Monday, December 17, 2018

Klatch & Buzz 12-17-18

I’m sending some comments a fellow theater goer sent me after reading my review of The Piano Teacher production at KTC in early November. They are spot-on and address some of my views poignantly and insightfully. I have the written text of the play (actor’s edition) and there is no direct mention of WWII and the Holocaust in it, which does make the play’s theme of war’s effect and influence on us, especially children, broader and more encompassing. I think I saw the period reference because of the woman’s age who was telling the story and the age of her husband when this happened to him, but, of course, it could have been any number of conflicts in the world at that time or any other.

I agree that Mrs. K knew about her husband’s past. She alludes to this as she talks to us, but the degree to which she allows understanding to truly permeate her life is unclear. A thought comes to mind now that perhaps she senses that if she allows full recognition of this in her life, she will not be able to withstand the dark hold it could have on her as it has had on her husband.

The comments about my review and beyond:

…. about The Piano Teacher. I was wondering if the actual text of it, which I think you said you'd read, explicitly says that the husband's experiences were during WWII and the Holocaust. I can't recall when we were watching it whether that was said explicitly. It seemed like it was vaguer, which of course makes it even more relevant, as it could be referring to many places where oppression and torture, etc. go on.

Just before you sent me the draft [of my review] I had started reading a little book called For Want of a Fir Tree, about the Ukraine and how relatively simple political protest escalated into war. It's written as if it's an explanatory letter or piece to a young child caught in the crossfire and killed, while he was sitting in his house.  Very intense book which I didn't have time to finish, but will take out of the library again when I'm back home.

Anyway, it just reinforced the theme in the play about how young people can and are being affected by turmoil and war, and that it is often happening before they are the age to comprehend the political conflict underlying the action.  And in those cases, does the lure of the violence, the dark side have a stronger power? Or, as this teen character in the play [Michael] seemed to say, he was drawn into it, and slowly realized it's attraction. It did make me wonder about young people in war zones, where all humanity seems to be under fire, and sometimes totally absent. How do they survive? I guess it's like the camps, and Victor Frankel's theories.

As to whether the wife "knew" what the husband was doing, I would have to say she knew about his past, and perhaps even knew he was still obsessed with it. I think that is why she was so intent on saying he was only reading the paper and doing crossword puzzles. She knew on some level that perhaps that wasn't all that was going on between him and her students. I'm not sure she could allow herself to see that he was sharing those stories with her students. And if he never shared them with her, she may not have imagined him doing it with others.  But I'm going to say she saw things he drew-because didn't the teen make some mention of drawings? [He did and most emphatically.]

And how could she allow that knowledge into her life, especially once her husband was dead? It's that problem of evil people (abusers, psychopaths) sometimes seeming quite ordinary and nice. She knew him as her husband, and she seemed to be portrayed as the kind of woman who wanted a proper life, with a good, caring husband and so on.

But what do ordinary people do with this kind of knowledge of the dark side?  Well, I guess we know, given recent political events. Some revel in it. And sometimes it just gets ignored. Or shoved under the carpet.  But of course it doesn't go away. It's always there eating away at all that is positive, caring, loving.

I think of all the vets who are now struggling to live their lives after returning from war. We have created a huge population of people who have had to give part of themselves to the dark side as soldiers. And this is going on all over the world. Is it worse than it was in other centuries? I realize that cruelty and torture have always been a part of history and warfare. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Bookshelf #2

The Piano Teacher by Julia Cho
Production, 11-5-18, 4 pm, The Kitchen Theater
Directed by Diego Arciniegas

This play hit me so squarely in the solar plexis I was floored, no, I was flattened! From the moment Beth Dixon, as Mrs. K, walked on stage, I was utterly entranced, mainly because my defenses were down—the writing and acting were so convincingly natural. This talking woman was very ordinary, so like me. And she didn’t hesitate telling me this and I believed her. I sat and listened—though I was too high up in the seats to take a cookie from the plate she offered the audience—cookies we believe she baked herself, though we find out later at least some of her sugar treats come from a box. It didn’t take long, though, before I felt something, if not amiss, was surely adrift. Was she on the edge of dementia or simply an old woman overwhelmed by loneliness, a loneliness emanating primarily from the loss of her husband? This wasn’t unusual, was it? Women of her generation define themselves by their relationship to their husbands. But whether dementia or loneliness or both, I began to sense she was inching toward something about to happen I wasn’t prepared for.

And it came through two of her students. The first was a young woman, Mary Fields, played by Amelia Windom, who let her former teacher know something was truly not right in Mrs. K’s house. The piano lessons weren’t the only lessons being learned and what was taken in was more than the students and the teacher were there for. It was going on with Mr. K as they waited for their piano lessons. But Mary Fields let Mrs. K know this within acceptable perimeters of social efficacy—compassion for an lonely, old woman. It also prepares us (or sets us up) for what follows.

The second student was one with great musical potential, Michael, played by Matthew J. Harris, but who hadn’t reached the fulfillment of that promise. He seems to appear out of nowhere, like a sudden threatening storm, who reveals that what he had hoped for when he was young had been turned on end by circumstances beyond his control, influences which had warped his chances of becoming who he could have been. Or had he been inherently attracted to that which stole his youth, hope and promise? Is he an expression of a highly disturbed old man, Mr. K’s psyche after what actually happened to him during the war or is Michael a repository of atrocious stories to which he’s been attracted, even a potential sociopathic killer now on the brink of a spree. Whether any or all of these, he definitely has come to believe that he’s that which corrupted and defiled him in Mr. and Mrs. K’s house from the stories Mr. K tells him about his destroyed youth, the only survivor of a town of innocents slaughtered by the Nazis and Mrs. K’s supposed innocence to what is happening in her kitchen.

The genius of the play is how seamlessly I was catapulted from a living room conversation into a submersion of an unblinkingly brutal experience with evil. It was like having a coffee klatch with Ted Bundy’s wife who claimed her husband wasn’t really slaughtering the innocent because of the derangement done to him. How much did she know and hide? How much did she not care to know, ever know, about her husband’s made-up stories that symbolized the real murders?

The play is a tumble of layer upon layer of guilt repression, hidden secrets and terrible memories which fills us who watch (much like Mrs. K and her TV watching), with fascination at what the world gives us to see and hear but in which we find ourselves helplessly stuck as to what to do with what we’ve learned. I walked out of the theater with questions that followed me into my living room later, when I reached for the television clicker that turned on the nightly news—which could have just as easily been my computer and any number of news venues at my fingertips.

What happens when we do not face the monsters we have created in both our interior and exterior worlds? What do we think we are doing when we make these territorial wars that place us in the middle of atrocities that we are not equipped to handle, let alone endure, but we take on in order to survive? And then what do we do when we have no models or guides for life after the survival? What do we do when we are silent witnesses to our created monsters that live on within and without? What do we do with the dragon that fuels our imaginations and creative art? Do we fight the demons? Sit with them? Keep them from overtaking us through make-believe? Fairy tales? Television shows? Movies and the stories we tell each other over daily coffees?

These questions sound like the ones a screenwriter might ask while creating a script for a Gonzilla or Jurassic Park movie. But The Piano Teacher shows us clearly that ordinary life is filled with just such monstrosities that do breed demons within. It is a story of every man and woman who lives today, who sit and watch the news on television and don’t know, perhaps don’t care to know what to do with the information of eighteen thousand murders that occur each year in our society as both entertainment and reality.* What do we do with the knowledge of all the atrocities everywhere?

The America we live in is no haven from atrocities elsewhere. Atrocity dwells in any place we live without awareness and truth and the will to act against it. And herein lies the dilemma. To work to eradicate it means a never ending battle that takes us from our ordinary lives, our personal desires and goals, our comfort zone, but without balance our resistance can eat us alive. It’s why, in the end, when Mrs. K. faces us with her resolve, we can’t with self-justified correctness tell ourselves we fight the good fight and aren’t anything like her. We are like her, but not only her. In this play we come to know that we are convincingly, horrifyingly like them all—each and every one.

*17,250 murders in the U.S. in 2016; around 11,750 violent acts witnessed on television each year by age 17.  

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Radio Play #3

The Unfinished Fence

The call comes in at 10:58 in the morning, when I’m just turning to the sports
section of The Beacon, Tutterton’s only newspaper worth reading. The others are free, but that’s because they’re camouflaged fliers for local merchandise hiding behind eye-catching headlines—in other words, they’re banners of twisted murder and mayhem swallowed up by bargain pages for groceries, clothing and lawn & garden maintenance. I don’t recognize Mrs. Vlamos’s voice right away as I’d questioned her two years ago in regards to her husband’s involvement in a stolen automobile parts operation that’d spread across New York, New Jersey, Delaware and the eastern border of Pennsylvania. She’d been exonerated, but I’d heard through the grapevine she was having financial difficulties since her husband’s incarceration and the confiscation of his business assets.
But no memory of any of this is actually necessary, because Vlamos identifies herself  straight away, which includes a fully-charged description of her husband’s crime and a request to speak with me “in private.” Before I have a chance to ask her what she has in mind, she tells me, whisper-soft as a disguised kidnapper on the other end of the line, to meet her at Twenty-fourth and Liberty within the hour or her life will be snuffed out like a candle in a wind tunnel. Mrs. Vlamos, I do remember, had a funny way of putting things, but I know without doubt, at this moment, she isn’t joking. So I toss the paper, jump into car number 3 and floor the accelerator without the sirens but with lights flashing. As I round the corner onto Twenty-Fourth, I search for her from afar, dousing the lights and slowing down to fifteen miles per hour.
She’s standing at the bus stop, perhaps for cover? But there’s no cover close by to hide her bulk unless she decides to inhabit the office building behind her. To say Mrs. Vlamos has girth and heft of a freight train would be no figure of speech. Leonard Vlamos wasn’t diminutive by any stretch of mind, but in a wrestling match, it strikes me that all his wife needed do was slap him once and sit down on him for complete compliance. But she wasn’t this rotund two years ago. She wasn’t diminutive any more than her husband, but back then she couldn’t’ve been mistaken for a brick chicken house.
She gets in the squad car immediately, takes the last drag on her cigarette, rolls down the window, tosses the butt onto the street, rolls the window back up and through a smoky mouth and eyes, nods her thanks or acceptance of who I am, maybe both.
Mrs. Vlamos.
Detective Weir.
       Slowly my title has been changing around town, since the papers made a splash about Leonard’s arrest and the big take-down.  His role in the chop shop operation brought big headlines: Local Bike Shop Owner Nabbed in Auto Thief Ring. Mrs. Vlamos, of course, remembers me from the questioning, which was the first time I’d seen her, and not since, so I was never Officer Weir to her.
I don’t move back into traffic, just sit next to her waiting. She fills the silence  with,
       “First, tell me what this is about.”
       [car engine moving into light traffic]
       “Okay, now what’s this about?”
       Don’t confuse necessity with courtesy, Mrs. Vlamos. I’ve taken the outside lane on purpose. The next turnoff leads back to the station.”
       “No station. Keep driving.”
       I do as she requests, but not saying anything, letting the silence do its job. Most women don’t like silence. They usually fill it with something, even if it’s an accusation of the silence. But Mrs. Vlamos strikes me as a different sort, so I decide to give her a little nudge.
       “I almost didn’t recognize you, you know. If you’d worn a hat instead of a kerchief, I’d have thought you’d given up the idea of meeting me altogether.”
       “The weight’s intentional. Everything about me is intentional. You need to know that up front. [pause] You look the same.”
       “Thanks. Well, I guess.”
       “Can I smoke?”
       “If you crack the window.”
       [sound of window rolled down, blowing smoke]
       And with this, she begins to talk, well, and to smoke. The tale she tells me is one for the thriller or espionage novels. Within the year of Leonard Vlamos’ prison sentence, she wrote Leonard that she was not going to remain married to him any longer—her exact words. Of course, divorce was out of the question. She had no grounds for it—she hadn’t been beaten and Leonard hadn’t commit adultery-- and when she sought advice from her priest about leaving her criminal-husband, she was told it was her fault her man got himself in trouble in the first place. If she’d been providing him with a proper home environment, he would never have sought to better himself financially, at least not to the degree he did. Did she provoke her husband by demanding nicer things—clothing, a new car, a better house? Did she show him enough respect for being a simple bicycle sales and repairman? The best hope Father Demitri Elias could give was for her to remain married while separated and that only temporarily. Needless to say, she never went back to church. She hasn’t left ‘for good,’ she tells me, only not going until either a new priest comes to town or she finds another place of worship.
She doesn’t make clear to me exactly what steps she’s taken to “no longer be married to her husband,” but she’s started making plans, she says, plans which have taken a surge forward when she started receiving threatening messages, sometimes by mail—in letters torn out and pasted from magazines—and sometimes by phone—in menacing tones by different-sounding, always disguised voices.
At first these demands were for “all of Leonard’s things or else.” She had no idea  what that even meant, and the caller gave her no help. “Get his possessions ready. You’ll get a message telling you what to do with them.” She had no desire to keep anything having to do with her husband, but she couldn’t imagine how she could possibly pass everything of Leonard’s to a contact, especially not knowing what items would even be appropriate for the exchange. Most of what they owned was in his name, and they had been married for over three decades. Leonard’s “things” could be anything and everything from the dining room table to the clothes in their closet.
Then she says,
       “The messages stopped after about three months of my letter, so I figured it was Leonard, either disguising his own voice or having inmate-chums call for him to aggravate me and keep me in my place. As for the mail, he probably tore out printed letters for messages from the magazines they give them to read there. He undoubtedly was furious over my letter…”
       “Excuse me, Mrs. Vlamos, but didn’t you visit your husband?”
       “Never. I was done with him. I told him that in the letter.”
       “Go on.”
       “Well, like I say, I thought it was Leonard just annoying me, trying to get even. There was never a name or place for a contact in these threats, but then in the last letter, there was a note with demands that everything belonging to Leonard Vlamos be taken to…”
       She hesitates here, falls silent, glancing out the window to the moving traffic around us.
       “To whom, Mrs. Vlamos.”
       “Let’s get rid of the Mrs. business. I’m Leda. Please call me that.”
       “Okay, Leda, but to whom did the caller want you to pass Leonard’s things, whatever those might’ve been? Did you ever get a message telling you specifically what to do?”
       “Be patient with me, Detective Weir. I haven’t told this story to anyone, and I’m trying to get it right, tell it in the order it happened. It’s been over a year since it started. I’m trying to remember best as I can.”
       “Of course, Mrs…Leda. Take your time.”
       Well, I don’t have all the time in the world for her story, but I see right away she isn’t to be rushed. So I pull into a parking space at Spector Park, behind a grove of trees, so we can’t be viewed from the highway and main road leading to the park. She seems to find this acceptable. I turn off the engine, and with some encouragement, she continues her story.
       “He wanted me to give it to nobody, if you can believe that. Or maybe I should say to somebody who was a nobody.”
       “C’mon, Leda. What was the message?”
       “I’m telling you. A note came in the mail with cut-out and pasted letters telling me to leave all of Leonard’s things in a barn north of town—that’s what it said. I have the note right here.”
       [opening of note]
       In letters pasted in that ransom note style, the message read:

