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Jitterbug

 

Jitterbug

by Zara Brooks-Watson

 

Copyright © 2015 Zara Brooks-Watson

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from the author, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

As the purchaser/owner of this E-book, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this E-book on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.

 

Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the author/publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places; and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication:

 

[_ For the real Vincente Bonaventura, a lifelong devotee of Julius Rosenwald; my grandparents (a traveling cloth salesman and tailor, and his haberdasher-songwriter wife, Emma); my great-great grandfather Saolomon, an immigrant owner of a dry goods store in Jackson, Tennessee; my great-grandmother, Gracie of Hot Springs, Arkansas and Texas -- her mother, a resident of Louisiana; her dad, Emil -- and the real Romeo, my Pop’s pet bulldog -- who actually did match his black and white saddle shoes. _]

 

 

AMARE – transitive verb, Italian

amare – to love

io amo – i love

tu ami – you love

noi amiamo – we love

loro amano – they love

lo ho amato – i have loved

 

 

Part One

The Fuller Brush Man – The Hope of the Rural South

 

Chapter One

 

Evenings in suburban Chicago were dusky like only the late 1950‘s could produce. There were very few nuclear plants, only one or two experimental ones here and there. Instead, the brilliant pinks and yellows streaking across the mid-west horizon at sunset were from the nearby coal burning electric plants. In rural Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, a thick, sulfuric, rotting smell rolled across the cornfields before the sky turned to indigo in the evenings.

Toyota did not exist as a compact car manufacturer. Rambler did. There were not very many compact cars in America. Gasoline was about fifteen cents a gallon. Most cars were V-8’s, vinyl-upholstered and the size of a small pickup truck. The heater coil was usually broken on used vehicles -- giving passengers the stark, icy thrill of a freezer unit on the coldest days of winter. The plastic bench-style, non-bucket seats were like sitting on a frosty, crackling, plastic mattress that time of year -- waiting to sear your bare legs raw in the heat of the summer. Moving around in the summer on one of those plastic bench seats in a pair of shorts was a lot like ripping a large piece of duct tape off the back of your bare thighs.

_____

Vincente Bonaventura took the Chicago commuter train on the Burlington Northern line to work. He rode from the station near his new home in the suburbs to Union Station on Canal Street in downtown Chicago. Then he hopped a city bus from there to his job at the Sears building in Hyde Park, near Chicago’s South Side. His job was to paste up parts of the Sears Roebuck mail order catalog and type copy. All of his business machines were manual. He worked in a hospital green partition with a frosted glass top and sat at a huge gray metal desk.

With his white shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows (and in one of his satin vests), under the ubiquitous green glass glow of his desk lamp, he could type on his manual Royal upright as fast and as accurately as any female secretary.

__________

Eight years before that Vincente and Julietta Bonaventura began their journey to the north alone with a small dog, but without their twenty-some family members surrounding them, protecting them and interpreting the world for them. They were running. Running away from the love that Vince once knew with Emma, Julie’s mother, his wife. Running from the memories.

Running to? A bright, new future. A different kind of chance for his baby daughter?

 

A curtain opened slowly, revealing a beckoning, deep light as they drove towards Charlottesville. What will be? Will it be good -- or will it just lead them back to Louisiana?

 

Que sera sera…

__________

Driving into the beautiful afternoon sunlight, Vince began to hum to himself. He had fixed up Julietta’s basket in the back seat to get her out of the sun. He also stuck two of his t-shirts in the car windows to block the glare. He flipped the radio dial to a good song. Looking over his shoulder, he glanced into the back of the Studebaker. His heart stopped.

Due to arrive in Charlottesville, Virginia a few days after leaving his parents’ (Gracie and Saolomon’s) house in Shreveport, Vincente had stopped off to pick up some Fuller Brush supplies, then went to a local Texaco station to get some gasoline. Problem was, he was so excited about the Fuller business, that when he stopped for gas, he forgot something. Braking and rolling over to the side of the road, he inadvertently let a small cry escape his open mouth. Sweat broke out in small beads along his upper lip and a silent, single tear rolled down his cheek. He put the car into park, leaving the engine running.

He got out of the car and yanked the passenger side door open, pulling the front seat back and dropping the t-shirt covering the window into the dirt -- trampling it under his feet. He checked the floor of the car in the back. The puppy jumped out and toddled behind him, whimpering softly.

Julie’s basket was not there.

Vince sat down suddenly on the shoulder of the road, feeling faint, and buried his face in his hands moaning, “Oh, no. Oh, no…” Crying openly now, he lurched forward and used the hot, dusty side of the Studebaker to brace his arm as he got up. He put the dog back inside and started the car, making a three point turn. He accelerated in the opposite direction -- driving back the way he had come.

Vince was an unusually quiet man. The times made him so. There was a lot of violence down south and he was a minority, being Italian-American, so he and his family had experienced some of that unfortunate activity. English was his second language. Although he spoke it well, he still had an accent which did not help in public. Hiding in the shadows was something he had done since childhood. He was used to hiding his emotions too, especially in public. But now, the one thing he loved in this world was gone.

His daughter was everything to him and the fact that she was missing was his own fault. This was not due to persecution or prejudice. It was his own stupidity and his emotions broke loose like a huge wave tearing down a dam in a storm. He felt things he did not know he was even capable of. Feelings surged and re-surged inside his head and chest, welling up suddenly with a ferocity that he was unaccustomed to in himself. Maybe he had seen this in others, but not in himself.

The radio echoed around the car with the sounds of The Tennessee Waltz. Vince clicked the radio off with a grunt of anger and frustration. He began to think. Where had he been? He banged his fist on the steering wheel. He began to realize that he must have left Julie in her basket on the ground at the Texaco station about 30 miles back when he was filling up. He had taken Julie into the bathroom to change her diaper -- and then went to pay the attendant and get a quart of motor oil, starting the car, opening the hood of the Studebaker and pouring part of the quart into the engine. He must have put her down somewhere. Where had he left her?! Vince searched his mind frantically; he couldn’t see her basket anywhere in his mind‘s eye.

Tears coursed down his cheeks in heavy rivers. He could barely see. Loud sobs issued from deep in his chest. The sun was going down as hope began to trickle away from his mind. He had to hurry. The road was deserted except for him, so he pushed the accelerator down and roared forward, spewing road debris up against the sides of the Studebaker and almost anchoring the wheels in the weak dirt of that Tennessee road.

Within 15 minutes, he sighted the red Texaco star and seconds later pulled into the station, screeching to a stop in a billowing cloud of dust. The office of the station was dark, but the lights in the gas pumps were still on. Vince ran up to the door and began to pound on it, yelling, “Hello? Hello? Help me! This is an emergency! I need some help!” Nothing stirred. A dog began to bark somewhere nearby.

He raked his shaking fingers awkwardly through his hair. Thinking hard as sweat ran into his tears, he ran around the side of the service station, checking the ground for Julie’s basket as he did so. He heard a muffled noise at the back of the building and the rumble of a large service bay door being rolled up or down. Suddenly, a large black dog ran at him with his teeth bared, growling with the hair on his neck standing on end. Vince’s puppy ran around the corner of the building in the other direction, and hid underneath the Studebaker, his tiny tail between his legs.

Diesel! Come here. Down, boy!” shouted someone barely visible in the descending dusk. A man in greasy, oil-stained coveralls walked towards him and the threatening dog, carrying a leash. The mechanic shouted, “Damn it. Down, Diesel!” again. This time the dog sat down and stopped growling. The man looked Vince over and clipped the leash on the dog’s collar.

“I’m sorry,” he said, not smiling. He looked at Vince with a questioning air. “Diesel is a watch dog, so he’s not used to company. I leave him here at night locked in the station.” Relaxing a little, the man asked, “Can I help you?”

Vince replied, trying not to gasp after being frightened half to death by the dog, “Yes. Yes, sir. I accidentally left my baby here on the ground in a picnic basket when I bought some gas… about an hour ago.”

The mechanic frowned and ran a greasy hand over his furrowed forehead leaving a streak of motor oil across it. “Myyy…,” he mumbled, looking as if he was thinking back as he let the y roll. “This place is pretty busy sometimes, but I do remember some Mexican farm workers with a picnic basket driving a beat-up old Ford pickup. They did seem to be awfully excited over the basket. Talking and laughing and such…” The man paused, then extended his hand. “My name’s Eustis, Eustis Parker. I own this here station. Come on into my office.”

Vince shook his hand with a small, hopeful smile. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Parker.”

“Just call me Eustis. I think I know where those folks might be workin’. Let’s go on in and make a few phone calls. There aren’t many Mexicans around here and there are only two large farms in this locale that use ‘em. That pickup looked familiar, too. I knowed I seen it several times recently. Bet we can find ‘em. Come on, Mr.…”

“Bonaventura. My name’s Vince Bonaventura.”

“Okay, Mr. Ventura. Just follow me through the shop.”

“Thanks,” replied Vince, heaving a long sigh, beginning to like Parker a little better, still wincing at his accent and the mangling of his name. Despite that, he seemed to care, at least enough to open his office to him after hours.

Vince and Parker walked through the service area into a small office filled with containers of motor oil, a confederate flag, a deer rifle, a dusty box of ammunition, anti-freeze and the like. Vince sat down rather uncomfortably on the edge of a chair. It was the flag and the rifle that made him edgy. Eustis Parker went around his desk, picking up the phone as he threw himself tiredly into a green, vinyl padded swivel chair.

“ Been a long day,” he commented still looking down, opening a smudged phone book that lay underneath the dusty, over-sized confederate flag. “Ah, here we are,” he said as he ran his greasy finger down a page. He dialed the heavy black desk phone. Diesel lay down next to the desk. “I’m pretty sure that those guys work for the Whittaker farm. I’m giving them a call now.” Parker looked up and gave Vince a tentative smile. “I wouldn’t worry too much. I might have been closing when they picked her up. Those Mexican guys are okay -- they been here for years with no problems at all.”

Parker looked up at the ceiling as his call connected. “Bob? Hi, this is Eustis over at the Texaco station. Oh, just fine. Just wanted to talk to you about a couple of your farm hands. I got a guy here, name’s Vince Ventura. He accidentally forgot his baby daughter who was in a picnic basket at the station on the ground.

“I think I saw some of your workers pick her up. Yeah. Think you can go and check? It was those guys with the beat up blue Ford. Okay. Sure. I’ll wait…”

Parker put his hand over the mouthpiece and looked at Vince. “Whittaker is going to talk to them right now.”

Vincente wrung his hands and hunched over. Putting his elbows on his knees, he rubbed his face, feeling anxious, more worried about Julie than that stupid flag spluttering dust in the gas station fan.

Parker put the phone to his mouth again. Diesel got up, arched his huge black, shiny back and stretched, sauntering over to Eustis who scratched his head.

“Hi, yeah. Yeah, she was in a picnic basket.” Parker paused and wrinkled his forehead. Responding to the voice on the phone, he answered, “Uh. Dunno. I saw them with a basket and I thought they might work for you. Yeah, sure. If you hear anything, give me a call.” He looked over at Vince, worried, and said, “Jeez, I‘m sorry, Mr. Ventura. They don‘t have her. Those two guys packed their lunch in the basket.” Parker squinted at Vincente’s dark, shiny hair and deep brown eyes. Smirking, he looked down, a little embarrassed. Glancing at the dirty over-sized confederate flag, he added, still smirking, “You Mexican, or something?”

Vince shook his head no, tensing as he sensed Parker’s eye movements and the strangeness in the question. “I’m Italian,” he replied as his present deep hopeless feeling started to fill with a quiet screaming inner anxiety.

“Whittaker is calling the local police. They should be on their way over here in a few minutes.” Parker glanced at his watch. Talking into the phone again, Eustis said, “Thanks, Bob, appreciate it…Okay, bye.” Vince’s anxiety lessened again, maybe the local police would be helpful. Maybe they had already heard something.

In about ten minutes, a dusty beat-up police car pulled up close to the Texaco office and two cops got out.

Vince got up hurriedly and walked out the door at a slight run, clenching and unclenching the fists at his side, inadvertently starting to cry a little.

“Evenin‘,” said one of the cops, approaching Vincente with an odd careless expression on his face. He was wearing a rumpled, beige police uniform. The other officer unsnapped the sidearm at his bulging waist. He looked unduly threatening.

Confused, Vince stopped short of both policemen, wondering at their disheveled appearance. Beginning to sweat again and trying to hide his shaking, he greeted the first cop with as friendly a “Good evening” as he could stutter out, and extended his hand. The officer ignored him and his hand as he looked at Eustis, who mouthed the word “Dago…” behind Vince’s back and stifled a laugh. Vince, sensing the antagonism, looked past the officers, his eye catching the confederate flag sticker on the windshield of the police. Suddenly feeling heavier, he could feel his feet sink deeper into the dust of the gas station driveway. His heart followed his feet. He felt grimy just from the unfriendly presence of the two officers.

In fact, irrationally, he felt like leaving. Getting help elsewhere. He felt stupid. Like it would help to take off after losing his daughter here. He wished he had a revolver.

Both officers brushed past Vince and entered the station office behind Eustis, motioning to Vince to follow. They all took seats around Parker’s desk. The officer in the rumpled uniform took a dog-eared notebook out of his breast pocket and grabbed a pen from the desk. The other officer, his service weapon still unsnapped, took a plug of chewing tobacco from his own breast pocket and began to chew it noisily.

Parker tried to introduce both officers, but they interrupted him and simply blurted their names at Vince in a sort of rude way, one of them with his chin angled up, looking at the ceiling. The rumpled cop was Sam Miller and the tobacco-chewing officer was Don Adams. Adams pulled the trash can over to his chair and spit a long, ugly stream of brown juice into it.

Laughing at Adams’ disgusting display, Miller looked up at Vince with a smile still on his face and asked, “So you think you left your baby here? Sounds a bit irresponsible to me. Are you sure?”

Moving around in the squeaky vinyl chair nervously, Vincente cleared his throat and answered, “Yes. I’m sure I left her here. I was filling my engine with oil and…” Adams interrupted him with a loud sucking noise. Miller laughed again. In a whispering croak, Vince continued, “…I must have put her basket down next to the car.”

Miller went on speaking, “You stop anywhere else?”

“No,” answered Vince, mopping his sweating face with his handkerchief.

“You sure?” asked Miller.

Vince frowned, getting angry and answering in a louder voice, “Hell, yeah. I’m sure. Where‘s there to stop thirty minutes north of here except the woods?”

Adams withdrew the revolver in his holster and examined it, sucking on his tobacco even more loudly, spitting again into the trash can.

Miller looked up from his notebook and exclaimed, “Hey! We’re only tryin’ to help you. Calm down! If you are goin’ to act crazy, maybe we should take you in and try and unravel your story at the police station.” Even Eustis was beginning to look intimidated.

“What!?” cried Vince, trying to control his temper, thinking that he wanted to leave and get help later, maybe in Charlottesville. Not out in the country like this. Something definitely wasn’t right. “His dad would have to help him take care of this shit,” thought Vincente, feeling like dumping the contents of the trash can over Adam’s head and watching the brown goo drip down his head.

Adams spit into the trash can again, wiping a dribble of brown spit off his chin with the back of his hand, saying, “Okay, okay. Just give Officer Miller your contact information and we’ll put out a radio call for your daughter.” Adams got up and went into the office bathroom. Leaving the door slightly open, he began to urinate loudly.

Right about now, Vince’s mind was spinning wildly. He was fighting the urge to pass out. “These guys were going to kill him!” he thought with mounting anxiety. He gave his father’s phone number and address to Miller and asked him for his information. Miller gave him the station info. Vince asked if he could leave. Adams called from the bathroom, still urinating, “Hey! What kind of father are you? You have to give us a photograph and description of your daughter.”

Miller added with another, still ruder, smirk, “You sure you’re the father? You know you can’t do this unless you are. We have to notify her relatives and talk to them before we can do anything.”

Vince looked angrily at his now dirty saddle shoes and said in a controlled voice, “I’m her father.” Fishing in his wallet, he pulled out two photographs of Julietta, handing them to Miller. Adams walked up, wiping his hands on his pants and grabbed the photos out of Vince‘s hand.

“Those are recent photos. She looks exactly like that, presently.” Miller and Adams leered at the photographs as Miller repeated, “presently” sarcastically. Adams laughed and seemed to have had some trouble getting his girth back under his belt. His shirt now hung half out of his pants, showing his large, round belly clearly from the side. His weapon was now holstered, though.

Vince stood up, disgusted, deciding that the two cops’ help could be useless. He put his wallet away, starting to sidle out the door. Miller spoke up and smiled at him saying, “We’ll let you know if we hear anything.” Adams continued laughing and added, “Yeah, we’ll get in touch.”

Vince finally got through the gas station door and took a deep breath of fresh evening air, feeling like he was on fire. He could practically smell his hair burning up from his angry thoughts. As he walked past the police car to get to his Studebaker, he looked back at it memorizing the license plate and description, and saw a sticker depicting a burning cross on the back windshield. Surprise, surprise, surprise. He laughed quietly with irony and threw his car keys in the air, catching them deftly close to his body, before the three men in the Texaco station were aware that he was elated that they had let him go without threatening to take him into the station again.

Had to be careful in this part of the country. This area was like Caddo Parish, which was not only a little piece of heaven, but was also a little piece of hell. His dad would have to deal with this. With twelve adult men in his family, and friends throughout northern Louisiana, they would find Julie. They would do it themselves.

His feelings went as cold as ice. Difficult as it was, he knew he couldn’t look for Julie here all by himself, alone. That was getting to be very clear.

Vince looked for Romeo as the evening light got even dimmer, on the edge of a lightless, thickly layered southern night. He called the dog’s name and heard him whimpering. The puppy was cowering under the car near a tire. Vince pulled him out, cooing at him and petting him. Gently, he put him on the floor of the car on the passenger side, where the pup tried to climb up onto the car seat to get closer to the driver‘s side. Diesel came bounding out of the station as Vince hurriedly got in the car. Just as he slammed the door, the big black dog leaped at his window, baring his teeth again. Parker, Miller and Adams stood in front of the Texaco office, laughing nonchalantly and, in the case of Officer Adams, spitting.

Vince started his car, turned the headlights on and pulled out of the station, sorely tempted to run Diesel over, but wisely not doing so. Looking up through his windshield, he thanked the fading sunlight -- and whatever else was up there watching over him -- for letting him get out of there without getting hurt. He would need some help, all right.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Leaning into the pines surrounding the gas station, as if he was hiding -- and favoring his right leg, was a man who must have been over six feet tall. He limped over and paid Eustis (who hadn’t shut down the pumps yet) for gasoline. He watched Vince’s car pull out of the station and got back into his own car.

Quietly, almost soundlessly, the unnoticed gentleman drove away, heading in the same direction that Vince had gone, as if the stranger knew where Vince was going.

By the time Vincente got to Charlottesville, he was beat. He pulled up in front of Rosenbloom’s boarding house, an old Victorian home that his uncle had given him the address to. Registering and getting his room key, he dragged his exhausted body up the stairs, thinking about a hot shower and some dinner.

After his shower, Vince went back downstairs and out to the car to get the suitcase with the rest of his clothes, letting Romeo walk a little on his leash to relieve himself. As he opened the trunk, he noticed that there was a black bag stuck in the corner next to a few other things. He frowned and thought, “That’s odd. I don’t remember that bag. I don’t remember me or anyone else putting that there.” He grabbed the bag, which was rather heavy for its size and trundled both suitcases back along the street towards the porch in front of the rooming house. The puppy would be okay in the car until he made arrangements for him later with his new landlady.

A large, well-dressed man with a limp and a cane walked past him. He touched the brim of his fedora and smiled. Vince smiled back and said, “Nice evening.” The man said nothing in return, but nodded his head. He stared at the bags in Vince’s hands, but continued walking.

When Vince got back to his room, he sat down on his bed. Curious to see what was in the black bag, he set it down and unzipped it. Maybe this was a gift from one of his relatives. He poked at one of five identical packages, pulling one of them out. It was wrapped in what seemed to be some sort of Plasticine. Under that, it was wrapped in wax. He pulled his pen knife out and stuck it into the package, opening the Plasticine and making a slight incision in the wax. He smelled it. It did not have a scent. He poked his finger inside the incision.

The package seemed to be filled with powder. Who would give him something like that? Baby powder? No one would think he would need that much. There must be about two pounds per brick. He noticed a label on the side of the package; there was a small sticker that said “Plaster of Paris”.

Plaster? What the hell for? How did that get in his trunk anyway? It could not have been someone that mistook his car for theirs if they had to jimmy it. He had not opened the truck anywhere that he could remember. He thought for a moment. He tasted a touch of the powder on the wetted tip of his finger. Cocaine hydrochloride. He was sure of it.

Vince had been raised in the south and he knew coke when he tasted it. Uncut, too. The sweet taste of a glucose substance was not apparent. Until 1906 and the advent of the Pure Food and Drug Act, cocaine was not necessarily a labeled ingredient in the United States (which means it might have been in anything).

But by 1950, arrests were being made for non-medicinal powder cocaine trafficking, and Vince knew it. Up until that time, cocaine was basically legal, and widely available in the south. In the very early 1950’s, the penalties were not severe -- about 6 months in jail and a $600 fine. A lot for a poor person like Vince, devastating for anyone poorer, but not much for a dealer. Cocaine traffickers usually also dealt in the physically addictive drugs as well, such as Turkish morphine and heroin. So they had given him the lighter stuff. And then there was the gangster element and the violent conflicts between competing mobs in the cities. That’s what gave Vince the shivers as he rationalized his situation.

He thought of his daughter at the gasoline station and felt a prickling sensation up and down his spine. He got off the bed and looked at himself in the mirror. There were dark shadows under his eyes. He began to cry, also making wheezing noises from exhaustion.

Historically, cocaine was used mainly in the black community to increase work output and was introduced to them during the slave trade. It was used universally for toothaches and eye surgery, as well, since cocaine is also a topical anesthetic. It was also used recreationally among upper class professional artists at parties.

There were three more small boxes made of wood covering the cocaine packages, lightly hiding them. One contained about twenty Cuban cigars, labeled in Spanish (which, of course, Vincente could read). Another box contained maybe thirty small, brass-colored, round tins. He had no idea what they were. They were labeled, maybe, in Cyrillic -- Russian?

He frowned. This was no gift. He thought of the gas station. Gas stations down south often used and produced counterfeit tax stamps, mislabeling cocaine as a medicine in order to transport it for recreational use elsewhere. This must have been something that Eustis Parker was involved in. Shaking his head, he saw a note that had fallen to the bottom of the bag. He picked it up and opened it. The note read:

 

By now, you have noticed this bag and its contents. Perhaps you do not know what is in the bag. You do not need to know. The chess set is yours, a gift from an old friend.

We know that you travel with your baby daughter. If you want her, and you, to remain safe, follow these instructions. First, you must wrap this as a package to be mailed. Then, you must mail it without a return address to: General Delivery, Allston York, Princeton Department of Archaeology, Princeton, New Jersey. As soon as the package is received in New Jersey, your daughter will be returned unharmed. And you, too, will be safe.

Vince grimaced, rubbing his forehead. He opened the last box and gasped as he saw the finely-crafted bejeweled chess set. He fingered it. Cocaine, cigars and some strange tins being mailed to a Princeton address? He thought it must be for a Princeton graduation, or fraternity house celebration. A slightly tarnished gift of some sort, but more likely a wealthy dealer. Folks used cocaine down south, but he had heard of the large amounts of money powder cocaine commanded up north -- especially among the wealthy and well-educated. This was a new form of cocaine, not the lowland cocaine grown down south.

It was certainly an expensive-looking gift. All they needed to add was 1907 Heidsieck Monopole champagne -- which was truly Ivy League. Or a Chopard blue diamond. Vince was glad they hadn‘t. He felt disgusted.

But why would he have been chosen to deliver it? And what old “friend” would threaten him and his daughter, know he played chess and make him send this package? Why not do it themselves? Unless…

Unless, the cocaine could lead someone to a cartel or a part of the mob that usually had a drug smuggling route that included harder drugs such as heroin and morphine -- or Mexican farm workers. Their usual trafficking route must have been under surveillance.

He heard the dog bark outside in the car. His mind was swirling in confusion, searching back to an easier place in time. A place he had just left. “Why now?” he thought. He was just starting a new job and had brazenly taken his infant daughter with him, against the advice of his mother. The thought made him feel dizzy.

He was so tired that he crawled into the bed, imagining Julie lying next to him and putting his arm around her tiny body. He fell asleep in his clothing, missing dinner, drowsily thinking that he’d better go get Romeo and bring him inside. He had let him out earlier to pee and fed him, but thought it wiser to talk to his new landlady about the puppy in the morning. Romeo was a good pup, he would be fine until the next day. He had left a couple of the car windows slightly open. Vince planned to get down to the car early, anyway. His exhaustion didn’t let him move further than the edge of the bed. His dreams drifted back to Louisiana and filled his spirit with cypress trees and great blue heron. In a dream, he saw Julie as an older child, sitting in a piroguí, both arms reaching out for him.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Emma, Vincente’s wife, passed away in a rural Cholera epidemic the same year that Julietta was born. Vince and his family barely saved the infant from the same fate. From that point on, Julie was motherless. And now, Julie, too, was gone.

