of cheap cologne with the ammonia odor I
used to sell when I worked for this cosmetics company years back.
“I’m Detective Strauss,” he said. “I hope to make this as
brief as possible.”
Strauss put a small tape recorder on the table and pressed the
play button. Then he opened a little notebook and took a pen out
from behind his ear.
“Your ex-wife was beaten brutally last night, probably with a
hammer or a brick. I can read you back a detailed account of the
coroner’s report, but out of respect for you I’ll hold off on this
“For Christ’s sake,” I said, “I’ve been telling everybody, I
didn’t do anything.”
“Nobody saw you leaving Elaine Briggs’ apartment,” Strauss
continued. “There was no murder weapon or fingerprints found on
the premises, but unfortunately all the other evidence points in
your direction. Personally, I’m not convinced you killed her, and
if you can convince me you didn’t I’ll let you walk out of here
right now. But let’s take this thing one step at a time.”
I started to calm down a little. I liked Detective Strauss,
What I mean is I trusted him and I decided if I answered his
questions calmly I’d get home a lot faster than if I resisted.
“Go ahead,” I said. “But you’re soon gonna see you made a big
Strauss flipped to a new page on his pad.
“First off, can I ask where you got that scratch on your
“This,” I said, touching the wound. “I just got into a little
tussle with somebody. It was no big deal.”
“The wound looks very recent.”
“It happened last night–but it had nothing to do with my ex-
wife if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“A neighbor of Elaine’s, Joyce Sternberg, said she overheard
an argument in your wife’s apartment two nights ago,” Strauss said.
“She said she was arguing with a man and that there was cursing and
screaming and she heard your wife crying. A few minutes later she
said she saw you leaving the apartment.”
“We had a fight,” I said, “but it was nothing serious. She
just got a little carried away.”
“You and your wife have had many fights before,” Strauss said.
“Before your divorce she filed numerous complaints against you for
Assault and Battery, and after the divorce the number of complaints
increased. Last year she even obtained a restraining order against
“What are you,” I said, “a detective or a marriage counselor?”
“Look at it from my perspective,” Strauss said, putting down
the pad. “A guy beats the shit out of a woman for six years then
the woman winds up dead with her head bashed in. You don’t gotta be
Sherlock Holmes to pick the guy out as a suspect.”
“First of all, I never beat the shit out of Elaine. I hit her
one time, the time she got the restraining order against me, but it
was just an isolated incident. I had a couple of drinks that night
and lost a job the week before and a lot of things were building up
inside me. I felt like shit for hitting her, but I apologized after
that and we worked things out. We’ve been good friends ever since.”
From his briefcase, Strauss took out a file folder, then a
sheet of paper.
“I spoke to Elaine’s sister, Mary Delaney, earlier today. She
said, and I quote, ‘Elaine told me lots of times how scared she was
of Raymond. She said Raymond beat her all the time and she was
afraid he was going to kill her.'”
“Elaine made up stories like that all the time,” I said. “If
you check her medical records you’ll see she was manic-depressive.
That was the main reason why we got divorced, because she became
impossible to live with. She was on Prozac and Lithium and she was
deluded all the time. Except for that one time, I never threatened
her and I never said I wanted to kill her.”
Now Strauss was looking at a different file.
“According to a complaint Elaine Briggs filed against you in
January, you came over to borrow money from her, she refused, then
you hit her.”
“That’s total bullshit,” I said.
“You didn’t go there to borrow money from her?”
“No, that part’s true. I was out of work and I had some bills
to pay so I went to Elaine’s apartment to see if she had any extra
“Yeah, but she wouldn’t give me any. We argued awhile, like
always, then I went home. But I never hit her.”
“When we found Elaine’s body yesterday evening, her credit
cards, checkbooks and purse were missing. Bank records indicate
she’d just cashed a work check, so chances are she had a lot of
cash on her.”
“What are you saying, you think I robbed her?”
“No,” Strauss said, “but the killer robbed her and I think you
might be the killer.”