Take all of Leonard’s stuff to County Road #10,1 mi from Tutterton city limits sign north of    town. County Road #10, yellow farmhouse ¼ mile. Open barn door. Leave inside. Everything in sealed boxes. Not there by Tuesday May 12 at 2pm, your apartment sacked, you dead.
       “Was there a follow-up call?”
       “Nothing. Of course, I didn’t do it. It could’ve been an ambush for all I knew, and I didn’t have any idea exactly what to put in the boxes. Anyway, I’d taken everything of his out of the house, to the dump or wherever. I gave his clothes to the annual church sale. He’d been gone over a year, Detective. I didn’t want to be living around his things.”
       “So nothing happen?”
       “Nothing. I thought it was over. Leonard and his chums didn’t get what he wanted, so he quit bothering me.
       “But about six months ago, it started up again. This time the voice on phone was clear, and overly-polite, in that way the Mafia talks, you know? It wasn’t anybody I recognized, but it wasn’t disguised as before. He said he wanted Leonard’s accounts, is how he put it. All of the accounting files having to do with Leonard’s ‘larger business.’ Of course, I knew what he meant right away. He wasn’t talking about the bicycle shop. He wanted the automobile parts accounts. But the police confiscated all of Leonard’s files, for both his bike shop and his auto parts operation. All I ever had were the inventories for that anyway. You, of all people, know this.
“Okay. Go on.”
       “Well, I couldn’t figure out what the heck this guy was talking about. These people involved in this auto parts ring were indicted, weren’t they? They went to jail.”
       “That’s right. All the departments in the towns and cities involved, including New York City, worked together to bring this wide-spread operation down. But the perps at the top, of course, escaped culpability. We had our suspicions as to who they were, but couldn’t nail their identities or involvement, and none of those we jailed talked, not even with promises of immunity.”
       “It’s part of the reason I don’t want anything more to do with Leonard. I know he’s still tied to them and will continue to be after he gets out of prison.”
       “Leda, if you don’t mind my asking, why didn’t you pack up and leave?”
       “Good question. Suppose it’s what all people like me wonder in hindsight. I stayed for the same reason most of them do. My home is here, my friends—our friends before his troubles. And my church. Leonard and I are…were Greek Orthodox. We lived the life…well, I thought we did.
[clearing her throat, on edge of tears]
“But that’s another business. Point is, although I took care of the books for the  bicycle business—the purchases and sales and for the IRS—Leonard told me from the beginning that as far as the auto parts operation went, it was connected with a home office in Jersey City which was taking care of all their branch businesses, only one of which was his in Tutterton. He made it sound like it was a huge company, which it turned out to be, only an illegal one, if you can call it a company. Well, anyway, he said, I was to give them the inventory listings with the retail prices on those sold and their wholesale value. He gave me those at the time of their arrivals and at the time of their sales—all that, of course, I found out later was fake, fake as could be. But he forwarded what I prepared for him on that to the Jersey City office, and, he said, they sent the right forms on to the IRS. I wrote a check for our share of the taxes on our sales and signed appropriate bank forms that he said he needed in order to follow through in Jersey City. And that was that.”
       “But you had to’ve seen the bank balances in order to do even the part that you did, especially for the IRS.”
       “It’s like I told you at the time you questioned me. I didn’t. I only did what he told me to. He kept the two businesses separate, so that anything having to do with the auto accounts were the ones he took care of, he said.”
       “Accounts? More than one account, for the auto operation, then?”
       “His and the one in Jersey City is what he said, yeah. So he could keep track of the business he did, you know, separate from the main office, but they put everything together.”
       “Didn’t all this raise suspicions, Leda. At least pique your interest?”
       “Perhaps it should have. But Leonard doing something that illegal and as big as it turned out to be, especially getting involved with the sorts he did, it never occurred to me. It made sense that he might be connected to another larger business, selling parts he got from the salvage yards of towns nearby, like he told me—lies that they were. The Jersey City part wasn’t so strange, because that’s how he worked the bicycle business. He got used bikes from Roundup Wheels in Wellington, he gave me the list of sales, and I prepared the invoices and inventories. And he and Roundup Wheels did the rest. I did do the IRS preparation on that, and I saw the bank balance on it, which included our own forms, but I didn’t send it in. They did it, Leonard said, from Wellington, because they had things to add. I don’t know how these things work exactly. It simply never occurred to me….ah, well, it’s all after the fact now, isn’t it?”
       I know the answer to all of the questions I’m feeding her, but I want to hear what she has to say after all this time—want to know if she’s changed her tune, especially since she’s mad at him, or if she’s humming the same old song she sang over and over at the inquest. I’m still betting dollars to donuts she knows more than she’s telling. I’ve always thought that, but just didn’t know then how to prove it or even if my suspicions were justified.
       “Didn’t you ever go to his shop, see that he wasn’t selling auto parts up front like he said he was?”
       “No. I come from Sparta, Detective. In our country, women take care of their business and men take care of theirs. Are you married?”
       “No. But if I asked my wife to do my books for me, I’d think she’d be more involved than you seem to’ve been.”
       “Look, if I needed to contact Leo—which I rarely did—I reached him at the telephone booth just outside his shop, which was on a corner, if you remember. We couldn’t afford in-house phones, only the rich and the government can. You know this. As for why I kept an inventory of the auto parts, he told me that he was working with another business, so I figured they naturally needed a list of what he paid for and what he sold. So I made out the inventory on the forms he gave me and that was that.”
       “Didn’t you take the money to the bank for his businesses?”
       “No. Here again, Leo did that. I put everything together for him, and he took it to the bank when he went to work. I had my church work and charities outside the house. I didn’t go to the bank. He gave me money for the market and house goods. I got an allowance once-a-month and whatever I could save on the side from the household budget was mine.”
       “So you really didn’t know anything about how he managed his auto heist and chop shop business?”
       “Detective, Leonard worked with those guys. When you followed the paper trail during the inquest, you saw I didn’t know anything about what he was doing. It’s how I got off. You were the one who questioned me, worked with my lawyer. You saw I didn’t know back then, so why the third degree now?”
       “I’m trying to understand why these people are threatening you, Leda.”
       “Well, I sure don’t know. I’m coming to you for protection. I want you to find these people so I can live in peace. I don’t know what account they’re talking about. I tell you, there are no accounts I can give them. The police have all Leonard’s papers in their evidence room, and his money too, I might add. I’ve no idea what you did with that—buy new equipment, more guns, what?”
Actually she isn’t too far off. Illegally-obtained money that the police confiscate is put into the police department’s account and purchases are made for appropriate equipment and weapons. But, of course, I don’t tell Leda Vlamos this. I say instead,
“Thing that puzzles me is that the people involved in that operation know the police confiscated all the files and money and shut down both of Leonard’s businesses. I’m talking about the guys at the top who never got caught. They’re well aware. So who’s threatening you now and about what?”
“Beats me, but I’m scared to go home.”
“All right. I’m getting the picture. My question now is how do you think I can help    you? Wait, Leda. If you think we can put you under protection day and night, until we find who’s threatening you, well, that simply isn’t going to happen. We don’t have the resources. I’m wondering how you think the police can help you under those circumstances.”
       “You’re the police! You take a vow to serve and protect the people of this town. I’m asking for protection. I told you what’s happening to me. They’ve threatened to kill me if I don’t give them what they’re asking for.”
“Are you still living at the same house you were when Leonard was arrested?” 
       “Where would I go? I can’t sell the house, because it’s in Leonard’s name. He’d never give me permission to leave. I have a job working at a nearby five and dime, but it’s barely enough for living expenses. I’ve sold some items outta the house for extra. It’s how I’m making it.”
       “Do you have a mortgage?”
       “House’s paid for. One of the benefits of Leonard’s inheritance when his father died. He paid it off fair and square. Don’t look at me like that. I believed him, and it must be so, because the authorities didn’t confiscate it like they did all his other assets, the bike shop included. You know this, right?”
       “Okay, Leda. As you told me, it’s been two years. I’m catching up with the story again. Do you have relatives you can stay with until you can get situated differently? It would be good if you could get away from… ”
       “You mean get out of Tutterton?”
       “It might be easiest in the long run.”
       “For you, maybe. Everything I have and everybody I know is in this town. I moved to The United States from Greece with my husband when we were young, Detective. We struggled in New York City, and moved to Tutterton because we thought life and making a living would be easier. Now, I don’t know. I shoulda talked him into moving to Oklahoma or Texas.”
       [sound of engine starting]
       “Okay, okay. I’ll see what I can do about watching your place, but I’m telling you now, it’ll be a drive-by now and again until I find out what this’s all about. I’m sorry, but I can’t put a man stationed at your door day and night. It’s like I told you.”
       “I’ll take what I can get, Detective Weir. But I’ll be calling the station off and on, just to get it on the books that I’m left unprotected out here while I’m being threatened.”
       I continued to probe Leda’s old story with her, gleaning a few new possible lines of inquiry. Nothing substantial came from this, so given the little I had to go on, I pushed what I got into a mental cabinet that I shuffled through from time to time for leads. Sometimes when I do this, a couple of files end up sparking a clue. I wasn’t hopeful, but then one never knows.
I drove Leda back to the bus stop upon her insistence. She doesn’t want a squad car stopping in front of her house unless an officer is going to stay. She says she knows she’s being watched beyond doubt. A dark sedan has been parked across the street from her house the past few days. It followed her to the bus stop shortly before I had showed up on the scene.
       I don’t doubt her for a minute, but I’m not certain what to do. If I take her story to the chief, he’ll tell me what I told her. There isn’t enough provocation at this point for continual surveillance. She can be making the whole thing up, though for what reasons I can’t imagine, unless it’d be to buy some time to figure out how to get the house from Leonard or some such. Who knows? I do know the chief would suggest I check out her place since she’d called the station, and I want to see myself if the dark sedan shows up again. In any case, I know Chief Gilligan will also request follow up on any leads about the caller who was threatening Leda, if for nothing else but to cover his behind should anything unforeseen come of it.
It seems to me that Occam’s razor is the best principle to apply in regards to this present state of affairs. Good detectives always use the simplest solution, taking the known facts and applying them first to what isn’t known. If I accept Leda Vlamos’ explanation of her circumstances with her husband—his attempting to keep her in her place, even literally—the caller threatening her now knew Leonard had an extra account somewhere, and it wasn’t the chop shop account and goods that the police had confiscated. So if I act on that known premise, what will be the first lead I can follow? It has to be something not found in the evidence room storage. This leaves only three possible leads, two of which are so tenuously tied to Leonard’s past crimes—if for no other reason than the sheer passage of time—that I feel I really only have one—Roundup Wheels in Wellington, a town ten miles north of Tutterton.
       I turn car 3 into my parking spot at the station and take an unmarked to the  address listed as Leonard and Leda Vlamos’ house on Royal Hill Road in a small suburban area where houses are being built as fast as supplies can reach it, which seems to be from slow to snail’s pace while the conversion from wartime to domestic manufacturing catches up with the market. I’d learned at the time of her interview that she and Leonard moved from their original address on Grand Junction to their newly built home only months before Leonard’s arrest. It’s one of the first finished houses on these streets, many remaining only partly constructed—they are modern, roomy but nothing close to ostentation. Leda evidently is a gardener because the lawn and landscaping are quite extensive and well-kept. Four recently planted trees are still young, but well-placed to give shade at strategic places around the house when they mature. Two fruit trees grow close to the property line at the far end of the backyard.
       I pull the unmarked into the driveway of an externally-completed house without present construction activity but with the builder’s sign in the front yard. I position the car so that I have a clear but somewhat covert sightline to the Vlamos dwelling, but I get out and walk around to the back of the house. A person sitting for any time in a car in a residential area like this is a sure sign of either a love spooning going on or a stakeout taking place. In either case, it solicits attention. On my way around to the back, I pull the builder’s sign out of the ground and lean it against the side of the house.
Finding the back garage door unlocked, I wait inside, watching from a shadowed corner through the glass-plated door. Less than five minutes of Leda’s arrival home, a black Chrysler pulls to the curb directly in front of her door. The man at the wheel glances my way briefly, cracks his window and throws a cigarette to the street, flips open a newspaper and busies himself with the leading stories. The intimidation tactic is obvious.
       Once I see he isn’t going to get out and threaten Leda openly, I walk to the  unmarked as though coming out of a garage connected to a newly lived-in house, get into the unmarked and start the engine. If the stalker sees me, he gives no notice, smoking away in front of his newspaper.
       I switch to car number 3 at the station and make a hasty carry-out at the Main Street diner, telling Charmaine I’ll see her or call her later in the day. I’m eating my sandwich before I even to get the patrol car, the crummy part of my lunch finding its way to my lap as I drive, smearing each French fry with ketchup that I had Charmaine put in a small bowl that I’ll return to her when I return to the diner. The Coke fizzes up my nose, making a stop on the shoulder of the road so I can sneeze and blow my nose in one of the napkins from the lunch bag.
       My next stop is Roundup Wheels in Wellington, a ten mile drive north through the country to the town about the size of Tutterton, but with growing travel businesses lining the highway, billboards declaring its amenities from diners to gas stations. The young man who meets me at the door of his bicycle shop seems to have seen his first customer of the day. The place looks deserted, though filled to overflowing with bicycles, tricycles, unicycles—cycles of every size and description, including pairs of skater’s roller rink shoes along a shelf on the back wall and around the show window a wide assortment of children’s wagons and pedal cars to ride and smaller toys to push. I wonder if Ritter Junior has kept up with his father’s illegitimate network. From what I can make out, everything on the floor looks new, but one never knows what’s in the back rooms  or basement or what’s concealed in the books, as I learned so well from Vlamos’s hidden assets.
       I show the young man my badge, and he almost stops walking toward me mid-step.
       “I’m Detective Weir and have a couple of questions.”
       “About what?”
       “About a crime that took place in Tutterton two years ago in which Roundup Wheels was implicated.”
       “My father was cleared of any wrongdoing. He answered all the questions asked back then. I don’t see what…”
        “It’s a routine matter. Are you Bobby Ritter?”
        “Could be.”
“Okay, Bobby. Something has arisen tangential to…ah, I’ll shorten this for both of us, then. You own the shop now that your father past last year, that right?”
        “Yes. Everybody in town read his obituary.”
        “I’m sorry for your loss, Bobby.” [pause] “Leonard Vlamos received and passed bicycles from his business in Tutterton to your father’s here in Wellington for a number of years. From my understanding, these bike exchanges were sometimes a bit more lucrative than the tainted inventory specified, and although an amiable bargain was struck with Ritter, Senior, for information, I’ve come to get a bit more of that today, after the fact, as it were.”
        “I have nothing to tell you, I’m sure. Even if I knew what you’re talking about, which I don’t, I wouldn’t say anything without my lawyer.”
        “That’s fine. We can take the long route around this, if you like. I’ll be back with a search warrant in two shakes of a crooked cat’s tail, which won’t give you time to round up all the…well, let’s just call them, questionable goods around here, but even if you can, it’ll cost you in time, money and the possibility of being observed doing it. People are so darned inquisitive. Now, I think your father had the right idea. Play straight with the authorities, and they’ll play straight with you. I’ll ask again. I am talking to Bobby Ritter, am I not?”
“Good. Now let’s begin, Robert, with the name of the man you handed all your paperwork to for accounting and the IRS. Nuh, nuh, before you respond, there’ll be no fluttering on this. I get the run around, you don’t want to deal with me, believe me on this. Now, who is it?”
“Not a man. Dad sent it to a woman. Miss Lucatello.”
“Of course, the secretary. I understand. Where does she work? Better yet, what’s the name of her boss?”
I dunno.
“Uh-huh. Fine. It’ll be a call and a two hour wait at most. Oh, I forgot to tell you before, when I first mentioned the search warrant, my dad and Judge Peterson did the gentlemen’s club together, before my dad passed. The judge takes my calls on short notice, even on week-ends, lad. The question before you is—can you move the need-to-move merchandise out of your shop in a coupla hours? [short pause] I didn’t think so. So let’s try this again. Who is Miss Lucatello’s boss?”
“I’m not real sure.”
“Give a stab at it, anyway, Robert. As a kind of favor to me, one I’ll remember.”
“Maybe Vincent Moretti?
“Of the Peter Moretti family? I see. And you think this because…?”
“Uh, I just know that’s all. [pause] Lorna told me…in passing, when we were talking business once. She said Vinnie handles business where she works even though it’s called by another name.”
“The business?”
“Yeah. This she only told me because of paperwork, what I needed to know from my end.”
“Uh-huh. And the name of the…paperwork business?”
“Thomas-Jerome Accounting.”
“That’s two last names? Good. You’re doing the right thing, Robert. Okay then. So it’s Vincent Moretti who “oversees” Thomas-Jerome Accounting, the Vincent Moretti of the Peter Moretti Shipping, International, am I on the right track here?”
“I don’t like what you’re implying.”
“And what am I implying, Robert?”
“That I’m hiding something when I’m not.
“And why would I think that?”
“Because they’re…you know.”
“Mafia? Is that’s what’s got your tongue in a knot?"
“I don’t want any trouble for Lorna.”
“Why would there be trouble for Lorna? I told you, you’re straight with me, I’ll play straight with you, which includes a soft touch with Lorna Lucatello.”
“And I don’t want any trouble for my business either.”
We’ll just have to see about that. If I follow up on this, and you’ve not sent me on a wild…”
“I’m telling you what I know.”
“That’s good, because Robert I’m going to return. And I expect you to be here cooperating again when I show up.”
[closing of a door and footsteps]
The kid was nervous as a rowboat in a hurricane, as I would have been. Peter Moretti was the name mentioned at the inquest, the guy at the top who was protected with four coats of lawyers and a consigliere. And Vincent isn’t his son, nothing that close. He’s a son of the old man’s nephew, young to be sure, but a soldier for the family, undoubtedly learning the ropes, and probably in more ways than one. Robert Ritter has every reason to be worried. There had not been a verifiable connection between the Moretti’s and Roundup Wheels, but there might have been information passed to the chief that I wasn’t party to. Isn’t a far off guess for the leniency granted Ritter, Senior, in exchange for what the chief and commissioner found out.
But before I see Lorna Lucatello and start churning the Moretti stew, I decide to follow up on the two other names Leda has given me, just to make sure I’m not leaving any thread dangling from my sleeve. The Mafia has long fingers that grope, sometimes, in the most unexpected places. I want to find where some of those unexpected places are. One may lead to a rope of my own that I can use to tie around Peter Moretti’s neck.


