“Sorry, that was a bad joke. Continue.”
“When that didn’t work, the Maloneys hired PIs.”
“That’s where you came in,” he said to me.
“I was just retired from the cops and I wasn’t licensed then, but yeah. I tracked the kid down to an apartment in the West Village where he was staying with his lover.”
“So the kid was a fag, huh?”
I ignored that. “When I tracked him down, he asked me to give him a few more days and that he’d come back to his family on his own and on his own terms. I agreed.
“But he never turned back up. For twenty years, I assumed he’d run again.”
“Such hubris, Moses,” said the priest, “to play God like that. You should have grabbed the boy by the scruff of his neck and dragged him back home.”
So much for my beatification. Blaney was right, of course. Not bringing Patrick home was the single biggest mistake of my life. Not confessing the truth to Katy was a close second.
“So what did happen?” Vandervoort was curious.
“I’m surprised you don’t know, sheriff.”
“There were rumors,” he said. “There was something about it in the local paper, but no details. Sometimes I think the people up here are still scared of the old man even though he’s dead.”
I was right, the sheriff was shrewder than he looked.
“A pissed-off dealer who worked the Village wanted to whack somebody as an example to his crew. It was Patrick Maloney’s unlucky day. They took him back to Brooklyn, tortured him, killed him, and wrapped him in a plastic shower curtain. They buried the body in an empty lot out by a Cypress Hills cemetery. A couple of years ago, I got a call from a hospice in Connecticut. One of the members of that old drug crew was dying and he wanted to confess about witnessing Patrick’s murder. How he located me is irrelevant. He died the next day. The cops found Patrick’s body right where the guy said it would be and Katy re-interred his remains here.”
“A Cypress Hills cemetery, did you say?” Fallon asked.
“Is that not near where Houdini is buried, Mr. Prager?”
“That’s right, Fallon.”
A somber smile washed over the caretaker’s face. “That being the case, it would seem the Maloney lad has perfected an escape Houdini never mastered.”
All of us understood and let the line hang there for a moment.
“What about the dealer?” Vandervoort broke the silence.
I withheld the information about Jack’s grave and the muddy visit to my front door. Whatever was going on was beyond the capacity of a small town cop to manage and, more importantly, it was personal.
“Anybody else you can think of who’d want to do this?”
“Like you implied, sheriff, my father-in-law was more feared than loved. So if it was only his headstone that had been fucked—destroyed, I could understand it. But what was done to Patrick’s grave was pretty extreme. I don’t know who would do something like that.”
That was no lie. This just seemed to come out of the blue. There was no significance to the date or season that I could tell, no precipitating event. There hadn’t been any mention in the media of the Maloneys or me or my cases in years. My brother Aaron and I hadn’t even opened a new wine shop in quite some time. With the exception of the phone call from Mary White, neither Katy nor I had had contact with anyone connected to Patrick or the events surrounding his disappearance since 1998. Even Rico Tripoli, the man who got me involved with the Maloneys in the first place, was dead.
“I’ll be taking my leave then,” the old priest said. He wasn’t asking permission. “I’ve nothing to add. Fallon … Sheriff … Deputy … Moses …”
But as Blaney stepped to the door, there was a knock. The other deputy and state crime scene investigator came in without waiting for an invitation.
“Well …” Vandervoort prompted.
“The scene’s a mess,” said the crime scene guy, frowning at the sheriff, “but you knew that already. Took lots of pictures, foot impressions, dusted the coffin lid, the headstones, bagged the roses. I’ve got some samples to take back to the lab. I’ll need elimination prints and shoe impressions from anyone who stepped on or near the site. Frankly, I’m not hopeful.”
That made two of us.
I called Sarah on my way back to Brooklyn and minimized the situation. There was no need to worry her about this stuff and I didn’t want her flying home. Although my secret about her Uncle Patrick had caused her parents to split, she really wasn’t a party to it. I couldn’t see a reason for making her one now. As promised, I rang Katy, but only after I got home. If we had chatted while I was close to Janus, it would have been too easy for her to talk me into coming over. Katy didn’t pick up, so I left a message. I preferred thinking she was asleep.
