VERY FANCY BUTTONS, RABBIT O'REILLY, TRUDY,
Very Fancy Buttons
Brad Smith opted for early retirement from the New York City Police Department because of a bad knee. He decided to work part-time as a private investigator. Smith knew a few lawyers that would give him cases from time-to-time.
Smith was single with no family, no obligations, so he didn't need much income; his pension, plus the occasional case, worked out fine for him.
Last month one of those lawyers called him about a case. A man disappeared with no trace and his wife was looking for him. That's a common scenario. In this case theres an insurance policy that the wife want's to collect and the insurance company won't pay until they know the man is dead.
Smith was given the job of developing convincing proof that the man is dead.
Harry, the lawyer, gave him the file. Smith read about Louie Balrano.
Louis Balrano was born in Hoboken forty-eight years ago. When he was five his family moved to New York. They settled in Chelsea, in an apartment on West 27th Street. His father got a job pushing carts around the garment district. Louie dropped out of high school when he was sixteen and went to work with his father in the district. He was a bright, good-looking kid and made friends with the businessmen in the district; something his father always avoided since he had a natural distrust for authority.
One particular businessman who befriended Louie was an old man, Mr. Teitlebaum; he thought Louie was smart and he tried to encourage him to go back to school. Louie did not want to do that.
Teitlebaums Trimmings was a company that had been around a hundred years. Abe's grandfather started the business and passed it on to Isaac Teitlebaum, who passed it on to his son, Abe. In the beginning they sold a wide variety of trimmings, but over the years they grew to specialize in fancy buttons. Abe was well known and well respected in the district, and he was generally recognized as the authority in the fancy button business.
Abe had three children, two daughters who married well and moved away, and a son, David. He didn't talk too much about his son. At first he tried to get David interested in the business, but this was not going to happen. David wanted to go to school; dance school. In time Abe came to realize that his only son was gay. They were estranged. Abe was alone, a widower, who lived over the store.
One day Abe said, "Louie, come in, I want to talk to you for a few minutes."
"OK Mr. T. Ill come back on my lunch break so I can sit with you for half an hour," Louie said, smiling, pleased with the interest the old man showed in him.
Later Louie came to the store. Abe closed the front door and pulled the shade down. He took Louie into the back office. It was ancient and musty. He sat at an old roll top desk; the chair had stuffing coming out of the upholstery in three different places. A single light bulb hung over the desk, suspended on an old piece of wire that looked like Edison himself had installed it. There were boxes and crates scattered, haphazardly all over the place. It was hard to find an empty spot to sit. Abe moved some stuff from side to side, opening up a small spot next to his desk. He put one of the crates up-ended there, and motioned for Louie to sit. Louie thought that Mr. T looked tired. Abe was about seventy years old then, heavy set with a full gray beard. He always wore his little Jewish skullcap. Louie could never pronounce the Jewish word properly, so he just called it "a little Jewish skullcap".
Louie sat. Abe sat. Abe looked at Louie for a moment, in silence. Then he shook his head back and forth, thinking of his own son, moaned a little and shuffled some papers around the desk. He reached out to pick up a piece of paper at the back of his desk. As he reached his sleeve moved up his arm, exposing a tattoo. Louie had very good eyesight; he read the tattoo, PE64389.
"Mr. T, Id like to axe you a question."
"What is it, my boy?"
"I hope you dont mind, its...I think its religious, or something."
"Its ok. Go ahead. What you want to know?"
Louie hesitated. He wasn't sure how to ask.
"Mr. T, I see that tattoo on your arm"
Abe looked down at his arm. He had almost forgotten about the tattoo.
"Yes Louie, do you know what it means?"
"Yeah. I read about it. The Nazis tattooed the Jews when they had the big war. But you, Mr. T, you're an American. You was born here. You weren't there--thank God. How did you get that tattoo?"
Abe looked at Louie, trying to decide if he was sincere. He looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes.
"Very good question Louie. Very good. You see, my father, he was a good man. When those Nazi bastards started doing these terrible things, my father, a good man, religious, philosophical, he was deeply troubled. He was especially troubled about not being able to do anything about the situation there. He decided, as a sign of solidarity, of dedication, of brotherly love, we should all get tattoos too. See?"
"Oh, yeah, I see Mr. T. Gee."
Abe extended his arm and pulled his sleeve up to show Louie the tattoo.
"You see that? You know what that tattoo means?"
"No, Mr. T, What is it?" Louie thought he was going to hear some biblical reference to the letters and numbers on Mr. Ts arm.
"That, Louie, that was our phone number! Pennsylvania 6 4389," Abe said.
Then he picked up the papers and handed them to Louie.
"What's this Mr. T?"
"Look. Look at it Louie."
The first page said:
Consolidated Statement For Teitlebaum Industries
Prepared by Schwartz and Cohen, C.P.A.s
"Mr. T, I dont know what this means. What do you want me to do with it?"
"Ill show you." Abe began to teach Louie how to read a financial statement. In this case it was the statement of Teitlebaum Industries, the owner of four factories in the Caribbean and Mexico, all making fancy buttons from expensive materials.
The Profit & Loss section showed sales of $ 7,350,000 in the last fiscal year and a net profit of $ 957,432.
"Holy shit, Mr. T!"
"Yeah, yeah, my boy," Abe said, waving his hands in the air and speaking with resignation in his voice. " But what good is it. I got nobody to make happy."
"But-- but what do you want me to do?" Louie asked, confused with this revelation." Why are you telling me about this?"
Abe looked at Louie again. He was silent for a moment.
"Listen, Louie, youre a good boy. I'm old now. I cant make my trips to see these places anymore. I need somebody I can trust to work for me. To go around and see these factories. Make sure they're all right. Make sure nobody's stealing. See? I been watching you for seven years now, since you came to work here, in the district. You're a good boy. You're honest and hardworking. That's what I need. I want you to work for Teitlebaum. I pay you, to start, umm... $50,000 a year plus travel expenses. You, you are a young man. Itll be exciting for you to go to all these places. What do you say?"
"I -- gee, I dont know what to say. I dont know...Im not a businessman" Louie said, flabbergasted. He was waving his arms, looking around, as though for somebody to come in and save him.
"Dont worry Louie. I teach you. You're smart. I see that. You can learn...I can teach you. I want to see you get out of here. I want to see you become a businessman, not a pusher of carts for the rest of your life. I know you have the potential. Its just that you need something, a push, a boost, to get you started."
They sat there in silence for a minute or two. And then Louie became the Vice president of Operations for Teitlebaum Industries.
He moved out of his father's house...who was happy to see him go, relieving him of one mouth to feed...and took a room in a residential hotel near Teitlebaums. Abe took him shopping to Orchard Street so he could get the clothes he needed to be a businessman. Every night they sat together, Abe teaching, Louie learning. Three months later Louie was ready for his first trip, to The Dominican Republic and from there to Mexico City and then home.
"A short trip for the first time, Louie."
Louie left on the two-week trip, but didnt return when he was expected. Abe was frantic. He kept calling The Dominican Republic and Mexico City looking for him. He couldn't imagine what happened. He was told that Louie had been to both places.
Finally, a month later, Louie walked into the store, all smiles, and said, "Hiya Mr. T. I got good news for you."
Abe rushed up to him, grabbed him by the arms and pulled him close, hugging, smothering Louie.
"Louie, Louie, where have you been. I been worried sick over you. What happened?"
"Nothin happened Mr. T. I took a little extra time while I was there, thats all. Take it off my vacation time."
"What do you mean? What happened?"
"Listen, Mr. T, you remember you said I was young and would enjoy all these places?"