Emma was such a clear memory in Vincente’s mind, it was as if she was still there, perhaps lingering down the hall in another room. He could feel her now, in Charlottesville. She would have liked this town. Not being a town girl, she would have liked it anyway. He knew for sure. Being away from the bayou would not have been a choice she would have made easily. Not to wake up in the morning to the call of a snowy egret, or go to sleep with the sound of rushing water.

He could hear her walking down the hallway in his sleep. Waking later in the night, he looked for her in the room as the full weight of his situation fell upon his consciousness again.

_______

Emma moved in with Vincente’s family when they got married. Her family made filé (dried, ground Sassafras leaves) for Cajun gumbo, sold fresh catfish, spice bags for gumbo and jambalaya, and a few other products and medicines from the bayou. Her family was mostly from Coushatta, between Bistineau Lake and Clear Lake, but closer to Clear Lake.

The two of them had met on Texas Street in downtown Shreveport where she would go to bring her products to the stores there. Vince and his family walked the same streets supplying retail stores with unusual bolts of cloth (shipped in from their contacts in the cloth mills of Manhattan and other parts of the south via rail), hats and men’s clothes -- and putting up the family tailoring signs.

The “profit” Vince’s ancestors made growing fruit, cashews, pecans and almonds (which we would call pocket change these days) was eventually invested in cloth, needles, a few spools of thread and other tailoring necessities they could use with their hand-crank portable non-electric tabletop sewing machine. They sold their handmade clothes up and down the Red River, especially in Mooringsport. They were pretty much respected by that time and the quality of their tailoring was as well.

 

His family also bought their supplies in Mooringsport or on one of the docks. Earlier, and even more conveniently, Emma’s family bought some of their needs from a “traveling salesman” who carried his goods on his back in a very large backpack, walking some parts of rural America and sleeping in the woods or in a flat-bottomed boat -- if the poor guy survived the thieves, wolves, mountain lions, broken bones, twisted muscles, cottonmouths, rattlers, copperheads and bear -- worms, disease, insects, isolation and madness.

And around the swamps of northern Louisiana, ‘gators as well.

Emma was both Caddo Indian, and a little Cajun. She had been raised in one of the local houseboat neighborhoods on the bayou. She knew the swamps like an alligator and owned her own piroguí from which she used to gaff bullfrogs and catfish -- gathering herbs, medicines and other foods. Emma’s breaded, fried frog’s legs, herbed catfish, crayfish étouffé and cornbread hush-puppies were the best they ever tasted -- pure heaven. Gigged the frogs and catfish herself, too.

_______

Guess anyone could understand why Vincente would want to ease his sorrow and put some distance between him and his memories of Emma -- whom he loved like a sister and a friend, as well as a wife. He was taking Julie and Romeo to Charlottesville, Virginia to start a new life as a Fuller Brush man and put some distance between him and the place where Emma had died. He wanted to do something really different -- something urban --something urbane with plenty of concrete and without the romantic pain his memories invoked close to the misty swamps of Louisiana. Not that he would ever leave the bayou or want to forget about it. As he rolled over, falling asleep again, even in Charlottesville he saw the rising mist of the early evening swamp clearly in his dreams. His thoughts flew like birds into the orange of the setting sun and disappeared deeply into its cooling heat. Just as when he was a boy observing the conflicts of Mooringsport he withdrew by trying to grab onto some familiar train of thought, some beautiful natural thing with the same futility.

His mind drifted to the huge cypress tree that Emma had loved so much. In his dreams, he lofted to the top of the hundred foot gargantuan and looked into the clear night sky. The stars were so bright, close and large it was as if he was levitating into the clouds. He just could not go back and see these things until the pain of Emma’s death had dimmed.

He had really wanted to make a break from farming, fishing and tailoring. At least he was willing to try and do so. Fuller Brush had a reputation for either quick wealth -- or quick demise and shame (including some public embarrassment). Department stores were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they were to become ten years hence, in the sixties. People would order whole cases of cleaning fluids from Fuller Brush and other door-to-door vendors, that was the big box sales that he would be after. Large orders was where the money was.

He had thought about earning some serious cash. Might make him feel better.

Since Vince needed to have some time to himself after Emma’s death -- and his dad, Gracie and the rest of his family needed his extra income when he could afford to send them something -- the family agreed to let him go. Assuming that he made anything.

 

It was time to start something new; the energy was there. With promises and love, the family went through the whole Italian thing of having a series of big family meals, hugging everyone as many times as they could grab hold of them, and saying good bye for three days.

 

Gracie and Saolomon and their other relatives put their money together and gave Vince an old black, two-door Studebaker, a couple of dark blue plaid, cloth-covered suitcases and, of course, a new suit. They also gave him some extra money for gasoline or whatever else he might need. And sundries such as bow ties, fancy string ties and cuff links.

He thought about the hopeful and excited way he had started his journey to Virginia a few days ago. His chest caught on another sob.

Julietta’s full glass baby bottles had clanked in the ice surrounding their metal carrier inside an ice bucket. A red-checkered picnic basket was filled with his mother’s cooking, paper plates, silverware, napkins and a thermos of cold shrimp gumbo. Julie was placed inside another padded picnic basket on top of a thick, folded hand-knit cotton blanket.

__________

With the baby strapped in her basket beside him, the puppy curled in his lap, his saddle shoe tapping on the floor of the car keeping time, he sang in his pretty tenor voice to the radio as he drove into the still southern night. The trees were just starting to drip darkness and the moon was coming up full and cool as he drove like a zephyr across the borders of Louisiana and Mississippi, entering Tennessee, until his new home in Charlottesville was only a few hours away. He was thinking of the words his mother had left him with: Portere lei vive lungo e diventare prospero. Roughly translated from the Italian it means: stay healthy and make some money, we love you.

 

And that place in Tennessee, only four hours away from Charlottesville, was going to make all the difference to the three of them for the next eight years of their lives. That damn Texaco station.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

The next morning Vince awoke with the sun, ran outside and walked Romeo, carried him upstairs, showered, shaved and changed his clothing. Now that he was rested, he had to call his family so that they could follow up on what had happened in Tennessee. His new job started today. He had to have a plan. He had to send that package.

So, now he was a drug smuggler. There were no tax stamps on the coke packages, counterfeit or otherwise. And drug smuggling was tax evasion in 1950. Tax evasion on a large scale was a felony. And Vince did not know what size the cartel was. If there was a cartel. He knew the federal government was organizing an early version of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The other things in the bag worried him. They could be stolen, otherwise

why choose him to carry them? With the threat to his child, he would have to complete the mailing. His mind went blank and then nervously traveled back to Eustis Parker and the gas station in Tennessee. His hands shook as he fingered the objects in the bag. He felt faint and began to sweat as the sun came up higher and the southern heat increased, even with the windows open.

It did not give him much smacking satisfaction that he was probably working for a wealthy, upper class, maybe even ivy league drug cartel -- and not getting paid -- except with a rather nice chess set.

He thought quietly for a moment. There was a lot of smuggling from south of the border throughout the southern states. A lot of drug transportation. Maybe the Mexicans that Eustis thought had Julie were involved. They could have been go-betweens that put the bag in his car to get him closer to the all-white, wealthy, ivy league crowd at Princeton. That’s where the big money was. They were more than probably in the United States illegally and just helping whoever put the bag there -- and were not the real kidnappers. Why would they risk their jobs? Maybe for money.

 

Eustis must be a connection. How perfect? Just change vehicles at a gas station. Or the Mexicans and Eustis; all three of them. And the local police. Possibly others as well. Gas station owners were notorious down south as tax stamp forgers and go-betweens for smugglers of all sorts, especially cocaine smugglers. Vince shook his head, he just didn’t know. He wrung his damp hands together in useless frustration.

Vincente knew that cocaine was not addictive like opium or its derivatives. He knew that many folks who worked overnight and late night second jobs used it to stay awake. Or, in the case of Princeton, to study for days at a time -- or party all night. Looked like a good party was contained in this bag. Just in time for graduation. At the price of a chess set … which he had no intention of keeping.

The real danger of coke was using it after forty or fifty years of age; it was the danger of arterial sclerosis or clogging your heart’s arteries with undigested food fats. It was the danger of heart attack or stroke due to hardening of the arteries. Or pregnant women combining it with too much alcohol and tension, which could cause birth defects.

Other than that, he felt, there was no need to criminalize it -- and he had no objection to the drug used properly. But, then again, he thought as he put on a yellow, brocaded, satin vest -- he had a lot of opinions that were not shared with others.

There was something about that guy that passed him on the street last night. The stranger he had said hello to. Something pulled at his memory. Even the guy’s limp had looked familiar.

He had just played into their hands with his clumsiness. He was pretty sure that someone must have followed him. Maybe all the way from Shreveport. He was damn sure of it. Someone might be watching him right now. And how did they know where he was going unless they had spoken to his family? So, maybe whoever had taken his daughter actually knew his family. That could make finding her easier or more difficult.

He went downstairs and got a cardboard grocery box, heavy brown grocery paper, packing tape and a black grease pencil. His landlady was not up yet, so he had the full run of the kitchen.

Vince’s nerves started to bother him. He became manic. The memory of that guy on the street last night bothered him, as well. It rang bells in his brain that went unanswered and hurt as if he had a headache. He ran upstairs with the box and packing things. He packed the cardboard box, taped it shut and wrapped it in the grocery paper, addressing the thing as directed with the grease pencil. He sat down on the bed next to his Fuller Brush bag, picking up the telephone extension, first making sure no one was on the phone. He called his dad in Louisiana.

“Hi, Pop. How’s it goin’?”

“Vincente?! Bonjourno! How are you? What’s so important that you have to call me? Did you make it to Charlottesville, yet?”

“Yeah, I’m at Rosenbloom’s. I have a problem, poppa.”

“What is it?”

“You remember Bannister Willis?”

“Oh, yeah. Of course, I do. He was like a brother to you when you were a child. What about him?”

“I think I saw him yesterday. I barely recognized him.”

 

“Last time I saw Bannister was when you and he were both ten years old and he was minding the family still. He was a small boy, skinny. At the time, the Willis family was bootlegging local moonshine. Good stuff too. Bannister was a quiet, well-mannered boy nonetheless. Not a hooligan like some of the other sharecropper boys at the Jones’ Plantation. Smart. Even knew how to distill all by himself.”

“Yeah. We used to trade dime novels until the Feds ruined their whiskey business and Bannister disappeared.” Vince thought to himself, silently, for a moment. “He had that small birthmark underneath his left eye, remember?”

“Yes, I remember. So, what’s the problem, anyway?”

 

Vince hesitated and said, “Pop, I don‘t want to get you upset, but I had a problem in Tennessee. I forgot Julie outside at a gas station and had to go back to get her. When I got to the place, no one knew where she was. I couldn‘t find her.”

Vincente!”

“Yeah, Pop. On top of that, there were two klansmen working as cops. I think you need to take the family down there. It’s near Kingsport. In fact, the cops were part of the Kingsport police department. I know you can do something about this. Just find Julie, papa. Find her.” Vince paused, broke down and started crying again, his eyes still puffy from the night before. After getting control of himself, he went on, “Didn’t the Willis family move to South America and start growing highland coca?”

His dad’s voice got rough, “Yes, they did. I believe you used to play with that stuff too. I know you took my toothache pills into town.”

“Yeah, dad. I did,” Vince answered. He thought to himself, “Bannister would hound him? They had been friends. Good friends. The best of friends. Played chess together too. That was the clue to the kidnapper’s identity. He had known then, when he had seen the chess set.

“[_ He always had a book. For a kid who was the son of sharecroppers, and who rarely had the opportunity to go to school -- he was unusually smart. Bannister knew more mathematics than he did, which was a lot. How he learned, Vince did not know. The man he saw on the street might have had that birthmark. But Vince had not thought to look closely enough at the time. There was nothing odd about the man. But he was dressed too richly for the neighborhood and the birth mark was very small, easily covered by a pair of sunglasses. _]

Next time. If there was one.”

“Why are you thinking about Bannister now? You think he would do something like this?”

“No,” responded Vincente, “I can’t imagine him doing anything like this, but I think I saw him yesterday. Also, someone put a bag filled with cocaine in the trunk of the Studebaker with a note saying that I have to send it to Princeton in order to get Julie back.”

“Then do it, son,” replied his father, his voice filled with anxiety. “I have to get the family together. We’ll be on our way to Kingsport in about an hour.”

“Take the hunting rifles and hand guns.”

“I will. I’ll call you tonight and let you know what we found out.”

“Okay, dad. I have to get ready to work.” Vince said goodbye to his father and hung up the phone.

Vince went into the bathroom and washed his face. Feeling more refreshed, he took the package with the coke in it downstairs and put it in the trunk of the Studebaker. He drove to his newly assigned Fuller Brush area to start selling, parking on a corner so he could start working his way down the street, knocking on doors. There was no way he could afford his rent if he did not go to work. He was still tired from the drive and crazy with worry. It would not help Julie to get thrown out of his boarding house for lack of rent right now, though.

The beauty of the day awoke happiness in him like a sorely needed elixir deep inside of his heart. He forgot his troubles for just that moment. He felt like lifting up his arms to the sun and the sky. He stretched the arm carrying the Fuller bag, adjusted his wide-brimmed felt hat, faking a smile, he walked up to the next house and rang the door bell.

By the time it was one o’clock, he had done pretty darn well, selling quite a bit of his stock in the morning. Fuller Brush had a good reputation for quality and folks were aware of that. He did not think the Charlottesville area had ever had a Fuller salesman before. The house wives who answered their doors seemed willing to buy his cleaning products at a discount a case at a time. He had orders for products he would have to pick up during the week and deliver later.

Strolling down a street suffused with a million shades of chartreuse and darker greens, he turned a corner, entering the downtown area of Charlottesville. He had two meatloaf sandwiches that Mrs. Rosenbloom had prepared for him last night. His stomach growled. He walked down a shady block where the stores were compacted into small, three story, ornately carved granite with wood-paneled entranceways and large floor-to-ceiling display windows. Most places had their doors open to let in the afternoon breeze.

His eyes caught an unusual storefront, covered with ivy and shrouded with beaded curtains. In the window was a large pretty sign advertising that the place was a “Tea Room”. Another sign proclaimed, “Reader and Advisor”.

He needed to sit down and get out of the sun. A cup of tea would be just right about now with his lunch. He walked through the beaded curtain quietly on the rubber soles of his saddle shoes. Still, he felt too loud. He never knew his shoes squeaked that much. He started to giggle under his breath. It felt like an empty church, or an empty symphony hall. And there was a spooky echo. A slight one.

Hello?” he called into the dark, empty room containing a book shelf, a glass display case and two or three small, round café tables. “Hello?” he repeated into the sparsely furnished room.

“Hello!” a woman’s high musical voice answered back through a winding labyrinth of old-fashioned wooden stairs leading up to a large balustraded balcony that extended towards the back of the store. “I’ll be right with you.” The flowery aroma of different teas seemed to trail along with her voice. “Please make yourself comfortable.”

Vincente went over to the book shelf. There were many books on astrology, astronomy, yoga, the reading of faces and hands, the use of herbal medicines and such. He took out a book on phrenology and sat down at a table, opening the bag with his sandwiches in it.

__________

The Rosenbloom’s boarding house was on a corner in the Fifeville-Castle Hill area. Vincente had gotten his area assignment from Fuller then he walked Charlottesville and drove to outlying towns such as Stanton, selling fine brushes, cleaning supplies, hair tonic, etc. Fuller Brush can be tiring with a lot of foot-work involved.

Knocking on doors up and down the sunny streets of the south had its price, and on this day, Vince was finding it hard to move after finishing his sandwiches, still perusing the book and looking for the source of the voice that had spoken to him earlier. The scent of tea made him look up towards the back of the store again.

Oh…” exclaimed a heavy-set woman in a floor length multi-colored gown as she glided, rather than walked, towards him carrying a steaming tea pot and two mugs. “There you are.”

_______

You’re the father of the little girl that is missing?”

Vincente looked up, shocked, surprised and angry. And, after all that had happened -- a little wary. “Don’t worry,” said the woman softly. “I’m a friend.” She put the tea pot on a trivet set on the little table and put a woven cozy over it, setting one large mug in front of Vince and one in front of herself. “This tea was brewed especially for you. When I knew you were about here, I added the lemon grass to refresh you. I think you do especially well with lemon grass.”

Vince wrinkled his forehead and raised an eyebrow.

“You don’t believe me?”

Vince made a deferring gesture. “I’ve heard many things about tea rooms.”

The woman removed the cozy and poured their tea saying, “Good and bad…?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I have much to tell you. My name, by the way, is Mrs. Vanetta Jones Solaris. My talent is natural, runs in my family and has been mine since birth.”

“Oh,” responded Vincente. Extending his hand, he said, “My name’s Vincente Bonaventura.”

She did not take his hand in the proffered gesture. Instead, she turned it palm up and covered it with both her own, closing her eyes. “We have been protecting you since you left your previous home. The Mexican gentlemen you heard about before … before you arrived here, are members of our spiritual community. To us, no one is ordinary. They are friends.” The reader opened her eyes and viewed Vince’s open-faced surprise with amusement. “Although we look different and are from different countries and cultures, we are the same.”

Mexicans?” thought Vincente. He could not remember seeing any Mexicans in Charlottesville. “Ah…” he thought back to the incident in Tennessee. Now he could recall. There had been so much on his mind with his new job, meeting the public all day, everything. It was true that he had some doubts about those fellows. They could have put the bag in his car. They could have Julie.

Mrs. Solaris spoke again, closing her eyes again, still holding Vincente’s hand, “Don’t worry. The Mexicans have your daughter. She will not be harmed. They are taking good care of her, that’s why she is there. There was somewhat of a mix-up. You are very close to finding her, but tell your father to be careful. There is death ahead. He should be very, very careful. There are many people involved in your daughter’s kidnapping, some of whom are violent. Some of whom were not aware of the kidnapping plan.”

Mrs. Solaris put five objects on the little, round table: a small shell, a glittering rock, a piece of birch bark, a small piece of cut crystal and a chunk of dried red clay. She opened her eyes and put a pair of glasses on, smoothing Vince’s hand flat on the table, examining the lines of his palm. He glanced at his steaming cup of tea. It had an unusually succulent aroma.

“Go ahead and drink some tea,” the woman said. “Look at these objects and choose the one you like the best. Feel the attraction…” She hesitated and continued, “You are tired. You are a very lucky man -- do not worry. We will guide you through this difficult time. You could have lost your beautiful daughter. But we sent our brethren to protect her. She will not be harmed.”

The tall, dark shadow of a man cast a chill as it passed by the beaded curtain at the front of the store.

Mrs. Solaris seemed to withdraw from Vincente’s hand and crumple a little. Panting and sighing loudly, she poured her own tea. She took a sip and came back to herself, smiling at Vince. “You will have to hurry to get to the Post Office.” Vincente shuffled his feet with anxiety. Her psychic abilities made him just a little uncomfortable, but inexplicably relieved. He thought he just wanted to believe in Vanetta.

“Yes,” said the reader with a glassine laugh. “We know.”

Vince took a deep drink of the refreshing tea.

“You were simply a hapless visitor that foiled a rogue. But the rogue still took advantage of you. And will again for many years. In the end, though, you will foil him.”

Vince thought, “Many years? How many years?” He became agitated and tried to hide his feelings from Mrs. Solaris, which might be futile if this psychic stuff was real. If it wasn’t, she was the most hospitable and comforting criminal he had ever met. He did not want to think about this if she had gotten her information from the drug cartel that had stolen his daughter. If she was, why would she tell him where Julie was? Assuming Julie was where Vanetta said she was.

_______

His mother had offered to raise Julie herself, but Vince could not part with her. He was twenty years old and definitely wanted the comfort of her presence. She was somebody to talk to. Somebody to laugh with. Somebody to teach how to laugh. Somebody to teach how to talk.

Vince and Julie even looked alike. It would have been like splitting up twins. Julie had his deep brown eyes and ultra-thick, ultra-long eyelashes, which he had to trim to fit behind wire-rim glasses because they brushed against the lenses and bothered him. They both had two deep dimples, one on each cheek. They were like twins, and you know twins. Julie. He had to protect Julie. He had to find Julie.

__________

Now, there was this business of the cocaine, possible drug smugglers -- and that chess set. Vince felt that he was being followed. He must have been followed. Who would trust a complete stranger with a package worth that much? He was feeling that maybe he was not that much of a stranger, either. It was a very creepy feeling. He shifted position in his chair and glanced over his shoulder out the window, as if watching his thoughts fly like the east coast sparrows into the bright afternoon, Charlottesville sun, disappearing into the glare, leaving his feelings as unfinished as the birds seemed to evaporate.

Still sitting in the tea room, Vanetta Solaris both guided him and made him nervous to complete the sending of the package. He had stayed much too late, but was suffering from some sort of exhaustion. Really suffering. He could fall asleep right here. The worst thought he had was thinking that Mrs. Solaris might be a look-out for the drug smugglers. And wondering about her if she was not. Was that possible? It was simply serendipity that he had walked in here.

It was around four p.m. when Vince hurriedly left the tea room. He ran to his car and drove recklessly to the Post Office. Leaping up the stairs two at a time, he swore as he yanked on the locked door. It was closed. Why had he waited so long? He was so damn tired. Vanetta Solaris had just lulled him into resting. And trusting her, just like a Louisiana country bumpkin. But there was something sweet and pure about her. Truly guiding.

 

Vince’s father did not call that night. Instead, Vince called his home in Caddo and spoke to his mother who told him that his cousins and uncles had left that morning and there was no news right now. As soon as there was, she assured him that she would have someone call him.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Vincente woke up the next morning at sunrise feeling dumpy and cheap, with a scratchy five o‘clock shadow. He had slept in his undershirt and dress pants and was drenched in sweat in the Charlottesville summer heat. Romeo was whining to go outside. He groaned. He could barely think above a whisper. He had been in the rooming house two days and had not crawled under the covers of his bed even once, not that the heat would permit him to even use a sheet.

The phone rang. He answered it quickly, before Mrs. Rosenbloom could wake up. It was his father.

“Vincente? We are in Kingsport. We’ve been here since last night. Miller and Adams are dead. It looks like a murder. Both men were shot and drowned in a local lake. Their police car was found submerged yesterday.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. We also might have an idea where to find Julie.”

Vince thought about Vanetta Solaris. “Did you hear about the Mexican farm workers at the Whittaker farm?”

“Hunh? No.”

“Maybe you should go over to Bob Whittaker’s and take a look around. Be careful, whoever killed Miller and Adams might still be around.” Vince paused and added, “Perhaps that is a bad idea. We don’t want to provoke these people, but if you can go over there quietly at night and sneak around, listening…”

“Did you send the package? It will take at least a week to get to Princeton.”

“No, pop. I am going to do that today. I had to work yesterday and by the time I got to the Post Office, it was closed.”

Shit, Vincente!

“I know. I know. Dad…I couldn’t…”

“Fuck the job. Go over there now.” Peeling his damp shirt off as he listened to his father, Vince threw it on the bed next to his dog. His unshaven whiskers were irritating. Everything was irritating.

“Okay, pop. See if you can get a look at the Whittaker place tonight.”

“We will. I’ll talk to the rest of the family. Take care of yourself. I‘ll call as soon as I can.”

“Okay, dad. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Vince put on a fresh shirt and put the puppy on his leash, walking unsteadily down the stairs, feeling like a drunk. Mrs. Rosenbloom, his landlady, smiled up at him and said, “Why…good morning Mr. Bonaventura. How are you this wonderful, summer’s day?”

Vince frowned and looked at her. She seemed to blur in his vision. He lied and said, “Fine. Couldn’t be finer.”

Everyone looked like a criminal to him right now. Dear, sweet Mrs. Rosenbloom was just another gangster moll who called on Vanetta Solaris late at night when everyone was asleep and planned his demise and gave her updates on what he was doing.

“What would you like for breakfast? Pancakes, eggs, coffee?” continued the insistently sunny Mrs. Rosenbloom. Suddenly serious, she added, “How about some caviar?”

Vince’s stomach flipped over twice as he continued walking the dog to the front door. “Anything is fine. No coffee for me.” He paused at her last statement and asked, “Caviar?”

“Yes. You have some rather expensive caviar on your dresser.”

Vincente remembered the gold tin he had forgotten to pack. He looked at his landlady quizzically.

“ I read and speak Russian fluently. The tin of caviar you have is very rare. It is called Golden Serlet in English. The tin you have is hermetically sealed, so it must be pasteurized, which decreases its value. Although that tin is probably still worth over a hundred dollars. It is one of the most valuable kinds of caviar, from Sturgeon -- possibly from the Caspian Sea.”

Vincente choked.

She continued, “It is rather good with eggs, though. And a little crème fraiche.” She laughed lightly with a sparkle in her eye. “I have some fresh pumpernickel to go with it.”