I stood up furiously. The cop came up behind me and pinned my
arms behind my back. I cursed and yelled at Strauss some more, then
I finally calmed down. The officer loosened his grip on my arms.
Strauss hadn’t moved the whole time.
“If you’ve calmed down now, we can continue our discussion.”
“For Christ’s sake,” I said, “I didn’t do it. Do you really
think I’d kill my wife?”
“I don’t know,” Strauss said. “I only met you a few minutes
“All right,” I said, leaning back in my seat. “What else do
you wanna know before I can get out of here?”
“Last night,” Strauss said, lighting a cigarette. “Where were
you at approximately ten-forty p.m.?”
“The movies,” I said.
“At approximately ten-ten last night another of your wife’s
neighbors, Mrs. Estelle Gardner, saw you leaving your wife’s
apartment building. She said you looked extremely angry.”
“That’s true,” I said. “I mean I went to Elaine’s apartment
before the movie. She lives just two blocks away from the theater
so it was sort of on the way. She was really upset the night before
and I wanted to make sure she was all right. I rang a couple of
times, but I guess she wasn’t home because nobody answered. So I
went to the movie theater.”
Detective Strauss was writing in his pad.
“You’re story makes sense and it doesn’t make sense,” Strauss
said. “The coroner estimated the time of death at some time after
eleven o’clock so you could’ve been at the movies. However, there’s
no reason why you couldn’t’ve left the building then come back
later and killed your wife.”
“I’m telling you,” I said, fighting to hold back my anger. “I
was at the movies.”
“Do you have a ticket stub proving you were there?”
“No, I never hold on to those things. But there were a lot of
people there. I’m a big guy. Maybe one of the ushers or ticket
takers remembers me.”
“For your sake, I certainly hope so.”
I went with Detective Strauss and the other officer to the
movie theater on Eighty-fourth and Broadway. The same ushers and
ticket takers who were on duty the night before were on duty again,
but none of them remembered me.
“You expect me to remember one guy?” one Puerto Rican usher
said. “They got hundreds a people comin’ in here every day. ‘Sides,
it’s like pitch black dark inside those movie theaters. I can’t
tell the ladies from the men sometimes.”
The black girl at the refreshment stand who had sold me a
large Coke thought I looked familiar, but she couldn’t remember for
“You get your hair cut or something?” she asked.
I went with Detective Strauss and the other officer back
outside to the squad car.
“You want me to tell you what the movie was about,” I said.
“I’ll tell you the whole plot, start to finish.”
“Unfortunately, that wouldn’t prove anything,” Strauss said.
“How would we know you didn’t see the movie two days ago or two
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I know how I could prove I was at
that movie. There was this bum.”
“You know, a homeless guy. He saw me leaving the theater and
followed me up the block.”
“Why would you expect a homeless person to remember you?”
“I know this isn’t gonna look good,” I said. “But the homeless
guy and me–we got into a fight. That’s how I got the scratch on my
“Why did you get into a fight with a homeless man?”
“He was following me and I…I thought…I mean I thought he
was gonna mug me. So I slapped him around a little. I didn’t hurt
him or anything. I just gave him a couple of whacks.”
“Could you identify this man?”
“I’m sure I could if I found him. I’ve seen him in the
neighborhood tons of times. You’ve probably even arrested him
before. He’s a real trouble maker. I saw him spit in a woman’s face
once on the number 1 train.”
“I’m not sure this man will be a good alibi for you, but it
might be the best you can do,” Strauss said. “If I were you I’d
find him, fast, and call us as soon as you do.”
“You mean I’m free to go?”
“For the time being. But if any other evidence develops
against you, anything at all, I’ll bring you right back in here.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll find him.”
“There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” Strauss said as
I was leaving. “Your ex-wife, a woman you were married to for eight
years, was murdered last night, yet you don’t seem to have the
slightest bit of remorse. Why is that?”