"Well, I enjoyed! I met a girl. We went to an island and spent two weeks. You know." With that Louie winked at Abe. At first Abe was angry. He sat down and sunk his bearded chin into his chest. Then he looked up, smiling and chuckling.
"Youre right my boy. Take the time to have fun when youre young. Ok. But next time, call me or send a telegram, or something."
"I told Carlos in the DR to tell you. Didn't he call you?"
"No. That bum. He probably wanted to get you in trouble with me. Why? What did you find out?"
They sat down in the old office and for the next two hours Louie told Abe what he saw, and how impressive everything looked. It was good news, generally, but Abe could see from some of the things that Louie described that there was some shrinkage going on in the factory that Carlos was managing. Louie didnt understand. Abe explained.
Louie became very good at his work, and very successful. When Abe Teitlebaum died, twelve years later, Louie, as well as Abe's son and two daughters, were surprised to learn that Abe left Teitlebaum Industries to The Jewish Trust Fund. He made his last act a gift of enormous philanthropic generosity. By this time TI, as Louie later changed the name to, was worth some $11,000,000. Abe's family was upset. They saw a lawyer.
"Forget it. He left it all to the Jewish Fund. If he left it to a twenty-two year-old chippie you got a chance. No court is gonna over rule a gift like this. Forget about it!"
Abe specified in his will that the Fund had to employ Louie as the President and General Manager of TI for as long as he wanted to work. Louie didn't get anything from the will, but he got a great job for life, making $200,000 a year. He also had an idea. He approached the Board of the Fund and told them he knew how to grow the business. But he needed an incentive. They agreed on a generous bonus structure for Louie, who then went out and acquired a number of other, small, similar companies, which when combined with TI, made an $18,000,000 company with profits of $2,000,000 a year. The Fund was thrilled and awarded Louie annual bonuses of $500,000 for the rest of his career. They also took out a large insurance policy on Louie to protect their interests. They agreed to add a $2,000,000 rider to the policy for Louie's estate.
Before he died, Abe told Louie, "Listen my boy, no matter how much money you make, remember these two things. One, dont tell nobody how much you got. Nobody. Otherwise they always there asking for money. Understand?"
"Yes, Mr. T. And whats number two?"
"Number two, my boy, is no matter how good the times are, there will come the bad times. This, my boy, is written. So always keep your money in the bank. Some safe place, where it cant get lost and where you can always get at it."
So Louie lived moderately well, but way below his means. He had a couple of bank accounts, and by the time he was forty he had $2,000,000 put away "for the bad times". He never dabbled in the market, or any other speculative areas. He had learned his lesson from Abe. He married late, a nice girl, gave her a good home, but never told her about the extent of his wealth.
He continued to travel to visit the factories, and continued to fret about Carlos in the DR.
Then he disappeared.
The next morning Smith took a cab to West 39th Street. He got out in front of Teitlebaums Trimmings. It was an old plate glass window storefront. The letters were gold leaf, with "Teitlebaums" arched in a half moon and "Trimmings" nestled in between the legs of the arch. He went to the front door and jiggled the handle. The door was locked.
"Hey! Hey you!" Smith heard somebody calling him from behind. He turned. A kid was standing there, yelling at him and holding a box. He was about eighteen or nineteen and was costumed in the popular "punk" style. His hair was spiked in a multitude of colors. He had hardware stuck into and hanging out of him from all over his body, including earrings, nails, springs, and other assorted metallic odds and ends. He wore leather everything; Smith thought, he must have had leather underwear on.
"Yeah. Whaddaya want kid."
"You got something to do with Teitlebaums?" the kid asked.
"Umm, yeah. Why?"
"UPS dropped this package off for them a couple of weeks ago." he nodded to his shop next door. "Nobody's been here since, and I ain't got no room for storage. Here!"
He shoved the box into Smith's arms and went back into his store. Smith looked at the shipping label. It was a box from the factory in the Dominican Republic. Smith took another cab home. He opened the box on the kitchen table and spread the contents out.
There were dozens of little plastic bags, each one with a dozen buttons. Smith saw that the buttons were all the same shape and color --- oval and bone white --- but the different packages had variations in the colors and designs on the buttons. Some had little red stars, other had blue and purple stripes, and on and on. He could see that they were hand made and very good quality. He was beginning to understand what the fancy button business was all about. But still no clue about Louie was apparent.
Smith sat down and had a cigarette, watching the smoke curl up and disappear as it rose to the ceiling, concentrating.
The next morning he went to see Harry at the law office.
"Listen, Harry, how much you got to spend on this investigation?
"I want to go to the Teitlebaum factory in the Dominican Republic."
"I dunno. I got a feelin. I gotta investigate."
Three days later Smith checked into a run down, ramshackle hotel out in the countryside of the DR. After he caught a few winks he went to get a cab down the dusty road to the factory. Smith walked in unannounced. It was small, old and dirty. There was an office and a workshop with big tables and about two-dozen women sitting around the tables, hand making the buttons.
Smith walked into the office. There was a pretty black girl sitting near the phone, reading a book.
"Not too busy, huh?" Smith asked. He wanted to see if she would respond in English. She looked up at him.
"I'm from Teitlebaums, in New York."
"Really?" she said, raising her eyebrows in disbelief.
"Yeah. Wheres Carlos?"
"He's out. On business."
"When is he coming back?"
Smith walked out the door to look around the factory. He glanced back and saw what he expected. She was dialing the phone. He browsed around a little more, not knowing exactly what he was looking for. He went back into the office.
"I need to see some of the records," Smith said.
"Says who?" the girl asked.
"I told you, Im from the New York office."
"You better just wait here for Carlos to come. He's on his way."
A few minutes later a jeep pulled up in a cloud of dust. The driver was a big burly guy, beard, dressed in combat fatigues, beret, gun slung over his hip. The passenger was slightly built, dark black complexion, and dressed in a white shirt, chinos, and wearing wide, bright red, suspenders. The back seat of the jeep had a pack of yelping, growling, salivating Dobermans, showing their teeth and snarling at Smith. Smith stepped back, away from the jeep, involuntarily. The passenger hopped out of the jeep, turning back towards the dogs and yelling at them in Spanish. Then he turned toward Smith.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked.
"Hi. Brad Smith. Im here representing the Teitlebaum interests," Smith answered, smiling and extending his hand in greeting.
"Whats that mean?"
Good question, Smith thought.
"Umm, It means that II need to take inventory."
"Louie usually does that. Where's Louie? Is he here?" He was straining his neck, looking around, behind Smith, left-to-right, looking for Louie.
"Umm, no, Louie's not here this time. By-the-way, what's your name?"
"Im Carlos. Im the boss here. I don't know nothing about you Smith. I never heard your name, and I didn't get no notice you was coming. What's this about? Who are you?"
The dogs started up again. This time Carlos didn't quiet them down. It was very distracting.
"Listen, Carlos, can we discuss this in your office."
"Huh? Oh. Okay."
They walked into the office. Carlos sat down at a desk and waved his hand for Smith to take the seat next to it. Smith nodded his head towards the girl, indicating that Carlos should have her leave them alone. Carlos said something in Spanish, and she disappeared.
"Listen, Carlos, the lawyers sent me here. It's like an audit. You know? Like an audit to check out the information Louie's been reporting. See?"
"You mean somebody don't trust that son-uv-a-bitch? It's about time," Carlos said, laughing. "He been stealing from us since the first time he came here. I remember. He was a kid. He said Listen Carlos, lemme take some of these here ivory buttons. I can sell them on the side and we'll split it. I told him to get lost, but after he left a gross of ivories was missing. Nobody could find out because he was doing the inventory. What a bastard, cheating that nice old man."