He answered, hesitantly, “Uh. No, no… that’s okay. I’ll save it. It was a gift from a wealthy friend.”

Mrs. Rosenbloom looked at him strangely and nodded her head in agreement. She bent over and cooed at Romeo who wagged his ass.

“Oh,” replied Vince, getting dizzy. “…really.”

She hesitated and looked at Vince with a gentler smile asking, “Are you sure that you are feeling okay this morning?”

Vince felt a tear rise in his eye. He answered quickly, “Oh yes. Of course. Just have to get used to the new town. Makes going door-to-door more difficult if you do not know the streets.”

“Of course. I understand,” replied Mrs. Rosenbloom gently, patting his shoulder warmly.

_______

After bathing and changing his clothes , he felt better -- but still empty and too light -- like he wasn’t there. Slapping on his Old Spice after shave in the bedroom mirror, he stared at the box, which he had brought in from the car. Unreasonable anger flared in his mind. He was thinking that he should just open it and flush the contents down the toilet. If it hadn't been for his missing daughter, he might have done just that.

He noticed the mysterious golden tin on his dresser that he had left there by mistake and had not packed it in the box to be mailed. He was feeling so frustrated that he had forgotten it there. Mrs. Rosenbloom must have seen it when she tried to wake him for dinner.

Mrs. Solaris’ psychic reading had been amazing. Vincente figured once his paranoia dimmed, he would be a regular visitor. He was more used to psychics than one would think. He was just busy being flummoxed right now. Being from Louisiana, soothsayers were no strangers to him.

But the tall, well-dressed man that stood around the corner with a frown, watching Vincente put the box back into the trunk of his car after eating breakfast, was.

_______

Late in the afternoon, as a light breeze picked up and it began to rain, Vincente stopped working, drove to the Post Office, and got the box out of the trunk of the Studebaker. He put Romeo on his leash, having decided to take him along this morning for company, even though Mrs. Rosenbloom had said it was okay to leave him in the kitchen or her fenced-in back yard when he was at work.

A gray-haired, overweight postal clerk gave him the eye as he turned the package over and looked at it. He commented to Vince in a heavy lisp, “General Delivery is not as secure as a regular address.” He paused. “No return address?”

“I travel,” responded Vincente (mildly truthful). “I won’t be in any one place long enough to use a return address. It will be picked up. I will phone ahead.” Vince laid a ten dollar bill on the counter with emphasis.

“It’s up to you,” said the clerk with a sardonic shrug, pasting on the postage and putting the parcel in a bin.

“Thank you,” said Vince.

As he turned to leave, feeling way better, Romeo began to growl and strain on his leash. Vince saw a tall man in a baggy, shapeless beige London Fog trench coat standing against a far wall -- staring at him and making a mean face at the dog. The man’s broad-brimmed hat was low over his face.

“ Come on, Romeo,” whispered Vince, letting his memory jog at something slowly. The way the man was holding his umbrella -- like a cane. And even the funny, shadowy way this man had. Like he could blend in with a tree or even a wall. Then he thought that he noticed a small dark crescent underneath the man’s left eye. The man had on a pair of large-framed sunglasses, so the birthmark under his left eye was hard to see. He thought it was there, though.

The shadowy man from the Texaco in Tennessee? The one that bought his gas when the station was closed? The man who had smiled at him briefly in passing the other evening? Bannister Willis? Or was he just plain crazy?

Glad to be rid of the package, Vince just wanted the thing behind him. He tried to look more closely at the man’s face, but couldn’t see anything clearly. Turning away quickly, he doubled his speed to the car.

Damn,” he thought. And snapped his fingers in frustration.

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

The cry of a cat, or a kitten, woke Vincente the next morning. It was a faint cry, searching, barely audible. Vince rolled over in his bed and listened again, holding his breath. He heard the weak cry lofting in the air coming into his bedroom window.

He jumped off his bed with a surge of nervous intuition and slammed down the stairs. Thank god Mrs. Rosenbloom wasn’t there as he opened the wooden front door and broke the latch on the screen door impatiently. His forehead was already dripping perspiration. He let out a cry as he sensed something off to the right of the porch, hidden behind the railing. He could see a baby’s arms waving above the rim of a basket, and heard a small inquiring sound coming from that area.

Mia carissima, mia carissima…” said Vince softly as he leaped over and picked the basket up. It was Julie. She looked worried, but started to smile at him and cooed when he kissed her. She looked a little confused and worried, but fine, well fed, rosy-cheeked and healthy. The smugglers had kept their word with a timeliness that astonished but gratified him. How had they known exactly when he had mailed the package. Perhaps the strange man in the post office. Vince telephoned the Princeton post office in the weeks following his sending the package, and they reported that the package had been picked up. Lucky he didn’t get in trouble for doing that. But he didn’t. No one in Princeton had questioned him about the contents of the package. Vince concentrated on his Fuller job and learning the streets around Charlottesville. Calling his family in Louisiana every evening, regardless of the cost.

Time went on and Vince had no more to do with the drug traffickers. He was not sure if the man who he assumed had followed him was Bannister Willis or not. It had become almost irrelevant once he had gotten Julie back.

Vincente and Julietta lived in Charlottesville for about four years, until Vince felt that he needed new territory to sell door-to-door. Julie was walking and talking by that time. Nana Dora Steinmetz, a close friend recommended by Mrs. Rosenbloom, remained her baby sitter the entire time, even after they moved from Mrs. Rosenbloom’s rooming house to a small apartment.

Vince concentrated on his Fuller job and learning the streets around Charlottesville.

During their fourth year in Charlottesville, he started thinking about moving to Philadelphia as his next Fuller location and considered signing with the Electrolux vacuum cleaner company. There had been no more trouble with the drug smuggling ring and no more hidden packages to be delivered.

He had opened the tin of caviar eventually to check and see if it contained heroin or anything, which it did not. It was just plain good caviar and he ate it with scrambled eggs for a light dinner -- minus the crème fraiche.

Vincente took the short drive to Philadelphia in 1954. Pennsylvania was as far north as he wanted to go right now. Philadelphia had sounded really good to him and the elders of his family. It was located about an hour or two from Wilmington, Delaware -- Trenton, New Jersey -- Arlington, Virginia -- Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland to name just a few large urban areas -- and was even mildly close to the Big Apple: New York City.

In Philly, there was a much larger Italian-American community than Shreveport. Vince arrived at Antonio Palumbo’s rooming house near Giorgio’s market in the Bella Vista section of town when it was still spring. The neighborhood was talented, cheap and friendly but very urban. It was, though, in the middle of an outdoor fruit and vegetable market. Vince hired a part-time babysitter from Palumbo’s when he had to work. It was cramped since there was only one room. But no one minded it. Rooming houses can be very friendly, like one big family.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney played the local clubs frequently along with other Italian-American singers. Vince knew some of them to talk to. Their recorded music could be heard (along with Italy’s most recent hits) from inside some of the local nightclubs outside on the street during the day. There were loudspeakers near the markets on the sidewalks near the open-air vegetable, seafood and fruit stands.

Large, glossy framed posters of the stars were in shop windows here and there around the neighborhood. Vincente visited the nightclubs to listen occasionally when one of these famous vocalists played in town. Even though Julie was very young, and usually fell asleep in her dad’s arms, he took her with him sometimes.

They eventually moved to an apartment across town from Bella Vista where there was a small, upwardly mobile Italian community forming, installed a telephone and connected with Fuller Brush in Wilmington, which was new territory. Fuller Brush assigned territories to their salesmen and he was usually given the territory that he asked for since he was one of their top salespeople. His bank roll started increasing from $2,000 to about $5,000. Wilmington, Delaware is right next to Philly, just about a half an hour away.

He also bought a treasured three-speed phonograph and started a collection of small, single song records -- one song on each side, usually 45 rpm or 78 rpm.

Soon after that, Vincente felt that he was ready to sign with Electrolux, so he purchased the vacuum cleaner sample (with all the attachments, which came in a red velvet case) and drove into the smaller areas outside of urban Philadelphia. By the late spring of 1956, he was having a great time in central Wilmington, selling both Electrolux and Fuller Brush. The dogwood trees spread their shade over the lawns of dozens of small houses. He was intoxicated with his success and the beauty of the countryside surrounding the new towns he was working in.

He was also becoming interested in houses that had lawn space. Very.

By the middle of the summer, he had started working in a few new neighborhoods outside of Wilmington -- pretty much all the way into Atlantic City. Then, came more trouble from the drug smugglers from down south.

__________

Vincente opened his trunk, towards the end of his day, in order to put his Electrolux vacuum sample in it and recoiled with a look of disgust and anger. Another bag. He reached in, opened it, saw the contents and zipped it again. More cocaine, or heroin -- Turkish morphine -- or god-knows-what. The note simply had the former Princeton address on it and an addition that said, “You will know what to do with this.” His anger turned to rage. How many times had he transported a bag like this from Philadelphia to Atlantic City or Wilmington without his knowing it? Probably many times.

They seemed to know how to pop the trunk with an easy facility without leaving a scratch. If it didn't have to be mailed, it could have happened. He felt pretty helpless. He was afraid to involve the police -- and the smugglers knew it. They must, by now. He was afraid the cops would think his participation was willing. Maybe because he was Italian. He was pretty convinced that they could think he was lying, especially after what had happened in Tennessee with Miller and Adams. Such things sour folks against relying on the police for their understanding and help.

He rarely used the trunk and the only reason he had seen the bag today was because he had to put the Electrolux in there so he could pick Julietta up from another babysitter‘s house because the regular babysitter who took care of his daughter at the rooming house was busy today.

Obviously, he was to be afraid of those who put the bag there. And he was, a little. He looked around, knowing there was someone watching him. He suppressed the urge to wave and smile in irony at the empty street.

Sons of bitches,” he thought, giving in to his usual ritual of swearing.

He pulled the bag out of his trunk and put it on the curb. Getting into his car, he started the engine and drove around the corner, parking behind a hedge. He walked to the corner again and leaned against a brownstone, peering at the bag, hiding himself around the corner behind the brownstone. Within a couple of minutes, a silver Mercedes drove up and a tall man got out of the back seat, picked up the bag and got back into the car. The same man he had seen in Charlottesville. There seemed to be a man in the front wearing a chauffeur’s cap. They drove away.

Vince smiled to himself. “Assholes,” he thought, relieved that the bag was gone. A little afraid because he had gotten so bold.

 

 

Chapter Seven

Julie’s basket sat on the ground in the dust. Her blanket moved. She gurgled. She was awake. As her hands and knees shifted the baby blanket back and forth, she made a few small noises -- like she was calling her dad. But daddy did not come.

The sun was setting. Suddenly, there was the sound of a door opening and a very large black Labrador appeared. It began to sniff at the corner of the building and lifted its leg. It continued sniffing until it rounded another corner and saw Julie’s basket. The dog began to bark at the movement in the basket, moved towards it and lowered its head, drooling out of the corner of its mouth.

Diesel! Diesel, what’s wrong, boy?” called a voice over the dog’s growling, getting closer, following the dog’s path around the building. A man in greasy coveralls appeared, wiping his oil-stained hands on a dirty rag.

“Whoa! What’d you find?” the man said as he approached the basket. Peering in at Julie, he frowned. “A baby?” he said to himself quizzically, commanding the dog to back off.

A car pulled into the Texaco station, raising dust. The man in coveralls, Eustis Parker, instinctively picked the basket up. Diesel wagged his tail as a tall, well-dressed man walked over to them.

“Hi, Professor…” said Eustis.

“What have you got there?” asked the man, looking at the movement in the basket.

“Someone left a baby here,” replied Eustis.

“Shit. We don’t need any complications right now. I just drove from our Peruvian plantation and I think I was followed. I just purified some coke in our lab down there. I do not want to risk my job at Princeton by getting caught. Things were so much simpler before my cousins got involved with heroin and morphine.”

“It’s just a baby,” said Eustis, answering the tall man’s first question.

“ Yeah, and I might know whose baby it is, too. I have never seen the child before, but I have heard about her. I followed someone here from Shreveport, just in case he could -- or would -- help us with the transport. Serendipity, but perhaps an opportunity. We are both from the same area. I think I can blackmail him into working for us, but I don‘t want the baby. Too much trouble.

“Automatically, the Feds will move in. A kidnapping charge is not what I want on top of everything else. Right now they only suspect harder drugs than cocaine. They do not know that I only deal with the coke. But I do not want to lead them to Princeton…or my family, such that they are. But a compound felony is not a good thing.”

The well-dressed man hesitated, then said strongly, “Put the basket down. Maybe someone will come back for it. Her father will notice that she is missing at some point. If it takes too long, we can get someone to care for her for a while and then return her. I don’t want to talk to the child’s father. I do not think he would recognize me, but I cannot take the chance. The Feds won’t think a guy with a small baby would be driving for our cartel. I doubt he has any reputation for criminal behavior or drug dealing which is good for us.” The tall man pointed his cane at Eustis aggressively and said in a louder voice, “Let him come back and get his child.”

Dust rose in billows from the dirt road about a city block away. There were thunking noises from truck tires slamming in and out of dry pot holes. A light blue Ford pickup full of dents and rust appeared. It approached the Texaco station.

Shit,” said the tall man, again. “Put that thing down. I must go. They can’t see me here.” The man hesitated and then poked Eustis hard with his walking cane. He repeated, angrily, “Put it down and go inside. Now!”

Eustis did what he was told, rubbing his arm and swearing under his breath. The tall man’s car started quietly and pulled away just in time to hide before the pickup pulled into the station with its radio blaring a song in Spanish.

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

In 1954 Electrolux changed from a hundred dollar, very heavy weight vacuum cleaner to the new Model E pull-along floor canister, which was only 37 pounds (with the air-powered floor polisher and scrubber going for only $29.75). The same year (the year the Model E came out) Electrolux became very competitive with Hoover, especially since department stores did not necessarily carry lightweight vacuums like that. If there was even a department store locally. Your local door-to-door salesman was the only place to get one.

Most vacuums had a stand-up handle, a headlight and weighed about a hundred pounds. They were devious and could get away from one, as well as being difficult to maneuver. Generally speaking, they also sounded like a Boeing 747 landing about thirty feet away right inside your living room, and felt like a small truck if they ran over your foot.

So the fact that Vince had waited to sign with Electrolux worked out really well.

Julie was at home in their new apartment in Philly learning to read with Mrs. Mulvania Harris, another big sweet Nana who lived in their townhouse on a different floor. At Palumbo’s rooming house, she had had a regular babysitter only when Vince was working. He had done all the cooking. Now, Mrs. Harris usually did dinner and their food during the day.

Also in 1954, RCA came out with the first color television. Although it was 1956, Vince still thought the new thousand dollar TV was way too expensive, but had been considering a used black and white television for a while. After all, it had taken a full year to save his first thousand dollars. They all listened to a large RCA radio the size of a breadbox in the mean time.

________

It was a sweltering August. The heat usually drove everyone inside to seek the solace of a fan and some shade at some point during their day. Early one afternoon, Mrs. Harris heard a loud cracking knock at the door downstairs, along with a loud sob and a groan.

Julie dropped the book she and Mulvania Harris had been reading together on the rug with a slap as Mrs. Harris jumped up from her cozy living room chair. She ran to the front door of the apartment and then downstairs calling loudly, “Who is it?” Mumbling to herself with concern, Mrs. Harris tried to peer through the frosted glass in the walnut door at the bottom of the stairs before she unlatched it, leaving the chain on. Julie heard her scream and ran to peek down the stairwell in the hallway on their third floor landing.

Mrs. Harris called loudly again, “Oh my…oh my, dear. What…?

Turning to look upstairs to the third floor landing, she yelled at Julie to go inside and close the door as the second floor tenants opened their door to see what all the commotion was. Julietta did not obey her Nanny and hung between their slightly opened apartment door and the landing, crawling over to sit on the landing floor to peek through the banister posts. Nana Harris had on her big flowered full-length apron, which reached from her neck to the bottom of her skirt, her skirt being mid-calf as well. It looked as if it was getting splattered with something downstairs.

The smell of Nana’s oxtail-leek soup drifted out of the apartment and into the air of the landing, mixing with other dinner smells as neighbors ran to the downstairs door to help. Mr. Peters, who was a retired bus driver, dropped his newspaper on the floor of his landing and hurried down to the front door. He reached the open door just as Vincente staggered in, his white dress shirt torn in back from the collar to his bloody shirttail.

Peters grabbed him as he suddenly lurched to the floor, one arm in front of him. Sitting down, Vince buried his bruised face in his hands, his ubiquitous glasses missing from his cut-up nose.

Nana Harris ran up and down the front stairs from the kitchen to the front entranceway as streetcars thundered by the forgotten open doors, bringing damp dishtowels to wipe Vince’s head and bloody hands. One of his eyes was swollen shut and his beautiful red lips were cut open and bleeding. Mr. Peters and a couple of other neighbors from next door that had seen Vince from the street helped him, half walking him -- half carrying him -- up to the third floor.

When Vincente saw Julie, her eyes wide with fear, he tried to smile and said gently in a husky, quiet voice, “Hi, Morning Star…” A tear rolled down his battered face.

Peters and another neighbor put Vince on his iron-framed bed and cleaned his wounds. Nana Harris went down to the pharmacy to get some bandages to close the worst cuts and some Epsom salts to heal any bruises. Vince’s body was bruised all over. Julie snuck quietly down the hall and sank to the floor right outside the open bedroom door to listen as Mr. Peters and the men from their neighborhood asked him what had happened and dragged the large floor fan in from the living room and set it up.

“I was just starting to work on the outskirts of a few new neighborhoods in Atlantic City. I wanted to stay near the oceanfront in this heat. I was thinking I could eat my lunch there this afternoon near the coolness of the water, when some fellows who were standing on a street corner started to harass me. I just ignored them and walked away.

“The youngest of them followed me down the street. I could hear someone behind me. I felt the person shove me in the back and it caught me off balance. I turned around and said, ‘Hey, what’s the problem?’

 

“The youngster hauled off and hit me in the mouth and knocked me down. He punched me some more, and then grabbed my sample vacuum and ran down the block with it. When I ran after him, he put the vacuum down and really laid into me. He wasn’t much taller than me, but a lot stronger and larger across the chest.” Vince reached up ruefully, felt his cut nose, and mumbled, “Broke my glasses…”

“Lucky he didn’t break your nose. What in tarnation made you chase a rascal like that?” said another of the men, peering into the bedroom after listening from the doorway.

 

Vince winced when Mrs. Harris put some rubbing alcohol on the deep cut on his nose, panting he laid back into the pillow on his bed, putting an injured leg up on a sofa cushion placed at the bottom of his bed for that purpose.

“ He took the vacuum. Even the sample machines are new. They’re worth quite a bit of money. I will have to pay for another one. The vacuum was out of its case, but I dropped the other case with the attachments in it somewhere -- I don’t know where. He probably got that too. Besides that, the young tough tore my good dress shirt in the back, right down from the collar. See?” he said, leaning forward to show Peters and the others. After thinking a bit, Vince added, “I’ll have to get another shirt.”

“You should call the doctor and tell the police,” Peters commented angrily.

Vince groaned and tried to look at him. He grunted in pain again and turned to speak to Peters with a dry laugh, “The police brought me home. I was lucky there was an Italian cop around. They know. I am pretty much okay. I just look a little rough. There is no point in pursuing it any further; it will just cause more trouble than it is worth. I would just as soon lose that vacuum and the case than tangle with the three men who took it.”

As an afterthought, Vince added, “The two other men on the corner with the boy were older guys. They were laughing from across the street when that kid chased me down the block and punched me out. There were a few other folks out in their back yards as well, but they were too far away to help -- or they were too frightened to do anything.”

“But…you should see them punished.”

“Peters, if that boy can do that in that neighborhood in broad daylight, with the neighbors looking on, a poor man wouldn’t have a frog’s chance in a pocket of rocks in a courtroom. I would just as soon let it go. Besides I don‘t know where they come from. I couldn‘t find them again.”

Tom Peters shook his head and walked over to the open bedroom window, looking out and closing the drapery so that the hot summer sun would not heat up the room or lay its heavy hand on Vince’s already perspiring brow.

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack,

all dressed in black, black, black…

with silver buttons, buttons, buttons,

all down her back, back, back…”

(American Traditional)

 

A small, thin figure slid down the midnight-darkened city street. The woman was dressed all in black with a tight black scarf covering her head and another black scarf covering the lower part of her face bandit style. The figure made no noise at all. Not a stone was rattled, nor gravel disturbed. The street lights were placed at odd intervals here, and it was easy to glide in and out of the shadows.

Duncan Scott, Davey’s father, was walking home from a double shift in the City of Philadelphia’s maintenance department. He thought of the beating his son had given that stupid vacuum cleaner salesman and thought to himself, laughing, “That’ll teach that little shit to drop my coke shipment on the sidewalk.”

He was bone tired and a little drunk, having stopped off at a bar down the street from City Hall. He stumbled a little over the curb. Damn street light was no use at all. He swore to himself. No moonlight or starlight, either. He stumbled again and felt someone at his side, like a whoosh of cool air.

He cried out as a stabbing pain hit his foot when he tripped over another curb clumsily. He felt a hand shove him further down. A hand that should have been too small to do anything if he had been sober. He twisted and fell on his back with his leg caught underneath him. It hurt. He felt more pain in his already twisted ankle. Before he could look up and see the slight figure in dark clothing grin at him underneath her bandit-style black face scarf, he passed out. “Good, you old bastard,” the woman in black said and skipped backwards agilely watching him, laughing at his stupidity.

 

She jumped so high, high, high,

She touched the sky, sky, sky…

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack,

all dressed in black, black, black…”

The tiny woman drew a long, serrated kitchen knife out from beneath her clothing, came back near the man’s body and reached over Duncan Scott and touched his throat with the tip of the knife. Like she was going to cut his throat. Which she was. For a moment. Suddenly, she stopped and looked up. The sky opened and the stars began to appear. She had a vision of her young son dressed in his striped t-shirt and over-sized blue jeans holding his favorite red metal miniature toy car and a baseball. He was growing so fast, getting so big. He was going to be as big as her father, who was a very large man. She was doing this for both of them.

Duncan Scott was a heroin dealer and was ruining her neighborhood. But she thought of her son and the fact that if she did this she might not see him again. She might not ever be able to watch him grow up. She heard his voice saying, “No, mommy! Don’t do it. Come home.”

She threw the knife into some bushes and said to the still unconscious Duncan Scott, “You better not touch my boy with that god-damned shit, or I’ll ‘git you the next time. You’ll be drunk and late again, sure as shittin‘, you will.” She heard her son’s voice again, answering, “Don‘t worry, mommy. I‘ll be good. Come home.”

She looked at the sky and said, “You’d better be, or I’ll be back out here and take care of business the next time. I don’t care how old you are.”

Come home, mommy. Come home,” answered the voice in the sky.

Duncan got up some time later, when he had sobered a bit. He remembered the woman, although he had not seen her very clearly. He stood up, swore and stretched his back, looking at his watch. His wife would want to know why he was so late. He turned around suddenly towards his house and slammed right into a light post. The night had darkened again. He had brained himself on the lamppost and passed out spread-eagle on the sidewalk.

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

Vincente had gotten the name of the cop that had brought him home. Some of the neighbors who had witnessed the fight gave them the names of the three men who had been standing around on the street. They were known in that neighborhood.

The cop, Nico Rocco, came by the next day to visit Vincente. Walking into the bedroom, he stood against the wall and stared at Vince lying under the sheet. Vince closed a book he had been reading. Rocco questioned him about his injuries and asked if he had been out last night. Vince said, “No,” and looked at him in amazement, stating that his face and ribs hurt and his left ankle was twisted and swollen. All he wanted to do was stay home, listen to the radio and read. Rocco laughed in sympathy and looked down at the floor. He told the cop that he had to hop and hold onto the wall even to make it to the bathroom.

The policeman told him that there had been another fight on the same street where he had been assaulted and that they thought someone that had been involved in the assault had thrown a knife into the bushes. It was a long, serrated kitchen knife. Someone in the neighborhood, as well as the injured party, had seen their suspect and described the person as very small, possibly a woman or girl. Possibly a black woman. But the victim said it was too dark to see much of anything.” Rocco said, “It seems even from the victim’s testimony, that his assailant was way too small to be you, but I had to check everything. The girl brained Duncan Scott with a ‘something like’ a tire iron. In the face. Or so he said.” Rocco looked doubtful as Vince frowned. He continued, “Duncan Scott’s son has been identified by their neighbors as the kid that beat you up yesterday. Scott has a lump the size of a baseball on his forehead. And a cut with stitches in it that makes it look more like a baseball. He could get the Yankees to sign it.” They both laughed.

Rocco also spoke to Nana Harris who verified that Vincente had not left the apartment last night. She had stayed all night to take care of Vince and Julie.

He asked to check the knives in their kitchen, which he did much to Nana’s dismay. Not finding what he was looking for, Rocco thanked her, reassuring her that Vince was not a suspect in the assault that he was investigating, since he was an invalid, had an alibi and was too large to fit the description they had of the alleged perpetrator. He smiled at her and left her with her mouth slightly agape.