The next morning at my desk, I study the two names I got from Leda as possible leads to who knew Leonard and might be threatening her life— one was John Masterson, the local manager for the distribution of Crafton “Crafty” Bread Company, where Leonard Vlamos worked as a deliveryman when he and Leda first moved to Tutterton. Since the company was small, Masterson delivered goods with Vlamos for the eighteen months Leonard was employed there. This was when highways first started going through rather than just around towns and cities. Leda filled me in on the historical facts of the transition from freight rail to truck delivery of goods, which helped her husband get a job. She said Masterson was a go-getter who was always “flying under the bridge,” as she put it, to beat out the competition. Since he and Leo—Leda’s pet name for Leonard--worked on commission, her husband had schemed with Masterson to “hype the sales” for a greater percentage of the profits. She didn’t say exactly how that was, but did say that when Leo came home bragging about it one day, she put a stop to it, though she didn’t say exactly how. At any rate, Leonard stopped quit working for and with Masterson and went to work for Roadside Motor Repair.
I’m interested in what kind of grudge Masterson may’ve held, and if so, why he’d act with revenge on it after all these years. Sounds highly improbable, but as King David declared in the Psalms, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees his vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.” Maybe that kind of righteousness lasts a bloody long time. And something may have happened to ignite Masterson’s wrath again or to have kept it smoldering for years. I’ll have to see how righteous John Masterson feels and how wicked he thinks Leonard Vlamos may have been. After all, Leonard Vlamos knew a heck of a lot about his former partner and their nasty little schemes which weren’t so righteous, when I put my mind to it. But I’ve learned a long time ago, feeling righteous has little to do with being right.
The other name is a fellow mechanic, Niles Rubis, who owns a small itinerant repair shop where Leonard assisted Rubis with small auto breakdowns and towing services on the highways leading to and from New York City and four of its boroughs. Staten Island was considered country back then and was isolated from lots of the prepared food market deliveries coming into vogue, Leda had added smartly when she informed me of Leo’s job with Rubis. Leonard was close to Niles and it was through Rubis that her husband got into the bicycling business. When I asked her how it happened, she gave me some personal insight into their marriage. She said Leonard fell into that like everything else he ever did—through people he knew. While she was isolated, a pretty much stay-at-home body with a few close friends, Leonard was outgoing and knew lots of people, especially male acquaintances, who he constantly ran into here and there.
‘He never gave up a friend, maybe never lost track of anybody he ever met.’ She said this with a fair degree of hostility. It’s why she knew he’d continue his dirty work after he got out of prison and would continue seeing all the chums he now was making while in stir.
About Rubis, though, he’d worked as an auto and machine repairman during the war when cars weren’t being manufactured again until only a couple of years ago, getting parts from salvage yards. But when The Victory Bike came out in 1942, with the government encouraging manufacturing companies to make these bicycles to replace domestic automobiles in order to cut down on rubber for tires and gasoline needed for war vehicles, Rubis talked Leo into setting up a bike shop with Leonard’s savings. Used bikes were at a premium. No wonder kids wanted old ones, instead of The Victory Bikes, which were stripped down to the essentials.
Leo and Niles made good money during the war, but when cars started rolling onto the dealer’s lots again in 1946, bike sales dropped. Rubis bailed out for half of what he should’ve paid, but Leonard kept the bike shop going—now she understood why, of course. It was a cover for illegal income. How much Rubis was involved in the auto parts operation, she couldn’t say. But I know Rubis had been questioned thoroughly without the police finding any connection between him and the illegal parts operation. But, to me at least, it was clear that it was through Rubis’ salvage yard parts repair business that Leonard got his chop shop idea and passed it on to the people who were backed by the Morettis.
I decide to start with John Masterson, then catch Niles Rubis on my way back to the   station. I find Masterson out in a large fenced-in yard filled with half-a-dozen trucks being loaded for deliveries. He wears a leather hat and gloves with a kerchief around his neck. He’s a squat man with a rugged, furry red beard, and when I’m closer, I see he has piercing blue eyes. He waves the deliveryman he’s talking to aside and looks at me in a hello-goodbye-I’m-late manner. He stands with one foot ahead of the other as though preparing to run at the slightest provocation.
I hold out my badge and extend my hand which he accepts ungloved and  reluctantly. Surprisingly, he leans over and examines my badge as though it holds some secret clue to my reason for being in front of him.
“Okay. Make it snappy, whatever it is, ‘cause I have delivery delays at this station.”
“Mr. Masterson, you worked with Leonard Vlamos some years ago…”
“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me. What century you living in, copper? I’ve work to do.”
“We can talk here or at the station, up to you.”
“Now why would I come to the station? I got nothing to say except Vlamos worked for me and left. He stayed about a couple, three years and decided to work on trucks instead of driving them. End of story.”
“Just a couple more questions, and I’ll be out of your hair. You worked the New Jersey and New York area?”
“Yeah, so we did, but what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Leonard is doing time for grand thief, you know about that?”
“Everybody who knew him knows about that. [frustration] Why you here?”
“Okay then, I’ll ask something a little harder. You talked to Leonard since he’s been in prison?”
“Why wou…What the hell is your game? I got no connection with that piece-a … look, he left me in the lurch, without so much as a day’s notice, you writing this down in your little notebook there? I got no love for the guy, but I got no beef with him anymore, either. I don’t know what he’s told you and don’t care. If it’s about me, it’s a lie. You getting this? I wouldn’t walk across the street to collect the money he owes me ‘cause he’s not worth it.”
“He owes you money?”
“Yeah, for the time he didn’t work when he was supposed to, cost me some customers. Now, I gotta…”
“Just one more question, Mr. Masterson. Is the company you work for still under the same management?”
[heavy sigh] “Yeah, me.”
“You own the company now?”
[laughter] “No, ‘course not. I’m executive manager of this district, but the company is now a corporation. Don’t you read the signs? What kinda detective are you?”
“Unobservant kind, I guess. So Crafty Bread is what now?”
“Crafton Bakery Corporation. Judas Priest, there’s a billboard over the building right over there.”
“Ah, I see. So you sell more than just bread, that it?”
“All kinds of baked goods and over a much larger territory.”
“So Crafty Bread was just around the region back then, and now it’s…where?”
“Vlamos and I delivered in this part of New Jersey on into New York City. But within a year of Leonard’s being hired, the company had deliveries out to Long Island and into Pennsylvania.”
“I see. So you were one of how many managers?”
“Think there were three in those days, one for Long Island, one for Pennsylvania and then me. New Jersey.”
“And now?”
“I thought this was about Leonard.”
“It is. But I had to come all the way to Jersey City to find you. I’m looking around here and wondering if Leonard had stayed, well, he could’ve been part of this instead of sitting in prison.”
“Well, Leonard wouldn’t have made it much past where he ended up, Detective. At least not in this company, and for that matter, maybe that’s true for where he is now. Leonard was a follower. He wouldn’t have made it to Jersey City without riding my coattails.”
“That’s probably Leonard in a nutshell, from what I’m hearing.”
“So why’re you here? If this’s about what you know about Leonard already?”
“There’s a case loosely tied to his auto-thief-and-parts operation that has piqued the chief’s interest. He sent me out on a wild goose chase, again, it seems. You probably know this from the paper’s, but Leonard’s role in the auto thing was as a hub where everything was dumped on him to inventory and ship out. He wasn’t actively involved, in a way, but you know how it is, if you’re part of it, you’re part of it, so he took the fall with the others. After all, it was a criminal act, helping to distribute stolen goods. Chief thought he might’ve had more of an active role’s all, connecting to more influential people’s all. Rubis told me pretty much what you did.”
“Yeah, well, what kinda guy gets himself strapped to a bicycle business?”
“One that had to find another way to make more money’s my guess.” [pause] “Well, I’ve kept you long enough. Thanks for your time.”
[few footsteps, then they stop]
“This is really quite something, Mr. Masterson. How many delivery trucks are here at this station? Dozen or more, looks like. How big is this corporation anyhow?”
“All across the northeast into the heartland to the Mississippi River.”
“Guess there’s more than three managers these days, huh?”
“Ten districts with a manager for each one and assistant managers under those, but all the executive managers have regularly scheduled meetings so the deliveries along the routes can run smoothly and without competition between districts. The corps PR motto’s Cooperation for Gain and Profit.”
“Interesting. All in two years. Lord what is this country coming to?
[little laughter between them]
“Looks like you’re riding the wave to the top.”
“That’s the plan. Bosses say they want Crafty products to go nationwide in three to five years.”
“My goodness. What’s your district now, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“All of New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. I’ve three assistant managers. It’s a different job than…well, back then with Leonard Vlamos, I can tell you.”
“Good luck with your future plans, Mr. Masterson. Again, thanks for your time.”
His attitude grew more receptive with his pronouncements about his position in the  corporation, so I got what I’d come for. I fed him a good deal of baloney to get it, but Masterson’s district covered much of the same territory that the auto heist operation had done. It wasn’t an altogether watertight clue because a lot of delivery services worked many of the same routes, but it was worth putting up in my mental file cabinet for future reference.
But how this ties to Leda’s threats I’m not sure, but the caller had asked for Leonard Vlamos’ files on his “larger business.” If not the auto heist operation, then what? I didn’t miss Masterson’s rising anger when I mentioned the possibility of his visiting Leonard in prison. It could have been what he claimed it to be—his disdain over Leonard’s leaving without notice, then again…it had a ring of forced vehemence in it. I thought it interesting that I’d never seen Masterson during his deliveries with Leonard in Tutterton, but I didn’t really remember seeing Leonard until he got himself noticed with bicycle heists and then with automobiles.
My visit with Niles Rubis which I do on my way back into Tutterton from Jersey City is totally fruitless. I’d fed Masterson the line about Rubis confirming his view of Vlamos to see if Masterson knew him, which didn’t get me anywhere. But unlike Masterson, Rubis is outgoing and easy to talk to. He remembered me from the car-heist-and-fence investigations, and lets me know immediately, as he had back then, that he and Leonard had been pals years ago, through both the truck-and-auto repairs and bicycle businesses—the bikes being a sideline for Rubis which, he says, he forfeited when he saw it wasn’t going to net him much past its initial surge. His view of Leonard was one of respectability and forthrightness when they worked together. He was thrown for a loop, he says, by Leonard’s involvement in the stolen bike and auto heist business. When I mention Masterson to him, Rubis states without hesitation that he doesn’t know who he is and if Leonard ever mentioned him, he, Niles, has forgotten it totally. He didn’t deviate an inch from the opinion he gave two years ago.
When I return to the station, I give Leda Vlamos an update call.
“Not much to report yet, Leda. I followed up on the two fellows’ names you gave me. Information from them didn’t take me very far, but I’m not giving up on this. Has anything else come to mind that might be helpful? And more importantly, have you received any more threatening calls?”
“No calls, though the car is parked in front of my house again this morning.”
“When did it leave yesterday?”
“Around five o’clock. Guess these stalkers work a nine-to-five shift like everybody else.”
“So he’s not there during the evening and night hours?”
“Not that I’ve noticed, and I checked when I got up during the night. He could be parked up the street, but that’s not likely unless he intends to enter my house and doesn’t want the car to be recognized later, after I’m found dead.”
“Okay, Leda. I get your point. Like I say, I’m working on it. So far, I don’t have much to go on, but that’s not to say things won’t improve. It’s a lot of legwork and telephone calls in an investigation of this kind.”
“What kind is that?”
“One with solid threats but no solid leads as to who it might be.” [pause] “Okay,  hopefully something will show up soon. I’ll keep you informed in any case.”
Leda Vlamos hangs up without saying another word. I hang up feeling like a louse. It’s her life at risk, even though the threats so far have remained somewhat civil. I know that this civility isn’t likely to continue much longer, because the longer these jokers have to wait to get what they want, the more likely they are to be discovered. They’ll be upping the ante shortly.
I make lengthy notes for the day, which ties me up for over an hour, then grab my jacket on the back of the chair and head for the diner for my supper and a glimpse of Charmaine Hollister, one of the diner’s waitresses and the new romantic interest in my life. I’m ravenous, as I’ve had no lunch. Walking into the diner, the smell of frying burgers and other possibilities is overwhelming. I order the moment Charmaine stands next to my booth, writing down what she knows I’ll be ordering before I tell her. I slug down coffee to fill and occupy me until she brings my order.
Once the plate is down and I’m wolfing away, she surprises me by sliding across from me in the booth. I look around and see the place is practically empty, the crowd long gone to begin their post-supper activities. After we’ve exchanged our stories of the day, I ask her,
“You know Lorna Lucatello, by any chance, from Thomas-Jerome Accounting?”
“No, don’t think so. Oh, wait, is she receptionist there?”
“Yes she is. How do you know her?”
“I don’t except on sight. Strange you should mention her because somebody came in the other day and spoke her name which triggered a distant memory. Haven’t really seen her in years but when I was at the diner not too long after moving to Tutterton, somebody in a booth I was serving pointed her out with a young man in the park across the way. I couldn’t help but notice. They were in a passionate embrace which ended in a kiss and some hand-holding. Brief as it was, that sort of thing just isn’t an ordinary occurrence in downtown Tutterton. I only remember the name because the couples at the booth called her “the talk of the town,” whatever in the world that meant. It was some distance away, so I can’t say much about any impression I had of her, only remember the name because it entered the conversation between the parties I was serving. They said she was secretary-receptionist at Thomas-Jerome Accounting, biggest accountant firm in town.”
“Mighty interesting.”
“Oh? and why’s that?”
“I just made a possible connection with something that happened today in regards to a case.”
“Hmmm. Wanna share?”
“Love to, but it’s an investigation and you know how that goes.”
“I’m catching on. Means my hands’re off but your head’s full of nothing else.”
“Oh, that’s not true. Not when you’re around.”
“Well, aren’t you nice.”
“It’s easy to say because it’s true.”