As Carlos talked he leaned back, put his feet up on the desk lit a cigarette, knitted his brow in disapproval and spoke harshly about Louie's actions. Smith was surprised, since it seemed that Carlos thought Louie was still around, how freely he talked about Louie's transgressions.
"Well, you see Carlos, that's what I'm here for. You wanna help me?"
"I dunno. What good is it for me to rat on the president of the company? I don't think it's a good idea."
Smith looked out the window and saw the driver throwing huge chunks of raw meat to the Dobermans.
"OK Carlos. Stay cool. Ill just look around a little and then get out of your way."
"No way, Jose. You ain't going nowhere in my factory."
"But I told you, I'm from the New York office. I gotta do the audit."
"Oh yeah? Well show me something that says I gotta let you in the shop. If not" he tilted his head towards the door, gritted his teeth, and said, "Then get the hell outta here."
"Uh huh. Well, the thing is, I can't leave. I don't have a car. I came in a taxi."
"Tough. Walk back."
Smith thought about his options, looked at the dogs, and decided to leave the office and started walking in the direction of the hotel. A few cars passed and he tried to hitch-hike. After about a half an hour a car approached and stopped before he could stick his thumb out. A woman, about forty, attractive, mulatto type, motioned for him to get in. Smith hesitated.
"Fast mister. Now. Fast," she said.
Smith got in. She took off. Smith stared at her. She had short, cropped hair and was dressed in a halter-top and shorts. The car was very old. A Ford. The windows were open. She stepped on the gas and kept looking in the rearview mirror. Smith didnt know what to think. Am I being kidnapped? He thought. He remembered hearing stories like that.
She took a right hand turn, practically on two wheels. Smith yelped in terror and surprise. She looked at him with an expression of disgust on her face. After that Smith stayed quiet. Finally the car stopped in front of a little cantina.
"Come on," she said.
Smith got out of the car and followed her into the back room. She sat at a table. There were two bottles of cold beer waiting for us.
"Who are you Mister?"
"I was gonna ask you that."
"I'm Conchita. I used to work for Louie um, Mr. Balrano. We wasclose. You know?"
"Uh huh. I see."
She was drooping, emotional, sobbing a little.
"Well, he was nice, to me, I mean, we, I mean"
Smith saw that she was very upset about Louie.
"Listen Conchita, I understand. You don't have to say anymore. What do you want?"
She asked Smith a few questions. When she was satisfied that he was trying to find out about Balrano for good reasons they spoke.
"When he was here the last time Louie and Carlos got into a big argument."
"What did they argue about Conchita?"
"I dont know. I could see them from where I was working, but I couldn't hear them. Especially with the dogs."
"I know. But what did you see?"
"Carlos tried to hit Louie, but Louie, he was too smart. Louie stepped away from Carlos' swing and held his hands out. He tried to stop Carlos. Then Ramon came up to Louie, from behind"
"Who's Ramon?" Smith asked.
"His driver. The big one. The one who takes care of the dogs."
"Oh. Go on Conchita."
"Then Ramon comes from behind and grabs Louie around his chest"
Conchita paused and dropped her head down towards the table. She shook her head and sobbed.
"Please. Go on Conchita," Smith said.
She looked back up at Smith and wiped her arm across her eyes.
"Ramon held Louie. Then Carlos punched him. Again and again. He took Louie's suspenders and pulled them away and snapped them back against Louies chest"
"Louies suspenders?" Smith asked.
"Yes," Conchita said, looking at Smith.
"Yes," she answered. "Why?"
"The ones Carlos was wearing today?" Smith asked.
"I didnt see him today."
"Oh. OK. Go on," Smith said.
"Anyway, that's about it. They had this big argument and then Louie left."
"What do you mean, he left?"
"Well, I didn't see him no more. I mean, usually, Louie would come to see me when he was here...you know. Or he would at least come to say goodbye to me. We was close, you know what I mean?"
"Yes, Conchita, I know what you mean. Did you know he was married?"
"Oh. Yeah. I knew that. It was OK. I mean it was just...you know?"
"I understand. He was good to you. Nice to you. Is that what you mean?"
"Yeah," she said, drooping again. "I ain't seen him since then. Where is he mister? Do you know? Is he all right?" She asked.
"I don't know Conchita."
They finished their beers and she took Smith back to the hotel.
The next day Smith left the DR, and returned to New York. After a nights rest he went back to the garment district and started asking some questions. Smith found out what he suspected after his conversation with Conchita.
The next morning Smith met in Harry, the lawyer's office with Mrs. Balrano. Smith had his attache case with me.
"Well, I guess I got some bad news for you Mrs. Balrano. But first, tell me something. Did Mr. Balrano wear red suspenders often?"
"Yes. He did. He considered red suspenders his, umm, like his trademark. He had about a dozen of them. Why?"
"I thought so. Anyway, the news is not good."
"What is it?"
"Im sorry Mrs. Balrano, but theres no question that your husband is dead. Theres no body, but I think I can show you how to prove it to the insurance company."
"Go ahead," Harry said.
"Louie never got along with Carlos, the manager of the Teitlebaum factory in the DR. From the first day he met him he was suspicious that he was stealing.
They made very valuable ivory buttons there and Carlos was skimming some of the buttons and selling them himself. He had a regular contact a few blocks over from Teitlebaums store, and he sent him a case or two every month. Now, a case of those buttons is worth, maybe two grand. So Carlos had a nice thing going for years.
"A few months ago Louie found out who the drop was. He had been searching for years. He hated Carlos for how he had cheated the company, but most of all how he cheated the old man. Louie decided to go to the DR and confront Carlos, but he didn't tell anybody he was going because he didn't want word to get to Carlos. He figured hed be gone two days, and he knows that you" Smith looked at Mrs. Balrano and said, "Youre used to his surprise business trips now-and-then."
"Louie figured he would go there, confront Carlos, fire him, shut the factory down and move the production to Mexico. But Carlos didnt quite go along with Louie's plan. He got very upset. He and his Che Guevera look-alike body guard killed Louie."
Smith stopped for a moment to be sure Mrs. Balrano was able to handle this information. She nodded her head.
"Here's the gruesome part" Smith reached down to his attache case as he spoke and pulled out the packs of buttons, the ones that were bone white.
"They, umm, Mrs. Balrano, forgive me, they fed his flesh to the dogs to get rid of the body. And these," Smith tossed the bags of buttons on the desk.
"At least some of these are his bones. If you check the DNA youll have a positive ID."
Mrs. Balrano started sobbing. Harry looked down and covered his face with his hands.
Mrs. Balrano collected the insurance.
Harry collected his fee.
Smith collected his.
Nobody could figure out how to go after Carlos for the murder in the DR.
TI fired Carlos so he started his own button business: Very Fancy Buttons.
They were lying in the bed on their sides. She was curled up, her slim, smooth back to his belly. Her eyes were closed lightly, her thin lips drawn into a smile, and her long, graceful hands clasped around the linen sheets and held to her chest. His large left hand was on her hip and the index finger of his right hand was drawing circles on her shoulder. He entered her slowly. She shuddered. They began the rhythmic motions of an emotionally charged sexual experience. A small moan came from somewhere inside her.
A terse grunt escaped his throat.
As they rocked back-and-forth his hands slid up to her neck. He clamped her throat and as he had done before he snapped her neckquickly, quietly, killing her. Her lithe body slumped. He grasped her hips and held her in place as he finished.
Then he withdrew and released her. Her body flopped, face down, onto the sheets.
