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The Alibi on Eighty-Eighth Street
A short story by Jason Starr

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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 away.

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 me.

“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? 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 now.”

“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 mistake.”

Strauss flipped to a new page on his pad.

“First off, can I ask where you got that scratch on your face?”

“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 you.”

“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 cash.”

“Did she?”

“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 ago.”

“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 sure.

“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 weeks ago?”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “I know how I could prove I was at that movie. There was this bum.”

“A 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 hesitated.

“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 face.”

“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 open.

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 to you.”

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 help.”

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 movie theater.

He laughed.

“You want my help? You want…” His voice faded into a long, choking cough.

“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 you want?”

“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 station.”


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 on Broadway.”

“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 Joseph anybodies.”

“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 last night.”

“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.

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