The next morning, after coffee and donuts at my desk with Nicky Marks while we  catch up on our cases, my first planned stop is with Lorna Lucatello at Thomas-Jerome Accounting. I flip open the telephone book, locate the accounting firm’s address and number, lift the receiver and give the operator the number. The voice that answers is young but seductively lower by an octave than I’m expecting.
“Thomas-Jerome Accounting. How may I help you?”
“Am I speaking to Lorna Lucatello?”
[pause] “Yes.
Hello, Miss Lucatello. I’m Detective Crandall Weir from the Tutterton Police Department. I’m calling to make an appointment to talk with you concerning a case in which your accounting firm may be involved. When would be a good time for us to talk?”
“Oh, I think you need to discuss your concerns with our manager, Mr. George Adams, Detective. I’m only the secretary and…”
“No, it’s you I’d like to talk to, Miss Lucatello. It is Miss, is it not?”
“Well, yes, sir, but I don’t see…”
“It’s about Robert Ritter, Miss Lucatello, and Roundup Wheels. I’d like to see you before I bother Mr. Adams. It’s only a routine matter, you understand? If you’d prefer meeting me outside your office, we can arrange that.”
“Oh, my. [long pause] Do I have to come to the station?”
“Not at all. We can have coffee at the diner if you like or any place you choose. The park? Though it’s still a bit chilly for that.”
“The Main Street Diner will be fine. I need to take an hour for lunch anyway. Will you be wearing your uniform?”
“No, Miss Lucatello. Detectives wear plain clothes…suits.
“How will I know you?”
“I’ll leave a message with the cashier. Just ask for me.”
“I usually lunch at eleven thirty. Is that all right?”
“Perfectly fine. I’ll see you then.”
When Lorna Lucatello walks into the diner, I know it’s her instantly. She’s knockdown gorgeous, an auburn beauty with expensively chosen dress and stylish hair  do. She wears sunglasses that frame her face as though designed especially for her. After taking off her glasses, she places them in the pocket of her coat and hangs it on the hook by the entranceway. When she turns to look around the diner, I stand and motion for her to come to the booth I’ve chosen by the window. If it isn’t Lorna Lucatello, I don’t mind the whole diner seeing me with whoever this is, even for a few minutes.
She walks with the confidence of a feline cat getting ready to play with a mouse. When she gets to where I sit, I notice her well-detailed make-up and almond-shaped, greenish-brown eyes. I think instantly of Ava Gardner. She stands before me, extends her red-nail fingered hand. After I shake it, she slides into the opposite side of the booth. She has a self-assurance I totally missed on the telephone. Perhaps she’s had time to prepare.
“Detective Weir. Please call me Lorna.”
“Thank you for meeting with me upon such short notice.”
“Of course. Are you lunching as well?”
“Well…yes, I can do that…while we talk. That way I can put the whole check on the department’s tab.” [he laughs lightly]
I laugh casually, and she smiles politely, as Charmaine Hollister walks up to our booth. Raising an eyebrow almost imperceptibly to me, Charmaine scoots menus across the surface of the table, first to Lorna and then to me. She chatters off the specials for lunch as her pencil is poised on the check pad. She looks at me for guidance with a huge smile. When I give her a smile and a shrug, Lorna’s face buried in the menu, she tells us she will return after we’ve had time to pursue our menus. I can’t tell if Charmaine remembers her for that distant long-ago observance-in-passing or not.
Lorna looks up with the assertiveness of a woman who’s used to getting the most attention in the room, any room, and getting her way.
She tells me she will have the clam chowder without the oyster crackers and a melted cheese on white, knowing full-well I’ll order for the both of us.
When Charmaine returns to our booth, I know I have to give her a clue as to who this woman is and my association with her, so I say,
“Miss Lucatello will have the chowder without crackers and melted cheese on white. I’ll have my usual.”
Clearly, Charmaine gets it, smiling knowingly and asks what each of us would like to drink. Lorna looks at me as she orders water without ice. I ordered a coffee with loads of cream and sugar. Charmaine collects the menus while not taking her eyes off of mine, turns and leaves. So this is what it feels like to be truly caught in the middle. Then Lorna says, after I light her cigarette,
“So what’s this about? You said a routine matter, but it sounded a bit more mysterious than that, with meeting out of the office and…”
Vincent Moretti.
I decide to come at her forcefully and by surprise, in other words, blitzkrieg. And I get the reaction I’m hoping for.  Her hand trembles so suddenly, she almost drops her cigarette. I scoot the ashtray toward her. After placing her cigarette in the notch in the rim and blowing smoke to the side, she says, leaning on crisscrossed arms on the table,
“Yes. What about him?”
“You know him then?”
“You know I do or you wouldn’t have tried to catch me so off-guard.”
Fair ‘nough. What can you tell me about him in relation to the firm?”
“He’s…he’s our supervisor.”
“The underboss. Or more accurately, he’s the underboss’s underboss.”
[mild irritation] “Our supervisor, Detective. He comes regularly to check our work as any supervisor would.”
“Uh-huh. How regularly.”
“Usually monthly but occasionally at special times when an account needs scrutiny for tax purposes or upon a client’s request.
“Okay. When was the last time the Roundup Wheels account got close scrutiny?”
[Long pause]
“Miss Lucatello, we can parlay infinitely, but I wouldn’t advise it. Roundup Wheels is one of your accounts. They were involved in an operation in which they were questioned, though not indicted, in regards to illegal business transactions two years ago. We have reason to suspect that not all the evidence was obtainable at the time of their clearance of culpability. You’ve had recent and direct contact with the owner of Roundup Wheels. I want to know what you know in regards to any change in information about their account.”
“You need to speak with Mr. Adams about anything this important to the firm. I told you, I’m only the secretary.”
“You’ve had contact with Robert Ritter about his accounting with the firm. He sends you paperwork concerning his inventories which you then prepare for the IRS, is that right?”
“Yes, but it’s strictly a business transaction, totally legal in every respect.”
“How well do you know Robert?”
[another pause] “I know him through business association…”
“He seems to suggest something a bit more than that, Miss Lucatello. He’s protective of you.”
“Why should he be…? Detective Weir, I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but, okay, Robert Ritter and I have had a couple of lunches together, much as you and I are having now, and I’ve talked to him casually on the phone, as I’ve done with you as well. He’s a nice young man with whom Thomas-Jerome has a long-standing business account, beginning with his father.”
“What is your relationship with him outside of these cordial business interactions?”
“That’s none of your concern. But if you must know, there is none.”
“I have witnesses to the contrary and, as I told you, Robert seems to think otherwise.”
“I can’t help what Mr. Ritter thinks, Detective. And I know you’re baiting me with the notion of witnesses. My meetings with Robert Ritter have been public and congenial, not private and amatory.”
“In the strictest terms of the definition, that may be so, but kissing and intimate gazing passes the broadest meaning of “congenial” and the narrowest of “amatory,” I’m guessing. Such intimacies were hardly disguised, taking place, as they did, under the acorns and near the mimosas, right over there.”
I point toward the swings that children are using in the park at this very moment and the benches near the flaming mimosas which are showing tiny round buds swaying in the chilly breeze, ready to burst open at the first signs of the springtime sun. Not able to resist, Lorna Lucatello glances toward the bushes and watches the children swing back and forth for several minutes. Clearing my voice, I say,
“You are a beautiful woman, Miss Lucatello. Robert Ritter has to be smitten. But the first question entering my mind is—what in heaven’s name would a woman like you be doing with a boy like Ritter, Junior? Yes, yes, nice as he is, he’s way outta his depth, which he knows I’m sure, but wants to carry what he can as far as he can. What vulnerable young man wouldn’t? [brief pause] You’re Vincent’s girl, aren’t you?”
In a flash, turning to me, her eyes are as big and dark as new moons, and the real Lorna Lucatello, biting her lower lip, begins sliding out of the booth, when I say,
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes, stay as you are. You really don’t want to make a spectacle of yourself, and it will happen, believe me, when I begin my very loud protestations because of your altogether false but nasty accusations. There now, that’s better. And don’t even think about getting up shortly and heading for the ladies’ room. I’ll follow, protesting the whole way, I promise you.”
“You are a monstrous person.”
“I’ve been called worse, believe me, and from women of all shades of beauty.”
“Ooooh, I despise you so for this.”
“For a while, perhaps, but in the long run, you will find I can be very helpful. Now let’s try this again.”
Charmaine approaches our booth, sets our plates down in front of us with a good deal of grace and care. She can’t help but spot Lorna Lucatello’s change in demeanor and attitude. She asks casually if we need anything else while she fills Miss Lucatello’s water glass and replenishes my coffee. I shake my head with a smile, and she reads me like a book. Charmaine’s one smart cookie. It’s what I love the most about her. Well, if I need her assistance, she says, looking only at me, all I have to do is ask. She winks ever so slightly as she turns and walks toward other customers in the booth next to ours. I know she’s listening. I knife and fork my thick-gravied, open-faced roast beef sandwich, but not before I squeeze a couple rows of mustard across its surface. When I look up, Lorna Lucatello is near tears.
“Look, I…I wanted to get out of a delicate situation as respectfully as possible. Robert was…he was affected more than I thought he would be by the simplest gestures of kindness and understanding from me. He was still grieving over his father’s death and fearful of the responsibility suddenly thrust upon him with the business, which had just undergone great scrutiny by the police. His mother wasn’t—still isn’t—well, and he needed a friend. He misread my extensions, is all. When we were in the park that da—a  day, by the way, some time ago—I was attempting to set him down as gently as possible.”
“Uh-huh, by encouraging him to…”
“It wasn’t as it must have appeared, Detective. Robert was in pursuit, it’s true, and under the circumstances, I didn’t feel I could very well push him away. I was trying to discourage him in as kind a manner as I could at the time. After he kissed me, I told him that I was…”
“Attached to somebody else?”
“Why do you do that?”
“What is that?”
“Misconstrue what I’m going to say. I was not going to say that at all. I told him that I wasn’t attracted to him in the same way he seemed to be attracted to me, but that this didn’t mean he wasn’t suitable, only that he had to express his feelings with somebody else.”
“Detective, what you’re doing won’t work with me. No, before you say, “and what’s that?” let me answer it for you. What isn’t working are your innuendos, little prompts and prodders that hint at my hiding something.  If Robert Ritter is protective of me, it’s of his doing. He knows he’s been told directly the truth about the whole affair.”
“No. That was poorly stated. I’m not staying here another minute. There’s no point. You want me to admit to something that didn’t happen, and I simply won’t encourage your insinuations any longer.”
“Okay, I’ll stop insinuating. I think the firm you work for is a money laundering  outfit, and you’re over your head with Vincent Moretti. He wants to find out how much Robert Ritter knows about what happened with his father and what’s connected to that, and he’s using you to get it. I’m not sure how Moretti’s convinced you to do his bidding, but…Ah, Miss Lucatello, you haven’t even touched your lunch.”
“I won’t starve, and I will feel so much better being out of your presence.”
She leaves with a swish of her dress’s skirt but not before stopping at the cashier’s station to pay her part of the check. I’m impressed. Clever girl. She glances my way once, undoubtedly to see if I’m going to pursue her with those protestations I threatened her with earlier. I don’t follow her, because I want to stay behind and ruminate over what I’ve gleaned from her reaction to my pronouncements, while I eat her chowder, now quite chilly, and soggy melted cheese sandwich since my own lunch has been devoured some time before.
So Lorna Lucatello seduced Robert Ritter only so far as she needed to in order to get from him what she was required to know. The puzzle for me is what Vincent Moretti has sent her to find out from young Ritter. The startled look on her face when I guessed her connection to Vincent was enough to tell me that her putting the squeeze on Robert was an assignment only she could do without incurring Ritter’s resistance as I had done and Vincent was bound to do. Ritter, Senior, had engaged in dirty bicycling trades, but something big enough to free him from immunity had transpired with Chief Gilligan. What had it been? Could Papa Ritter have inadvertently seen something while at Leonard’s shop that he used for clemency when times got nasty? Did he see Leonard’s chop shop operation either by mistake or by Leonard’s own misjudgment, asking the older man if he wanted a take for providing cover or for some kind of engagement in it? Made sense. It hasn’t escaped me that old man Ritter’s business may’ve been covering for some laundering for the Morettis as well, finding hidden refuge in numbers at Thomas-Jerome Accounting.  
       A sketchy scenario is coming together, but the largest piece’s left missing. Even if Ritter Junior knew what his dad found out, unless he’s actively engaged in some way with the mob now, his knowing doesn’t go anywhere, because the threat of telling, of remaining silent, is no longer necessary. The chop shop is dead. At least it is in Tutterton. Continual monitoring since the incident shows no signs of any reactivation of that illegal business, so Lorna Lucatello is plying boy Ritter for something beyond what had transpired earlier, and it involves either drugs or laundering or both. I was sure of it. It’s what the Mafia does best. But whatever it is, one thing is certain, Robert Ritter gave Lucatello the answer she needed, and it was something that no longer puts him in danger, because he’s been dropped in no uncertain terms, and he hasn’t been harmed. It’s been long enough now so that whatever might’ve targeted Ritter earlier is no longer a bother to the Morettis. It’s time to pay Ritter another visit.
       [janging of a bell, opening and closing of a door]
       “Oh, it’s you.”
       “So ‘tis. Just had lunch with Lorna Lucatello, and she tells me that despite your brief affair…”
       “She didn’t say that. You’re lying.”
        “I meant your brief engagement…oh, there I go again. These words have broader meanings, Robert. What I mean to say is that she told me despite your brief and close friendship, you have not corresponded much of late, except for business transactions.”
        “That’s all it ever was. I told you that.”
        “Oh, I think it was a bit more than that, at least for you. You two were seen in an intimate embrace in the park, well, it was some time ago, but you did have a brief intimacy, wouldn’t that be fair to say? You were seen, Robert. So this must be true.”
        “I assure you, feelings were not as they appeared.”
        “Okay. I know now she asked you some questions during this time of closeness you had with her. She suggested these inquiries were of a non-substantial nature, but I rather doubt this. Your shop has had some problems in the past, with a related case pending, as I told you, that may suggest some present ties, however inadvertent, unintended. So now’s the time, Robert, to let me know if there are still any old dangling connections that you need to untie before they get too entangled to do so.”
        “I haven’t a clue as to what you’re talking about.”