He went into the bathroom, slipped the condom off and flushed it. He took some tissue paper and cleaned off the residue, flushing that as well. He washed and dried his hands. Then he went to his gym bag and took out the bottle of vodka. He took out the three glasses, being careful not to smudge the fingerprints on the glasses. He poured liquor into each glass. Then he took the towel he had used earlier and wiped everything he had touched in the room, stuffed the towel into the gym bag and walked out.
"So, who is she Gomez?" Detective Shelgan asked the crime scene investigator. Shelgans eye lids drooped and sagged, much like the rest of his once athletic physique. Fifteen years on the job hadnt done much to improve his build. He looked at Gomez with his eyes slit to narrow openings and with one brow raised.
"Says right here her name is Constance Maloney," Gomez said, looking at her license.
"Whatve else you got?" Shelgan asked.
"Plenty! Three glasses, all with prints, none of the victim, marks on the victim a very good looking girl, by the way showing how she was killed. Her neck was snapped. And sex. Shes lying there naked on the bed and it looks like there was recent sexual activity."
"Semen?" Shelgan asked, looking around the room.
"No. But he probably used a condom."
"Hmmm. So this was not a lovers quarrel? And what gives with the prints? A party?"
"Yeah. Well. The booze makes it look like a party. But here" he turned towards her purse, "heres her ID. Looks like she was 35 and worked for the City." Shelgan leafed through her wallet while he spoke. "She worked in the probation department office downtown.
"Hmm. How many people all together?"
"Looks like four, at least."
"Keep looking. Run the prints through the system. And then interview the neighbors.
"OK," Gomez said.
"Hey, Shelgan, we got a hit on one of the prints from the Maloney murder," Luchiso, his partner said, waving a report in the air as she trotted towards his desk.
"Oh yeah? What? Tell me about it?" Shelgan said, taking a munch from his morning bagel, a sip of his coffee and a deep breath of the ambient air. The office had been smoke free for five years now but somehow there still seemed to be a haze of blue smoke lofting near the ceiling certainly the tobacco stink lingered on, there having been no budget for de-stinking the place.
"Comes back as Marvin Orelshevsky. Youre gonna love this. Guys 86 years oldthats if hes still alive."
"What?" Shelgan looked up, a drip of coffee curling down from his lip as he screwed up his brow and squinted his left eye with what seemed to be an expression of conscious unintelligibility.
"Yeah. AKA Rabbit OReilly," Luchiso said, as she squatted her plump behind on the edge of Shelgans desk, just inches from his coffee container.
"Orelwhat? OReilly? Whats he in the system for?" He asked as he watched his coffee.
"O-REL-SHEV-SKY. He was a bookie back in the old days. Last arrested in 67. Did 6 years upstate."
"His prints were there? Thats very funny. Have you got a last known for him?"
"Sure. The Hebrew Home for the Aged. In Riverdale.
"Lets take a ride up there. Right after we go to see her boss."
"So, Mr. Sporen, how long did Miss Maloney work for you here?"
The Probation Control and Records office was on the second floor of one of the citys non-descript office buildings in lower Manhattan. Theodore Sporen sat in a cubicle that was grayed from age and dented with abuse. His was the biggest cubicle in that section of the floor. The collar of his white shirt fluttered loosely around his tubular neck. His dark hair was uncut and curled up at the ends. The frames of his glasses were taped in two places and secured around his neck by a lanyard crafted from a piece of city twine. He shifted in his chair as he looked in the file folder that contained Maloneys personnel records.
"She was transferred here in February of last year," he said, peeking into the folder. Then he slipped that page back in and dropped the folder back into the file drawer in his desk. He shook his head slowly and "tsked, tsked" his expressions of condolences to no one in particular. He looked up at the wall clock and then back at Shelgan.
"And how well did you know her?"
"What?" Sporen asked.
"You know, how well did you know her? Did you ever see her outside the office Mr. Sporen?"
"Noooo," he said pursing his lips and shaking his head.
"Sounds like a tentative answer Mr. Sporen."
"Just trying to think," he said, looking up at the ceiling for an answer.
"So, what do you say after thinking about it? Ever see her outside the office?"
"What do you mean by not really?"
"Nothing! Anyway, she was a good worker, did her job, sorry to see her end up this way."
"I see. Tell me Mr. Sporen, what about the cons you check out here? Would any of them have a motive for hurting her?" Shelgan asked.
"What? Oh no!" he said, shaking his head and pursing his lips again, "They wouldnt even know who she is.um, was. Her job was strictly clerical. She just handled files. Thats all."
"I see," Shelgan said. "What about you?"
"What? What do you mean?"
"Do you ever come in contact with any of these ex-cons?"
"NO! Not in my job. Never!" he said, placing his palms down on the desktop, as if he was going to push himself up off his chair.
"Mr. Orelshevsky?" Luchiso asked, leaning close to the old man.
"Yeah. Sure. Youse guys cops?" He looked up from his wheelchair, parked in the mint green corridor of the nursing home, just outside his room on the first floor.
"Hows you know that?" Shelgan asked, looking at Luchiso as he spoke.
"Been waiting for youse guys to show up. Ever since that slick kid came around with the con about the glasses."
"Wheel me out to the patio will ya?" He pointed his gnarled and spotted fingers towards the door. He was very skinny and wrinkled, wearing a dirty old Brooklyn Dodgers cap, a somewhat newer Yankees sweat shirt and plain gray sweat pants. He pointed to the door again. Shelgan and Luchiso took him outside. He pointed over to a corner of the yard. They wheeled.
"No, around back, behind the tree," he said. After they settled in he said, "You got a smoke?" Shelgan and Luchiso looked at each other. Shelgan shrugged his shoulders. Luchiso fished a pack of Marlboros out of her pocket and gave the old man one. He smoked and smiled.
"Ohhhh.thats good. Thanks," he said.
"Now tell us about the kid "
"Yeah," Luchiso said, "but first tell us about OReilly."
The old man smiled. "I worked for the wops, you know" He looked up at the two of them and said "no offense"
"OK," Luchiso said.
"Anyway, they couldnt pronounce Orelshevsky, so they called me OReilly, see?" He chuckled and took another puff.
"Oh. And what about Rabbit?" Shelgan asked.
"Oh, that? I was fast. Thats all. Back then" he said, looking down and his immobile legs and shaking his head."
"Yeah. Okay. Now why did you say you were waiting for us show up? What about the slick kid?" Shelgan asked.
"Well" the old man said, exhaling a long stream of smoke up towards the sky, "about a year ago a good looking kid shows up here, telling the office people he has a donation from his company, a hundred bucks, in exchange for a little market research with some of us oldsters, see?"
"Go on," Luchiso said.
"Well, these jerks, they go nuts for a hundred bucks. Hes got this ID. Looks pretty good. So they wheel a few of us into the rec room to meet with the kid"
"You keep saying kid Mr. Orelshevsky, how old was he?" Luchiso asked.
"Foist of all," the old man said, exhaling again, "call me Rabbit. OK?"
"Second, gimma another butt willya?"
Luchiso looked at Shelgan. He nodded. She gave Orelshevsky another and helped him light up. He took a couple of drags and resumed.
"The kids maybe 3540 years oldmaybe your age," he said, looking at Shelgan. "Definitely older than you," he said, looking at Luchiso. She smiled. "Hes trying to look olderhes wearing glasses, put some gray in his hair, you know. He had short blond hair. He fooled the others, but you cant fool an old con like me." He leaned back in his seat and smiled as he took another drag.
"OK, then what?"