Vince was pretty sure the drug smugglers were angry with him for leaving the cocaine bag on the curb. Guess losing his Electrolux sample was payment for it. He was sure that they were involved in setting up the beating on that street. Maybe even the assault later that night. Lucky that’s all they did to him. If it was them. He didn’t know who the Scotts were, but suspected that they were involved in the drug trade, too. Maybe Duncan Scott had an adversary in the drug business.

He had been speaking to some folks in his old neighborhood of Bella Vista, up by Giorgio’s, about the theft and the two beatings. He was pretty disgusted. The folks from the rooming house had talked him up about moving to Boston. It would be too far to be useful in shipping cocaine, even unknowingly, to Princeton. He told Nana Harris and Julie that they had told him about some good inexpensive house rentals in the Field’s Corner area of Dorchester (which was right outside of downtown Boston). They also told him that the Boston suburbs were extensive, easy to access by car and great places for door-to-door sales.

He was running again. This time, from something different.

Vince’s took a couple of weeks off work to rest and think. His face began to heal quickly. It would have been hard to sell house to house with two black eyes. He was tired of the south and Philadelphia and wanted to leave. The urban areas around Philly, including New York City, were not appealing to him anymore -- especially with him being an unwitting coke (or whatever) trafficker. His family was originally from New York City (where they had come in from Naples) and he did not want to go back that way -- too big, too urban -- too soon -- too risky.

He started to talk about living closer to the ocean, Dorchester Bay and tree-lined streets. Where he lived in Philadelphia, the architecture was mostly decorated with concrete and contiguous row houses without much for a “backyard” except a small space in front of the alley and the trashcans. There weren’t many trees either.

“They have an Italian neighborhood in the North End of Boston where anyone who wants it can get pepperoni, Italian cold cuts, fresh pasta and cheeses. And find a good deli,” Vince had exclaimed with a smirk of delight, while talking to one of his neighbors. “And there is another open air market like the one on South Ninth Street -- next to Boston’s Haymarket Square in Government Center, right across from Little Italy. There is a big Feast of St. Anthony’s every year -- with a parade.”

Growing up down south, Vince and his parents were really the only Italians in most of the towns through which they traveled, except for Shreveport. His family had originally come from Manhattan and was so successful traveling and selling tailored clothes and homemade hats by the late ‘40’s that they stayed in the south. They traveled a sales route from Charlottesville to Houston and back, living in a new town every year until they moved back to the Shreveport area (and his extended family) permanently when he was thirteen. Now that he could decide to travel on his own, there was no reason that he should stay down south or move too far away from any Italian community.

_______

Vince literally sang every Italian song he could think of. He played the radio incessantly. And, he just could not restrain himself from pinching Julie’s poor cheeks, trying to make her laugh, giggle, and yelp until she would hide under the bed to avoid his childish enthusiasm, which seemed to belong to a much younger child than she.

Julie could tell when he was coming for her when he would start walking around the apartment doing housework and whistling in a funny, loud way. He would also walk around his home playing the ukulele or singing in Italian (or both) too loudly, like he wanted the neighbors to hear. Once in a while, they did hear and knocked on their ceiling, walls or the heating pipes to let him know to quiet down.

How many times did Julie try and stop those devilish pinches?! Gracelessly, she thought of the boy who had beat him up. She tried not to think those unkind thoughts -- but you must try to imagine his big strong hands and spontaneous laughter when he would grab her unwary little face.

Thus, it happened about a month later, in 1956 -- when Julie was getting close to 6 years old -- that Vince packed the car planning to head towards Boston, looking for new sales territory and a small house to rent. Before they left, Vincente went to his favorite pawnbroker and got an old pair of reading and driving glasses; he then went to the local public library and read the Boston newspapers so he had a good idea about what was offered locally in that area.

As they drove out of Philadelphia, they stopped at a Walgreen’s and bought two pairs of sunglasses. He also stopped at a department store and bought a couple of new white dress shirts for himself. He also got a red lipstick and a spray bottle of lady’s perfume for Julie. A must have.

Speeding up the car, Vincente started driving too fast, rounded a corner and watched Julie grab Romeo as they slid away from him across the seat, squashing them up against the metal handle of the car door. (That’s one of the problems when one does not have bucket seats, which most cars did not have in the fifties -- just a bench-style, slick vinyl seat that went straight across from one door to the other.)

Hey! Watch out!” shouted Julie, barely keeping herself from grabbing the door handle, which would have opened the door and thrown her and the dog of the out of the car. “You’re going to kill me! Slow down.”

Vince frowned, then smiled at his daughter, slowing the car a little. “Sorry, chiclet. Not thinking.” That’s all he would need to do right now. Running from mobsters and then dumping his kid and dog out of the car. There were no kid-safe locks on these car doors and the newspapers were full of kids that fell out of cars and were run over by the following traffic. This situation was making his mind weak.

He reached over and pulled Julie closer to him and gave her a hug, turning the radio on to calm his mind. His hand shook on the steering wheel.

Bitterly waving goodbye to Philadelphia, they drove away. Julie had a blanket and a tiny pillow on the floor on her side of the front seat with her kid’s books scattered around it. Gently, she placed the dog there and slid down herself.

At night, they sometimes rolled into a diner for supper, then checked into a rooming house that Vincente had gotten from his folks. They had given him a list of boarding houses from Philadelphia to Boston. They were much cheaper than the motels -- and the food was better than a restaurant, home-cooked and usually made from scratch. But, if they did not reach their destination until, say, nine o’clock -- they ate out.

That night, as Vincente paid for their overnight stay, Julie sat in a living room chair and chewed a wad of Dentine sugarless gum while playing with a multi-colored, (glaringly neon), plastic pop-bead necklace that Vince had gotten her at Walgreens. As she looked up at the rooming house owner, she was more than happy to show off her rather sloppy real lipstick. Peeking slyly out from under the wide sunshade of her hat with her wing-tipped sunglasses sliding halfway down her nose, she grinned.

As the days wore on, her bobby sox rolled down to her skinny ankles and her own saddle shoes were getting more and more scuffed. Her travel attire was becoming something to regret. As they entered each establishment, they hid Romeo in a large cloth shoulder bag where hopefully he did not snore, snark, bark or make snuffling noises.

Vincente opened the trunk of the Studebaker obsessively -- finally letting Julie in on the fact that there might be an extra bag in there. Which she thought was really weird. Since she was riding in the car, Vince had decided just to take note of any bag he found there and not dump it. The thing was getting too dangerous. Too dangerous for a kid at any rate. Never mind him.

There were no more bags in their trunk to Vince’s great relief. At least none that he could find.

Their trip from Philadelphia to Boston took quite a while, since there weren’t many highways back then -- only rural routes. Vincente had packed the old black Studebaker to the brim. They had everything they would need at first: household things such as a toaster, kitchenware, sheets and blankets, and pots and pans. They found a small house to rent in Dorchester on the first day they arrived in the area.

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Now I don’t know where you come from.

Don’t know where you been, where you been, where you been.

 

But it don’t really matter just come right on in,

right on in…right on in.

 

Said, it don’t really matter just come right on in.

Don’t be late…Don’t be late!

How-de do? How-de do? How-de doo doo doo…

 

Jazz lyrics based on “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d Have Baked A Cake” by Al Hoffman, Bob Merrill and Clem Watts Copyright 1950. Colgems-emi Music, Inc.)

 

Julie and Vince and started getting used to the new neighborhood. Julie started first grade and stayed home with another nanny after school and on weekends when Vincente had to sell door-to-door. Sometimes she would go with him to work on the weekends, and sit in the car, handing him whatever he might need. Mostly she stayed at home when it was too hot or boring in the car and Romeo got annoying.

Dorchester was a wonderful place. Vince was beginning to feel elated. He was trying to convince himself that he had lost the drug cartel. He was working mostly in Boston, Newton, Brighton, the North End and Brookline. And that was nowhere near New Jersey, or Princeton.

Newton was filled with mysterious hills hiding sparkling clean springs, running down in small rivulets towards a public golf course. Newton and Brookline were right outside of Boston, next to Brighton. In fact, all of those areas are right next to each other, so Vincente could go home for lunch whenever he wanted to -- or if Julie needed anything. Or got sick at school.

 

Vince picked up a weekend job as a very smartly dressed (as usual) caddy at the golf course and learned to play golf from his wealthy clients and a couple of books that he was reading at home. All he had to do at first was carry the golf bag, dress neatly and remember the names of the clubs. Caddies worked for tips from golfing parties and did not get paid wages. He studied in the evenings until he knew how to play too -- usually better than his clients did.

He purchased a new pair of brown and white saddle shoes with spikes in the soles. Gracie sent him four pairs of brown and yellow; blue and green; red and pink; and black and gray argyle knee socks that exactly matched four flat extra-wide, snap-brim argyle sports caps that she had made for him. Grandpa sent him another package with four reversible satin-lined argyle vests that matched both the sox and hats. To top off his new wardrobe, he purchased four pastel short-sleeved shirts in different colors and four pairs of cream twill shorts.

Julie’s education continued at home in Dorchester, as well as in school. She studied with Vince in the evenings. By the time she was seven, she could read, write, add, subtract, divide and even work with decimals. For books, she became interested in comics: Superman, Richie Rich, Mighty Mouse, Dennis the Menace, Spiderman, Veronica and Archie. Surprisingly intellectual, growth-provoking stuff.

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

Vincente did really well with Electrolux and Fuller Brush everywhere he worked and signed on with Encyclopedia Britannica, to boot. By the time Julie had enrolled in the public schools in Dorchester in September of 1957 for the second grade, she also had mountains of trivia packed into her little head from all over the world from their evenings reading and looking at the Britannica together. She knew where Samoa was, some of the languages that were spoken in Indonesia and the names of all the countries in Africa and the Middle East. And knew exactly how cocaine was made and where it came from. Told you, Vince liked to study everything. No reason to keep his daughter ignorant. Knowledge is power.

She also knew what a gangster was. And she was familiar with some of the more notorious crime bosses in Chicago and New York. By name.

She was, by the way, pretty damn good on the ukulele by now. She was good enough, in her own estimation, to go on TV to compete on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, which was one of her favorite television shows besides Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life.

Groucho’s show came on late at night (it was one of the first late night talk shows) and she usually fell asleep on Vince’s bed before it was over, although she would wake up at the end when she heard the Groucho theme song “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” (which was from the Marx Brother‘s film Animal Crackers and one of her favorite songs).

She and Vince played and sang to the radio most evenings, especially on Fridays and the weekend. She wore out Vince’s phonograph with the forty-five’s she loved the most.

Julie was sure that the gangster that put the bags in her dad’s car looked like Groucho -- with huge, thick black eyebrows that went up and down. And, yes, she knew what heroin and morphine were too. The scary stuff.

She loved to dance to her favorite tunes when she was alone. And she was alone a lot these days; she and her dad eventually decided she did not need a nanny anymore. She would dance in front of the full-length hall mirror with or without costumes gleaned from, of course, Vince’s closet. She danced the twist in his argyle sports hats. And the jitterbug, which isn’t easy to do all alone. And the Lindy hop, which is. Sometimes she held onto the hall closet door knob to get her “partner’s” hand to help her make certain types of moves. Dig it.

Upon her enrollment in elementary school, the phonograph was slowly being supplanted by her brand new obsession with their black and white television set. Her elementary school was close to their house and she walked home with a group of neighborhood kids. The television set became her new nanny and babysitter. There was no one around to tell her not to watch so much television. She did not miss her old human person nanny even once. So sorry. Second grade was a coming of age. Vince saw that she was competent to stay on her own after school until he got home. He dropped a nickel in a pay phone occasionally to make sure she was all right -- and the neighbors were usually available.

Julie was glued to the low blue glow. She enjoyed being alone and able to watch anything she wanted to. When she let herself in after school, she dropped her schoolbooks on the living room floor, raced to her bedroom and put on her cowboy hat. Skidding back into the living room in her socks, she landed in front of the television and clicked the dial to the Howdy Doody show. Gumby cartoons were something she did not like to miss and they originated on that show.

Anything else on TV that was appealing to her, or that her new classmates gossiped about at lunch or recess in the afternoons, she would check out. She watched anything that was on, including soap operas. Taking a break during the commercials between shows and running into the kitchen and back to the TV again, she plopped down on the floor with a sandwich in her hand when she heard, “How would you like to be Queen for a day?” She had to pick out the winners on Queen for a Day. For that, she could not miss the beginning of the show.

Vincente worked different hours every day, and Julie never knew when he would be home. Their TV was a small screen Magnavox embedded in a console that weighed a ton, which Vince had gotten in the North End, used. The next weekend, after he bought the TV, he went back and got the second half of the cabinet, which was a large, wireless radio and a phonograph player -- both inside a polished wood console that fit neatly right next to the TV cabinet.

Julie would start looking out the window for her dad close to the time the Mickey Mouse Club was over. The Disney show was on every weekday and was over around five or six when the news would start to come on, and any of the kids from her neighborhood watching with her had to run like hell to get home in time for dinner.

For entertainment that was more cerebral, she listened to the radio at dinner. Radio preceded television. There were many radio theater programs still being broadcast in the 1950’s; Julie usually tuned into Dragnet, Truth or Consequences or [_ Dave Garroway -- _] especially when she had to eat alone.

She was a media kid. Totally. Mesmerized. The improbable voices of ‘50’s radio theater hypnotized her and scared away the boogie man at night when she had to go to sleep before Vince got home.

_______

Thus, 1957 wound down into a heavy Boston winter. Lugging the Britannica and vacuum cleaners around became far too difficult for Vincente during the winter months. He was starting to take his Fuller Brush bag as far away as Lowell. Things got tough. There were only so many hairbrushes and pomades that folks would buy.

He would occasionally make a fire in their fireplace at night, turn on the reading lamp with the brass stand, swivel extension arm and small attached round brass table and look through the Boston Globe (which he had gotten a subscription to) for interesting tidbits of news. He would read them out loud to Julie, sometimes adding outrageous lies to see if she was listening. He would comb the classifieds for cheap stuff, falling asleep with his head against the soft cloth side wings of the living room chair, encircled by the yellow light of the reading lamp.

_______

Vanneta Solaris called unexpectedly late one evening long after Julietta had gone to bed and Vince was up, washing dishes. She opened the call by saying, “I have a message for you.”

“Yes?” he responded with a sense of anxiety rising in his mind.

“Your tribulations are not over yet, but there will be favorable resolutions soon.”

“How soon?”

“Maybe this year. Maybe in a year or two. I am not sure. You will meet some people who will help you, many people. The rogue who kidnapped Julie will find your forgiveness.”

Vince swore to himself silently.

Mrs. Solaris answered as if she had heard his thoughts, “He was just a little crippled boy at one time, remember? I know you are not sure if it is him, but my spirit connection is pretty sure that it is.”

 

How did she know so much? He had never told her about Bannister’s childhood. Or even that they had known each other as children, let alone his suspicion that the cocaine came from him. Despite his occasional disbelief, his ears seemed to await her next words with an anticipation he sort of used to cover up his lack of faith in psychics. “Oh,” he replied out loud, feeling, as usual, inadequate in the face of Vanetta’s talents.

She went on, “There is a time coming -- soon, which is why I called -- when you will have to unravel many mysteries. Some of this is connected with the man who was your friend -- some is not. It will be up to you to be brave, fearless, and discern which is which.”

Brave?” thought Vince. He frowned, pushing his spectacles up higher on his nose.

“ There will be many people who will help you -- including at some point your roguish friend.”

“Who are they? Can you tell me? What do they look like? When will I meet them?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone, then Mrs. Solaris went on quietly, as if in a trance. In a distant voice she spoke again. “I do not know. They are just voices and shadows to me now. Sound and shadow. But they are there, do not doubt that. They are there -- waiting for you. For this time.

“ They will come together, join hands, and resolve your conflicts. One person stands out in my visions -- and that is your daughter. She will always be true. Rely on her. Even though she is yet a child, she will always be true. Protect her, though. She has yet to enter her trial.”

“Oh,” interjected Vince again, worried about the “trial” part.

“Think forgiveness, Vincente. But be wary. There may be a conflict in your future.”

Vince sat down next to the telephone and rubbed his forehead in confusion. “Can you make that any clearer?” he asked Vanetta, wiping his wet, soapy hands on his pants.

“No…” Mrs. Solaris paused, her voice getting even softer, making Vince strain to hear her. “That is all I can tell you right now. Except that you will be a very successful man in the future…Oh, wait a minute…” She hesitated with a quiet chuckle. “And don’t worry about your sports car.”

Vince smiled to himself and thought, “Ah, ha, got her now!” He said, “I don’t have a sports car.”

“You will.”

Vince laughed, feeling foolish. “Thanks, Vanetta, I’ll remember.”

They hung up. Vince turned on the radio and began to whistle thinking about sports cars and success, trying to forget his nemesis and the tension surrounding the bags of cocaine. He really liked Vanetta Solaris in spite of himself. Going over to the kitchen sink, he wiped the rest of the water off his hands onto a dish towel.

A slight fragrance of lemon grass wafted through the hallway as he entered it. It calmed him and gave him a feeling of protection.

_______

Vincente continued sending money home to his parents down south, where things were heating up with the movement against Jim Crow fueled in part by the black G.I.‘s who had returned from World War II. Sitting at his writing desk, next to a big stack of old letters, was a gilt-framed photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King. After all his expenses, Vince also bought the television set so he could watch the new developments in the Civil Rights movement up to the minute, such as the interview with Dr. King on NBC. He also got a subscription to Life magazine, which became a fine documentary of the movement against segregation. These things filled Vince and Julie’s lives together at that time.

Life kept both of them tuned into everything that the new Civil Rights leader, Dr. King, was doing. They watched the news together every evening and Vince shared the more important issues with Julietta from his collection of newspapers.

Rosa Parks, a local seamstress, and Dr. King fueled a year-long ongoing boycott of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama -- trying to force the bus company to let black folks sit wherever they wanted to, instead of the back of the bus. There were also large reading and writing campaigns to enable black voters to pass the literacy tests required for voter registration. Brown v. The Board of Education slowly made its way through some of the segregated schools and gave black students the right to attend school at formerly all white institutions.

There was much more to come in the next ten or so years: massive sit-ins, demonstrations and even an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Vince got news of the south from his parents and family as well.

His income was starting to be more than his entire family had ever made. He was beginning to be a star, mentioned positively throughout his large extended family -- even in Italy. When anyone needed anything, they wrote to him. And they usually did need something. His family history was an extensive story of needing something.

__________

The second world war was over and the 1950’s had begun with a new era of hope. The movies started reflecting a new view of social issues and romantic idealism. Black jazz stars such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway became more and more well-known and admired around the world. The radio was bursting with the beauty of Sam Cooke, The Five Satins and James Brown. Segregation was definitely beginning to fall away, especially with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King during the Montgomery bus boycott of 1957. This also included Dr. King’s founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the same year.

With the south starting to find justice at last and Martin Luther King, Jr. heralding a new day, Vincente was beginning to overcome his own sorrow at losing Emma and getting the crap kicked out of him somewhere around Atlantic City. The threat of the ivy league drug smuggling cartel started to fade in his mind.

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Despite all his success with Fuller Brush, the Encyclopedia Britannica and Electrolux vacuum cleaners, Vince was beginning to long for an inside, desk job. He was getting tired of working outside, going door to door. Or just plain tired.

The winter of ‘58 had been physically difficult for him, like the year before. He had a habit of going to the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street downtown occasionally on Saturdays in those colder months. He would leave Julie in the kid’s section and read newspapers from Italy and around the nation.

He had been looking at the Chicago Tribune classified one Saturday and had come across a large ad for employment with Sears in the Mail Order Catalog division. Some of the job offerings were good entry-level opportunities cutting and pasting parts of the catalog, which also came out as a mailer every so often.

His face turned red and he went to get Julie and started tapping his finger on the ad, until she said, looking up from her picture book, “What the hell is wrong with you, pop?”

“You really need to use another word.

“Well, read the thing to me then.”

“Okay. It says that there is an incredible desk job at Sears catalog in Chicago.”

“What is so incredible about it? I like it here. I just started school. I have friends.”

“This job could lead to a better job inside the corporation.”

“Hmm. That’s good. I’ll think about it.”

Vince gave her a grin and ruffled her thick, curly hair, getting up and going back into the newspaper room.

_______

In those days, one did not have to have a college degree to work one’s way up to the board of directors. One just had to be good at marketing and design or whatever else one was trained by the company to do. It was also common to have at least one year of business school. This was the working class equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree in business at the time and the road to becoming a millionaire. The positions at Sears opened up periodically. Jobs like this were big entry level positions that could eventually lead to possible training for top Sear’s positions at their home office in Hyde Park near the Loop in downtown Chicago.

Around the same time that Vince had found the ad in the Tribune, Julie was in the middle of second grade. She proved that she did not need a Nana anymore since she was older and mature for her age, and had a robot for a sitter (the television). Also, she proved daily that she was good at taking care of herself. She was a latch-key kid and liked it. She did not need Vince looking over her or gaping at everything she did. As she would tell him, she valued her privacy.

In June of 1958, when school let out for summer vacation, Julie stayed home with the dog, played with her friends and watched TV -- or went with Vince and helped him on his routes. Same routine she followed during the school year, except without the school.

When she stayed home and wasn’t working with Vince, she usually made a sandwich for herself and poured a glass of milk, in terms of lunch. She could reach just about everything neatly and efficiently from the seat of a kitchen chair and made a rather good cold cut sandwich with mayonnaise or mustard. Then she would settle down to some serious crayons and a coloring book after letting Romeo out in the yard and watch TV while she colored.

Vincente usually worked Saturdays and sometimes Sundays as a caddy, so Julie could sleep late and watch TV all afternoon if she wasn’t outside playing with her friends. Her tastes in television ranged from backwoodsmen like Davy Crockett and outer space stuff like Flash Gordon to incredibly well-trained animal friends.

She would look at Romeo with massive ulterior motives and try to make him act like Rin Tin Tin (nick named Rinty ). She once tried to make him jump off the garbage can and come bounding across the backyard and pretend to save her life. A miniature bull dog? No hope there -- although he tried, sometimes landing on his face with a grunt. The most she decided she could do was to call him Rinty, Lassie or Flicka (who was a horse anyway).

Vincente got ready to pack up one evening after the last round of golf in Newton. There was a tournament on and his pair had come in second. He wiped the sweat off his face and hung a small towel around his neck to absorb the rest. The sun had been merciless. He walked to the car and opened the trunk to pack his gym bag inside. He saw a note and felt like someone had sucker-punched him. He picked it up and saw a black bag stuffed way in the back. “This hasn’t happened for years!” he thought, starting to sweat profusely. Swearing, he read the note.

You must repackage and send the contents of this bag to General Delivery, Frederic Hill, Yale Department of Archaeology, New Haven, Connecticut. You will be watched until we receive it in New Haven. I think you know we are serious. Just send it quickly and we will leave you and your daughter alone.

He slammed the trunk lid shut with a loud bang. “Yale?” he thought, with frustration. He had not thought of that. His mind was centered only on the Princeton-cocaine connection. Or New York City. But New York was pretty damn close to New Haven where Yale was. And Boston sits smack-dab in front of New Haven. He had foolishly thought he and his daughter were safe once they had moved to Dorchester.

Thinking again, he opened the trunk, took the bag out and stuffed it into a nearby trash barrel. Feeling his temper rise, he remembered Vanetta’s words of warning, “Be wary.” He pulled the bag out of the trash and threw it back into the trunk, slamming the lid so hard that several golfing parties looked at him in alarm.

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

Saturday afternoon television produced a long list of favorite shows throughout Dorchester: The Lone Ranger, Zorro, Rin Tin Tin, as well as old black and white movies. And on Sundays: My Friend Flicka and Roy Rogers. There were also a few cartoons such as Popeye with Olive Oyl and the legendary Betty Boop who minced around thereabouts, too. Julie’s living room slowly became a neighborhood clubhouse. Plus, she was virtually the only kid in her neighborhood who was allowed to make sandwiches and snacks for herself and her friends. This made her very popular and her childhood social status zoomed. To quote Betty Boop: “I wanna be loved by you, and you alone. Poop, poopie, do!”

And, of course, there were the gangster movies, which Julie watched with avid fascination.

_______

Vince would take Julie with him on the weekends occasionally, when he caddied at the golf course. Springs bordered the public golf course. When Vincente got off work, he and his daughter would climb up the hills with empty containers to get a few gallons of this water. He let Julie play around in the tiny waterfalls. Some of the streams from the springs were less than a foot wide.

Water just sprang clear, clean, and drinkable right from some hole in the ground. Folks even had these little streams, waterfalls and springs in their hillside yards. The town golf course was at the bottom of the last hill. The golf course was first landscaped in 1897. It was on Kenrick Street in Newton. It was, as you can see, a really old golf course.

After Julie found out where her dad found the last bag, she stopped going with him to watch golf.

Besides going to the golf course with Vince, Julie stayed home by herself a lot and played with the kid’s golf set her dad had gotten her for a birthday present. It was usually too hot for her on the adult golf course anyway. Hanging around her dad with nothing to do was not her idea of fun and she had run out of comic books to read.