        “Looks like we’re back to peg one then, Robert. Simply tell me what Lorna Lucatello was asking you during your little whatever it was, and if you’re innocent of any wrongdoing, I’m outta here. Whether you believe me or not, I can help you should these Mafia guys start giving you trouble over something you truly can’t give them. I can provide protection in ways that might surprise you. For example, I can offer surveillance and can even hide you if necessary. I don’t think it’ll come to that, especially if I find out enough to get ahead of their game on this. I already know a lot, I mean a lot, about the whole chop shop operation and who was involved, how and even why. It’s as I told you before, you level with me, I’ll level with you. I’ll watch your back, Robert. That I can promise you.”
        I see what I’m saying is working its magic. I watch his face carefully and know the moment I have him. He looks up with determination in his eyes and says,
“She wanted to know if I knew anything about the places that were hot spots in the automobile heists and what kind of delivery routes were used to get the parts to Leonard Vlamos’ basement operation and those used to distribute them, ship them out of the country even. She was very clever how she asked me, but it didn’t take long for her to get to her point. I saw pretty quick what she was doing. She’d say thing like, ‘I don’t understand why they chose Tutterton for their distribution. I mean, it’s nowhereville, for certain. I’d think it was hard to get the automobiles in and out of a tiny place like this without being detected.” She’d come at me like that, like she was trying to figure out how in the world the whole thing worked so I’d inform her about how it did—you know, like I knew. I mean, Detective, she’s a smart lady, I mean, real smart, especially about books and all kinds of business things. There’s no way after a while I couldn’t see she was trying to get to how much I knew about the operation.”
“So what did you tell her?”
“Well, I wanted to know as much about why she was trying to find out from me what she was, as the kind of information she wanted. But since she wanted to know so bad, I tried to string her along. I was taken with her like crazy at first, but when she got close and kissed me, I don’t know, I really didn’t trust it. It’s how she did it. There was calculation in it. She was syrupy sweet for one thing, and it wasn’t her nature. She’s too smart and sassy when she wants to be. It’s what I liked about her on the phone, well, and then when we met, because along with it, she’s so pretty and sexy.”
“Okay, Robert, I get it. But what she wanted from you is the real business here.”
 “Yeah, I know. [pause] I used my head. I told her I hadn’t a clue about any of what she was asking, which I didn’t, don’t, anyway not most of it. I couldn’t figure out why she wanted to know stuff about the operation that’d been dead since Leonard and his buddies went to prison, so I asked. She said it was follow-through. She wouldn’t say more than that. It’s when I started backing off, Detective. Lorna Lucatello knows a lot more than she lets on, and personally, I think this has put her in a horrible position. I’m afraid for her, really I am, but I don’t want to be involved with the people around her any more than I have to, not since she started asking so many questions I didn’t know the answers to.”
        “The Mafia, you mean?”
        “Yeah, those guys. They’re not the kinda people who listen to whether you’re telling the truth or not. They’re interested in whether they think what you’re telling them sounds like the truth.” [pause] Detective Weir, from her questions, I got the idea that the people at the top, those that didn’t get caught, were asking her to come around and find out how much I know because they’re worried about anybody out here who might help the police trace anything back to them.”
        “That’s a good deduction, Robert. So what do you think she was fishing for exactly?”
        “I think it was about what I might have picked up from dad, and I do know something about that, but I didn’t tell her, at least, I wasn’t so far gone on her that I couldn’t keep my head on that one.”
         “And what from your dad do you know, Robert?”
         “He saw something he wasn’t supposed to. He told me before he died, because, he said, I was going to take over the business, become the man of the family, take care of Mother and all. In some way, I got the feeling he wanted me to know in case…well, in case something came up just like this—you know, like with Lorna—is what I think.”
         [sighs]“What did he see?”
         “The distribution basement of Leonard Vlamos’ whole operation. And once he saw it—how big it was and the kinda items there—and that Leonard knew he’d seen it, Vlamos offered dad a cut, but Dad turned it down. It was a risk he said he was willing to take, saying no. He was very worried about that, but Leonard got caught before it came to anything, and dad used what he saw and what Leonard told him to get himself out of a jam with the stolen bicycle racket he got himself into, which, by the way, he was ashamed of. He did it for Mother, her medical bills. He was a decent man who lost his way, he told me. And he said, he was telling me this as an admonishment. You gotta know this by now, sir.”
        “Yes, well, I didn’t know its precise nature, but like you say, this is old, old information.”
        “I know. I kept asking Lorna what she wanted from me. I didn’t have anything more than the police about all this. She finally gave up.”
        “I see. Can you remember anything out of the ordinary that she asked, anything at all that didn’t fit into the questions about the chop shop business?”
        No. I’ve thought and thought about it. She asked about the hot spots, you know, where the automobiles were taken and hidden away for dismantlement, and then the distribution and shipping routes, that’s about it, which I don’t know anything about at all, and I don’t think Dad did either, because when he was telling me what he knew, I think he wouldn’t told me.”
        “Well, okay then, Robert. You have been very helpful, even though it may not seem so. These things have a way of working their way out, but it takes time. I’ll keep in touch, and if anything, anything at all snags your attention, give me a call, okay?”
        “Yes, sir, I will. And thank you.”
        “No, Robert. I thank you.”
        “Oh, sir.”
        [footsteps stop]
        “Yes Robert?”
        “I just remembered. She asked me if I knew a John Masterson. I haven’t any idea who that is and told her so.”
         [footsteps back to Robert]
         “When did she ask you this?”
         “Right toward the end, the end of when…when I was seeing her—if you can even call it that. It was after I’d told her what I knew about the chop shop operation, about Vlamos’ distribution basement, stuff she already knew.”
         “And you’re sure you don’t know who he is?”
         “I’ve never heard of him, sir.”
         “Thank you, Robert. If you remember anything else like this, please let me know.”
         “Who is he, sir? Is he one of them…you know, Mafia guys.?”
         “Nobody you need to know. Don’t give it another thought. I got this one, okay?”
         “If you say so.”
         “Under wraps, you understand?”
         “Yes, sir. But I’d like to add this, Detective. Before, the last visit, when you threatened me with exposure of illegitimate goods in my shop, and I didn’t deny it, I didn’t because I don’t need the notice from the police and from the courts. I’ve worked so hard to get this shop in the black financially since our troubles. I’ve done it for Dad and for his love for my Mother. I’m an honest businessman. If you ever want to search anywhere on these premises, that’s fine, you can do that with a warrant, because I look out for myself proper now, but I’m not dishonest. You’ll have to forgive me for not trusting. Lorna Lucatello just about did me in in that department.”
         “I’m hearing you, Robert. From now on, as I told you before, I will respect you to the degree you do me, okay?”
         “Yes, sir.”
         When I’m back at the station, I think about calling Lorna Lucatello and putting the squeeze on her, but I receive a call from the Jersey City police department before I have a chance. After Lieutenant Serge Koslofsky introduces  himself, he informs me that John Masterson has been found dead in one of his delivery yards only a couple of hours ago—his wallet still in his pocket. That’s how they knew who he was. He has been beaten to death with a crowbar, left on the scene but undoubtedly by a gloved hand, and his throat slit from ear to ear, the knife gone. The most telling feature of the murder, however, is that the fingers of both of his hands have been severed from the knuckles and are missing. The injuries are so massive that only his teeth will be able to make his identity positively known for the coroner’s report. Fingers missing is the traditional signal of a miscreant’s taking something the mob considers their property.
        I ask the Lieutenant why he decided to make the call to me before the papers broke the news. I hadn’t known anybody in Jersey City was aware of my having questioned John Masterson. He says that Masterson was being watched by the JCPD since the Leonard Vlamos conviction, because Masterson had worked with Vlamos and Vlamos had been connected to low-level mobsters. Since one of the hot spots for auto theft had been Jersey City, my chief and his had begun trading information on the activities of those who were involved and suspected in the chop shop operation in the hopes of a lead to the top. Since Masterson was being monitored, they knew I’d questioned him recently, so Tutterton’s Chief Gilligan had kept Jersey City’s Chief Lanahan informed of that fact, before I’d even arrived to speak with Masterson. I take note that I need to watch my maverick behavior more carefully since it seems Gilligan is following me closer than I thought he was. I naturally wonder who his watchman might be in our department. Nicky Marks comes to mind, but I’d lay bets he’s my solid-as-a-rock partner. Whoever it is, I’ll be on the lookout for him from now on.
       After I hang up, I call Leda Vlamos and inform her of the Masterson killing. I figure she’ll see it in The Beacon tomorrow morning, but I want her informed in case she receives some call either from Leonard, one of his connections or the people who’ve been threatening her with calls and conspicuous stake outs. Before consulting with Chief Gilligan—I doubt now he’ll argue with me on this—I promise her that a patrol car will be on surveillance at her home within the hour and will continue to be there around the clock. If the black sedan continues to show up, I reassure her, the driver will be approached by a patrolman. She tells me she is relieved, but there is a detachment in her tone that surprises me. When I inquire if she’s all right, she gives me a thumb up, and I decide to leave it at that, with a note to check in with her early tomorrow.
       Glancing at the clock, I see that I only have time for a quick shower and change of clothes before I picked up Charmaine for dinner and a possible movie.
[tinkling piano music in the background, and restaurant sounds, people talking etc.]
       “This is lovely, Crandall. Thank you.” 
       “The drive to Jersey City was worth it, don’t you think? It’s my pleasure, Charmaine. Please order anything you’d like.”
       “No fish and chips? Corn beef and hash?”
       Outta luck, ‘fraid. The bass looks good or maybe the filet mignon? How brave do you want to be? They have some French items on the other side of the menu, escargot for starters and beef…well, I don’t know French well enough to say, so we’ll have to resort to pointing if those are our choices.”
       “Have you ever had snails?”
       “’Fraid not. I’m a diner kinda guy, as you well know. And I don’t venture far from my usual even there. I’ll be ordering from the American side of the menu, the t-bone, rare.”
       “With the mashed potatoes, gravy and carrots and peas, am I right?”
       “’Fraid so.” [laughter]
       “The bass does sound good and a baked potato with the works and the green beans. I’ll make up for the predictable fare with a fancy dessert.”
        After the waitress takes our order, I ask Charmaine about her day and she asks me about mine. Then I say,
        “I have only one question from my work today, if that’s okay.”
        “Only one? Can you hold to that?”
        “I’ll hold it to the limit, promise.”
        “Okay, if that promise means we don’t spend the evening solving a mystery.”
        “Understood. Did Leonard Vlamos ever come to the diner with anybody else?”
        “Like his wife?”
        “Well, yes, but that would surprise me. I was thinking more along the lines of a business associate.”
        “Somebody from out of town who I wouldn’t know?”
        “Yes, exactly.”
        “His wife never accompanied him. Except for the photograph in the paper, I haven’t seen her, and the photograph was so grainy, I doubt that I could identify her in real life from it. The few times Leonard Vlamos came to the diner, he was never with a woman. When he did show up, he was usually with some fellows that I took to be drivers from the hats they wore and their uniforms. Truckers. You know, delivery guys. One I remember in particular, because when Leonard stopped delivering Crafty Bread products at the diner—I think around when he started his bike shop—this fellow took over. In fact, he delivered to us until about…oh, I’d say, a year ago.”
        “Can you describe him?”
        “Sure. I remember him especially because he was unusual looking, kinda a big-little man, if that makes sense, with a red beard and hair. Beards are unusual, not many men wear them. The clean-shaven look is all the rage, with a close cut, unless you’re ivy league and, well, there’s that swooping pompadour thing coming in now with the young kids. I’m surprised the bread company allowed this guy to wear a beard though, since he delivered edible goods, you know. Anyway, he had the most beautiful, clear blue eyes. He had a way of looking right at you and not looking away.”
        “Well, I can understand that. [pause, her light laughter and thanks] This’s very helpful, Charmaine. Thanks a lot. I’d like for you to do me a favor. When The Beacon comes out tomorrow morning, take a look at a picture of a man I think you’ll recognize as him in there. I’m not sure it will show up on The Beacon’s front page, but there’s bound to be an article about him somewhere, especially since he made deliveries here in town. You know, he did that with Leonard prior to your coming to Tutterton, I think, or just around when you first got here. When was that?”
“Seven years ago. I thought you knew that.”
“I did, I did, it just slipped my mind. Listen, if I don’t make it to lunch tomorrow, give me a call at the station and let me know if he’s the fellow you’re talking about, will you? I’m sure it is, but I’d like positive confirmation. Do you remember anything you might have overheard or simply heard while serving them?”
        “Oh, I doubt it, since it was some time ago. Like I say, he stopped delivering about the same time that Leonard went to prison, when I stop and think about it. I doubt I’ll remember anything, but if seeing his picture jogs some memory, I’ll let you know, of course. Did this guy meet a questionable end or get arrested too? Is that why he might show up in the paper?”
“No question about it, Charmaine. His end was final to an astonishing degree. But enough about business. I see our dinners are coming. [in a snooty, exaggerated poorly executed French accent] Let’s finish off this bottle and maybe another and then go to the movies reeking of a splendid imported white Bordeaux.”
[laughter to fade]
I’m astonished by what Charmaine’s told me. So if Vlamos was in the diner with Masterson so close to Leonard’s arrest, what would they’ve been doing at a time when Masterson had told me he was off Leonard like a dirty shirt? If Leda was right—and there had been no proof of this during Leonard’s inquest—Leonard and Masterson had a scheme of hyping the sales to get a higher percentage of the profits at Crafty Bread until Leda pulled Leonard out of that nasty set-up. Undoubtedly at their diner visit, these two were up to no good, but they didn’t seem to mind being seen together. At the time of Leonard’s arrest, Masterson had been questioned extensively and so had Rubis, and both had come up smelling like Chanel No. 5. Masterson had been questioned by the Jersey City police while Rubis had been queried in Tutterton. And although it was a concerted effort with dispositions, transcripts and reports being exchanged, I never trusted the coordinated arrangement for interdepartmental investigations, especial ones that could become this unwieldy and have territorial loyalties almost always playing a part in the information exchange. I made a quick mental note to dig through the files and take a look again at the JCPD report of the Masterson questioning.