"Then he says hes testing some glasses and he wants to know how they feel to us. Hes got this big sample case. He opens it and he got lots of glasses in the case. He puts them out on the table but I notice hes handling them very carefully.like he takes them by the rim only, so he can wipe the rims later. Anyway he asks us to pick the up and try them out and then to tell him which ones we like. Right away I see what hes up to. Hes looking to press prints on the glasses. Hes thinking a bunch of alter cockers in a heb nursing home aint gonna be in the system. He never heard of Bugsy Siegel and the others. So I smile and press my prints on all the glasses. So Im disappointed it took youse so long to show up."
"Ohhhh," Shelgan and Luchiso said, looking at each other and nodding.
"So what did you find out about Maloney?" Shelgan asked Gomez
"Well, she lived alone. Nice building. About 20 apartments."
The funny thing is five of the neighbors said she had a boyfriend."
"Whats funny about that?"
"Well, two of them described the boyfriend as being about five-foot-eight, slim, with long black hair, and others described him as about six-foot, muscular, with a blond crew-cut."
"What? Oh boy. Gonna be a tough one."
"Yeah," Gomez said as he turned and walked away.
Their green metal desks were dinked, scratched, faded and stained over the decades of use. The phones used to be black; now they were some kind of dark color that emerges from the age and degradation of shiny black plastic. The smell included the residual cigarette aroma embellished with a minimum of sanitation, an aroma unique to New York City Police Stations! Shelgan and Luchiso had first become inured to the environment; they flourished in it.
"Well," Luchiso said, shaking her head, leaning over Shelgans desk, palms down, tits swinging," what do we do next?"
Shelgan stared at her tits, swinging there right in front of him, as though he never noticed she had them before. She stood up, folded her arms across her chest and turned around.
"Oh, sorry," he said, "I was umm thinking of something else for a second"
"Yeah, right," she said.
"Yeah. No. I mean maybe," Shelgan said, shaking his head, as though he was trying to clear a fog from his mind. He picked up his coffee cup and took a sip.
Luchiso checked her blouse buttons before turning back towards him. His face was a little flushed. He looked down at his desk and shuffled some of the papers.
"Look, Henry," she said. His neck snapped as he looked up to her. She had never called him by his first name before he didnt even know she knew his first name!
"Henry," she said again, coming over towards him, "how long we working together now?"
"I dunno. Maybe four, what? Five months?"
"Its been ten months Henry." She pulled a chair over next to him. She sat down and looked down at his desk as she spoke so that it would appear to anyone else that they were both looking at the same stuff and thats why they were so close. She hoped.
"Its OK Henry. Were both cops. But were both people too. So we keep the people part in the backgroundright?"
"Right," he said as he pushed some of the papers around.
"Right. And sometimes the people part comes right back out at us. So we just handle it. OK?"
"OK," he said.
"Good, she said. "Now lets get back to work."
"Right," he said. "Back to work."
She pushed the chair away and got up, her back towards him. He kept looking down at the papers on his desk.
"Ummm," he said. He started doodling on a yellow pad
"What are you doing Shelgan?" Luchiso asked. He felt himself back in a comfort zone now, with her calling him by his last name; the code between cops.
"Nothing. Just thinking."
"So. Think out loud."
"Yeah. Im thinking Sporen."
"What? That creep? What about him?"
"Dunno. Something. We need to check him out some more. See abut his job. And another thing. Maloney. Find out how much she was making in her job."
"Shes a clerk, right? See that apartment? Her clothes in the closet? See how much she makes. Lets get her IRS 1040."
"You were right Shelgan."
"She makes thirty-five at her city job. Reported forty-five on her tax return."
"Wheres the other money coming from?"
"Cmon. Ill show you."
"So, Johnny, you the manager here?" Luchiso asked over the blare of the music.
"Yeah. You looking for a job sweetheart?" He asked, looking her over. "Were always looking for new dancers. The pays good and the tips are betterand its all cash."
"No thanks, I already got a job," she said, showing Johnny her badge. She nodded her head in Shelgans direction. "And hes my partner."
"Oh, sorry officer," Johnny said, holding his palms up and waving them across the bar. "Listen, everything heres on the up-and-up. No funny business. The girls come and do their thing and go home. Nothing else. We got no back rooms. See? And what I said about the cash"
"Relax Johnny. Were not here for that. Were here to ask about one of your girls. You been missing Maloney for a few days now, right?"
"Maloney," he said, peering at the ceiling and stroking his chin. "Maloney, Maloney"
"Connie," Luchiso said.
"Oh yeah. Connie. Classy broadI mean girl. Very nice. Yeah, youre right. She aint showed up for work for about a week now. Hey! Whatever she did I had nothing to do with it. Whats she do? I mean, I never thought shed"
"Johnny, shes dead. Killed. Were looking for the killer."
"Killed? Wow! I didnt knowWow! What happened? A car accident?"
He reached under the bar. Shelgan and Luchiso grasped their weapons. Johnny came up with a bottle of scotch. "Wow!" He said. He poured a shot and gulped it down. He looked up and shook the bottle towards them, arching his eyebrows.
"No, thanks. She was murdered. Somebody killed her with his bare hands."
He poured himself another and sipped half of it.
"Wow! Nothing like that ever happened before. Wow!"
"You know anybody who might want to hurt her Johnny? Maybe a customer who got disappointed because she said no to a date, or something like that?"
"No," he said, finishing his scotch.
"What kind of girl was she?"
"Quiet," he said. Came in, did her shift and went home. Not the friendly typeI mean with the other girls. But a looker. And she knew her stuff. Umm, dont mean no disrespect for the dead, but she really knew how to sling her hashif you know what I mean. Made a bundle on tips. Great assoops! Sorry. I mean great smile"
Thats OK Johnny. We understand."
Shelgan and Luchiso looked at each other; Shelgan shrugged his shoulders.
"So," Luchiso said, "she works for the city days and as a stripper nights. Go figure!"
"Sure," Shelgan said, "she wants the security and pension from the city job but she needs extra money to live in a decent neighborhood and dress nicely, so she uses her god-given assets to supplement her income. Nothing wrong with that! Its the American way!"
"Yeah, right," Luchiso said, shaking her head.
"Sporens personnel file shows that before this supervisory job he was on the street. You know, a regular PO."
"You know, one of those descriptions of her boyfriend sort of fits that creep doesnt it?"
"Hmm", she said, "yeah, I think so. Can you imagine a good-looking girl like that going for a creep like him? I cant. Unless"
"Unless what?" Shelgan asked.
"Hmmm", she said.
"Shelgan, look at this," Luchiso said, shoving a file across his desk.
"This is the file on Mark Anson. Hes a paroled felon. Sporen was his PO. Hes been out now for 3 years. Hes got 2 more years on probation."
"So?" Shelgan asked as he leafed through the file.
"I looked through Sporen's old records, following a hunch. Look at Ansons description."
"Oh! Sounds like her other boyfriend. What was he in for."
"Assault with intent. His third arrest, first conviction."
"What are you thinking?"
"Im thinking theres something going on here. Maybe like a triangle. You know?"
"Lets see if we can talk to Anson."
"I dont know nothing! I want a lawyer! I aint saying nothing!"
"OK - OK, Mark. Calm down a minute will ya. Well get you a lawyer if thats what you want. But first let me tell you what we got."
Anson was sweating. They found him working out in a gym near his apartment; one of the neighbors said he would probably be there. He was wearing a sweat shirt with the sleeves torn off and sweat pants. He had gym shoes on and carried his gym bag.
"Whatya want with me? Always pick up the con. Thats it right? I didn't do nothing."
He banged his fist on the table and swiped his fingers through his short blond hair.
"Let me tell you what we got first. OK?"
"I want a lawyer. I want a lawyer. I want a "
"OK! OK already. Ill go out and call the Public Defenders Office," Luchiso said. She left the drab gray interview room and Shelgan sat down across from Anson.