Getting kidnapped by some gangster was also way not her idea of fun. The two of them had made secret plans on how she could escape if that happened and Vincente gave her a pen knife just in case. It was funny at first to talk to her dad about silly plans.

But the more she thought about it, the less silly it seemed and she arranged the kitchen knives in a lower drawer so she could reach them.

Vince had decided to tell her about the latest “delivery”, since he thought she would want to know. He was used to sharing things with her like she was an adult. But, she was not an adult. She wasn’t too sure that sharing that with her had been such a good idea. She might not have wanted to know. Too late now.

She never really made a mess around the house when she was alone. So her dad trusted her at home.

Alone.

The word was beginning to mean something different to her. Julie was a neat freak. She had many responsibilities such as washing the kitchen table and the dishes, neatening up, doing laundry, bringing the mail in, sweeping with a pint-sized broom, feeding Romeo and letting him out in the yard, watering and turning the house plants around to face the sun and so on.

The meaning of alone was beginning to creep up on her, like tiny spiders crawling up her back underneath her blouse. It was making her feel itchy.

To say the least, Julie was not feeling especially strong about staying home alone, like she used to before the latest invasion of the cocaine cartel. Normally, she liked it when there were no adults around. She would call some friends to come over. She was, actually, beginning to feel abnormal. She was seeing shadows turn into real people staring into the windows. She even started thinking about sleeping under her bed. She put all the house plants outside on the front porch and shut the living room drapes. When Vince came home, she just told him that they needed more sun and that the open drapes made the room too hot, especially the floor, which she lay down on to watch television.

She opened the pantry door one day and screamed until her throat hurt, thinking that there was someone in there. There wasn’t. But she scared the living shit out of Romeo who was sleeping and snoring on the cool floor after getting locked in there when Julie had gotten something for lunch. He barked at her and went skittering across the kitchen linoleum and out the back door, which she shut and locked after him. She chastised herself for leaving it open, even though the day was too hot to leave it closed.

They had an insulated metal milk box outside by the front door that was filled with milk, cream, butter and/or eggs -- and dead gangster body parts -- two times a week from a local farmer -- the contents of which she carried carefully to their refrigerator on delivery days, to keep the body parts and dairy cold. Vince would leave a note in the empty box in the morning with their order.

She knew she was in trouble when she started freaking out at the milk man. The dead gangster body parts were only one small part of her morbid imagination, which she had trouble turning off.

The previous summer of ‘57, Vince had planted a large vegetable garden with everything from huge watermelon to corn and a few traditional Italian vegetables and herbs. Along with that, he had planted a couple of apple and pear trees, which had fruited that same year. This summer, though, he had only planted zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, chives, scallions and lettuce.

The soil in Dorchester was rich, dark, loamy and rockless. It was the best soil he had ever seen in the city. In fact, the best soil he had ever seen outside southwestern Canada and parts of the south. He usually fertilized before winter with cow dung from local dairies in Western Massachusetts, and canned everything he could on Saturday evenings towards each summer’s end. He filled the pantry shelves with okra, green beans, tomatoes, melon, strawberry jam sweetened with sorghum, and every other vegetable and soup starter he could fit into a bell jar.

And what do you do when you are nervous about being kidnapped by gangsters? Or imagine body parts in the milk box?

Eat.

Julie could turn on a top burner on the gas stove with long kitchen matches and heat a jar of Vince’s homemade soup, set out the bread and butter, make a half-way decent deli tray, fill glasses of water or milk and set the table for a late dinner for the two of them. Her excuse for setting out elaborate meals early was that she could leave some for her dad for their dinner. And she threw herself into it. It wasn’t a sandwich for lunch anymore. She was gaining weight and getting fat.

She made large platters of cold cuts, cheeses, anchovies and slices of red, raw onions and tomatoes, etc. and even boiled several oxtails or chicken parts, pouring in one of her dad‘s soup stocks later on.

To this, she added her salad du jour , which went something like this: sliced or cubed raw zucchini; homemade toasted, herbed croutons; diced onion and tomato; artichoke hearts; cubed or grated cheese, lettuce and grated carrot -- and maybe an anchovy or two. Seriously, for a kid between seven and eight years old, she was very handy in the kitchen.

All of this was relatively easy to do, even washing and adding some fresh basil and thyme to the soup from their vegetable garden was no problem. At her age -- and size -- though, it was still too difficult for her to make pasta for two, or even one. Vince usually did that. The pot was too heavy for her to pour into a colander, so she did not even try. But, she could set out the olive oil, mustard, creamed garlic relish, horseradish, creamed herb cheese and mayonnaise and cut up part of a loaf of Vince’s fresh molasses bread. And when Vincente made pasta the night before and put it in the fridge, she could make pasta salad, as well.

Vince loved it. He complimented her endlessly. She took it all in stride. Didn’t even smile in acknowledgment. This confused her father. She ate twice what she normally did. And picked at food the rest of the day.

Pulling at the short sleeve of her t-shirt one evening to thank her for the fine dinner, when they were about to listen to Dragnet on the radio after eating supper, Julie frowned at Vince and pulled away, saying, “Don’t do that.”

“What’s wrong, honey?” he responded, surprised and a little hurt. The theme music to Dragnet came on. Julie started shrinking as much as she could with her added bulk, which had landed mostly in her stomach. And “shrinking” was more metaphoric than real.

“Nothing.”

“Well, there’s something wrong. You seem kind of morose.”

“What’s ‘morose’?”

“Gloomy.”

“I am not gloomy. I am afraid of the milk man. I’m afraid of the living room. I’m afraid to leave the back door open. I’m afraid of everything. I want to move out of here. There are ghosts in the milk box.” She reached over and clicked the radio off, picking up a slice of cheese and stuffing it into her mouth.

Vincente responded with surprise. “I thought you loved Dragnet. You told me it was exciting, and that it put you to sleep.”

“Not any more.”

Ghosts in the milk box? Julie! I thought you said that you didn’t want to move.” Vince moved his chair over next to his daughter and put his arm around her, lovingly. He asked comfortingly, “Tell me what the matter is, I’m your father.”

Nothing is the matter. I told you. I want to move. I’m going to be kidnapped by gangsters. We need to go somewhere where they will leave us alone.”

“Like where?’

“Anywhere. We could join the merchant marine.”

“But you are only eight years old.”

“I can cook.”

“You can eat too. You seem to be gaining some weight.” Vince poked her in the stomach and laughed.

 

Knocking her chair to the floor, Julie slammed out of the kitchen crying and ran into her bedroom, stepping on Romeo who yelped in pain and ran into the living room, hiding underneath the couch.

Abbondanza!

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

One Saturday afternoon, Vince was working at the golf course and Julie had fallen asleep on the living room floor in front of the TV. The Saturday afternoon movie re-runs had come on. She awoke to a flurry of gunfire on the tube, startling awake. The tough-guy voice of James Cagney pierced her mind as the movie ended. He had said, “And you can kiss tomorrow goodbye…” She watched wide-eyed as the ending title rolled by. It was, of course, the Cagney movie, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.

Julie shivered at the portent.

The next film in the gangland double feature was The Enforcer. She watched some guy go through the same thing she was going through now, seeing someone trying to get him, looking at shadows and ducking. Then she heard Humphrey Bogart say, “It’s like a cemetery…” as he rounded a spooky deserted corner in some city. She got rug burns on her knees scooting over to the television to push the off button.

The curtains in the room were closed tight as usual. Romeo was asleep in the kitchen. The doorbell rang. Julie felt an unreasonable tremor of fear. None of her friends rang the doorbell. They just called her name and banged on the door. In fact, no one ever rang the bell unless her dad was home and he was expecting someone.

She got her guts up and called out, as loudly as she could, “Who is it?!” No one answered. That was not good. She figured they could come back when her dad was home. So she refused to answer it, ran into the bedroom and hid under her bed. Whoever it was rattled the doorknob. Julie took out her pen knife and opened it to the largest blade, holding her breath. There were two loud bangs on the door. It did not seem as if they were knocking. Rather, it seemed as if they were trying to break the door. She held her breath, listening.

There was another rattle and then a few scraping noises. She held the knife ready and scooted further under the bed, into the shadows. The door sounded like it was opening. It was opening.

The sound of three men’s voices echoed through the house. She could hear their footsteps walking around as if they were searching for something…or someone. They spoke.

“O’Reilly, I don’t see her anywhere.”

Her?! They’re looking for me?! thought Julie anxiously, starting to sweat. She heard Romeo start barking and growling.

“The TV’s still warm, keep looking. Try the bedrooms and the bathroom down the hall. If we can find that kid and take her with us, we might be able to break the Willis cartel. They keep taking over territory in New York that could be ours, and now they’re working from Yale. I heard that Bannister is soft on her and he’s known her dad since they were kids. They threatened to do this themselves, but I don’t think Bannister has the guts.”

“I bet he’d do anything to get her back though.”

“Okay, boss. Hey! The dog’s got Jack!”

Julie heard Romeo growling even more ferociously, like he was holding onto something. She heard footsteps coming towards her.

“Ow! Shit. Get this dog off me!”

“Get him off yourself, potato head. He’s only a little bulldog, stupid. Let me search the basement.”

“Shoot him!” said one of the thugs.

Damn it!” the struggling man answered. “The gun’s too loud. I forgot my silencer in the car.”

Someone entered Julie’s bedroom. A man’s face appeared looking under the bed… looking right at her.

Julie screamed as their eyes met, and wiggled out from under the bed. A large hand grabbed her around the waist. She stabbed it several times, quickly, with her pen knife.

Son of a bitch! The kid knifed me!”

 

A voice came from down the hall. “Two grown men and you can’t even grab an eight year old kid! And get this damned dog off me. Damn it all, O‘Reilly. Go see if you can help Hymie with that kid. We‘re gonna lose her. I can‘t do shit with this dog.” There was the sound of more scuffling and really evil-sounding growls from Romeo.

Julie dove for the bedroom window, which was still open from this morning, crawled through it, jumped to the ground, and ran like hell across two back yards. She hid underneath some thick evergreen bushes. She could hear her neighbor in her kitchen and could see her open kitchen door.

She had narrowly escaped the large arms of the man who had grabbed her. He had been too clumsy, still holding onto his profusely bleeding hand, to climb after her, trying to staunch the bleeding with his shirt tail. He pointed a gun with a silencer attached out the window and looked around, but Julie was gone.

He doubled over with pain, swearing because he should have pulled his gun earlier. He might have scared her into submission. How was he to know she had a weapon? Sitting down hard on the bedroom floor suddenly, he said plaintively, raising his voice, “She must have hit an artery with that knife. I think I‘m going to pass out.”

There was a loud squeal from down the hall -- and a thump. The two men who had been in the living room and basement came running down the hall.

O‘Reilly said, taking the gun out of Hymie‘s hand, “Come on. Let’s get out of here. If the Willis gang finds out about this, there’ll be a war. We shouldn’t have duffed it. Now word could get back to them. Come on! Let’s go! We can’t risk the neighbors seeing us. So forget trying to chase her. And for God‘s sake don‘t use your gun, we don‘t need to bring the cops in on this.”

“ Yeah,” said Hymie childishly, holding his bleeding hand up. “Violence begets violence. Cops don’t care about the drugs, but one gunshot, especially one that connects (and we don’t want her dead) -- and they’ll be all over the place. I was just gonna threaten her and make her stop running. Damn silencers don’t work that well anyway, especially outside.

“We’ll get at the Willis cartel some other way. Besides, we have some stew cookin’ in Vegas. The higher-ups don’t need to cut in on a small trafficker. They’re gonna know that we just wanted that small cut for Boston. For ourselves. It’s not that important. You know, we just thought that this would be easy.” Hymie paused, looking at Jack’s shredded pants leg with a sarcastic grin. “And it wasn’t.”

The two men fixed a tourniquet on Hymie‘s hand and quickly helped him up from the floor. They ran to the front of the house and out the door. The sound of a car motor roared to life and wheels squealed on the pavement as the three gangsters drove away.

_______

Julie’s ankle hurt and she was covered with scratches from the evergreens -- and dirt from crawling under them. She also had some very sore rug burns on her knees from her fight with the television. She breathed hard, still scared, starting to cry and still holding onto her pen knife, blade out.

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

Towards the beginning of July in 1958, Vince threw the front door open, his arms filled with all kinds of bags, loudly whistling some popular tune. Julie yelled a greeting at him from the floor in front of the TV as he entered the door with his usual bang. Vince dropped the packages on the floor and flopped into a large easy chair, silhouetted against the backdrop of a rosy setting sun, throwing his wide fedora into another easy chair.

Two men sat in a large car parked directly in front of their house, watching the street protectively. There was another two men parked in a car in the alley behind their house. These guys should have been cops, but they were a rival drug gang, the Willis gang sent by Bannister himself to drive the Boston gangs away. This had been much more effective than any police would have been, since the gangs knew each other’s movements much better than any cops would have. Since the attack on Julie, Vince had been planning to leave the Boston area.

“What’d you get, Pop?” Julie asked with one hand up against her cheek in surprise. “Anything for me?”

He scooped her up and gave her a wet smooch with his big damp lips, squishing her next to him. “You’ll see…” he said mysteriously.

“Ugh!” she exclaimed at the kiss (as usual) and laughed as she struggled to open one of the bags to peek in.

“Ah, no…” he said, as he reached over me and snatched the bag back. “Wait a minute.” He settled down again with the bag stuck under his arm on the other side of his body. He pulled her up onto his lap as he fixed his glasses back up on his nose since Julie had knocked them off a little in her enthusiasm to open the package.

“I think you need some new things,” he said, as he peered at her jokingly and teased her by being deliberately slow. “You seem to be getting bigger.”

This was embarrassingly true and had been for some time, although Vince meant she was getting taller as well. Her stomach would sometimes be pinched to excess in her older clothes. Her dresses were getting shorter and shorter as her legs grew longer and longer.

So, Vince, being the sensitive father he always was, had gotten her three new, much wider, over-the-knee box-pleated skirts; a pair of red Ked’s canvas sneakers; new blue jeans; new cotton short-sleeved shirts; a pair of red shorts and a red large-brimmed sunhat shaped a little like a broad baseball cap. And, what turned out to be one of her favorite accessories: a new pair of black and white saddle shoes and three pairs of thick-topped, cotton, fold-down white bobby sox.

Oh, Daddy-Oh!” she yelled in excitement and jumped up and down in his lap with the new hat jammed slightly sideways on her head. “Thanks, pop!” she whispered in his ear and kissed his cheek, throwing her short arms around his neck. “What’d you get for yourself?” she inquired benevolently, looking at Romeo as he limped into the room from the kitchen and folded himself quietly on top of Vince’s foot, sticking his injured leg out to his side. Romeo had his leg broken when the rival mob had tried to kidnap Julie, but he was healing. He was one tough little dog.

“Oh, just some stuff that I needed too,” he responded as he reached over me. “Your grandpa made me some things.”

The dog rolled over to the side of Vincente’s big, red-soled saddle shoe, turned around and lay snugly facing them. He looked up, watching the packages being unwrapped, and laid his little head back on top of Vince’s shoe.

He had been sent a new black suit coat with gray pants, a new satin embroidered gold vest, bright red satin tie, two new dress shirts and a package of vermilion handkerchiefs for the outer pocket of his suit coat. All he actually bought were a pair of wide, red suspenders. The rest was inside a package from his folks. Plus all of that, there was a new red patent leather collar with flat silver studs and a matching leash for Romeo.

“What’s the deal?” Julie asked him, shifting her head to the side and squinting one eye as she looked at him quizzically.

He laughed, scratching his forehead. There was a red mark on his brow where the hatband had been. “How’d you like to take a vacation and go see Lake Michigan?”

“Like when?” she answered, smiling a little, anxious that this was a permanent move. It wasn’t that moving could protect them from a mob war. But her dad had been pretty glad when he found out that Bannister Willis was definitely involved. Vince had called his father who spoke to the Willis family for him. Bannister had made sure that the Willis family had moved in around Vince and Julie to protect them from any threats, like the four guys who ubiquitously surrounded them at all times. He had apologized through Saolomon Bonaventura for having caused any problems. He had said the threat to Julie was only a threat. He had not meant to actually do anything. And there would be no more cocaine deliveries.

“We can go this summer. Maybe in a couple of weeks,” said Vince to Julie.

They had become sort of unofficial members of the Willis mob. And as such, they had some guns on their side. Like the guys outside. They were being watched and protected at all times. They had even met some of Bannister‘s cousins, but had not seen Bannister (the mystery man) himself. The Willis gang would not let a rival gang get anywhere near them again.

Vince seriously doubted that he would find anymore bags. He had told the Willis cousins and that he preferred not to carry anything. They were surprised that he had been transporting any coke and promised to talk to Bannister about it. They definitely did not think Bannister actually meant Julietta any harm when they read the old notes that had been left in Vince‘s trunk. They said that they thought that Bannister was only bluffing, if he was even involved with trying to get them to traffic at all.

They expressed the opinion that if Bannister had authorized putting cocaine in his trunk it was because he or his gang/family was afraid that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was watching him -- and he could lose his Princeton job due to morals charges involving his drug dealing. It had been done before. The trafficking charges might not be too stiff, but Princeton could object to cocaine on the basis of its morality (the dangers of using harder drugs, connections with morphine and heroin).

Vince was still angry about what had happened and thought it would be best if his father did most the talking, but he felt better after he had spoken to the Willis cousins. Despite their occupation, they seemed to be nice folks.

He had started carrying a switchblade. And Julie went with him everywhere now. He never let her out of his sight anymore. They even slept in the same bed.

Vince would usually think of something exciting, exotic or fascinating to describe a new place. Such as what he did right now, telling Julie about the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science and Industry. And how beautiful Chicago was.

He said that Lake Michigan washed right up to the front of the museums. On weekends, the local folks fished off a huge, curving set of concrete stairs that covered a few city block’s worth of shoreline right down to the waterfront. He told Julie stories about the Jewish guy (Julius Rosenwald) that had come from central Illinois and started Sears as a mail-order catalog company. Like Montgomery Ward’s catalog, Sears was pushing out the old peddler system.

Julius Rosenwald had donated most of the Museum of Science and Industry and a bunch of schools for black children down south, as well as a trust fund for Tuskegee Institute. Eventually donating more than eleven million dollars. Rosenwald also worked closely with Booker T. Washington, the black man that had founded Tuskegee University and Hampton Institute. Vince knew some of the descendants and graduates of Hampton from their old neighborhood in Charlottesville.

Julie was not fooled that they were safe, but she was maybe a little charmed about the new place. Then, she thought of the mob that had tried to grab her. She frowned and looked ready to cry. She was so tired of all the fear. The whole thing.

“Leo Feinstein said Romeo and me can come over on Sunday after dinner and play jacks and checkers and watch his color television…” Her voice trailed off and she began to sob, trying to stifle it by sticking her thumb in her mouth, wetting Vince’s shirt with her quiet tears. Vince stroked her curly black hair, knocking off a pink plastic, imitation bow clipped to her small, too-short, top-of-her-head poof.

“Ah, baby…” he soothed, gently.

“I’m not a baby,” she lisped back, with her thumb still stuck on the roof of her mouth. She really never cried except in her room, her arm around Romeo and the door firmly shut sticking her mouth into the pillow to squelch any loud sobs. Vince took one of his new crimson handkerchiefs and mopped her face. Romeo whimpered and climbed back up on Vince’s shoe.

“It’s all right, Julie, we’ll be safe. I talked to grandpa. He feels the Willis family will continue to watch out for us. They can protect us better than the police. And they know more…” he said quietly into her left ear.

Romeo continued whimpering at their feet until Julie slid down onto the floor to pat him and to look at her new stuff, quieting herself down. She had gotten several new toys and books along with her new clothing. Julie and Romeo’s immediate favorite was a hard, ten-inch inflated kick ball that was multi-colored with a mixture of swirls in red, blue, green and yellow. It was really garish looking, but a wow of a bouncer.

Romeo chased it around the room -- the best he could, anyway, with his injured leg, limping and pushing it cleverly out of the corners. He would thwack with his face and push it in front of him until it stood in front of Vince, who would kick it once more, sending it around the room again. With Romeo’s spots flashing black and white, he would limp after it again, making his chubby rolls of fat wriggle with strategy. Julie chased him in this game of get-away, crawling around on all fours, since she had sprained her ankle and it still hurt -- although her rug burns had healed.

Vince also got her a boxed set of magic tricks, a new set of jacks and a deck of cards with a package of chips -- so they could play blackjack. And the last gift was a big, new bag of marbles.

Julie comforted herself about the mob trying to kidnap her and running away again -- this time to Chicago -- with her pile of toys, sniffling until she went to bed. She sucked her thumb, pulled out her new collection of marbles and hugged Romeo who put his little pug head on her pillow, watching her as she began to close her eyes. The late setting sun shifted to the side of the room as the last of the daylight moved out the side windows, the long curtains moving to the sound of a gentle summer breeze as the darker night descended.

The next day, Julie awoke in the morning to the earthen smell of rain. Vince was planning to stay home from work, something he generally never did. So she was going to sleep late.

Vincente stayed home more and more and began to pack some of their stuff and sort out the things that they could not take. On one such day, as Julie lay awake in bed, Romeo on his side against her back. She could hear her dad making breakfast with the phonograph softly playing My Special Angel from his collection of singles. Vince had a beautiful, sweet tenor. His voice was so pretty that people would stop on the street to listen to him singing inside the house when they were walking past -- and just stand there spellbound.

As the song ended, he reset the record player for the second time. Bobby Helms’ voice pierced Julie’s drowsy, lazy mind, making her float on his beautiful words as the early morning sun bounced around the room, lighting her eyes on one object after the other as the changes in the light refocused everything. “Wake up, wake up,” her mind said. Her eyes were open, but her body could not move. She just stared at the sunlight on the wall, her eyes not moving.

Vince began to sing in a falsetto with his angelic voice lofting over the sunbeams as if it was an elemental, integral part of nature, like the light:

 

You are my special angel

sent from up above.

The Lord smiled down on me

and sent an angel to love.

 

You are my special angel

right from paradise.

I know that you’re an angel

cause heaven is in your eyes…

 

(“You Are My Special Angel“ by Robert Blackwell, Richard Penniman and Entoris Johnson.)

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,

America’s the greatest land of all…

(Ad from General Motors Corporation, Chevrolet Division.)

One quiet sunny Sunday, a week or so later, Vince came home with the Chicago Sunday papers from the Harvard Square newsstands (where they had papers and magazines in many languages from around the nation and the world) in a shiny red and white Chevrolet Bel Air -- a four-door sedan this time -- with a much bigger trunk than the Studebaker.

Julie ran out the front door and cried, “Hey, what’s that?! What happened to the old car?”

He yelled back, his arm crooked in the window, “Sold it. What’s the matter? Don’t you like the new one?”

“Is it ours?” she yelled back as she ran up to the car door, trying to jump up to reach the window to look in. Still too short, though.

“Right the first time, kid,” Vince quipped as he smiled back at her, throwing her a package of new kid’s magazines. “Looks sharp, doesn’t it?”

“Yup,” she said as she caught the gift in her hands, sliding on wet, slick grass in her red rubber boots (over her bare feet). She was wearing a borrowed Boston Red Sox baseball cap on her head, which was way too big and tied in the back with a rubber band, topped off by a mismatched, stretched-out yellow sweater that was missing buttons down the front. And buttoned lopsidedly wrong on top of that.

Unless they were going to the movies or dinner somewhere, she didn’t think much about fashion on the weekends. Especially since she liked to wash the laundry then. With fewer clothes to choose from, she wasn’t all that fussy. The neighbors were watching her from their front porch and had just left as Vince had pulled up in the new car.

The car was (as usual) used, but in excellent condition with huge white sidewalls on the wheels and a radio with reverb and a booming bass sound to it. It must have been customized. It had a metal sunshade over the front windshield. Julie whistled in admiration. It was much larger than their old, two-door, black Studebaker.

Black is a terrible color on metal in the heat of the summer sun. Their old Studebaker was like a wood-fired convection oven. Julie was sure they could raise yeast bread in the thing in the summer.

Vincente got out of the car, knelt down and put his large, muscled arms around her. She could smell the wetness of his London Fog jacket, a smell and feel that forever would give her comfort. It was a smell, translated into wool at the change of season, that she could remember from being a small child carried snugly against his shoulder in the blustery Philadelphia or Charlottesville winters.

“You know, baby,” he said quietly, pulling her against his strong, warm shoulder, even tighter. “We have just about saturated this area with hair care products, books and vacuum cleaners. You’ve known that for a while, right?”

Julie pulled away a bit, getting a shot of light summer drizzle down her back and neck. She pushed her lower lip out a little to form a pout. “I know we have to move again, Pop. We’ve been packing for the last couple of weeks. You know I’m still scared. You don’t have to rub it in… And I‘m not a baby. You don‘t have to cover up why we really have to move by talking about Fuller Brush.” This was not her favorite conversation. And Vince knew it. Julie was threatening to cry again, she said, “I know we have to move because Murder, Inc. is up our asses…”

And you can kiss tomorrow goodbye,” reverberated in Julie’s innocent, young mind.