“I’m not gonna lie to you,” I said. “Elaine and I had
problems. Obviously, I’m upset she’s dead, but I’m not about to cry
my brains out over it either. If the situation were reversed, if I
died, I don’t think she’d lose any sleep over it.”
I said goodbye to Strauss and the officer, then went off to
search for my alibi.
I didn’t think it would take me very long to find the homeless
guy. I’d seen him around Eighty-sixth and Broadway so many times I
thought for sure he’d be right outside the deli, begging for
change. But when I got to Eighty-sixth Street he was nowhere in
sight. It was starting to rain lightly and the streets were emptier
than usual. I went down to the subway, but I didn’t see him on the
uptown or downtown platform. I went back outside and walked down
Broadway to Seventy-ninth Street. The rain was coming down harder
now and I was soaking wet. I checked every vestibule, every store
front, but it was like the guy had disappeared into thin air.
At the corner of Ninety-fourth and Broadway, I went up to this
man who was huddled under a blanket on the top steps of a church.
I described to him the man I was looking for and asked if he’d seen
him around, but the guy was so out of it I didn’t think he realized
I was standing there. I walked down Amsterdam, then up Columbus,
then down Central Park West all the way to Columbus Circle. It was
already two o’clock in the morning and my feet felt like they were
falling off my ankles. I wanted to give up looking and try again in
the morning, but I knew I couldn’t afford to sleep–I had to find
my alibi as fast as possible.
I was about to check the benches in Central Park when I
remembered two Sundays ago seeing the same guy early in the morning
sleeping on the promenade near the Riverside Park tennis courts.
That’s probably where he spends his nights, I thought.
It took almost two more hours until I found him. I must have
checked every bench and woke up every bum in Riverside Park, but I
finally stumbled on to him, sleeping against the back stop of a
softball field. He was under three separate pieces of cardboard,
his bare feet sticking out of one end, his soot-covered head
sticking out of the other. He was sleeping with his mouth wide
I tapped him on the shoulder a couple of times, trying to wake
him up. He didn’t move for a while, then he mumbled something that
didn’t even sound like English.
“Come on, wake up,” I said. “I’m not a cop, I just wanna talk
The guy rolled over and growled something else. Finally, after
a few minutes, he turned back on to his back and opened his eyes.
They were so red I couldn’t tell what color they were.
“Please listen to me and I’ll let you go back to sleep,” I
said. “You remember who I am, don’t you?”
Suddenly, the guy started to smile.
“Yeah, I…I remember,” he stuttered. “You’re the one who hit
me last night.”
He mumbled something else I couldn’t understand.
“Look, I’m sorry about that,” I said. “Really, I’m very sorry.
The thing is I thought you were somebody else.”
“You knew who I was,” he said. “You looked at me a bunch of
times so I…I was just wanted something to eat.”
“Look, I’m sorry about that, okay? If there was some way I
could make it up to you, believe me I would. I have nothing against
you, I have nothing against anybody. The thing is I need your
I explained the trouble I was in with the police and asked the
guy if he would tell Detective Strauss that he saw me leaving the
“You want my help? You want…” His voice faded into a long,
“I said I was sorry, didn’t I?”
“I’ve seen you around before,” he continued. “In the
park…the subway. I always asked if you can spare some change, any
change…any at all, but you never gave me nothing.”
“I was wrong, okay? I admit it, I was wrong. But you have to
help me, just this one time.”
He closed his eyes.
“All right,” I said, opening my wallet. “You win. How much do
“I don’t want your fuckin’ money.”
“Yes you do,” I said. “Here–take eighty-two bucks. That’s
all I have on me so you better not ask me for more. You can drink
for a week with money like this.”
The guy grabbed the money like a sea gull plucking a fish out
of the ocean.
“Come on,” I said. “You’re coming with me to the police
I left the guy at the police station with a cop who was going
to question him. Then I went home and fell asleep myself until
eight in the morning when I got a call from Detective Strauss.