"OK Mark, calm down. Well get you a lawyer. In the meantime, let me talk. You dont have to say anything - just listen and then decide what you want to do."
Anson clasped his hands over his face and shook his head.
"Number one, we got witnesses seeing you going in and out of Maloney's apartment"
Anson kept shaking his head and hiding his face.
"Number two we know about the finger print scam. We talked to the old people up at the home in the Bronx."
Anson slowed down a little as he kept shaking his head.
"Number three we know about you and Sporen."
Anson stopped shaking but kept his face hidden behind his hands.
"Number four we know that the cause of Maloney's death was consistent with your priors."
Anson curled his fingers so that his closed eyes were now exposed.
"Number five" Shelgan paused, groping for what he could say for number five. "Number five" he repeated, "we know that Sporen put you up to this."
Anson seemed to nod just a little.
"And if we can pin this on Sporen it will go better for you. So why dont you tell us about what happened Anson? It really will be better for you."
Anson slumped in his chair just as Luchiso came back in.
"Great work Shelgan," Captain Moore said.
"Thanks Captain, but it was really my partner's hunch and her research that broke the case."
Moore looked at Luchiso.
"Great work Detective," he said to Luchiso, a little less enthusiastically. "Now, walk us through it again. Will ya?"
"Sure," Shelgan said and turned to Luchiso.
"Oh," she said, looking at Shelgan, then at Moore then back at Shelgan. Shelgan nodded.
"Well, I figured that Sporen was using workplace pressure to make Maloney have sex with him. You know, sexual harassment. He was her supervisor and he could make or break her as far as job security and advancement was concerned. He also knew about her part time work and convinced her that he could get her fired on a morals issue if he revealed that she was a stripper. So she was just victimized by this creep - I mean this, umm, alleged sexual predatorinto having sex with her.
"Then, he became obsessed with her. He imagined that she was seeing other men. So he gets a hold of Anson. He tells Anson to follow her and to find out if shes seeing anybody else. He forces Anson into doing this by threatening him with throwing him back in jail on some made up probation violation. Anson buys Sporen's threat and starts following Maloney, but were not dealing with a rocket scientist here - Anson follows her by becoming a customer at the place she works nights.
"Well, one thing leads to anotherI mean Anson is actually a pretty good looking guy, especially compared to Sporen - so a thing starts up between Maloney and Anson.
"In the meantime Sporen is asking Anson if she is seeing anybody else. Anson tells him yes, she is, not admitting that the other man is actually him. Sporen gets all bent out of shape hearing this. He confronts Maloney. She denies it. So, in a fit of rage, he tells Anson to hurt Maloney. Anson doesnt have the fine motor coordination to distinguish between hurt and kill so he does what he thinks Sporen wants him to do.
"When we confront Anson with the evidence we had, he makes a deal and rolls on Sporen. Then we pull Sporen in and tell him about Anson's statement. He gets a lawyer, collapses and cuts another deal with the DA. Thats it," she says, holding her arms out. Shelgan smiles.
"Nice work Luchiso," Moore says again.
As Shelgan and Luchiso leave Moores office he says to her, "How about stopping for a pizza?"
She smiles and nods.
"Here Trudy, here. I want you to take this here pen. I gotta go," Jeck said, forcing the blue Bic into my hand, as if his life depended on it.
We were standing there, under the rippled metal roof of the carport, next to the trailer we lived in. I could hear the sound of the branch from the old tree scraping across the ridges of the tin roof when the wind blew. I could smell the odors of gas and oilof old jalopiesin the carport. I looked up at Jeck. He was my big brothersix inches taller and two years older than me. He was holding the pen in his right hand, extending it towards me. It was a white pen with a blue cap over the point. He reached for my right elbow with his left hand and urged it forward. I took the other end of the Bic.
"I gotta go Trudy. Im eighteen now and I dont have to take no more crap from the ol man no more." His voice sounded urgent; he kept glancing around.
Pa was always arguing with Jeck. "Get a god damned job, will ya?" It wasnt that Jeck didnt work. He brought money home. It was that he didnt have a steady job. Just pick-up work, here-and-there, as he could. "I make better money this way than I would working in the damned gas station, or down at the Wal Mart!" he would answer back.
"I gotta go Trudy. But Im gonna write to you. I dont want Pa to know nothin about where I am so Im gonna write to you and mail the letters to Reeve. Hell see you in school and give you letters when I write. OK? Then I want you to take this here pen and write back to me. OK?"
I looked up at him, away from the pen he was pushing into my hand. I saw him as a man, not a brother. He was handsome. About five foot ten, slim with long dark hair oiled up to shiny and combed back in a wave. He had blue eyes, a nice nose and full, sexy lips. He was wearing his black Harley Davidson T-shirt over his snug fitting jeans. I was surprised at myself, reacting to him this way, even though it wasnt the first time I noticed his good looks.
"Um, OK Jeck. Ill write back. Does Pa know youre going?"
"Naw. I didnt tell him. I was gonna leave a note for him, but I dont have time. Im taking" he nodded over towards the corner of the carport; I looked in that direction and saw an old, battered suitcase sitting in the overgrown weeds.
"That bag. Im walking down to the highway and hitching. Im guessing Im going east, towards Mobile, you know?"
I nodded, as though I did know. But I had barely been fifty miles outside of our hometown since I remember, so a city like Mobile was only a vague, abstract concept to me. The thought of my brother going there, getting set up in his own home, and me visiting him sometimes was exciting. I smiled. I reached up on my toes and kissed him on the cheek.
"Good luck Jeck. Really, good luck. Write soon. Dont worry about Pa. Ill tell him when he comes home from work."
Jeck smiled, rubbed his cheek where I kissed him and blushed a little. I think it was the first time we ever kissed. He went over for the suitcase, came back to me holding it in his right hand, leaned forward and kissed me back, on the cheek. As he walked down towards the road I waved to him with my right arm swinging high, the Bic pen firmly grasped in my hand.
Afterwards I looked at our trailer for a minute. It was painted lime green, with the paint peeling off here-and-there. There were two rickety wooden steps up to the rusty old screen door. I went into the trailer and put the pen away, in my underwear drawer. I looked around, imagining what it would be like without Jeck. Pa slept during the daytime in the front room, on the only bed in the place. Jeck slept in the same bed at night. The rest of the interior was one big room with a little bathroom, just a potty and a sinkno shower. Pa rigged up a hand held shower behind a shower curtain out back. We used that for eight or ten months a year. The rest of the time we washed as best we could in the little bathroom.
The rest of the inside was divided up into a little sitting area with a sofa installed against the wallthats where I sleptand a little eating area with a booth like you see in diners, with red vinyl covered bench seats, except ours had faded to a pale pinkish color and the white cotton padding peeked out of the cracks and tears.
Once in a while, when I was growing up, a classmate would invite me for a sleepover. I loved that. Sleeping in a real bed and showering in a real bathroom.
When Pa came home from his job as the night watchman at the mill I let him go to sleep first, before I told him. I went off to school. I got home after three and found Pa still sleeping. I put on a pot of coffee and he woke up to the aroma. He sat at the little table in his robe and asked, "Where's Jeck? Whats he up to today?"
I told him that Jeck had left, to go find work in Mobile. After he hollered and cursed some he calmed down and said it was probably a good idea.
"Next you'll be going too, I spect."