CARMELLA MELENDEZ WAS
in a foul mood, not like that was headline news or anything. The first time we met, she was cursing at her partner in the lobby of my old precinct house, the Six-O in Coney Island. The first words she ever said to me were, “Yo! You got a problem?”
The thing was, I
been staring at her. Her looks, in spite of the tough-bitch demeanor and foul mouth, invited staring. Carmella had coffee-and-cream skin, plush and pouty lips, and straight, jet black hair. She had a pleasantly curved and athletic body, but it was her paradoxical brown eyes from which I could not look away. They were fiery and cold all at once. It was easy for a man to lose his way in those eyes.
That was more than ten years ago, when she was maybe twenty-four and one of the youngest detectives on the NYPD. She took a lot of shit for getting the bump to detective at that age. Women take a lot of shit on the job no matter what. You can set your watch by it. If a guy had gotten the bump at that age, he would have taken a lot of crap too. But not all crap’s the same. For Carmella, no matter how it was couched, it always came down to her looks. Every day was a struggle for her to prove to the world she was more than just pussy on the hoof and that struggle put quite a sizeable chip on her shoulder. After I got to know her a little bit, I realized that chip had been there for quite a long time and for a very different reason. In any case, that chip got shot off her shoulder in ’89 during a gun battle at Crispo’s Bar in Red Hook.
Things had changed between us in the last eleven years. She was by no means less pleasing to look at. If anything, Carmella had blossomed from simply stunning to beautiful. The years had softened her harder edges and she had learned to dress and makeup to her strengths. If it
sounds like I’m a little in love with her, maybe I am. We even shared a kiss once that resonates to this day, but there are reasons we can never be together, reasons as solid as the wall of secrets I built over the years between Katy and me. We were also partners now: Prager & Melendez Investigations, Inc., established 1998. As Ferguson May, the late great philosopher of the 60th Precinct, was wont to say: “Don’t shit where you eat. Don’t fuck where you work.” Too bad Bill Shakespeare and Fergie May were born centuries apart.
“What the fuck’s eating you?” I asked Carmella, who had just slammed down the phone.
“I told him the lawyer wanted both digital and Polaroids of the accident scene and that brain-dead asshole only took digitals. Now he’s gotta go all the way back to the Bronx again today. Remind me why we hired him again.”
“The knucklehead’s trying,” I said, regretting the words even as they left my mouth.
“Trying! What the fuck do you get for trying in this fucking world?”
She had a point, but there was something else going on. I knew better than to make a frontal assault. Carmella would just clam up completely if I kept questioning her.
“I got us a new client.”
But instead of leaning forward as she normally would, she found something quite a bit more fascinating about her Starbucks cup.
“Hey, Carmella, did you hear me? Earth to Melendez, please come in.”
She forced herself to look my way. “A new client, yeah. Who is it?”
That got her attention and I explained about what had happened the day before. She did what a good detective does: she listened. When she was young, she’d been too much of a shark, too aggressive. Listening was a skill that had come to her over the years.
“Describe the tattoo again,” she said. As I spoke, she pulled something out of a brown shipping envelope on her desk. “Did it look something like this?”
Wrapped in clear plastic, it was a perfect likeness of a small illustration Patrick Maloney had done of the Chinese character and rose. He had given it to Jack when they were together. Jack left it to Mary. Mary had sent it to me in 1986 after her brother’s death. I’d given it to Katy during our first try at reconciliation. As far as I knew, she still had it.
“When did you get this?” I asked.
“Friday, in the mail.”
“Hey, Moe, if you spent more time here instead of at those stupid wine stores …” She didn’t finish the sentence.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Let me have a look at that envelope.”
She handed it over. “No return address.”