The following morning, I receive a visit from Officer Patrick Daly who’d been watching Leda Vlamos’ house. He said his night duty had remained very quiet until around three o’clock in the morning, when he noted a small light in the garage. He went to investigate but found nothing untoward, thinking the light might have been a reflection from the street lamp down the street on the garage windows. The car was in the garage, the house dark except for a small night light in the kitchen which he’d been informed about by Mrs. Vlamos during his initial interview with her. But as he was getting ready to pass the stakeout to Officer Daniel Gryka in the morning, she came out and informed them that she was leaving for the day and wouldn’t be back until very late. Daly’d passed that information on to the chief who determined that since Leda was to be out for the day, Gryka would work at the station and Daly would pick up his night watch at the regular time, midnight. But when he, Daly, had gone to the house for surveillance, the car wasn’t there, and she didn’t answer her door. He’d sent in a routine report after his inspection of the house and garage at three a.m., but when she still hadn’t returned at the end of his shift, he felt he must let me know.
I thank Daly, telling him to hold all surveillance, only doing two hour drivebys, until we locate where Leda is. I inform the chief who tells me to activate an APB and follow protocol, which is to stay vigilant for forty-eight hours before beginning a formal search. I call her immediately without any luck, and when she doesn’t answer her phone off and on through the morning, I determine to check out the Vlamos residence myself.
After an early lunch, during which Charmaine confirms the picture in the paper to be John Masterson who was in the diner with Leonard Vlamos when she saw them together, I drive out to Royal Hills Road to check out the house. The black stakeout sedan isn’t anywhere in sight, and her car is still gone. When I knock on her door, there’s no answer. I attempt to look in the windows, but Leda has seen to it that no peeping tom, mob-affiliated or otherwise, is going to get a look at her whereabouts inside. I check all doors and windows which are firmly locked. I’m becoming deeply concerned as her stalkers may’ve made contact with her when she’s been out without her patrol. I kick myself for not having her monitored outside her home, but the chances of her being attacked while shopping or with her friends during cards and coffee seemed slim to nil, and she’s told me that she never saw or heard anybody tailing her while she’s been out and about. Back at the station, I put an APB out on her and her automobile, as the chief instructed, and wait for reports to come in.
At 4: 30 in the afternoon, Officer Daly gives me a call from his unit.
Officer Weir, we’ve located her automobile. A farmer north of Tutterton opened his barn to find it sitting inside and used his party line to contact station’s emergency. It took him awhile, but he followed-through and for that we’re lucky. It’s located a mile north…”
“…of the city limit sign on County Road number 10.”
“How did you know?”
“It’s a long story, Officer. Tell the search unit to stay put until I arrive. Is there any indication of foul play?”
“The passenger window was open so we had easy access to the interior. All we’ve found on first go-through is the open glove box and its contents spilled out all over the passenger seat and floor. It looks like whoever was in the passenger seat had been sitting and stepping on the papers strewn about. Detective Marks thinks whoever forced her to drive here or drove himself, went through the glove compartment in search of a gun or anything that could be used as a weapon before they started driving, to make sure there wasn’t any problem should she get control of the situation somehow. Everything else appears above suspicion.”
We sign off, and I siren and flash my way to the barn located where the note indicated in the letter Leda received eighteen months ago about the exchange of Leonard’s personal goods. Once on site, after a thorough search through the car inside and out—the farmer and his wife standing off to the side taking in one of the most exciting episodes of their lives—a tow truck from, of all places, Roadside Motor Repairs  takes Leda’s vehicle to the police impoundment yard. I thank the Almighty that Niles Rubis isn’t the driver. The last thing I want is anybody close to the Vlamoses, past or present, pushing information through their grapevines.