I felt guilty. I really did want to get out of there. I hated sleeping in the open part of that smelly old dirty trailer. I needed some privacy. Especially now, that I was growing up. I think Pa knew that, but he couldnt figure out what to do. Ma had been gone for as long as I knew. Pa rarely spoke of her, except to tell me that I was named Gertrude after her. I didnt know what happened to Gertrude, except that she left town a long, long time ago. I got her name. Thats all, as far as I know. I hated the name. Pa and Jack called me Trudy. Others called me Gert. Neither sounded good to me.
"Im not going nowhere anytime soon Pa. Dont worry about it." I spoke in a tone that was so insincere that I felt nobody could believe me. I knew he didnt.
The next day in school I saw Reeve. He was a senior.
"Hi Trudy. Hows it going? Jeck told me to look out for you, and to give you the letters hes going to write. I guess youll be seeing me around from now on. I gotta look after you." He was smiling. I looked at him with a new perspective for the first time too.
Jeck and Reeve were friends since they were little, but they really were different people. Jeck dropped out of school as soon as he could; Reeve said he wanted to go to college. He dressed neatly, in chinos and pullovers, combed his hair and always looked clean and fresh. I realized I liked that. He was tall - about five eleven - and had a good build. All of a sudden I realized that Reeve was attractive, and here he was, being nice to me, attentive, pleasant.
That night, after Pa went to work, I looked at myself, very carefully, in the two mirrors we had. I looked top-to-bottom, right-to-left, front-to-back. I realized I was pretty OK looking I had a cute face and a reasonably good figurebut I never really worked at trying to make myself look any better. I was probably going through the girl-growing-up thing. Anyway, I resolved that I would take a little more time getting dressed in the mornings.
Well, you would have thought I wore a sign. Suddenly all the boys were aware that I had become a girl. Reeve seemed to act protective at first, but after a couple of weeks I realized that it was really jealousy. I liked that.
One day, about a month after Jeck left, I went up to Reeve in the cafeteria and asked, "Have you heard anything from Jeck yet?" I had planned this day carefully. I washed and combed my hair and put on my snuggest jeans and my tightest sweater, I wanted to look good. Reeve really perked up when he saw me.
"No, not yet Trudy. Say, why dont we get together after school today. We can go check out the mail together." He spoke very nonchalantly, not at all nervous, or self-conscious in front of the other boys. I thought that was neat. Whenever other boys had asked me out they had stammered and stuttered until they finally spilled their words out. Reeve was smooth. I smiled.
"Sure. See you later." I Swiveled on my heels and walked away, gloating.
After school I went to the parking lot, and looked around, pretending I didnt know which car was his.
"Trudy! Here. Over here." I looked towards the sound of his voice and saw Reeve standing on the bumper of his car, waving to me. I smiled and waved back and skipped the two rows over. He held the door open for me and I got in the car. I watched him as he went around and got in the drivers seat, smiling all the time, and chatting away about how nice it was that we finally got together and could talk about Jeck. Talking about Jeck was the last thing I wanted to do.
We drove to his house and he said, "Wait here while I look in the mailbox." I looked around at the nice house on the nice block with the other nice houses and wondered if Reeve had ever seen where Jeck and I lived. He came back in a minute and said, "Nothing today. Sorry Trudy. Hey, why dont we get a soda before I drive you home? OK?"
I froze at the thought of him driving up to our broken down trailer. "That sounds great Reeve. Lets get a soda first, but then I have to go to the library later. OK?" He looked disappointed and said, "Sure."
We sat and talked. He told me how he had asked Jeck to set us up but Jeck said I was too young. "Jeck was very protective of you. I think hed be mad if he knew I was here with you now. Even though there's nothing wrong. Were just talking, mostly about him. Anyway, I'm graduating next June. What about you? When do you graduate? What do you plan to do then?"
He sat there, across from me in the booth in Pete's Diner. He had a cup of coffee; I had a Coke. I had to say something, but I didnt know what to say. I hadnt ever thought about "plans". I just figured Id quit school and get a job and move out sometime soon. Now that sounded dumb. But I had to say something.
"Im a sophomore now so I have two more years to go before I graduate. And I dont know if Ill be around here that long. Maybe, you know, Jeck, after he gets set up in Mobile, maybe I'll go there. I really dont know yet."
"You going to college Trudy? Is that why youre thinking about Mobile? Good schools there, I hear." I was on thin ice now. I looked down, into my soda, and said, "Well, yeah" I was digging myself deeper and deeper in a hole, "Thats true. Mobile is a good college town."
"Yeah, you're right. My father wants me to go to some uppity school up north, like Princeton, you know?" I looked up at him and flicked my wrist, "Oh, sure" I had never heard of Princeton, "there's a lot to be said for that, but its so far from home and all"
He startled me with his laugh. It was loud and deep. "Oh, Trudy, nothing's far from home anymore. With the airport in Little Rock only an hour from here, and connections out of Atlanta, we can be practically anywhere in a few hours. Thats so old fashioned, saying so far from home. Really, a modern girl like you! Tell me that's not really you."
I laughed, a little. "You're right Reeve. Really, maybe your father's right. Go anywhere you want." He looked startled for a second and then smiled as he said, "Oh, oh. You tricked me, didn't you Trudy. You got me to say that going to Princeton is not a big deal. Very smart."
We laughed together. He dropped me off at the library. I went in the front door, out the back door and walked home.
"Where you been Trudy?"
"Oh, I went to the library is all, Pa. Homework." He looked down and said, "Good." That was it. He expressed his fatherly obligation and got an answer. To him that fulfilled his duty. After he left for work that night I looked in my underwear drawer for the Bic pen. I found it, lying there, under my bras. I took it out and pulled the blue cap off. I sat at the table and opened one of my notebooks to a blank page. I took the pen into my hand and started writing something on the page. Nothing came out of the pen. I forgot. Jeck bought it for me new and it had to be broken in. I took a scrap piece of paper and swirled a few circles on it until the blue ink began to come out. Then I leaned over the page in the book and wrote:
Dear Jeck, Im writing to you but I dont know when Im going to mail this because I dont have your address yet. I went out for a soda with your friend Reeve today. We had a nice time. I like him...
I went on, telling Jeck about Reeve. When I finished about an hour later I realized that I would never mail this to Jeck. I had said some pretty personal things about the way a girl feels about a boy, about the way I thought I felt about Reeve. When I put the pen down and read what I had written I realized I had written a diary, not a letter. I liked that.
I didnt see Reeve the next day in School. I was disappointed. Then it was the weekend. I did my chores the best I could, thinking about him. Pa went to work at his weekend job, driving a taxi around town. I wrote some more in my book. I hid my book with my pen in my drawer.
That Monday morning I was surprised when Reeve came up to me near my locker with a big smile on his face and grabbed me. I didnt know how to react. I pushed him away even though I didnt want to and looked around. Nobody was paying any attention to us. "Trudy, Ive got great news. A letter! A letter from Jeck, to you"
"What? Oh. Great! Where is it? What did he say?"
"I didnt read it Trudy. It's a separate envelope, inside the letter he sent me. I didn't open it. I have it, at home, for you."
"At home" I was very disappointed I didn't have it here, now, "at home? When am I going to see it?"
"Meet me in the parking lot after school and well go to my house and get it. OK?"
We went to his house that afternoon. He unlocked the front door and I walked into the empty house with him. "Where's your mother?" I asked.
He looked at me and smiled as he said, "Oh, my parents both work in their business. My older sisters away at college. Is this OK with you? I mean that were alone here?"
I blushed a little, cleared my throat, looked around at the beautiful home and said, "Sure. Its OK. I, um, I trust you."
As we walked into the living room I started daydreaming about living in a house like this. "This is a really nice house Reeve." He looked around as though he had never seen it before and said, "You like it Trudy? After we read the letter I'll show you around, OK?"