“Mailed from … Dayton, Ohio.” I got that sick feeling in my belly.
I flipped it over a few times, not sure what else I expected to find. There are few things in the world more generic than brown shipping envelopes.
“Bag it just in case,” I said, handing it back.
“In case of what?”
“I don’t know yet. Someone’s fucking with me and I don’t like it. Here, take this too.” I handed Carmella a list of names. Next to the names were addresses, phone numbers, descriptions. “Some of them are probably dead and a lot of the other info is old. Put Devo on it now. I want as much info as I can get on these folks by the time I get back.”
“Back from where?”
“What’s in Dayton?”
“Not what, who. Mary White, for one. And the person who mailed that package.”
Normally, I would have expected to get shit from Carmella for acting like the boss and telling her who to assign to what. And she would have been justified in giving it to me. Although I had put up seventy-five percent of the money to start the business, she was the one who did the heavy lifting. Carmella hired the staff and managed the office. She also worked the tough cases. For the most part, I worked cases here and there and collected my share of the profits. While I split my time between the wine stores and the office, Carmella was fully committed to Prager & Melendez Investigations, Inc.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked.
“So long, Moe. Bring me back some cheese.”
“What’s Ohio got?”
“I’m not even goin’ there.”
MARY WHITE SMELLED
of sweet perfume and mixed feelings when she greeted me at the door of her house. I think she was glad to see me as I was one of the few living connections to the best months of her brother’s life, but unhappy about why I’d come. I wasn’t too thrilled about that part myself.
“Come on in the kitchen. I’ll make us some tea.”
Jews are comfortable in the kitchen. As a people, we find vast comfort in food. We aren’t great cooks, but we are great eaters. I sat at the Formica table and watched Mary fuss with her pot and cups. She seemed out of sorts. But what did I know about her, really? We’d only met once before—at Patrick’s funeral—and spoken a couple of times on the phone. I did think having me there made her a little nervous. As heavy as Jack had been skinny, Mary wasn’t the type of woman to have had droves of gentlemen callers. She kind of reminded me of my Great Aunt Florence. Nice, but a bit socially awkward. A spinster, my mother called her. What an odd word, spinster.
The little brick house on the outskirts of Dayton was a 1950s museum piece: neat and clean and with all the original equipment. Mary caught me staring.
“This was our folks’ house and I inherited it. I suppose if Jack had lived longer, we might have sold it eventually. When you’re done with your tea, I’ll show you Jack’s old room.”
Walking around Jack’s perfectly preserved boyhood room was more than a bit spooky and only reinforced that museum feel. It was also reminiscent of my first visit to the Maloneys’ house. It was the second time Katy and I were together. The first time, we’d stood over a floater
that had surfaced in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. The cops thought it might’ve been Patrick. I couldn’t help thinking things might’ve been easier if the body
been Patrick’s. Anyway, Katy showed me Patrick’s room that day much as Mary was showing me Jack’s.
But in the Maloneys’ living room, there’d been a shrine to the family’s real pride and joy, Francis Jr. There were glass display cases that held all of the dead pilot’s high school trophies, his game balls, ribbons, loving cups, and assorted memorabilia. The cases also held photos of him in his dress Navy blues, his wings, and posthumously awarded medals. Katy had since given the game balls and other sports memorabilia to the high school and packed most of the other stuff away. There were no such displays here. Jack told me once that when he came out to his parents, they thought the solution was for him to go to more Reds games with his dad. They weren’t the kind of people to build shrines to their gay son.
I offered to take us over to the cemetery, but Mary insisted on driving. We made small talk on the way, Mary chatting about the nearby Air Force base, indicating local points of interest. Given the circumstances surrounding my visit, I wasn’t terribly interested. As we neared the cemetery, her conversation took a more serious turn.
“I don’t know what you hope to find, Mr. Prager. Like I said on the phone this morning when you called, I got rid of all the roses and I scrubbed the painting off the stone myself.”