Vince honestly looked shocked and retorted, “Where did you learn to talk like that?”

“In school.”

Julie knew that Vince wanted to run from those bags that were put in the car and the Willis gang (even though that was impossible right now due to their close presence), as much as Julie wanted to run from the grabbing hands of any rival mobsters. She was trying to be a big girl about all this.

“These jobs at Sears are really good…regular jobs. I won’t have to work outside. I can work in an office. We‘ll be safer if we move.”

“Can I come to your office?” Julie said, changing her pout to a mood of slightly more interest. Being home alone was not intriguing to her anymore, at least not until things changed.

“Sure,” he answered.

“We could go to the museums.”

“Yeah.”

“It’ll be fun.”

“You know that. Maybe we can lose the gangsters.”

“I love you, Pop. L‘amo il papà.” She wiped away a stray tear and began to accept that there might be some safety in the move.

_______

At the beginning of the third week in August, Vincente loaded the new Chevrolet to the brim with food, blankets, pillows and all their stuff. Romeo and Julie made their “cave” on the floor of the passenger side again. As usual, she slept on the car floor curled up on her blanket with Romeo amid her comic books, magazines and a few volumes of Nancy Drew. Vince had a road map for himself and gave her a slender kid’s atlas with pictures and drawings of what each state they were to travel through was famous for. Julie would start third grade in September, but with her dad’s help, she had learned to read with a facility that was superior to her age. And she loved to read.

The cave got better every move. At five in the morning on August 19, 1958, the two of them started for Chicago. Who knows how many times they had delivered drugs stuck with magnets to the underside of their cars, or hidden in their now easy-to-open trunk? Vince just would not go to the cops. He seemed more scared of them than the drug cartel. Well, with a small portion of the Boston mob after him, Julie could see why -- but wondered if that was the only reason. Then again, what other reason would he need? Especially now that the Willis mob was protecting them.

It almost seemed that the cartel had something on him. It did seem that way, didn’t it? He never thought of turning them into the Feds, even when he could. Well, you never know with grown-ups and Julie did not want the mob after her again if that’s what it meant to know what they had on her dad. She did watch gangster movies on the TV (or used to). And she was Italian. Not like she did not know anything.

_______

Vince had a love of starting out on trips when it was still dark, hours before dawn. Like the matching thing he had, he loved driving in the cool, dark mornings and watching the sun come up, perhaps, even in a new state. Usually, Julie fell asleep next to Romeo on the floor still in her pajamas with the cooler air hitting her from the open dashboard air vent. Vince would wake her up before they drove up to a diner as the sun was just coming up in the sky.

Then, of course, they would check both the rear view mirror and the trunk again.

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

Grab your coat and get your hat.

Leave your worries on the doorstep.

Life can be so sweet

on the sunny side of the street.

I used to walk in the shade

with my blues on parade.

But now I’m not afraid ‘cause this rover

done crossed over…

to the sunny side of the street.

 

“On the Sunny Side of the Street” music by Jim McHugh, lyrics by Dorothy Fields.)

 

After about six days of driving rural routes (since most of what we now know as highways were not there at the time, or being newly constructed), Vince pulled off the road into a Sinclair station to fill up under the garish lighted sign of Dino the green dinosaur.

They drove a little bit longer and then stopped the car under a large shady tree at a diner as they neared Indianapolis just about when the sun was all the way up and starting to make the Chevy bake, sweat and fry despite the lighter color of the roof. It was sunny all right. Julie’s pajamas were getting wrinkled and sweaty around the collar. Vince grabbed Romeo, put him on his leash and opened the car door, letting him pee as Julie tugged on a clean t-shirt and shorts.

He let the dog back in the car. Sticking his head in the passenger side window, he said, “Hi, Butterfly. Let’s get some breakfast.”

“Can I have sausage and eggs, Pop?”

“Sure,” he responded, handing her sunglasses to her as he poured a bowl of water for the dog. Then, he filled another small bowl with dry dog food. “Anything for you, Sunshine.”

She grabbed her sunhat and jumped down from the car as Vincente locked up, leaving the windows open a little for the dog.

While he was eating, Vince saw the local morning paper at a stand inside of the diner. He blanched as he read the headline. He shoved down the rest of his eggs and gulped his orange juice. Putting his arm around his daughter’s waist, he lifted her up, sticking her buttered toast in her hand as he did so.

He carried Julie to the cashier, paid her and got a copy of the paper, looking so strained that Julie started to get scared. He opened the car, put her in and jumped in his side, roughly starting the engine and pulling out of the graveled parking lot quickly.

If Vince hadn’t put the toast in Julie’s hand, she would have cried real tears. She really liked to dawdle over her toast -- always, and Vince knew this too. She huddled down into her seat on the passenger side of the car and gave a corner of her toast to Romeo, putting a little more water into his bowl on the floor from the thermos. Then, she slid back down to the floor.

“The ice cubes are almost gone,” she commented to Vince, looking at him curiously.

Suddenly, Vince turned off the rural road they had been careening around on, into an abandoned parking lot. This made the rest of Julie’s toast smack into her face, stick on her nose and peel off -- falling butter-side up into her hand. Romeo climbed up into her lap. He put his paws on her shoulders and cleaned her face off with his tongue. She managed to avoid giving him the rest of her toast by moving it to her side on his way up to her face.

She started to cry silently. But, really being too big to cry over anything so small (other than it just being too early in the morning for her to have to deal with this), she swallowed her tears. She gave another corner of bread to the dog and crawled up onto the passenger seat. Romeo stayed down on the floor of the car on top of the folded blanket, nestling into Julie’s Little Golden Book collection, crayons, comics, crossword puzzles and coloring books.

Vincente opened the newspaper again without so much as a glance at Julie. He read quickly and turned to a page deeper inside the front section. His fist opened and closed. He crushed it into the center of the opened paper, propped up on the steering wheel. Slowly, he put his forehead on the top of the steering wheel and started to sob quietly.

Julietta crawled across the car seat, putting her arms around his neck and whispered into his ear, “What’s the matter, Pop?” Vince only answered with another large sob. Julie thought that this was getting a little gummy. Leaning back on her heels and cocking her head to the side, she asked again, “Pop?” He just shook his head and pressed his hands to his face.

You have to know that Vince was a real good one for trying to make babies stop crying through behind-your-back teasing, among other things. So here is Julie, unable to be serious with an adult crying like her, a small child. So what does she do? Throws it back at him. She took a deep breath, knowing that a serious answer was not going to be good.

“Okay, Pop, cut it out,” she chided as she clucked her tongue a few times and poked him under the arm. He did not respond. She thought he might be faking. Maybe. A little bit. She hoped he might be faking it. So she took a chance and blew a wet raspberry in his arm crack, near his armpit.

Hey!” Vince exclaimed with a distracted frown, moving his hands away from his face, tearing part of the newspaper at the bottom.

Wake up!” Julie commanded, trying to shock him into conversation.

“Leave me alone,” responded Vince, looking down blankly, as if he did not see her.

“Don’t be rude,” she shot back. “You’re scaring me.”

“Don’t worry, morning star,” he said weakly, snapping out of his mood a little.

“I am worried.”

“Don’t be.”

“I am. I was almost kidnapped by mobsters. I have a right to worry.”

“Look…” Vince said, aggravated at last.

“I’m looking…”

She knew she would get the real explanation now. No problem. She leaned over and blew another raspberry near his armpit, wetter than the last one.

Get in the back seat,” Vince yelled in a controlled, but loud, voice. Loud enough to make her flip over the back of the front seat so fast that she tore the back seam on her new red shorts.

Vince shoved the car into gear and pulled onto a rural route that would connect them with Route 66 as fast as he could find it from the parking lot. That entailed scouting around several dirt roads and sailing onto another route or two at too fast a clip.

From there, Vincente found routes that paralleled their journey southwest so that he could stay away from what main highways there were at the time. At night, there was a heavy darkness on the rural roads, since they did not have street lights like today‘s modern highways. They finally found Route 66 which ran all the way from Chicago through Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. It ended in Los Angeles, but they were not going that far. In fact, they weren’t supposed to be going anywhere near Arkansas, either.

Julie was asleep when they whizzed right past Chicago.

Not having any streetlights on the routes worked in their favor. Also, there were generally no cops -- definitely no traffic cops.

The only streetlights were in the small rural town centers they passed through. Vince turned the radio on. Patti Page was singing Old Cape Cod, then came a selection from the Nat King Cole trio, perhaps You’re the Cream in my Coffee. The music moved with the gentle sway of the mid-western wheat and corn fields bending in the wind. Like waves of amber and gold in the brilliant sunlight during the day.

Vince shoved his hat down over his forehead and put his sunglasses on. He pulled the windshield shade down on his side of the car and then on the passenger side.

“What’s going on, Pop?” Julie asked for the zillionth time from the back seat where she had stayed in order to stretch out and sleep since her dad had not stopped except for gas and to use the toilet since Indianapolis.

“You like the beach?”

“Of course! You know that. What beach?”

“In Mexico.”

Mexico?! Why? Um, sure. Why Daddy?”

“We just might need to go there right now. Chicago can wait. I’ll tell you why later. You’ll love it. No winter there, it’s nice and warm all the time.”

Julie seemed to muse to herself over this information. She grew up mostly in Philadelphia and Dorchester so she did not remember the south very well. When they did go down south, it was not for the whole year, just for a few weeks in the summer to visit their relatives. So she did not remember a warm winter.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay, what?” Vince replied, pulling around a very slow moving tractor.

“ I’ll go --” she retorted.

“Hmm,” said Vince, smiling down at her, breaking his somber mood. “That’ll work out just fine. I was planning on inviting you anyway.”

Julie scrunched down with a coloring book and three month’s worth of old Highlights magazines dug out of the trunk at a rest stop and got busy.

“Can you get me a picture book about Mexico and a map?” she inquired, her curiosity politely silenced for the moment.

“Maybe. We’ll see. We need to make some good time.”

She still did not know why they were going to a foreign country in such a hurry but if it made her dad cry, she thought she could wait to ask him again. She did the puzzles and read the stories in her Highlights for a couple of hours, then fell asleep with Romeo curled up into her stomach.

They drove about 48 hours straight -- going way over the speed limit late at night. Julietta was still in her very rumpled, smelly pajamas from a couple of days ago. The two of them stopped only for ice, groceries, gasoline and the bathroom. Vincente had not slept at all. He was growing a beard.

They drove through Illinois and Missouri, entering Arkansas at midnight later in the week. Vince sped down Route 66 and drove right on into Texas. That brought them close to a more southern route by the weekend. They were getting closer and closer to the Mexican border in Laredo. Julie smelled her armpit. It was not good. They had not even stopped to check into a motel, let alone tried to find one of the boarding houses on her grandpa’s list. At least she could change clothes in the car occasionally, which is more than Vince could do.

Vince smelled way worse than she did. Down in Arkansas somewhere, he had hit a skunk on his side of the car, so the car was starting to smell like a very stinky zoo. Even Romeo was sleeping with his head under Julie’s blanket.

Vince thought they’d better wash up before they got to the border, so when he stopped for ice in San Antonio they checked into a small motel.

_______

Vincente rummaged in the trunk of the Chevy, looking for fresh clothing and some kibble for Romeo. His hand fell upon a small chunk the size of a brick. He pulled it out of the trunk with a tightening of his stomach. “Not now!” he thought with anxiety. “They promised!”

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

The package was a large stack of what looked like hundred dollar bills. Around the stack of bills was a long note. Vince looked around, no one was there. Julie was inside watching television. He pulled the note out and hid the bills in a suitcase.

He read the note nervously, his hands shaking:

[_ My Dearest Vincente, It has been a very long time since I last talked to you. Outside of the time you said hello to me in Charlottesville, the last time we spoke was in Mooringsport before the war -- when we were children. _]

I am afraid I must apologize for the rough treatment you received from the Scotts in Atlantic City and the Boston mob. The Scotts are rather undisciplined. We have tried to get rid of them for many years. They are dangerous even for us, and it is better to leave them alone sometimes and try and keep up with their skulduggery. They are, to say the least, very difficult people to deal with. I believe we have successfully negotiated with our rivals in the Boston mob, at least for now. It helps that you left that city.

The beating you received was the Scotts’ idea and was unauthorized by me. I must warn you that they are cooking up other schemes as well. They cleared you of suspicion with the DEA. But I am still being investigated for illegal non-medicinal drug trafficking.

Vincente looked up from the letter, rubbed his face and let out a cryptic and cynical-sounding snort, saying, “Yeah. Really…” to himself. He went on reading the note.

[_ I am of the belief you do not have to deliver for us any more. I know my relatives have already promised that to you with my blessings. At first, I was being watched too closely by the Feds, so you were a convenient option. I was being watched since my trafficking to and from Havana. (I think you must have noticed the cigars in the first package.) The Willis cartel was being watched for international smuggling and tax evasion. The fact that I knew you, came in handy -- especially since you were not a chemist, like myself. _]

I trusted you because I know you. I am a little sensitive about my career at Princeton and wanted to put some space between my drug deliveries, cocaine processing and my job there. That is something I really wanted more than the money from the cocaine. Hence the bags in your trunk. I now think that my job at Princeton could be taken away at any time, which would be sad. Being a professor and teaching the young has its myriad benefits. I love the community, not just the money or prestige. It was my dream, even as a small child, to earn the respect of the American upper class and walk with my head held high.

Just to let you know, I would not have hurt your daughter, Julie, at any time. The fact that you were an unwilling (and sometimes unknowing) participant was in your favor in terms of the police. And the fact that you were not involved with refining the coca leaves or smuggling any drugs internationally as I was, also worked in your favor with the Feds.

You might wonder how I got into this business to begin with.

When I was fifteen, I contracted polio. I spent a whole year immobile in bed. My father and uncle then took me to South America to recover and use some natural medicines. There they discovered a plethora of coca plantations. They began a cocaine enterprise for themselves as I continued recovering. While recovering, I learned the complicated, intricate business and chemistry in extracting powder cocaine from coca leaves. We still have our chemistry laboratory in Peru, although the lab is now illegal. My family’s poverty at the time made this important.

[_ By the time I grew up -- and could walk again (with the aid of a leg brace and cane) -- we had become moderately wealthy. I had spent the bedridden and crippled years of my illness reading and studying science and mathematics. I was able, by the age of nineteen, to gain entrance to Princeton University. There, I obtained a doctorate in chemistry and began to teach. I was also obliged to work for my family formulating the complicated chemistry necessary to extract, dry and powder cocaine -- and when your packages were received by the Princeton post office, cut the cocaine. _]

I was not particularly interested in the coke enterprise, but my family needed the money so I could not say no. They saved my life and rehabilitated me from a deadly disease, bought my books and loved me. How could I say no? Soon, though, things might be different. I may have to part with their enterprise. The entrance of the Boston mob when you were in Dorchester might hasten this.

The other parts of my family, alone, traffic in heroin and morphine, which I think is immoral. They know my career would be ruined if I were to help with that, so they do not insist that I join them in that. That is recent, though. It was enough for a long time for me to deal to the upper class in Manhattan. That is, until my cousins decided to do more.

[_ The money wrapped inside this letter is to keep you safe and to compensate you for the work you did for our cartel. Do not be angry. I know you, Vincente. I know you took cocaine pills with me when we were boys. So, I give you a fifty-fifty estimate that you would have delivered coke for us voluntarily -- except for the risk to your daughter. _]

[_ Be careful, Vince, those mobsters are tricky, but not that smart. Be careful and be safe -- use the money well. The guys that went after your daughter in Dorchester are low-life men, unimportant even to their own mob. You will find no more bags in your trunk. I will try and extricate you from this situation, but I cannot promise that I will be successful. You can count on my family to watch and protect you wherever you may go. _]

May God go with you,

Bannister Willis

Vincente picked up the stack of bills from inside the suitcase, got in the front seat of the Chevy and counted them out, putting them back into the suitcase when he was done. Fifty thousand dollars -- even. Bannister Willis was a very generous man. That was enough money to buy a house and send Julie to college.

But Vince still had something heavy on his mind. Very heavy. Like where were they going? He did not want to return to the United States once they entered Mexico. Not unless Bannister Willis was successful in controlling the Boston mobsters that were bothering them -- and somehow got in touch with him. It seemed that they did not need to worry that he would know where they were.

At least they were on the same side now.

_______

They both showered and changed their clothes. Julie’s pajamas and Vince’s shirt wound up in the trash barrel. Julie went out and sprinkled Old Spice inside of the car. Vincente slept for about ten hours while she watched TV quietly. He had not shaved, though. With his sunglasses on, he looked as if he was in disguise. They had checked into the motel under a false name: Jones.

Hmmm…” Julie thought nervously. “Why?”

_______

Vince went out to the car and came back in, carrying one of the blue plaid suitcases, trying to contain his excitement, and picked Julie up, sitting her down on the bed. She said, “What’s up, Pop?”

“I just found something in the car again.”

“Oh, no…”

“It’s not what we usually find there.”

“Hmm…really? What did you find?”

“I found a note promising that there will be no more cocaine packages…We quit! We are finished!”

 

“Whoopie,” said Julie sardonically. “How do you know that it is the truth? How do you know for sure? You’re the one that made me use the flashlight on the trunk in Dorchester after work. And all the way up here.

 

“Can they promise for the other mobsters? Can you promise me that I am safe now?”

Vince looked a little embarrassed. He was also a little shy to tell Julie about the money. He said, looking down at his shoes, “I know that’s all.”

“Look at me.”

“What for?”

“You’re hiding something.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Look at me then.”

“Okay…” said Vince looking up at Julie, trying not to smirk.

“See. I can tell. You’re hiding something…” Julie bounced up and down on the bed and continued. “What is it?” She hesitated, deep in thought and pointed at his face with her index finger. “Money…I smell money.”

Vincente startled and Julie saw him react.

“Ah, ha! Yeah, I thought so! He paid you. I thought that might happen when you said that your dad might have figured out who was doing this. He probably paid that kid to beat you up too.”

 

“No,” said Vince, standing up to stretch. “He didn’t.”

“You seem pretty sure of yourself.”

“I’d better be.”

“You can say that again…”

“Come here and stop being so smart-assy.”

“I need to be smart. How else would I protect you?…”

Vincente went to his suitcase, opened it and took the stack of bills out, flashing it at Julie. Julie said, “Phew! That looks like a whole lot.”

“Fifty thousand American dollars.”

Holy Mother. Can I buy something?”

“Yeah, don’t swear. When we get to Mexico.”

“ Okay, Pop. So, now we’re paid ex-drug smugglers and about to cross international lines -- with the Boston mob after us. I want to wear one of your sports caps and a pair of men’s sunglasses so I can look like a successful gangster -- and cross the border incognito.”

Vince frowned, suddenly getting ethical, wondering about the influence he could be having on his daughter by taking this money.

Then he laughed. After all the fear and danger they had been in, he was not above celebrating a windfall -- and the hell thought they deserved it too. Maybe they would go out to eat tonight. Find a nice Mexican restaurant. Or a steak house before they leave the states.

Julie repeated her request, “I want to wear one of your argyle sports caps.”

“Might be a little big.”

“Might. Let me try one.”

Vince fished a Stuart plaid cap out of his suitcase and threw it on Julie’s curls. It almost fit. He stuck his shades on her too. And laughed.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

They checked out of the motel early the next day. Vincente looked a little fresher. He had gotten electric hair clippers and given himself a crew cut, dying his hair and beard light blonde. Julie changed into her new blue jeans and a baggy cotton blouse. She took off her pa‘s hat and shades and wore her own.

_______

The brilliant tropical sun was just beginning to burn hot over the hint of a pink horizon when they got close to the border. Vince pulled off the road in an isolated place and blew some marijuana in Romeo’s face. A whole marijuana cigarette, in fact. Romeo lay down and fell asleep, snuffling a little occasionally. Not much, though. Vince put him into an empty picnic basket and shut the lid.

That’ll make him sleep,” Vince explained after the two of them had a wrestling match in the front seat, giggled for no reason and got silly.

“I think that stuff makes me laugh. Where did you get it?”

“It’s supposed to make you laugh. It’s silly weed. I got it in one of the pool halls I went into in Arkansas.”

“Very silly…I think it’s for kids.”

Vincente gave his daughter a deep look and started the car again.

The river that separates los Estados Unidos (the United States) from Mexico is called the Río Grande on the American side of the border and the Río Bravo on the Mexican side. Same river, though. They crossed the wide, rolling water.

The Mexican border was coming upon them rapidly at the end of the international bridge spanning the river from Laredo to Nuevo Laredo. Romeo was deep asleep (drifting into reefer-induced doggie dreams). It was just easier to keep him quiet that way. Then came the moment when their hearts skipped in panic as two Federales appeared from nowhere and whistled at them to stop. For some reason, the first thing they did was open the back door of the Chevy and point at the picnic basket that housed Romeo.

“What’s in there?” one of the national police asked, smiling and pushing his cap back on his head. Vince and Julie said, “Nothing…” at the same time, explaining that they had finished eating everything in the basket the night before and just had the empty basket.

Are they asking us for food?” Julie thought. There was the quiet sound of recorded Mariachi trumpet music from someplace drifting around the corner beyond the border as their anxiety mounted moment by moment. “Why would they want to know?” Julie thought again.

Then Vince reached into his wallet and passed one of the Federales two twenty dollar bills with a smile. The policeman looked at Julie and chuckled, saying something in Spanish of which she heard the gracias. He slapped a sticker that said “Turista” on their windshield, didn’t even ask Julie or Vince for an I.D., stepped back and let them go through.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

 

It got hotter and hotter as they drover further and further south towards Monterrey. The Mexican jungle began to rise above them into the humid green Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. The mountains stretched before them in the distance. When they crossed the border, the music had changed. No more American rock and roll.

There were Mariachi guitar bands in every possible tourist area, especially around Nuevo Laredo. Men played acoustic bass guitars and regular guitars and sang. Even little Mexican kids were singing for tips in the street. Vince’s fluent Spanish made them practically indistinguishable from other Mexicans even with his newly dyed blonde hair. As soon as he could, Vince bought a couple of Mexican license plates under the table somewhere -- which began to alarm Julie all over again. She was no dummy, she knew there had to be something really serious going on.

Ah, not again,” she thought, and put her pen knife in her right pants’ pocket.

Her sunglasses slipped down on her nose a little and she commented to her dad quizzically, “I thought we were going to Chicago? You were going to get a big job there…? This was going to be like a vacation, a trip to a wonderful Mexican beach?”

Vincente was quiet for a while, then he said, “Well, Butterfly, we are going to take a sort of vacation before we get to Chicago. I’ll explain the whole thing when I can.”

“It was something in that newspaper, wasn’t it?’ Julie asked as she pushed her sunglasses back up on her nose.

“Maybe. I’ll tell you later. Be patient. Trust me.”

“Okay, I will. I do. But, Daddy…”

Vince interrupted her quickly, and emphatically, “No explanations right now, Julie.”

She stared out the Chevy’s window, frowning. They started to climb into the Sierra Madres. As they got higher and higher, the foliage turned into a deep, dark green until it became apparent that the forest had become a very humid sub-tropical jungle. Vincente wanted to rest again and had gotten directions into the mountains. He seemed to need the feeling of hiding in the jungle. It was a wonder, though. Julie lost all of her confusion and anger and just stared, fascinated, out the window as they ascended a precipitous, winding road towards the top of the mountain range.

They pulled into a rain forest motel by noon. It had a swimming pool that had long moss under the water hanging from the sides of the pool at both ends. The motel was lovely, clean and cool in the severe tropical heat of Nuevo León. The next morning, Vincente went to get take-out for breakfast and Julie decided to go out by the pool to wait and possibly wade in the shallow end. One of the waiters in the motel’s café-restaurant (who was working around the pool at the time) explained that it was so warm and humid that they could not keep the moss out of the pool. And, he added, smiling, “Watch out for the snakes when you swim. Some of them are poisonous and they hide in the moss.”

“They’re in the pool?” she asked incredulously.

“ Sometimes, but the water is clear so you can see them -- usually.”

She had already put on her swimsuit, so she put the brakes on and headed for the café instead, stopping at their motel room to get her red, heart-shaped plastic change purse and a pair of shorts. She bought fresh fruit juice on ice at an outdoor stand in front of the motel. That was just as cool as a swim and a whole lot safer.

Since Vince did not have the time to watch out for her, she simply went out back by the pool again and sat around on one of the deck chairs, sipped her juice and marveled at the overhanging wall of jungle surrounding her.

The foliage was thick, and jungle vines hung from tropical tree branches. Vince had taken a detour up into the mountains just to see this (and maybe to relax away from the eyes of any curious folks), since someone had told him about the spectacular setting of this motel. Keeping a sharp eye out for snakes, Julie walked over to the pool, took off her pink plastic flip-flops and dangled her feet in the water from an un-mossy side.

Vince brought breakfast outside. He had gotten toasted tortillas, scrambled eggs and chorizo (a spicy loose Mexican sausage). They ate by the side of the pool.