“I have some good news for you,” Strauss said. “He verified
your story. It also looks like we might have another suspect in the
case, a man who might’ve robbed a couple of other apartments on the
Upper West Side last week. Barring any further developments, it
looks like you’re a free man.”
I went to work, the happiest guy in New York. This had to be
the greatest day in my life, I decided, or at least the greatest
day in the last ten years. Not only was I off the hook for Elaine’s
murder, I was off the hook for the alimony payments that had been
weighing me down lately. Of course I was upset Elaine was gone. We
had rough times, but we had good times too, and I was upset she had
to go, especially the way she did. But there were also some good
things about her death and I wasn’t about to forget them. If I
started earning some decent commissions now, I could save up some
money, maybe buy a condo or a summer house. Hell, I thought, I may
be able to start enjoying my life.
At work, I went out on two appointments and closed two sales.
One of the sales was to an office of two hundred people, meaning
I’d probably get a thousand dollar bonus check next week.
I got home around six o’clock. I was a little tired, but I was
still in a great mood. I decided I’d treat myself to dinner at that
new Italian place. I sat at the table outside and ordered the
rigotoni with vodka sauce. The food was excellent, maybe the best
I ever had, and I washed the meal down with a tall glass of
Chianti. For dessert, I had chocolate mousse and a cup of
capauccino. I stayed at the table for a while, enjoying the cool
summer evening, then I paid my bill and started home. Turning on to
Eighty-eighth Street, I heard a noise behind me, then felt somebody
grab me from behind. Before I could defend myself, I was being
pushed against a brick wall and someone was frisking me. Then I
felt the coldness of handcuffs being clicked onto my wrists.
“Hey,” I said. “What the hell’s going on here?”
“You’re under arrest,” a voice said.
I turned my head and saw the serious faces of two officers.
“What are you talking about?” I said. “I spoke to Detective
Strauss this morning. They caught the guy who killed my ex-wife.”
The cops turned me around and I saw Detective Strauss walking
toward me from the patrol car.
“Will you please tell these guy’s to let me go?” I said.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Briggs. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“But you said I’m a free man. That’s what you told me this
morning, isn’t it?”
“It’s true,” Strauss said. “I did tell you that.”
“Then I don’t understand,” I said. “What’s this all about?”
“I’m afraid the situation has gotten a bit more complicated
since the last time we spoke,” Strauss said.
“Look,” I said. “If this is some kinda joke, I–”
“A man died this afternoon,” Strauss said. “Collapsed suddenly
“So?” I said. “I wasn’t on Broadway this afternoon. I was at
work. I got people who can vouch for that.”
“The man who died was named Joseph Martins.”
“Joseph who? I don’t know any Joseph Martins. I don’t know any
“I think you do,” Strauss said. “Joseph Martins was the
homeless man you referred us to this morning. He died shortly after
our men talked to him.”
“What does that have to do with me? I didn’t see him since
“He died from trauma he suffered to his brain two days ago,”
Strauss said. “I remembered your story, how you beat up Mr.
Martins, and did some investigating.”
“I was lying about that,” I said desperately. “I never hit
him. What the hell would I hit a drug addict for?”
“There’s no use denying it,” Strauss said. “A man who lives
across the street from you was walking his dog at the time and
witnessed the whole thing. And Joseph Martins was no drug addict,
he was mentally disabled. He had poor judgement and limited
strength, making him virtually defenseless. You may be innocent of
murdering your wife, Mr. Briggs, but you’re under arrest for man
slaughter in connection with the death of Mr. Martins. You have the
right to remain silent.”
Copyright © Jason Starr 1996
This story may not be archived or distributed further without
the author’s express permission. Please read the license.
This electronic version of The Alibi on Eighty-Eighth Street is published by The Richmond Review
by arrangement with the author.
Jason Starr was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1966. He received a B.A.
degree from Binghamton University and an M.F.A. degree from the City
University of New York. His sports articles have appeared in Financial World
Magazine. He lives in New York City. Jason Starr’s crime novel
Cold Caller is published by
No Exit Press.