Back at the station, Nicky Marks and I spend some time going over the evidence concerning Leda’s disappearance without coming up with a scenario that fits what we know. Marks then leaves to end his day, and I’m on my way out the door when the telephone rings on my desk, and I almost decide to not answer it. I’m dead tired and need a reprieve from the Vlamos case, but glancing at the clock, I note it’s 8:07 and a call coming in this late, almost certainly indicates urgency.
 When I pick up, a raspy, feather-whisper voice is at the other end,
Officer Weir?
“Leonard Vlamos here. Come visit me now or my life’s not worth a plug nickel.”
Before I can respond, he hangs up. I stand staring at the phone. I can’t help but recall a similar declaration from his wife less than a week ago. Just when I think things can’t get worse, they have.


The next morning, early, even before Rose Marie, the chief’s secretary, arrives, I leave notification with our dispatcher, Sami Joyce, where I’m headed and instructions to forward the message on to Rose Marie when she arrives at her desk who should forward it on to Chief Gilligan. In this message I have described Leonard Vlamos’ desperate call and requested the chief contact the warden to allow Leonard to talk freely with me without time constraint, siting Vlamos’ willingness to cooperate in a pending case. I say all this without actually using the word ‘informant’ which may not be the healthiest term to have passed around in a prison through secretaries and guards.
I drive car 3 toward Manhattan, crossing the George Washington Bridge, then taking the Third Avenue Bridge into the Bronx and on to ferry point to Rikers. The entire trip from Tutterton to the prison is a couple of hours unless the ferry carries less than normal crowds, and today I’m lucky. A bus carries me to Leonard Vlamos’ unit and after my assigned guard unlocks and relocks three doors, I sit in a large conference room with four guards, one standing against each wall. Prisoners sit and talk to family or what I take to be lawyers. Leonard is brought to my table in handcuffs which are unlocked when he sits down opposite me. He has on a green shirt with stenciled numbers running across the left side—actually, over his heart—and matching trousers without pockets or belt. His haircut is almost stylish, clipped close to the ears but enough on top to comb. He’s lost weight and looks like he’s gained some muscle tone. His shoes are black, highly buffed, with ties. He sits down across from me on his bolted-to-the-floor chair, nervous as a cat. He glances furtively my way, then his eyes dart off to the side toward the guard and back on me again. His whisper is barely audible.
“I didn’t know if you’d show up.”
“I left word.”
“Well, that don’t mean nothin’ ‘round here.”
“My word is my bond.”
“Bond. I like that. Nobody posted me any when I needed it, keeping me in jail and then parading me in and outta court before you could say scat. But that’s back then. It’s now I’m worried about.”
I notice immediately the difference in articulation, tone and style, between Leonard and Leda Vlamos. Leda sounds downright educated by comparison. Perhaps that’s the actual difference—Leda’s friends at church and in charities have encouraged her reading and learning, while Leonard’s associates, especially in prison, have lead him in a streetwise direction.
“You have to speak up, Mr. Vlamos. I can hardly hear you.”
“Okay, okay. I’m in trouble, Weir, deep trouble and I got no way outta it, in here like I am. Vinnie’s gonna do me like Masterson, I’m telling ya, and soon it’ll be too, I can guarantee, in the shower, or at night in my cell, he’s got all kinda ways, him and his henchmen.”
“What’s the trouble? And I’m Detective Weir, Mr. Vlamos.
“Fine, I can do dat. But you gotta help me, cause he’s got me cornered, you understand what I’m sayin’? I gave him some of what he came for but kept what I could. He’s comin’ back, now that he did Masterson, and if I don’t give him the rest, just hang me on a hook, ‘cause I’m dead meat.”
“You’re talking about Vincent Moretti?”
“Who else?”
“What does he want? What’d you tell him to keep him at bay?”
“I wrote Leda, but she don’t answer, nothing. And she’s the one that can help. I tried calling her but no answer there either. I’m on good behavior, that’s why the green outfit, so I can use the phone twice a week. But Vinnie don’t get what he wants, she’s in trouble with me, you gettin’ what I’m sayin’ now?”
“What did Masterson have to do with this trouble you’re in?”
“Vinnie beat Masterson to get his, and now, Vinnie’s comin’ back to get mine. It’s all gonna be in what Masterson told him. In my case, it’s not drugs, but Masterson don’t know that, see? [pause] I put mine in an account so they couldn’t get to it, but Masterson, well, he kept pushing the bread routes and now he’s dead for it. I told him. I kept telling him that ‘nough was ‘nough, but he wouldn’t listen. They tore his trucks apart, I’m tellin’ ya, and if they did, they found heroin, in the walls, you understand?  They hammered it outta him, what they got. I seen the papers. They let me read in here.”
“So you have a hidden stash too, that what you’re telling me?”
“No. Not drugs. I got all-a-mine in an account, like I told ya.”
“Money, then.”
“Yeah, yeah.”
“So you earned it through drugs, and put the profits in a hidden account. And you’re telling me this because?”
“Well naturally, I don’t wanna lose it. It’s why I tried to get ahold of Leda. But at this point, it’s no good to me dead. I want you to get to ‘em before they do me and maybe Leda too, because she’s part of it, without knowing, you hear what I’m sayin’?”
“And how’s that, Mr. Vlamos?”
“When I quit with Masterson, I took ever’thing I’d made my share along the way—I  had it hid good in the basement—and I added some from the chop shop revenues, and put it all into an account in Manhattan’s Merchants and Traders Bank, like I keep sayin’, but in order that the mob guys wouldn’t know it’s mine—should they ever pursue me, as they’re doin’ now—I put it in Leda’s maiden name.”
“But surely they know your wife’s name, Mr. Vlamos.”
“No, they don’t, didn’t, naw. They’d never guess that. Their women aren’t into their doings. They know ‘Leda’ maybe—Greeks got enough of Ledas—but not Bella which is so lucky, because it sounds Italian and not Greek, you see?”
“I’m not following here, Mr. Vlamos. That all sounds very crafty—I pause here to see if the pun soaks in, and it doesn’t, so I go on—except how can you get to your money if it’s in your wife’s maiden name without yours attached to it? Is she in on it? And how did you get the account established without her help?”
“Oh no, she don’t know nothin’. She did so many forms with the accounting, and I just had her fill out and sign stuff all the time—her signature is good for that, in both her names, I seen to it, as my accountant, she’s certified—and so I slipped the filled-out bank forms to her, this I done while holding ‘em see, sayin’ I’s in a hurry with these particular ones, hiding her name so she couldn’t see…”
“Wait a minute. She signed her maiden name? Why would she do that?”
“Because I tell her to.”
“Didn’t she wonder?”
“On this, she said, why, and I told her there’re times when banks and the government and such want the real signatures backing up the married ones. I got her birth certificate for stuff too. I can do that as her husband, you know. She don’t know nothin’ about IRS, bank accounts and all that, how it’s done, not exactly. She just knows about the forms, and not even that very good. She just does what I ask her to, me givin’ her the reasons why that she believes. So anyhow, I intended to have her sign the same way later to get to the money out, but when the chop shop operation folded, and I got in here, I couldn’t do that, see? The money’s sitting in there unclaimed, and she don’t know even.”
“Uh-huh. Which you intended all along. To use her toward your own selfish end.”
“Well, she’s not so bad off. She got a place to live, got enough to live on. I needed insurance with what I’s doing. After I get outta here, where am I goin’, nowhere’s where. I wasn’t gonna leave her in the lurch. Before the divorce thing, I’s gonna have her come with me, and we was gonna find another place. But that’s all gone down the drain now. I just wanna keep myself, and her too if possible, from getting killed.”
“So how much money are we talking about?”
“Seventy-three thousand and four hundred-sixty-five.”
“That’s a lot of unclaimed money.”
“It’s killin’ me.
“Uh-huh. My sympathies for your loss, Mr. Vlamos.”  [pause] “So what about all those phony phone calls to try and get your wife to cough up what you left behind?”
“I’s mad, that’s all.”
“So who did you get to do your dirty pick-up-in-the-barn work for you?”
“She told you about that? [pause] I knew this guy in here who got out and was willing to pay back a favor. Some luck, him coming from the same place that we did, huh? He lived in Wellington, worked on this farm in Tutterton. Don’t matter, she didn’t do it anyway. It wouldn’t a got me nothin’ but satisfaction. The stuff could sit in the barn and rot or he could sell it, I told Harvey. [pause] She dropped me like a hot potato. What was I supposed to do, in here, festerin’ away? I needed her help, and she was taking off, leaving me behind. She filed for divorce, you know dat? On some flimsy criminal charge or something for wayward husbands. I don’t think she can do it, but she’s gonna try, she says.”
 “What I know is that your wife is in much the same pickle that you are right now, Mr. Vlamos. We’ve had to put her under continual surveillance. She’s received threatening phone calls, and she’s had stake outs in front of the house for days now. What did you give Vinnie to get him off your butt and onto hers?"
[long pause] “I gave him Masterson to get him off me. John uses his bread routes for them, handing over the drugs at distribution points along his deliveries, but he cuts it, the heroin, and stashes the purer stuff he skims off the top, hidin’ it inside his truck’s walls and then delivers to points on his own—he’s got operations all the way to the Mississippi for the mob, but also for himself.”
“Doesn’t the mob check on the purity of their heroin and their delivery people for just this reason?”
Sure. It’s the point I was making with him. You do what he’s doin’ with little amounts over time, they might not get it, especially if you cut it after they’ve done an inspection, you know? But it’s like the auto heist thing, he went too big, too fast, and we got caught. They were gonna get him sooner rather than later, I just figured I’d use it while I could, puttin’ them onto him. Buying me some time. But it’s run out.”
“I’m overcome, Mr. Vlamos. So I’m your last resort.”
“S’about it, yeah.”
“And you sicced them on your wife as well.”
“I don’t know anything about that, no, serious. I knew they’d get onto me after Masterson, unless they saw my telling ‘em about him as a favor, and I could convince ‘em I wasn’t doing what he was, but I don’t know nothing about their riding her. She’s my insurance, the one who can help me out with the account. Why would I give her over to them? Besides, she’s my wife. That means something.”
“Yeah, I see that, to use as you see fit.”
“Well, you can see it as you want. Me and Leda had this agreement about my work— that it was me doing the shop stuff and her doing the paperwork—and it was okay until I got caught.”
“Did you tell anybody else about the account? Or what Leda’s maiden name was?”
“Nobody. Her name especially after I opened the account, absolutely nobody. [pause] Masterson didn’t even know about my account though he knew about my taking my share after sale deliveries. And it don’t take no Einstein. He has to put his money somewhere too, you know, but where mine’s at and how I done it, he’s got no idea.”
“Masterson was angry when I talked to him, about you leaving him to go work for Rubis, especially without notice.”
“Ah, that was an act of his, to throw you off, so you wouldn’t see we was connected still, you know, when he got cleared and I was busted. He didn’t want you to know we still had contact because of the chop shop. Him loading for deliveries, you know?”
“But wasn’t he concerned I’d find out about you two at the diner together and see he was lying to me?”
“You know about the diner meeting, huh? Well, he was desperate toward the last. He was over his head with the mob, them getting’ closer and closer with their suspicions. He wanted me to hide his drugs in my basement with the parts—in the walls, until it eased up for him—but I wouldn’t do it.”
“Wasn’t it taking a chance being seen together, in case one of you got caught? And by somebody who knew Leda if nothing else. You were supposed to stay clear of this guy.”
“Sure, I told him that, but he called it ‘normalizing,’ you know, acting normal, like hiding right under ever’body’s noses.
“So he picked up auto parts in this normalizing way?”
 “Yeah, well, kinda. He’d come on Saturday’s a lot for those, in unmarked trucks and   work uniforms that the mob guys got him for that, fixing it so it looked like he was just a guy delivering stuff to my business. He’d hide his beard behind high collars and kerchiefs. I never could get him to shave it off, crazy bastard. Anyway, he’d take quite a bit of stock when he came so he didn’t have ta come so often. He never picked up stuff on the sly-like, always out in the open.”
“So he supplied to point men along his bread routes, you say, both drugs and auto parts?”
“Yeah, with both, once the auto heist thing got started. This was a mob-run outfit all ‘round, except for my bike shop, and I got into that during the war, and then after Rubis was gone, it was mainly for cover. But how Masterson kept ever’thing straight, I’ll never know. He had boxes of bread products, auto parts and drugs all in his trucks together, looking alike, far as I could tell. And he never got ‘em mixed up that I ever heard. How he did it with his truckers, you’ll have to ask him, ‘cause I dunno.”
 “So what do you want me to do for you, Mr. Vlamos? I appreciate the heads-up, but I don’t know quite what I can do to help you in here.”
“I want you to get to my bank account before…”
“Leda’s account.”
“Okay, the account in Leda’s name, if you wanna say it like that. I want you to be there if they try to come for it.”
“Surely you know I can’t put constant surveillance on the bank, Mr. Vlamos.”
“But you can let the bank manager, or whoever needs to know, that somebody other than my wife might try to get the money—I’m talking with fake papers, the mob boys are good at that…”
“Well, sounds to me like you had your own version of that one, Mr. Vlamos.”
“Okay, I got that comin’, maybe, but these guys’re experts. So if they should try, the bank shouldn’t give them the money without my wife being with them, in person, and even then, you should be called before the money is handed over to her.” [pause] “Leda might come by herself, with them hanging in the wings, forcing her, if they found out I had an account like from Masterson when they threatened to pound him to death, which they done anyway, see what I mean?”
“Mr. Vlamos, you messed with these boys for years, so how do you think they knew about Leda before they killed Masterson?”
“I think he done what I did, Detective. John worked with these guys for years too, even before me. At first, I think they listened to him, gave him some slack. He’s head honcho delivery guy for them, knows the routes over a huge territory, well-established and getting bigger. He had a big hand in gettin’ all those routes goin’. And I think when they asked about me, after I got caught, he gave them what he knew in pieces—I had an extra account somewhere, he told ‘em, you see? From skimming their auto parts business, he said. He didn’t know where but since Leda did my paperwork, maybe they could get it from her. You know, it’s always smart to accuse the other guy ‘bout what you’re doing yourself, especially if they think you’re onna them.
“So they took what he told ‘em, and with what you’re telling me now, I think they thought they’d scare Leda into telling them without killing her. They don’t want no attention drawn to themselves, not any more than necessary. The less killin’ the better for the time bein’, I’d think, or the police’re gonna start looking again, harder this time, at the auto heist operation that could lead to the drug routes, you gettin’ this?”
“Sure. But why did they think she wouldn’t go to the police for protection?”
“The way these guys think, they thought she was part of it with me, probably. Or maybe that’s what Masterson told ‘em he thought. So if they tried shaking her up a little bit, without any real harmful action, she might give up the information, thinkin’ she’d save herself.”
“I’m having a hard time thinking they wouldn’t believe she’d run when they started putting the pressure on.”
“Thing is, it takes a little bit to figure it all out, you know? It’s why Masterson got away with it as long as he did. But if they’re watchin’ Leda, any sign of her runnin’, they’re onto her. ‘Cause they’re watchin’ her, you’re sayin.’’ They got ways none of us even thought of.”
 “But if they’re so afraid of being traced to the top, why kill Masterson?”
“Maybe they got no choice, ‘cause of what he done, with all those personal connections of his down his routes.”
“Okay, but they can’t kill all the point guys.”
“No, but killing Masterson like they done, well, it sends a big message, don’t it? I’d go quiet as a mouse and back into my hole, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, that makes sense. Well, it’s too late today for me to stop at M&T Bank and talk to the manager, but with Chief Gilligan’s inside network at NYPD, especially after the auto heist, I’m sure we can get most of the bank monitoring done over the telephone sometime tomorrow or the next day. It’s the best I can do.”
“It can’t be soon ‘nough. Visiting hours here go until lockdown at night, that’s eight. But I can refuse visitors which I’ll do unless it’s you or Leda—though there’s small chance a-that with her now.”
“One thing more, Leonard. Leda isn’t your insurance anymore, because she’s missing. Her car was found in the barn where you left instructions for the exchange of your goods. Now, you tell me why I shouldn’t suspect that you were behind this through your farmer buddy-boy or some such arrangement to get to her, have her listen to you?”
“Oh. No, no! Leda’s missing? If Harvey done anything for the mob with her, I’ll kill him when I’m out, I swear. If he helped hurt Leda, there’s no end to what I’ll do to ‘im.”
“You suspect your farm-working buddy helping the mob? This guy got a last name?”
Don’t know it. We don’t do that in here, Detective. He’s Harvey to me.”
“I can find out from the farmer, then.”
“It’s doubtful it’ll mean anything now, Detective. Harvey probably’s not his real name anyhow, and if he’s behind this, he’s long gone. You’ll spend a lotta time trying to find him for nothing.’ He’s delivered Leda to the people who’re behind it, and he’s run like a rabbit. And ‘fore you ask, I haven’t a clue where he’d go. He owed me a favor, paid it, and that was that. But if he done Leda bad, I’ll find and fix him. I will.”
As I get ready to leave, I tell Leonard Vlamos I’ll talk to the warden and see if he can be put in solitary for a while, until we get closer to the killer of Masterson and those having threatened, and now taken, Leda. I add that it’s going to take time, and it’s whether he wants to sweat it out in solitary or take his chances with the shower and his cell at night. He says he doesn’t think he can take the enclosed space of solitary, not even as scared as he is, so there’s no point in me seeing the warden. Sometimes that caused more trouble, he says, than if one takes on the risks from bribed inmates, because the guards, once informed about giving special attention to an inmate, resent it and take it out on the prisoners they’re guarding. They see it, he tells me, as inmates telling them what to do. He makes me promise not to suggest solitary to the warden, even if things turn against him.
We say our good-byes, and I take his hand when he offers it. A guard steps forward quickly, but when we both show him our empty palms, he nods and walks over casually to put Leonard Vlamos in handcuffs and lead him toward the door.
I go to the warden despite Leonard’s protests and tell him that under no circumstances should Vincent Moretti be given an opportunity to see Leonard Vlamos, that Vlamos is helping us with an unsolved murder case, and he needs protection, but that he’s specifically requested not to be placed in solitary as he’s claustrophobic. The warden is gracious and very cooperative. He tells me the problem won’t be Moretti per se, but that connections on the inside are difficult to monitor given the guard to prisoners ratio. Prisoners can be bought and sold for a pack of cigarette, chewing gum or a chocolate bar, and that he can restrict visitors to Vlamos upon his request, but other than this, Vlamos’ protection, without confinement, is a crap shoot. Warden Packston, of course, doesn’t mention that the same can be said of some of his guards.
I use the warden’s phone to call Chief Gilligan, but Rose Marie informs me that the chief is out of his office for the day, so the bank monitoring will have to wait until his return. When I inquire when that will be, she hedges but tells me that she can get any message to the chief upon urgent request. I tell her I’ll give it thought and get back to her. It’s a long ride back to the Tutterton, especially since my radio’s on the blink, and my monotone is upsetting even to my ears.


The next morning, my phone is ringing as I walk into the precinct at 9:07. I rush to my desk and grab the receiver, identifying myself in a gasp. I hear Leonard Vlamos’ grave voice on the line.
Weir, I’m a goner unless you save me. I got a box from a guard late last night, an undercover deal. It had two thumbs and eight fingers in it. I flushed ‘em down the toilet, ‘cause they can’t be found on me, but the message’s clear. They’re comin’ the same as with Masterson if you don’t get to the bank before they do.”
The line goes dead.
I glance toward the chief’s office, the door is closed and the blind still down, but Rose Marie is at her desk. I hold up my hand and she waves me over.
“Chief’s still not in, if that’s your question.”
“When’s do you expect him?”
“He returns Monday morning, Detective. He’s been at a three-day district meeting in Jersey City, and he returns to Tutterton on the week-end. He’s asked to not be disturbed, but if your needs are urgent, I can give him a call or arrange him to call you.”
“No, no. Will he be checking in with you today?”
“Always does, to get his messages. I can give him yours if you like.”
“Okay, that’ll do. Tell him to call me at his earliest convenience. It’s a matter concerning Leonard Vlamos.
“That’s V-l-a-m-o-s?”
       “Consider it done. Anything else?”
       “No, and thanks, Rose Marie.”
       “Sure thing.”
       I sit at my desk for several minutes before thumbing through my address book until I find the right number. I lift the phone again and dial Warden Richard Packston’s number on Rikers Island. [dialing] It takes several tries before his secretary answers my call. When I ask for the warden, she says he will be out until Monday morning, and then goes through the same routine that Rose Marie had given me concerning Chief Gilligan. She does add that the assistant warden is available, and I hang on the line a second or two before deciding against going through the entire story with an unknown go-between concerning Leonard’s case, who may cover himself by putting Leonard in solitary despite his protests. It isn’t the worst possible solution, but I made Leonard a promise. I leave a message to have the warden call the first opportunity he has, as the call is specific and urgent. There are some days when the stars are simply not aligned in my favor, or in this case Leonard Vlamos’s.
       Since the chief hasn’t had a chance to contact the manager of M&T, I sit and stew over my alternatives. For me to contact the manager will mean a prolonged discussion about the whole Vlamos ordeal, a discussion the chief could master in less than half the time, given his authority and connections. And I’m not certain that any of the managers are in their offices on a Saturday. I decide to wait and see if the chief calls me. If not, I’ll simply have to go through the complicated request and its attendant story with the manager as soon as I can make contact.
       I clean up old files—the chief’s the only one around here with a secretary—and order supplies, do the paperwork on the Leda Vlamos surveillance to date, the recent conversation with Leonard Vlamos in prison and his two calls on the phone, plus the inspection of Leda’s automobile in the barn and its towing to the impound yard. By the time I get these typed up and to Rose Marie’s desk, the clock is inching toward six o’clock.
       I regret it, but for Leonard Vlamos it’s a lost day, as neither the chief nor the warden get back to me before my shift ends. I leave word with our dispatcher, Sami Joyce, that I will be available on my home telephone line over the week-end should I receive any calls. I’m hoping for a better day on Monday as I head for the east side of town to pick Charmaine up for our usual Saturday night dinner at the Harbor Grill. I don’t glance at myself in the hallway mirror. I don’t want to know what Charmaine is going to be looking at for the next four hours.