He had gotten some new tropical/cowboy-style clothes and a Guayabera shirt for himself at a small shop in the motel -- and a beautiful, embroidered Mexican blouse for Julie. When they had finished breakfast, they went back to their room, showered and changed into their new clothes.

Vince looked fine in his new fancy pink embroidered short-sleeved cowboy shirt that hung over the waistband of his baggy, white knee-length shorts. Obviously, it was meant to be as cool as a Guayabera shirt. The cowboy shirt had two embroidered slit pockets on it like a jacket and white pearl snaps instead of buttons.

He had also bought a short-brimmed straw hat. His beard was getting fuller. He had also gotten Julie the same kind of straw hat in a smaller size. They sat around the pool most of the day and reluctantly got up, packed the Chevy again and were on their way before dark.

They reached Monterrey in a couple of hours. Julie inquired from Vince as to the chance that she might use some of his deodorant before they found a motel. She had smelt both armpits and they were obviously in need of something (after sitting around even near that hot sun). Vince reached in the back and threw her the Old Spice solid from his shaving kit.

“I could eat a matador,” she commented.

“We’ll eat as soon as we find a motel,” answered Vince.

Julie pulled on a loose pink, cotton blouse, feeling pretty. She pulled the blouse up again and rolled on her dad’s Old Spice. She smelled a little adult, but not little kid putrid anymore. They stopped, parked and cleaned the Chevy up a little. Feeding Romeo, they took him out for a walk, and checked into a nearby motel.

Someone started singing loudly, accompanied by a guitar. The sun started to set over the desert in an already light indigo sky, with a sapphire necklace of several bright early stars. The sky spread into an even deeper darkness, very slowly, like an ink drop in water.

_______

One of the first things Julie noticed the next morning after a breakfast of toasted tortillas, eggs divided in half with a serving of spiced pinto beans in their own gravy (huevos divorciados), was that everyone around them was unusually friendly. Mexicans seemed much more attentive than most Americans. Maybe it was Vince’s fluency in Spanish. Plus her dark, curly hair.

Julie was beginning to pick up a few words and phrases in Spanish, too. She could say, Buenos diás; Hola, cómo está usted?; Gracias and Buenas noches. And she was learning more all the time. Spanish was easy, a snap.

They drove around a bit after breakfast looking at the town, parked the red and white Chevy with the mysterious new Mexican license plates and decided to walk around the center of Monterrey and see the sights. A truly handsome small donkey with huge pointed ears and a bell around its neck, pulling a small red wooden cart passed them on the street. A young shirtless boy about Julie’s age was holding the reins. She grabbed her father’s hand and let out a belly-laugh.

Over by a sort of bandstand in the town square, the sidewalk was filled with food vendors of all kinds working from pushcarts. Vince and Julie chose to get a couple of thick cornmeal enclosed, meat-filled tamales wrapped perfectly in corn husks instead of wax paper. Corn husks, it turns out, are used a lot in Mexico. They are used for a tight customized wrapping for food and are also fed to livestock. They are great for keeping food hot and the tamales were still warm.

This was a place in which some of the little girls were dressed. Mostly on Sunday, but they were [_ dressed -- ] and it was Sunday when they had arrived yesterday[.] Oh sure, there were the usual plain, flowered kid’s clothes, but there were modest signs of prosperity everywhere. A few impressive _caballeros had on elaborate cowboy outfits -- cowboy boots and large, stamped silver metal belt buckles. Some of them had embossed silver hat bands on over-sized cowboy hats.

Monterrey was a pretty place with lots of machine-embroidered traditional (very cool) heavy cotton, loose-fitting, elasticized girl’s blouses and skirts -- like the blouse Julie had gotten in the mountains and the clothing she and her dad had seen when they had arrived. She learned later that they were sometimes called Mariachi clothes. Like the guitar and brass bands.

A lot of the girls seemed to have this ornate wear. Except for Julie. When Vincente went off to do something, she decided to look around for herself for a short while and meet him back where he had left her. She saw a display with the kind of clothes she wanted in a store window. A young girl about her age was standing there with just the kind of outfit that she wanted. The girl was very pretty. She had a round face with two penny-sized dimples, one in each cheek. Her hair was long, very black and shiny. She had it pulled back into a loose ponytail with a large, flat barrette, topped off with a fresh flower.

“Fine outfit,” Julie commented, slyly, pulling her shades down her nose, so the girl could see her eyes, and pointing to the display window.

“Go inside. Do you have any money?” the girl asked as she smiled at her. Then she said in Spanish, “Americana, yo creo …?”

“Hmm?” Julie questioned, as she popped her shades back up with her index finger, since dropping them on the sidewalk upside down on the lenses might make her seem immature. “,” she said after a thought or two, “Americana .” She opened her plastic see-through purse to show the girl her change (but not the bills -- which were hidden inside a folded up comic book).

She had four see-through, plastic purses, which got smaller and smaller and all fit one inside the other. Each one was a different color.

“I know a place we can get real strawberry ice cream,” the girl commented.

“Really…?”

“Of course, really.”

“I need clothes. I feel so plain.”

“You look just fine. Folks are used to tourists.”

“Oh.”

Vince walked up and grabbed Julie’s hand. Looking at the girl, he said politely, “Hola, Señiorita, cómo éstas?”

Muy bien,” replied the girl.

Julie looked up at Vince and said, “This is my new friend…”

“Jacinta García,” added the girl, looking directly into Vince’s eyes.

“Jacinta,” Julie repeated, smiling at the little girl, “said there is a good ice cream place close by.” She looked at her new friend with one eyebrow up. The girl nodded.

“Real flavors, nothing artificial,” responded Jacinta again. “Honey-sweetened, no sugar…”

Julie raised both eyebrows at Vince.

He said, “Okay, but I want to get you some nice clothing first. It gets very hot here and I think you would look great in some of those.” He pointed at the store window. “Especially since you split your shorts on the way here.”

“Cool,” Julie answered. Jacinta giggled.

“ Jacinta,” he continued, “would you like to join us? We can go for ice cream afterwards --my treat.”

“Oh. , Señor…”

“Just call me Mr. Jones,” replied Vince.

They all went into the store where Julie got three blouses: white, green and bright red. All of them were designed in a similar style, but with different machine embroidery on each one. There was embroidery around each of the elasticized scoop necklines. They all had poofy elasticized short sleeves.

She also chose two skirts to match, with wide cotton bodies and elastic gathered waistbands. The skirts had embroidery along their loosely gathered bottoms flaring into a short fancy smooth matching embroidered swatch near the hem. Everything was loose and slip-on and matched her red Keds. She was really beginning to like Mexico.

_______

They all went to the ice cream place and Julie did not believe that anyone ever tasted anything like what they ate that day unless they make ice cream at home. Mexico is famous for its dairy products and they found out why. As they sat around a round café table outside under a colorful canvas awning, Jacinta and Julie delicately tried to keep from dropping strawberry juice, etc. on themselves.

Jacinta turned to Vince and asked, after she gulped a large piece of strawberry and wiped some of the juice off with a paper napkin, “Where are you from? I mean, what part of America?”

Vince replied, “Mostly from down south, but we just moved from Massachusetts.”

“Pop wanted to go to the beach,” Julie added vaguely.

 

“Oh,” said Jacinta. “The ocean is nowhere near Monterrey, but there is a lake about 12 miles outside of town, the Laguná des Labradorés in los Cumbrés des Monterrey. It is pretty wild over there since it is a national forest. People go there to fish.”

Julie looked at Vince, who seemed embarrassed. After all the weird things he had been doing, she was not surprised that they weren’t near the ocean, either.

When they were pretty much done with their ice creams (and glasses of ice water), Vince said they had to go back to their motel, unpack and wash their laundry.

Jacinta asked, as they all pushed back their chairs and got up to leave, “How long were you planning on staying?”

Vince answered, “Oh, about a month or more. I don’t know yet.”

Julie exclaimed, “A month!” Then she looked at Jacinta and swallowed. “Well, it’s up to my dad.” She tried to hide her quizzical expression.

Jacinta added in an adult tone of voice, “I can help you find a nice, inexpensive rental house so you can save some money. There are a few around here. We can go look tomorrow if you like.”

Vince smiled at her and shoved his straw hat back from his forehead. “Wow! That would be fantastic.”

Julie added with a nod to her dad, “Pop really likes flowers. It would be nice to find something with a garden.” She was just so mature.

“There are plenty of houses with little flower gardens and you can buy potted plants down the street,” Jacinta said, helpfully. “I would suggest gardenia and jasmine. They are very aromatic. Just watch out for scorpions if you are looking at any gardens, though. Keep an eye on the ground. There are quite a few around here.

“Go ahead and get settled in your motel. I can meet you back here at the ice cream shop at 3:30 tomorrow, after school. I have to go and talk to my parents and see what places are open.”

Julie laughed with delight and hugged her, finally knocking her sunglasses off. “You are going to be one of my best friends, Jacinta! We should go to the movies together.”

“There are all in Spanish,” she reminded her.

“I don’t mind. I have to learn sometime and besides you can translate for me.”

“They play cartoons on Saturdays. I don’t know if you would like [_ El Coyote -- ] the _Coyote films are sort of like American cowboy films. But more like Zorro. In fact, it represents the original Zorro. Diego de la Vega of San Gabriel, California who protected the rights of indigenous people is the real original. Right now, La Justicia del Coyote is playing in town,” she responded, smiling again. “My grandmother usually takes care of me on the weekends, but I am sure she will let me go with you.”

Vince snapped his fingers and said, “You girls are really lucky that you found each other. And, again, thank you Jacinta. I am looking forward to meeting your parents and your grandmother.”

“ Maybe my dad will come with us tomorrow to look at some of the rentals,” answered Jacinta. “He knows a lot of the folks in town. He works all the time so I never know. Mom works as a secretary at the local radio station and sometimes works at night or on the weekends, but soon we will plan a big dinner for you -- a fiesta.

“I will invite you over even if it is only me and my grandma. Well, I better go home and talk to everyone. See you tomorrow!” Jacinta reached around and pulled the flower out of her hair and gave it to Julie with a big hug and a giggle and ran down the street. She turned and waved shouting, “Adiós!

Julie and Vince got up and walked to the car. They returned to their motel, which had an inner tiled courtyard that had a huge square planter in the center with flowers, small palm trees and a fountain, which kept it cool. As they settled into their motel room, a large bug, which must have been at least two inches long and one inch wide, with a huge set of antennae, walked casually across the floor. If it could have waved, “hello” it would have. Her father grabbed her and carried her quickly out the door to save her life.

He hurried to the front desk where the desk clerk, Alfonso, started laughing at them as Julie desperately hugged her dad’s neck and refused to put her bare feet on the floor. He told them that the bug was a Mexican cockroach (technically a water bug) -- and would not hurt them.

“You can watch out for scorpions and rattlesnakes but those bugs will not harm you. Just pick them up in some paper and throw them out the window,” he commented, still laughing.

Julie got down and tugged at her jeans, since in her fear they had ridden all the way up her legs.

Alfonso leaned over the counter and laughed, speaking to Julie, “You can play with them if you want to. Dress them up in dolly clothes.”

“That’s okay,” Julie responded, not laughing. Alfonso reached into a large fruit bowl and handed Vince a large, yellow, soft fruit shaped like a small football the likes of which Julie had never seen before.

“Just don’t bite into the seeds. They are bitter. You can skin it too. Do you have a knife? Have you ever eaten papaya before?”

Vincente said no to both questions and Alfonso handed him a kitchen knife saying, “Throw the peels and seeds in the toilet unless you want to see that cockroach’s cousin.” He laughed again, more loudly. The sounds of live music drifted in through the open motel door. “I guess you are not Mexican,” he added as a sort of question.

Vincente said that he was, but that he had been orphaned and did not grow up with Mexicans. He said something in Spanish and Alfonso looked deeply sympathetic.

“ Well, you are home now. If you ever need anything, here is my home phone number -- just give me a call.” He came around the counter and gave Vince a piece of paper. He hugged him and gave him a light slap on the back. They spoke to each other in Spanish for a while. Julie went and sat down next to a plant in a corner of the lobby, feeling some anxiety and the beginnings of an upsurge in anger.

She looked at the dirt around the plant, the floor and her feet.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

When they were walking back to their room and out of earshot of anyone, Julietta finally cornered Vince and demanded an explanation. He picked her up again and carried her in the door and shut it. The cockroach was gone. They examined their beds and the floor and sat down on Vince‘s bed together.

“Okay,” said Vince, looking at the floor and up at his daughter again. He had tears in his eyes. “I know you have to know the truth. I have always told you everything I could, as honestly as possible, so that you will grow in strength. Because this is what happens when people are true to each other.

“Things you do not understand will not hurt you as much as they could, if you remember this. I wanted you to know your family and I am taking the time to tell you everything I can about me and them, and the world as I see it. You can make your own decisions about things later on.”

“Okay…” Julie said, looking directly at him, wondering where he was going with all of this.

“You remember when that kid beat me up in Atlantic City?”

“Yup,” she said.

“Well, his name was Davey Scott. The other two men were his father and a guy named Earl Small.”

“Hmm…” she replied, “I think I’ve heard their names before.”

“You remember when I was reading the paper on the way here?”

“Yeah…”

“What happened was that I saw an article on the front page describing the fight. They said that Davey Scott had died from the fight we had and that I was accused of breaking his neck…”

“But, Pop, that was almost two years ago!” Julie was incredulous.

“True, but there is no statute of limitations on murder. And they have been looking for me since then.”

Murder! He attacked you!” Julie shifted closer to him on the bed.

“Well, he was fine when he went running down the street, but apparently died from some sort of injury later on.”

“How much later on?” she asked.

“A couple of months, maybe.”

“But why are they looking for you now?” she moved even closer, until she was touching his shoulder, and stuck her thumb in her mouth.

“Don’t suck your thumb…” Vince commanded her weakly. “It will turn red, shrivel up and get a big bump on it.”

“I want to suck my thumb,” she complained. “I don’t mind if it turns red.”

 

“Okay. Anyway, you know we left Philadelphia only a few weeks after the fight. They have been looking for me since then. And someone has decided to renew the search. With all the money we have now, though, we can live anywhere we want to.”

“How come they couldn’t find you? You have a driver’s license and you work for Electrolux and all those other places.”

“Actually, my license is a phony…” Vince broke down, took his glasses off and buried his face in his hands, crying softly. Tears started to run, inadvertently, out of Julie’s own eyes in sympathy.

You’re illegal?!” she exclaimed, horrified.

Vince looked up and smiled at her through his tears. He took her into his lap and (smoothing her rather messy, tousled hair) looked at her deeply.

“Sometimes these things happen. Your grandma and gramps are in this country illegally as well.” He grinned, looking up and continuing to let the tears run down his cheeks.

No…!”

“Yes.”

“Oh, my God…” Julie gasped.

“Like I said, sometimes these things happen. I was born at home in America. So I do not have a birth certificate. Your grandparents have no real birth certificates, either. But they came into this country off a fishing boat from Italy, illegally. They were smuggled in.”

Je—sus,” she swore quietly.

“Don’t swear. You don’t have a real birth certificate, yourself.”

Julie hid her face in her father’s shirt and started laughing.

“I could be anybody,” she speculated.

“You could,” he replied, stroking her head. “You could be some little baby I found on the street, maybe on my back porch.”

“Am I?” she asked, starting to worry, her forehead wrinkled in consternation as she leaned back to look into her pop’s eyes. She knew about the basket thing in Tennessee. Maybe her father was just being nice. Maybe she was really Mexican and he was feeling guilty and taking her back to her real family. Her world-view was beginning to change rapidly right now.

“Ah, no, sweetie. You’re mine.” She sighed deeply and leaned back into her father‘s chest. “That is real. I told you I would tell you the truth,” Vince whispered, pulling her away from his shirt, getting wet from her tears.

“And…?” she whispered, waiting for more. Not really wanting to know.

“The Britannica, Fuller Brush and Electrolux were all stolen or counterfeit and sold to me by an illegal office in each city we lived in.”

“Why did you do that, Pop?” She was stunned.

“ That is a long story. Your mother had just died and the Korean war was just beginning. I was able to avoid the draft in World War II because no one knew I existed. I needed to help support our family -- and later on you. I was not alone. Our people and others are and were in the same predicament.”

“That’s a lot of really heavy stuff to steal,” Julie commented, musing on his loyalty to her and the weight of a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica along with the new wooden bookshelf they came in. “So, you’re a draft dodger?”

“True.”

“Phew,” she exclaimed as she puffed out her cheeks. She was getting drowsy. All the crying had knocked her out. She needed a nap even though it was getting towards evening. She wasn’t hungry for dinner. They had forgotten lunch.

“Your mother and I were not legally married, either,” Vince said softly as her head began to drop and she started to snore quietly.

She woke up, suddenly, and asked, confused, “Where is Romeo?”

Vince carried her to her own bed and tucked her in. He spoke into her hair as he laid her on the bed, “He’s in the car with his water bowl and dry food. The windows are partially open. He’ll be all right until morning.”

Julie stuck her thumb back into her mouth and closed her eyes in sleep.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

Julie awoke late the next morning to the hot, tropical sun blazing into their room. She looked over to the table on the other side of the room and saw the giant papaya that her dad had been given by the desk clerk, Alfonso, yesterday. She yawned and rolled over into a slightly sweaty sheet.

The shower was running and she was ready for her turn. She got up and opened the bag with her new clothes in it. She folded everything and moved the skirts and blouses into her suitcase. She chose the new red blouse and red flaring skirt to wear today.

The flower from Jacinta’s hair sat in a cup of water exuding fragrance around the room. She peeled off her damp pajamas and put them in their laundry bag. Romeo snuffled and gave a quiet bark. He was under the bed in the shade. Smart dog. Her dad must have brought him in earlier this morning, perhaps to keep an eye on anything crawling around on the floor.

Vince walked out of the bathroom. His beard was growing out and still went untrimmed, but had been dyed blonde again. He had on a red short-sleeved cowboy shirt with pink and purple machine embroidery around the pockets and purple mother-of-pearl snaps. His pants were a white cotton twill. Somehow, somewhere, he had gotten red slip-on sneakers with thick, hard soles that looked somewhat like Julie’s red Keds. Maybe this morning when she was asleep.

“Wow, Pop, you look good! We match!” Julie exclaimed.

Vince looked at her and sent a dazzling smile radiating around her head. Romeo barked at him and wagged his stubby tail. He curled and uncurled a few rolls of fat (like a little concertina) in happiness. “Your turn in the shower, smelly,” he said to his daughter.

“I’ll be out in a jiffy,” she shot back, grabbing her new choice of outfits and heading for the bathroom door.

By the time she was out of the shower, Vince had packed their laundry and put Romeo on his leash. It was almost noon, so they decided to get some late breakfast and do their wash. Julie’s stomach growled loudly, having missed two meals yesterday.

Vince decided to look through the Monterrey papers for houses to rent. Perhaps they would be able to look at some of the available places today, before they went over to meet Jacinta.

Vince had found a pretty, little embossed brass bell to put on Romeo’s collar whenever he had gone out to buy his shoes. He slipped it onto the collar. They were decked out.

They grabbed their laundry bag and walked to the car. A few hours later, after eating a very late breakfast and had finished washing their clothes, they drove over to meet Jacinta and slid into a parking space. Julie ran across the street with Romeo ringing along beside her. Jacinta smiled broadly when she caught sight of her and waved.

Julie panted, out of breath, and bumped into Jacinta with Romeo trying to wag what he had for a tail. Usually, he wagged his entire rear end. Jacinta laughed when she saw the dog.

“This is your dog? He is sooo cute!” she squealed, kneeling down to pet Romeo. Romeo loved to be the center of attention and liked being petted and scratched -- a lot.

“What’s his name?” Jacinta asked, sitting down cross-legged on the sidewalk, reaching over to scratch Romeo’s back. Romeo, of course, climbed into her lap and curled up. Jacinta cooed, “Ohhh…perrito!

“Romeo…” Julie replied, “is his name. Like Shakespeare: Romeo and Julietta. You can hold the leash if you want.”

She took the leash and said, “Even you are all dressed up, my little Romeo.” Jacinta turned towards Julie and commented enthusiastically, “You are really lucky; your daddy gives you all these pretty clothes and a dog, too.” Then she added quizzically, “Shakespeare? Quiene es esto?”

Julie blushed and said, “Shakespeare is a writer. You can play with the dog all you want.” She paused generously, and added, “We also brought all of my toys. I have a load of them. I will bring some of them over to your house later.” In a flash of intuitive friendliness, she asked, “Do you play cards? Ever heard of Rooti Kazootie?

“Yes, I play some card games,” Jacinta replied, sedately. “I play bridge, whist and poker, but I’ve never heard of Rooti Kazootie.”

“You’ll like it. It’s a hoot.”

“A hoot? What’s that?”

“That means it’s a lot of fun,” Julie explained as Vince walked up to the two of them.

Buenos días, Señiorita,” Vince said as he smiled at Jacinta.

Buenos días, Señior Jones. My father is at work but he said we can come over to meet him there. My grandmother is at home and my mother will see us at dinner.” She paused, as an afterthought, she added, “I was hoping you could come over and eat dinner with my family tonight. You are invited.”

That’s what it was like in Mexico, it seemed, one invitation after the other.

“That sounds good. We don’t have any plans for tonight.” said Vince, picking Romeo up from Jacinta’s lap. She stood and brushed herself off.

Bueno,” said Jacinta. “Come with me. I’ll bring you over to my father’s work place.”

Vince picked the dog up and slung him over his arm. He wanted to carry him since he was so small and could get overheated in the Mexican sun easily.

Jacinta continued as we walked with her, “It’s not very far, just a few blocks and around the corner.”

She grabbed Julie’s hand and they started to skip holding hands and laughing at the clumsy way they lurched from side to side. Vince followed them. As they turned the corner, they stopped and waited for him to catch up with them.

There were a few government buildings ahead, including a post office. Jacinta led the way and waved Vince and Julie into a small, pink adobe building. They all walked into the lobby. Suddenly, Vincente looked sweaty and sick as he glanced up at a government seal on the wall surrounded by words in Spanish. He called Julie over to him and choked out something in a whisper as he bent down to her ear.

She said, “What?!

He repeated, “This is a police station…

A large man in a police uniform walked into the entrance area and smiled at Jacinta.

“This is my dad, Captain Emilio García. He runs the whole police department,” she said with a little pride in her voice.

Vince looked desperate, like he did not know where to run to. Although he looked trapped, he was able to produce a weak smile and extended his hand. He put Romeo down on the floor.

“Robert Jones,” he lied as he shook hands with Chief García.

“Emilio García,” Jacinta’s dad responded. “Wonderful to meet you. Jacinta has been talking to me about your daughter. We have quite a meal prepared for you for tonight. My mother is working on it right now. And what is this little fellow’s name?” the Chief asked as he bent down to pet Romeo’s wagging behind.

“Romeo,” Vince blurted, looking even weaker.

“Well, come right on into my conference room. There is air conditioning in there and we can sit down. I have some fruit juice on ice for us.”

They all trooped into Captain García’s conference room. Julie shot a deep, scared look at her dad who looked really trapped, kind of defeated and sad. García seemed to catch his mood and reacted with a rather soft look on his own face. Vince grabbed Julie’s hand. His palm was sweaty.

They sat down at a table with a pottery pitcher, four glasses and dish of long, ribbed, fried pastries.

“We thought you would like to try some Mexican pastry,” said García, smiling. “These are churros. Jacinta told me that you do not like sugar, so my mother made them with crystallized honey. It is very common for Mexicans not to used refined sugar. The juice is only freshly blended coconut, banana and pineapple with ice.”

As they were eating he continued, looking piercingly into Vince’s eyes, “Jacinta told me a great deal about you two. Perhaps when we are done with our treats I can have a word with you, Robert, in my office.”

Julie choked on her churro and accidentally spit a piece into her juice. Jacinta, the dirty little spy, looked at her lap and would not meet Julie’s eyes. “All along,” Julie thought, “this kid was going to lure us into the police station and get my dad arrested.”

Really, as delicious as the iced juice and churros were, neither Vincente nor Julie could finish. Vince handed Romeo’s leash to her, got up from the conference table and followed Capt. García out of the room. He looked like a condemned man and folded his hands in front of him.

Julie knew if her dad had to return to Atlantic City and stand trial, he could be jailed or executed whether he had hurt that young man or not. Not to mention the false license plates, no real driver’s license, using a false name and the cocaine smuggling. And all of it to protect her and their family. She started to sweat and picked Romeo up. She hugged him to her chest, in need of comfort. Romeo’s head brushed the underside of her chin. She could feel tears forming underneath her eyelids.

She looked daggers at Jacinta. She supposed that Jacinta had seen the Mexican license plates and told her dad all about them. She felt a deep well of hatred loom between them. Jacinta still had her eyes glued to the floor.

When Vince and the Chief went into the other room and shut the door, Jacinta looked up steadily and spoke quietly to Julie, trying to console her with a breathless tone in her voice, “Don’t worry, my father knows almost everything, but he won’t hurt you or your dad. He is going to give him another chance. I made him promise.” She looked down again.