I opened the letter and read it, sitting in a chair in the corner, protecting my privacy.
Dear Trudy. Im sorry I didn't wright sooner. It hasnt been easzy. I didnt get to Mobile. Im here, up in Birmingham. I got a job in a restarant. Its a good job, but I aint making enough money yet so Im stayin with a couple of other guys who work in the same place. As soon as I get set up Ill write and maybe you can visit. In the meantime Ill write to Reeve. Hows Pa? Hope all is well. Jeck.
I put the letter down in my lap and looked up at the ceiling. I felt a tear form in my eye.
"Trudy, its all right. Jeck'll be all right. I know him real well. He'll be fine." Reeve came over towards me and put his arm across my shoulder. I leaned into his hip, sobbing. I felt the disappointment Jeck must be experiencing.
"I need to go home Reeve."
He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Sure Trudy. I'll drive you. I know where it is."
That surprised me. OK, so he knew. That was easier. Now I knew he knew. We drove in silence. He looked across at me a few times. When we got to the trailer I was ready to jump out. Reeve grabbed the sleeve of my sweater.
"Trudy, it'll be all right. Jeck gave me his address. You write back to him. That'll make him feel better."
"Sure. I'll write."
"Listen Trudy. Maybe tomorrow, after school, lets go for a ride, OK? Lets go out of town and take a ride in the country for a little while, sort of clear our heads, OK?"
"Sure, Reeve. Ill see you tomorrow." I ran into the trailer.
"Where you been Trudy, the library again?" I turned and saw Pa staring at the TV. He did this a lot. He looked at the TV with the sound turned off. He said he didn't like the stories - just the pictures.
"Sure Pa. The library." I threw my books on the table and went to my drawer. I turned to be sure Pa wasnt watching me - I didnt want him to know where I was hiding my stuff - and took my pen and my notebook out of my drawer.
"Im going down by the creek for a while Pa." He turned to me. I could see the loneliness, the heartsickness, in his eyes.
"OK Trudy. Be careful." His voice was dead. He turned back to the silent TV.
I walked over by the place where Jeck had taught me how to fish when I was a little girl. I sat in the grass and looked out at the water, running fast now, thinking about how Jeck must have expected great things when he got to the city. I understood how Jeck talked, how he wrote. I understood that the message between the lines in his letter was that he was probably working for minimum in a McDonalds and maybe sharing a house with a dozen Mexicans. I could see it. He didnt get to Mobile. He was in Birmingham. He would be outclassed thereby almost anybody. He was suffering and couldn't get enough money ahead to leave. He would never ask for help - even though there was none to give anyway.
I took the cap off the pen and opened my notebook to a new page. I started to write:
I couldnt think of a thing to say. I didnt know what to do, what to say, how to help my brother. I put the pen down and started to cry.
When I got back to the trailer Pa was gone. I did my stuff and went to bed, crying for Jeck.
The next day in school Reeve waved to me across the hall and moved his lips to say see you later. I met him in the parking lot after school, prepared to tell him I wasnt going with him, but he looked so nice, I couldn't resist. We rode out of town with the windows down, feeling the breeze, not saying a word. After we got out onto the open road Reeve turned to me and said, "How you feeling?" I looked across the front seat, smiled weakly, and answered, "OK, I guess." We rode along some more and after a while Reeve pulled into a roadside rest area with a scenic overlook.
"Cmon" he said, "lets get out and stretch." He took me by the hand and tugged me over to the edge, near the fence. It was just a view of the river and farml and nothing unusual around here but with him, holding my hand, it felt special. That's when we kissed for the first time.
After that day things went along pretty quickly. In a few weeks time we had developed a regular routine. Every Wednesday night - that was the only weeknight he had with no meetings or anything - we would ride over to Brinkley, get a sack of food from Hardees, check into the Ace Motel and spend a good part of the night making love. I got good at it, he said. I liked it. And I loved being in a real king sized bed with clean crisp linensI slept on old, faded, threadbare Mickey Mouse sheets at home and watching dirty movies and having a fully equipped bathroom right there. At about eleven wed drive back to Marianna and the next day wed be like every other boy and girl in school.
One night, after Reeve dropped me off, I found Pa sitting there, staring at the door, waiting for me. It was just a few minutes before he had to leave for work. I always came home before he left, but usually he was busy getting himself ready. Tonight he was just sitting there, staring at the door.
"Where you been, Gertrude?" He called me Gertrude when he was angry or worried.
"Nowhere special, Pa. Just out with some of the kids."
"Uh huh. Im just a little worried, you know."
"What about Pa? Theres nothin to worry about."
"Uh huh. Well, Gertrude, its just that I been hearing things. Thats all."
I was getting a little nervous now. I was flitting around, putting my books down, going to the fridge for a coke, and trying not to look him in the eyes. He hadn't spent this much time expressing concern to me since - since ever.
"Dont worry about nothing Pa. Its just kid stuff, you know. Why? Dont you remember when you were a kid?"
"Uh huh. I remember. Thats what worries me. You see, Gertrude, when I was a kid there was rules. We followed them. Im worried about you because you ain't following the rules. And I worry about you getting hurt because you ain't following the rules. See?"
"What rules, Pa?" It was getting real close in the trailer now. I looked at the old clock on the wall. Pa was going to be late for work, but he wasnt movin'g any. He sat there, still and quiet, just looking at me.
Then he said, "Rules like white girls dont go out, on dates, with nigra boys."
I just looked at him. My mouth dropped and my eyes must have looked like they popped open. My shoulders slumped and my knees bent in a little. I couldnt say a word. I watched, in silence, as he averted his eyes from me, got up, picked up his lunch pail and walked to the door. He put his hand on the latch and turned to look back at me. He looked completely broken, slumped over, eyes red. He shook his head without saying a word, then he turned and left. I couldnt move any. My arms were draped against my sides, my breathing was heavy and coarse, my eyes started tearing. Never did I think Pa would figure out I was dating, let alone that he would know I was dating a black man.
After a few minutes I moved a little. I took my clothes off, put my PJs on and went to sleep, crying. The next morning I couldn't face Pa. He came home and went into his bedroom without us saying a word to each other. I dressed and went to school.
Reeve met me in the cafeteria and said, "What's the matter Trudy? You look sick."
I was sick, but I couldn't tell him about it. "Just, you know, girl stuff." Reeve had gotten another letter from Jeck and gave it to me but I didnt open it right there.
"Trudy, Jeck's asking me why you haven't written. I wrote. I told him you're OK, but just busy and you asked me to say hi. But he wants to hear from you. He wants to know if you need a new pen?"
I smiled. "Tell him I'm gonna write. Soon. OK?" It was past Christmas now. I hadnt even sent him a Christmas card. I went down to the creek when I got home that afternoon. It was chilly now. I was determined to write. I sat down. I took the cap off the Bic and wrote:
What the hell was I going to tell him? By the way, Im fucking your black buddy and your ol man's pissed about it
I didn't think that would be a good start. Lets see,
What the hell? I looked up, at the creek. I started crying. I lifted the Bic pen high into the air and hurled it, hard as I could, into the creek. I sobbed and shuddered. I quaked and shook and screamed. How could I have done this? To him? To Jeck? To Reeve? To Pa?
Jeck left me in the care of his best friend and I turned him into my lover. What was I doing? Did I love Reeve? Did I love fucking? Was it because he was black? Or was I really fucking Jeck? I couldnt figure it out, except that was why I couldn't write to Jeck. The Bic pen! That pen was Jeck's gift and I was supposed to use it to tell him lies. Or to hurt him. Which was it to be? I looked into the creek and wondered if it was deep enough to take me under if I jumped in.