Early Monday morning, after coffee and donuts, I glance toward Rose Marie sitting at her desk in front of the chief’s still-darkened office. But as I search through my appointment book for the agenda for the day, the telephone rings and when I pick up the receiver, before I have a chance to identify myself, a clipped, near-military command comes over the line, “In my office, please, ASAP.” I look up to see the chief’s office suddenly ablaze with the blinds somewhat opened to allow him visibility of his precinct in action but enough privacy for him to remain invisible to the people he’s observing. As I pass Rose Marie, she gives me a flicker of a smile, looking down quickly to busy herself with paperwork.
Chief Gilligan is behind his desk, leaning on his elbows, his face resting on his fingers folded in front of his face. When he sees me, he unfolds them and motions me to close the door. As I turn toward him again, he waves me to sit down, his face inscrutable. Clearing his throat, he says, while opening a file, looking down at it as though reading,
       “When you saw Leonard Vlamos the other day…”
       “Counting this morning, three days ago, sir.”
       “Yes, I see that here. How did he seem to you?”
       “I’m not sure I understand?”
       “In what frame of mind would you say he was?”
       “He was anxious, nervous, worried about possible reprisals for actions he’d taken before and during the automobile-heist-and-parts-distribution operation, sir. And he called me yesterday in great distress. That’s when I attempted to reach you through your secretary.”
        “Yes. When you saw him, did he ask you for protection?”
        “He did. It’s in my report, sir, the one I left with Rose Marie on Friday. I told Mr. Vlamos that I could see the warden on his behalf and attempt to give him what protection could be offered. He refused solitary. I saw Warden Packston before leaving, sir, to inform him of Vlamos’ importance to us concerning an unsolved murder case and to ask for as much protection as he could provide. He informed me that this would be very limited unless Mr. Vlamos went to solitary.”
        “Yes, I’ve seen that in your report as well.”
        “When he called me yesterday in great distress, he gave me no chance to respond. Has something happen to him, sir.”
        “Yes. He has committed suicide, it would appear, with his shirt, during the night in his cell…”
“Who found him, sir? And at what time?”
“The guard who made the rounds at midnight. The time of death has not been determined precisely, but I’m sure Warden Packston will inform me as soon as he is told. It had to have occurred sometime during the hour before he was discovered. It appears that Vlamos used the top bunker bed post for his self-strangulation, while his roommate was gone, taken to the infirmary shortly before eleven p.m. The guard on the floor said nobody came or left Vlamos’ cell at any time, except the roommate and the guard who escorted him to the infirmary.”
       Suicide’s impossible for me to believe, Chief Gilligan. Mr. Vlamos was extremely concerned about his life which he showed every sign of wanting to save. In fact, it’s why he called me—for protection for himself and his wife. I even talked to Warden Packston about Vincent Moret…”
       “Yes, yes. That too is in the report. But there’s no evidence of foul play. Warden Packston will go through all the required procedures about this, of course, but Vlamos’ roommate stated to him the next morning—the fellow was vomiting the entire night in the infirmary—that the last thing Vlamos said to him was, ‘I might as well off myself now, ‘cause I’m dead meat if Weir doesn’t come through with the bank stake-out.’ What did he mean by that?”
       “The bank stake-out was his way of saying he wanted us to monitor his hidden account at Manhattan M&T as he requested of me during the visit. I was going to explain all this in person as soon as you returned from you meeting in Jersey City, sir. I did make notes as to his requests and my explanation of them, I think it’s on page three of….”
       “Well, despite getting in late Saturday night, I did read your report, and I received your message from Rose Marie concerning Leonard Vlamos and his hidden Manhattan’s M&T bank account. No, confound it, I’ll restate that. Rose Marie—bless her for what she does despite how it might be viewed by some others around here—she read me your report on the telephone, given my permission. Realizing the urgency in it—yes, she looked at it when you left it with her—she determined its contents together with your tone and manner when you left it with her on Saturday, required a call to my home. She left a message with my wife to have me call her upon my arrival which I did—I was in transit during the day on Saturday. She received my call very late at her home, but she had taken your reports with her so we were able to get on this the minute I arrived back in Tutterton. Unfortunately, I couldn’t call the appropriate people at M&T until this morning, which I did from my home phone as soon as the executive director arrived in his office. He was instantly cooperative, but it takes time for all this to be routed and looked into. I was getting ready to give him a follow-up call when his assistant called me, actually just before I called you into my office. The whole thing’s moot now, of course, not just because of Leonard Vlamos’ suicide, but the assistant informed me that the account has been closed.”
       Closed? Who got to it, sir? How? Did somebody impersonate Leda Vlamos or did she do it?”
       [light-hearted sigh] “Well, it seems Mrs. Vlamos, aka Leda Bella, came in and closed the account on Friday. She wanted the money immediately, but, of course, it took the day to do it, I mean, you can’t get that kinda cash that fast anywhere except at a Las Vegas casino, for heaven’s sakes. So as the manager was taking down everything I was telling him this morning, unbeknown to him, Mrs. Vlamos had already come in, cleared out the account, and taken off with the goods.”
       “I don’t understand. How did she sneak that much cash past the executive director without his knowing about it?”
       “Well, first of all, though seventy-five thousand dollars sounds like a huge sum of money, this bank processes millions monthly. And the executive director can’t possibly be alerted of all these transactions, so the handling of the smaller ones are through the various managers, Detective. We aren’t talking about Tutterton’s two banks here, one of which is so small it’s hardly worth mentioning. You hide seventy-five thousand in New York City, in a bank where business concerns are on the levels of Wall Street, where your amount isn’t likely to be noticed, or you hide it out of the country if you have the resources to get to it as needed. In this case, it was Manhattan M&T which is one of the big movers of moneys in the country.”
      [sighs] “I didn’t do so well with this whole auto fencing operation, sir. It seems to me that the people who’re really manipulating the strings on this are literally getting away with murder, and it’s been an oversight here, a getting too late there. I just dunno. It’s one of those times when it seems like I took two steps back for each one I took forward.”
       “Oh, now, don’t be so hard on yourself, Detective. It’s the nature of the business we’re in. I don’t tell you this often enough, but you’re the finest detective I’ve got in this department. No, I mean that, and I appreciate the efforts you make on each case that you work. This was a humdinger, as the old-timers say.”
       “Thank you, sir. But I’m having a hard time accepting Vincent Moretti’s likely involvement with impunity, at the very least, in Masterson’s murder.”
“I know. Gotta let some of them go as they stand, though, Detective. I’m not saying I think these are abandoned cases by any means. Over the years, I’ve seen very difficult cases brought to justice through patience and perseverance. Steady investigative work can play off. But this one and John Masterson’s are both out of our jurisdiction now in any case.”
        On the way to my desk, I reflected on the Chief’s words. It wasn’t often the hard-boiled man at the top gave us ditch-diggers words of encouragement, but I also noted that though he’s told me I was his finest detective, there are only two of us, and one of us is still wet behind the ears. Some days, like today, it feels like that’s me.


Almost two weeks later to the day, a thick brown special delivery letter falls on my desk at 9:16 a.m., the courier indicating with his finger where I’m to sign, this before he turns and leaves my desk, and is out the door on the run. I stare at the return address: L. B. Vlamos, 10th Straco,  #32, Durango City, Durango, MEXICO. The hand is barely legible, but I make out the name well enough and have to grin, even if it edges on a grimace. Leda Bella Vlamos. Guess the divorce she was longing for was dashed to the ground to make way for her new title of ‘widow’. She can use her maiden name anytime she chooses now, and it would be interesting to know if she ended up the beneficiary of Leonard’s full estate. It isn’t likely it could be anybody else since they have no children. If she was the beneficiary, with the house money and other property unknown to me, plus her heist account from M&T, she can pay for lawyers to do just about anything for her, so she’ll never have to show her face in this town again, which will be so much healthier for her if she doesn’t.
            I open the letter and leaned back to stare at the message it contains. There is no date. I read,
Dear Detective Weir,
            By the time you receive this letter, I will no longer be in Durango or in Mexico. The post wouldn’t let me send it without a return address, so I gave where I was. At any rate, there’s no forwarding address and nobody knows my present location except two friends who are with me. I left Tutterton in a rush after contacting an old friend from early New York City days, when Leonard and I first came to the States. I went to stay with her and her husband and found out he sometimes hid money in an account under his wife’s maiden name. Since they both were in on it, this worked out easily and well for them, the slow-moving gears of the IRS and other agencies not catching up with them until they were gone with the goods. But that’s another story with no time or space for here.
I began to wonder if Leo could have done with me what they did, as I was so uncurious about the paperwork I did for him. When he went to jail, he requested that his personal items be sent to him. It’s why he was so upset when I told him I no longer wanted to be married and help him anymore as his wife. I had gone through his papers, burning or getting rid of most of them that the police left behind, but, even before the police started their raid, I’d hidden his wallet and a few of his personal papers, including a copy of my birth certificate, of all things! Then when I got ready to leave for good, I went through his wallet once again, and under a flap in the money section, I found the account and routing numbers to Manhattan M&T Bank. So the rest is history.
The curious guy you are, you must be wondering how I got to where I am from my car left in the barn. I’m telling you this so you can put part of the search-and-find you’re doing to rest. I had the address of the barn from Leonard’s note, you know, so I figured if I left my sedan there with the glove-box mess, you would detect yourself right into some kind of story that fit. I sat on the papers and squirmed around to make it look like I may have been sitting in the passenger seat while somebody else (my kidnapper?) was driving. My friend’s husband is an amateur pilot, a buff of old planes. He picked me up on a road near the one with the barn in a delivery truck (of a friend of a friend’s,) and we went out to this private runway where he stores one of his planes—another barn, another story—and the delivery truck was left for his friend to return for him. He airlifted us to Jersey City where another friend of his put his plane in storage in his hanger, and where his wife, my friend from years ago, picked us up—she had her and her husband’s luggage fully packed, and we drove in their car to an airport in…well, let me just say where any APB, should there be one, wasn’t likely to be noted. From there, it was a seat by the window where I watched my past world float by down below.
I’m having the grandest time of my life, Detective. I’ve always wanted to travel, see the world, so I’m painting the towns red everywhere I go. When Leonard gets out, he may try to find me, with or without those goons trying to steal his fence money. I doubt that he’ll stick with his search, not even with the help of his friends. He’s too impatient. He’ll get all entangled in another scheme to earn money fast and get caught again. And I’m becoming pretty smart about how to operate in this world without him. Who would have guessed that I would fence the fence? It’s not a totally accurate definition but close enough for my satisfaction—I’m now the mover of his fenced assets, if you get my meaning.
You are a good man, Detective Weir. I appreciate all you did to try and help me. Oh, by the way, you remember when I told you that the weight I’d gained was intentional? It was all fake, a great pillow device from a theater shop in NYC. I’m hardly ravishing, but I’m certainly a sight more appealing then when you last saw me. I’m surprised you didn’t notice that my head was pretty small for that bulky body, but men aren’t known for looking at a size of a woman’s head, are they? Especially when they have so much more to look at elsewhere.
The very best to you, always,
Leda Bella, without the Vlamos.
I found the letter almost endearing except for the irony of the last phrase.


When I lift the ringing phone on my desk, I hear Benny Garfield’s voice on the other end of the line. Benny’s never called me at the precinct, but before I have a chance to be concerned about his welfare or that of his mother, he sputters in a long recitation as though delivering lines from a play, lines he’s afraid he’ll forget before getting to the end of his speech,
“Hallo, Detective Weir. Benny Garfield here inviting you to join me at the Main Street Diner if you aren’t otherwise occupied. I hope you don’t mind, but I got your number from Charmaine who promised me you wouldn’t mind.”
[big laugh] “Well, hallo yourself, Mr. Garfield. I’m delighted you asked for my number. In fact, you should memorize it and use it whenever you need to reach me for  any and all occasions, but especially for those like this one. I was just getting ready for lunch and our eating together would be a special pleasure.”
“That would be swell, sir. Just so as to be clear, I can pay for my own this time, which is going dutch, as they say. It’s what I can afford now, but I see other possibilities in the future.”
“I think I should take on this check today, Benny, since you made the effort to call me at the station. That’s a first, lad, and you need to be rewarded.”
“I wouldn’t a done but it’s raining out there, and I didn’t want to wait for you outside and get soaked. Regardless, I insist on Dutch seeings how I got a bonus on my route this week, but I’m hanging on to the most of it for Ma’s birthday comin’ up on Sunday.”
“A bonus? You’ll have to tell me about this. Where shall I meet you?”
“Oh, I’m at the diner already, saving our usual spot which was lucky to be empty. I think it’s got our name on it.”
“Like a church pew, you think?”
“I don’t know any church pew with names, but maybe folks around here are  getting the idea we aren’t to be trifled with.”
“Be there in a shake, or maybe I should say a malted.”
[laughter, and phone hang up]
[noise of the diner]
“Hallo, Benny. Thanks again for saving our booth.”
“I took the liberty to tell Charmaine to make it the usual with separate checks.  I  insist, sir. Next time, I might even spring for our desserts.”
“Tell me about this bonus you’ve garnered for yourself.”
“Because of a new promotion they’re doing at the paper—it’s route boy of the  month, and I got the first month. It comes with a fiver and a baseball cap with The Beacon Newsboy on it.”
“So why aren’t you wearing it.”
“Aw, it’s like crowing, you know? Besides it goes a little against my team’s  sponsor, the Tutterton bank, which when I wear a cap, it’s that one, like all the other guys on the team. Our coach thinks that’ll remind people to come out to the ballpark and support us and all.”
“Makes sense.”
[overvoice] [sounds of footsteps and plates down on the table]
Charmaine puts our plates in front of us and gives Benny a wink. She says,
“I see you did your magic.”
“Aw, he’s comin’ anyhow, but maybe my call hasten his arrival.”
[laughter from all] [pouring of water]
“He tell you about his bonus?”
“He did indeed. And I feel it’s cause for celebration, but he’s playing the man of the hour and wants to pay his own way.”
“Well, I think that’s just fine, but it’ll have to wait for another time. I’ve already figured the check and put the money in the till. Your lunches are on me, boys.”
“What a lovely gesture, Charmaine. I can accept this as long as I buy the popcorn at Benny’s next game.”
“Deal! Gotta go, place is buzzing today. See ya later.”
“I’m here to tell ya, you got the pick of the bunch with Charmaine Hollister,  Detective. She’s something else. I wouldn’t put off tomorrow what should be done today, sir.”
“Where in the world do you get all your little aphorisms, Benny. I know, I know, from the comics and those radio shows you listen to all the time. Still, how did you get to be such a wise old man at such a remarkably young age?”
“I try to practice what I preach, sir.”
“So you read the Bible as well as the comics, that it?”
“When Ma insists on it, and as little as possible, just enough to get by.”
[Weir’s laughter to fade]