“You can’t have my dog,” Julie blurted at her, still a little distrustful. Thinking, they couldn’t possibly know everything. Or could they?

“We won’t take your dog, either,” answered Jacinta quickly, louder and more assured. “We will protect you. My father believes that your father suffered many injustices and he wants to help him.”

Julie started to drip tears onto Romeo, who on top of everything else, grabbed the rest of her churro and ate it. She leaned onto the table over Romeo and hid her crying face in her arms. “You want to talk about injustice?” she thought, with anger.

“We are friends, Julietta, and my family won’t betray you,” Jacinta said, moving her chair over to Julie and extending her hand to stroke Romeo. She reached down to Julie’s cheek as Julie looked up at her and brushed her tears away with her hand. “Don’t worry,” she repeated. “You can trust my father.”

Julie began to wonder how much she really knew after what her dad had told her last night. And, she thought again, “What about all that cocaine, the drug money and the Boston mob?”

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Vincente felt like he was getting smaller and smaller as he took a chair across from Capt. García’s desk. His ears started to ring. García looked at him and began speaking, “Jacinta told me that you have Mexican license plates.”

Vincente said nothing.

“We ran the plates and they are registered to you, um, as Roberto Jones.” He said this with the emphasis on the Roberto. “You also seem to have no driver’s license. On top of this, neither of your names: Robert or Roberto Jones is registered with Electrolux. But,” he continued as Vincente groaned, “the main problem seems to be the fact that you are wanted for a two year old accusation of murder.”

Vince looked up, hopelessly, and saw a drawing of his likeness and his real name on a Mexican leaflet that Chief García slid across his desk to him. He sighed, hoping that there was no information there on the activities of Bannister Willis.

“That is your real name?”

Vince nodded.

“And you have no plates or license under that name?”

“No.”

“ First of all,” the Chief stated as he got up, walked around and leaned on his desk facing Vincente, “there are many questions to be reconciled with the facts. Davey Scott was cremated so there is no body. He also had many complaints against him including quite a few dismissed misdemeanor thefts and a few seemingly unprovoked assaults. In short, he had a bad reputation and a reputation as a bully. His cousin was arrested and jailed for conspiracy to deliver and distribute powder cocaine for non-medicinal usage -- and some connections with a New York mobster.”

The Chief continued speaking as Vincente started to breathe out a little and come to himself, looking up at García less apprehensively. Although he gagged a little when he mentioned the Scott arrested for coke charges.

“Our department in Monterrey is willing to stand behind you under certain conditions. I, personally, think there is something going on that you are being scapegoated for. I think you must think the same thing.” The chief looked at Vince questioningly.

Vincente answered quietly, “Yes.”

García picked up an open leather case with a shield inside it from his desk.

“I am going to deputize you as a member of our police department. This is how much I believe in you. I believe you are a wonderful father. At least, my daughter Jacinta thinks so. And her opinion means a lot to me.

“What I am about to tell you will cover any aliases you must use.

“I also believe you are the victim of a very dangerous injustice. Now,” García said, as he leaned closer and snapped the case shut handing it to Vincente, “… my people also enter America with no passport, sometimes use aliases and have false documentation.” He gave Vince a small smile, as he continued, “I am sure, that many of my people would also like to know what you do in order to sell vacuum cleaners.”

Vincente opened the case and saw an I.D. with his real name on it and a shiny brass shield with Monterrey Police Department emblazoned on it in Spanish. He looked up incredulous, tears still sparkling in his eyes. He hesitated and then stuttered, “Actually, Julietta and I were on our way to Chicago so that I could get a legitimate office job with Sears, Roebuck and Company in the catalog division -- and straighten out all the false I.D. stuff.” He hesitated again. “What do you want me to do with this, Emilio?” He held up the folder with the shield in it.

García got up, walked around behind his desk and sat down in his chair again. “I want you to try and clear yourself. I want you to go back, leave Julietta and Romeo with my family and see what you can find out. Call me and I will use my power to try and influence anyone I need to.

“We understand what foreigners go through in the America, so be careful. If you cannot do anything, be quiet and come back to us. You can always, always live here.”

García paused, and spoke again, thoughtfully, “And, by the way, I want you to keep those plates on your car as long as you need to. Now that you are to be deputized, I give you the right to work undercover.”

Vincente said, “I have American plates in the name of Robert Jones, as well. Having an Italian name can be a hassle sometimes as well, so I changed my name years ago. Although it wasn‘t done through the court system.” He got up and ran his fingers through his hair. Turning to García, he spoke again with a flash of strength in his eyes, “I don’t know how to thank you. I did all of these things for my family and my child.”

“I know,” replied Chief García. “Thank me by being safe. Now, I want you to face the Mexican flag and repeat our oath of office as a deputy.”

After swearing Vincente in, Chief García handed him a long box. He opened it. Inside were two ornate matching Derringers ensconced in red velvet.

García said, “Look inside the pocket on the lid. Just undo the snap.”

Vince did so and pulled out two strange looking straps with long elastic bands.

“These fit around your forearms,” instructed the Captain. “When they are wrapped around the Derringers, they release by pulling your arm up inside your sleeves. The guns will then fall into your palms but will still be attached to the elastic. Each gun contains only two bullets, but Derringers are excellent for self-defense, especially at short range. And these are

45’s.

“They can easily kill a man or shoot a weapon out of someone’s hand. They have the advantage of being easily hidden. Here, also, is a box of one hundred bullets. I hope you will not have to use them. All of this is my personal gift to you. The guns belonged to my father. They were custom-made by the best gunsmith in Monterrey, so that they have a special light action and will not jam when used correctly. I will practice with you and show you how to use them.”

Vincente stared at the beautiful scrolling on each burled wood handle and the scrolling etched on the metal of the double barrels. He said, “Thank you, but I haven’t got the faintest idea how to shoot a gun.”

García laughed and continued speaking, “Before you return to Atlantic City, I will teach you how to handle and clean them. You will need a cleaning kit as well. I have the one that goes with this set at home in my study.

“I will give the kit to you tonight. Bring your suitcases and check out of the motel. You will be staying at my home until you leave.” García got up, walked over to Vincente and embraced him saying, “I believe you are innocent. With the help of God, I think you will find out what kind of devilish plot is being used against you. If you cannot reveal this to the local authorities, just return here and we will see what we can do from Monterrey.”

The two men walked out of García’s office and saw that Romeo was asleep underneath the small conference table. Jacinta and Julie, having made up and cleared the air, were deep in a game of blackjack with Jacinta having the most chips. Julie had had the new deck of cards and her poker chips in her large plastic handbag. Never can tell when you might need something like that.

 

 

 

Part Two

Vaya con Dios

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

 

There‘s somebody I‘m longin’ to see.

I hope that he, turns out to be

someone who‘ll watch over me…

 

I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood.

I know I could, always be good

to one who’ll watch over me…

 

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed,

follow my lead, oh, how I need

someone to watch over me…

 

(“Someone to Watch Over Me” George Gershwin, music – lyrics, Ira Gershwin – used in the musical Oh, Kay!)

 

Vincente left in the Chevy about two days later. He had explained to Chief Garcí a that he could never have broken Davey Scott’s neck with his bare hands as the newspapers had said he did. Scott was much larger than he was and far heavier. Vince was puny: a sardine, a quiet kind of guy -- not even big enough to open some jars. Davey Scott was very muscular. In fact, he was twice the size of the average full-grown man, even though he might have been anywhere from seventeen to his early twenties.

Vince had told García about his own injuries: his split lip, cut eye and his bruises. He explained that Scott had injured him and not the other way around. Chief García said the fact that the investigation was so old was in his favor and that if Davey Scott’s death had any evidence other than hearsay to call him immediately.

Chief Garcí a and Vince put together a disguise so that Vince would not be too recognizable. Vincente’s full, untrimmed beard was filling in more and more -- and Garc ía had gotten him a curly gray wig. In an experiment to see how this would look, they peppered his beard and eyebrows with gray theater makeup to make him look older, put a pair of dark glasses on him and gave him a cane.

The Garcías also found a shabby light-colored suit that was way too big and padded his stomach. Vince faked an old man’s limp and shaking hands. Chief García had gotten him the cane as another gift. It was lovely and ornate, made of a dark wood. The end of the cane was a heavy brass knob and could be used as a bludgeon. The brass end unscrewed to reveal a razor sharp nine inch brass knife.

García carefully explained that Vince should use the Derringers, knife and bludgeon only for self-defense as he had said before. And, again, the Chief repeated that any confrontations should be reported to him as soon as possible. With a bit more makeup on his face to cover old scars from the injuries, Vincente’s disguise was finished. Even Julie might not have noticed him on the street.

Julie was a little bit worried about not traveling with her dad -- as if her presence could help him in some way -- but you never know. She knew he would not approach anyone if the situation looked dangerous. He promised to call both Julie and Chief Garc ía frequently to update them on what was happening.

Julie moved into Jacinta’s room at the García’s house. Vince unpacked the car and left the rest of their things in the García’s garage. Because of this, Julie had all of the new toys and books that her dad had gotten to bribe her into going to Chicago.

After her father left for Atlantic City, Julie had, at first, a few deep pangs of loneliness, but Jacinta was very observant and considerate of her feelings. She was fast becoming a sister to Julie.

_______

Jacinta’s grandmother was a big Mayan Indian woman with long dark hair that she pinned into a loose bun, or a twist, like Julie’s own grandmother. Jacinta looked like a young version of her grandmother. Between Jacinta’s grandmother and her mother, Julie began to relax. It was really kind of nice to have two older women around. (Hmm…a mother, something new.) They were warm, affectionate and understanding. It seemed as if everyone was aware that Vincente might not return. Julie tried to bury this fact in their overwhelming kindness. She began to feel like she was a part of their family.

Jacinta and Julie were allowed to stay up late and they did. Jacinta’s parents had given her permission to stay home from school as long as Julie’s father was away so that she could be her companion and comfort her until her dad got back. Julie thought they felt that since she could not go to school because she had no fluency in Spanish, she might feel too much anxiety being without someone her own age all day long. This was probably true. Plus, Jacinta’s grandmother did not speak English, so she would not have been able to talk to anyone all day until Jacinta got home.

They really dug into Julie’s toy collection. They got into her Tinkertoys, Erector Set, Old Maid card game -- everything -- with an eight-year-old’s ferocity. You name it -- they played with it. Julie found out that Jacinta and she were the same age and both of them would have started third grade this year. They decided to study at home, with Jacinta’s family’s encouragement, of course. Julie knew more math than Jacinta did, so she taught her the times tables with her handy flash cards. She used all the little memory games that her dad had used on her to get Jacinta to remember her math. She also taught her long division and decimals.

Jacinta, of course, taught Julie Spanish. At night, they would both dive into Julie’s book collection and Jacinta would translate everything she could into Spanish for her -- using a pencil and printing the Spanish word above each word in English. She did not read very well in English, so Julie did the same for her, pointing to each word with her finger as she read to her out loud. Jacinta would squish next to her on the bed and both of them would prop their backs up on pillows against the headboard.

Julie taught Jacinta and her friends Double Dutch with her longest doubled-over jump rope -- and American hopscotch. Julie also got everyone laughing when they would come over after school to set up the Double Dutch, with a thigh-slapping game they called “Ham Bone” at her old elementary school in Dorchester. Ham Bone is an elaborate, whiz-bang version of Patty-Cake with different types of handclapping and rhymes which Julie had played on the playground at recess and at lunch.

Jacinta and Julie got into joking around a lot. The laughter would only fade around ten or eleven at night after Jacinta’s dad would come into their room and gently “shush” them because her mother had gotten home from her night shift at the radio station and needed to sleep. Then, if necessary, they would smother their laughter by sticking their faces into their pillows at the appropriate times. Occasionally, they would let out a squeal or two and get silent like they had just swallowed guppies, hoping with pounding hearts that they would not get in trouble. They never did. Her folks were that nice -- or that tired.

Vince called at the end of the second week, after about fourteen days. He spoke mostly to Chief García. Then they let Julie get on the phone.

Vince had reached Atlantic City. With the new car, the disguise, the Mexican plates and, of course, all of his falsified documents like the Mexican driver’s license he had purchased near the border in Matamoros on the way back into the United States, along with a Mexican car title in the name that Chief García had changed his license plates to: Roberto García -- no one had a clue as to who he really was. The ruse was working well.

Julie was feeling a little bitter about the whole thing, but Vince got her laughing about how folks helped him up and down the curbs with his cane. They said goodbye to each other quietly and he promised to call as soon as he could.

_______

Jacinta and Julie soon became engrossed in their play again. They were both rather joyous about not having to go to school. They found the leftover theater makeup in Chief García’s work desk at home and did some disguises of their own. They also took to going out behind Jacinta’s house late at night when the adults were asleep.

There was not much of an outside light behind Jacinta’s house except under the back eaves by the door, but they did not turn that on since they were afraid that they would wake someone up. They only ventured out when the moon was bright. The excuse they gave each other was that they had to let Romeo out to pee -- which they did.

Jacinta used their adventures outside to explain the mysteries of the Mexican wilderness. She explained why Mexicans did not have grass lawns and usually had rough cement or terra cotta tiled patios or plain dust yards. Her explanation was that there were snakes, tarantulas and scorpions and one needed to be able to see them clearly so as to not step on them.

One bright moonlit night, they scooped Romeo up and let him out the back door as usual. They decided to walk into the yucca far beyond the brick wall that enclosed Jacinta’s backyard. The night was so bright that they did not need a flashlight. They could see their feet really clearly.

Suddenly, under a huge yucca plant with its arms uplifted to the sky, Julie spotted a large animal flat on the ground, motionless in the shadows. She grabbed Jacinta’s arm and squeezed it. She stopped abruptly, alongside Julie. Julie held her finger to her lips and pointed. The shadowy animal was about thirty feet away and still motionless.

Julie whispered, a little anxiously, “Look!” Jacinta moved her head carefully to the side and saw the figure she was pointing to. “What is it?” Julie exclaimed in another whisper.

“Oh,” Jacinta whispered back. “It’s a coyote.”

“A what?” Julie asked, moving closer to her side, still grasping her arm.

“A coyote, a wild dog,” she explained, not moving.

Jesus,” Julie blurted, almost silently.

The coyote moved forward, away from the yucca and into the moonlight. It was unusually large with beautiful markings on its face. They knew it had seen them by now and seemed to be looking directly at them, but it did not seem afraid -- nor did it move toward them or away from them -- just over to the side into the moonlight. They could see it more distinctly, and it could see them.

“Be very quiet,” Jacinta said, still not moving. “Coyotes are not harmless, but if we are not aggressive, it will not attack.” She looked at Julie and added, “Don’t swear.”

“Okay,” she said as she swallowed. “Sorry. What do we do now?”

“Nothing,” Jacinta answered. “When we move, it will get frightened and run away. Coyotes are not ordinary like some people think. This one is here for a reason. Perhaps it is here to watch over us. Like a special protection. It is part of our tradition. Coyotes can guide us in times of difficulty and trouble.” She gave Julie a deep look, pulling her even closer with her arm. “It could be one of our neighbors.”

Julie lifted an eyebrow and said, “It is one of our neighbors. It might live right here somewhere close by.”

“ I don’t mean that,” she continued quietly. “I mean that it could be one of our neighbors who has turned into a coyote in order to come over by my house and watch us -- because we keep coming out here at night by ourselves and they are curious. They want to see what we are doing.”

Julie muffled a hushed laugh and queried, “Like a coyote spy? Like a fairy tale?”

Jacinta smiled indulgently. “Yes, just like a fairy tale, like Mickey Mouse. But, you will see. Someone we know will know exactly what we were doing out here.” Her dark eyes sparkled at Julie. “You can’t get away with anything in this town.”

Julie frowned and retorted, “I hope we don’t get into trouble.”

Jacinta laughed and said, “We won’t. We have Romeo.”

Julie looked back when she mentioned the dog. He was lying quietly behind them against the edge of the backyard wall, watching the coyote closely but not moving -- as if he was rather comfortable with the new animal. Which he was, actually.

They slept unusually late the next day. Both of them had vivid dreams about the large coyote.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

Vincente arrived in Atlantic City not knowing, really, what he was going to do or how to go about getting any information on the Scotts or Earl Small. He managed to check into a boarding house in Philadelphia across town from anyone he knew and far away from his old apartment. He also managed to walk through the neighborhood that he had seen the Scotts in (in his disguise) several times without being noticed.

He took to walking the boardwalk in Atlantic City and stopping in at several delicatessens and lunch counters, a little further away from the beach area, in order to eat or get a cool glass of ice water. His ragged appearance turned out to be perfect as a disguise, but he had to be careful to blend into each neighborhood without seeming out of place.

After looking the Scott’s address up in the phone book, he had seen someone he assumed was Theodora Scott, Davey Scott’s mother, several times at a distance. But had never seen anyone he recognized with her. He had even spent more than a week walking around her neighborhood to see if anyone showed up around her house. No one had. For all appearances, she seemed to be alone most of the time.

One evening, though, when he was sitting in the Chevy later than usual, down the block from where he had the fight with Davey Scott, he saw an older man enter the Scott house alone around ten in the evening.

After that, he saw him enter the house at the same time (except on the weekend) for several days. Then, one afternoon, he saw Duncan Scott and Earl Small drive up and the two men sat on the front porch of that house for a while. With a sharp intake of breath, Vince pulled his large-brimmed panama straw hat lower down on his forehead and got out of his car, deliberately limping past them as they sat playing a hand of cards. Neither man seemed to recognize him, nor did they pay any undue attention to him.

Going around the block, he re-entered his car and drove quickly away. He laid low for a couple of days, walking the boardwalk -- but staying away from the Scott’s neighborhood.

_______

Since nothing bad had happened in the last few days, Vincente got a little bolder and began to eat his lunch and hang out at Eva’s Restaurant (which was also a little general store). Eva’s was a black establishment in the black community (on the north side of Atlantic City) a few blocks away from the house where he had seen the unknown man, Duncan Scott and Earl Small which was in a mostly white neighborhood, but bordered a racially mixed area. He went to Eva’s hoping to hear something.

A few days later, after circling the block where the Scotts lived, he again entered Eva’s and took a stool up at the counter near the cash register. He decided to try and initiate a conversation. No one had questioned his presence anywhere or seemed to recognize him.

He ordered some ice water, since the day had been unusually hot, but decided not to order his lunch right away. There was a large floor fan by the open front door and the air from the fan cooled him a little. There was also the distant sound of a television playing somewhere in the restaurant.

The woman at the cash register recognized him as a regular customer and gave him a smile as she set the tall, sweating glass in front of him. She was a very small, pretty, dark-skinned, young black woman with a medium-long, sparkling natural hairstyle. He had spoken to her before, but this time he began to talk about the grocery store that was closer to the neighborhood where he had seen the two men. They chatted about how much cheaper it was to shop at another market that they both used.

Then he brought up the topic of the fight he had with Davey without identifying himself. The woman stopped clearing dishes and washing the counter and looked at him. He began to worry that she might know who he was. He was generally the only white person in the neighborhood and in Eva’s when he was there. It did not make him feel self-conscious, but he pretty much felt that no one seemed to recognize who he really was. If they did, they showed no sign of it and it gave him a little self confidence.

The woman behind the counter walked over and sat down on a chair set against a shelf that was filled with jars of Dixie Peach; Sulfur-8 hair pomade; large, black plastic combs and a few new hot combs, and lit a cigarette. She inhaled a long breath and exhaled the smoke. The other shelves surrounding her chair were filled with bottles of hot sauce, regular and spiced bags of salted peanuts. There were also canned goods: okra, stewed tomatoes, yellow and white hominy, bags of dried grits and other vegetables.

The woman got up again, as an afterthought, and started filling a display of Chef Bob’s Red Hot Bar-b-Que potato chip bags from a box at her feet. Then, she poured herself some ice water, snubbed out her old cigarette and lit a fresh one. She offered one to Vince. She turned the sound off on the TV she had been watching, which was set up on a low wooden crate near her feet, underneath the shelves of hair-care products and canned goods.

“I don’t smoke,” he said.

She went over to the chair and sat down again. The woman was about his age, slender, with glowing skin. He could see the smooth sheen on the back of her shoulder when she bent over to turn the television down. She had on small, thick, gold-colored hoop earrings and gave off a very pleasant whiff of some skin oil. Perhaps Johnson and Johnson. Putting her feet up on another old wooden crate she must have kept near the chair for that purpose, she dropped her shoes onto the floor with a laugh.

“I’m on my feet all day long. Might as well take a break.” She glanced at her watch, reached over and turned the sound up on the television again, but kept it low. She took a deep drag on her cigarette, still silent. The theme to As The World Turns could be heard softly behind the noise of the floor fan.

There were only a few customers over at the café tables scattered around the restaurant. Most of them were too far away to hear any of their conversation clearly. It was after the restaurant’s afternoon rush, so neither of them expected very many customers right then. Eva’s served fried green tomatoes, sausage, corn bread, fried square patties of grits and fried and scrambled eggs for breakfast. Sometimes they added fried fish -- catch of the day.

Lunch was a limited dinner menu that depended on what fish or crustacean was in season -- added to catch of the day. The real crush, in terms of popularity, came at dinner, which usually started after six. After that, and on some weekends, when the crowd lessened, some of the tables might be pushed back for a tiny dance area.

In the evening, customers would begin to line up at the fish counter and take-out sign. Folks waiting for any of those things sometimes sat on benches outside to catch some of the cool evening breezes that chased away the suffocating breathless heat of the southern sun.

The woman behind the counter paused as she was watching the TV, and spoke to Vincente again, “So what do you know about the Scotts?” She looked directly at him, with a spark in her deep brown eyes. It was not a diffident look.

Vince felt embarrassed and got a little shy. He answered, “Nothing much. I just heard about the fight Davey had. I heard he beat a guy up and stole a vacuum cleaner from him.”

“ That’s right,” said the woman, glancing at the television as the program began. She continued speaking as she watched, talking as her face was turned towards the television, “He, his father and Earl Small have a reputation around here. And it’s not a good one. Most black folks from this neighborhood avoid them -- and that neighborhood -- if they can. There are a few brown-skinned folks that live around there, but most don’t.” She tore her eyes away from the soap opera, looked up at Vince again and added, “I didn’t think you were from ‘round here.”

“No,” Vince admitted, “I’m from Louisiana.”

“ Thought so,” said the cashier. “You know they run cocaine for a wealthy cartel up to Princeton, too? They the hell don‘t deal that around here -- not enough money in it for them. They like rich and famous white folks. The more they shove that shit up their noses, the harsher the jail sentences get for us poor black folks. Think it will just get worse and worse. And it’s all because of dealers like them, too.”

Without looking up, the woman behind the counter added, “You know some fine person tried to kill Duncan Scott a few years ago. Would have done a service to this neighborhood. He was starting to deal heroin right around here.” She paused, then said quietly, “I hated him, myself.”

Vince put his glass of ice water down, and spoke to her, “No I didn’t know that someone attempted to kill him. I heard that a guy was attacked on the same street the same day that that man was assaulted.”

“Yeah, that’s right. It was him. The father of the kid that beat up that vacuum salesman. I think he was in on that beating, too. That ‘someone’ tried to cut the asshole‘s throat.”

Vince shifted on the stool.

“Just think, white folks used to force us black folks take cocaine just to make us work harder for themselves. T’ain‘t right. No, sir. That’s an injustice. Now they put us in jail for it.

“People like the Scotts’ be pushin’ heroin on us. We ain‘t workin’ for them anymore for free, so we die from tryin’ to get rid of that shit once we find out that we got to give all our money to them just to stay away from the death that junk deals when you try and kick it. White man’ll kill ya’ if you try and keep your own money to yo’self.

“Know they put us in jail for bein’ junkies and give us nothing’ to ease our pain when the heroin leaves our bodies, so we die. Just a little pill to ease the pain, and they cain’t do it? Even to save a life?

“Now what kind of slavery is that? Sounds like an elaborate version of the same thing to me. ”

Vince leaned over the counter and took a deep drink from his glass and had tensed at the mention of the cocaine. He decided to take a chance and answered, “Yeah. I’ve heard about the cocaine.” He looked down at the woman and commented further, “I heard that the guy Davey attacked, killed him. Broke his neck.”

The woman took another drag on her cigarette, her smile vanishing and said, “Davey ain’t dead. And we, my family and I, think that that guy he beat up wanted to quit their cartel. Like I said, they don’t sell any coke in our community -- like we need any more anyway.”

Vince started and almost knocked his ice water over. “He isn’t dead?” he exclaimed softly in amazement.

“That’s right. What’s your name?”

“Roberto.”

“Mine’s Dolores. My mother owns this place. My family has lived here and around Wilmington for a long time. And Davey ain’t dead.”

“How do you know?”

 

“How would I not know? Everyone knows that family. Earl Small and Davey’s dad work for the city in Philadelphia. My uncle and cousins know him. They work there too. The Scotts are all a bunch of liars from way back. Good thing my relatives don’t work in the same department. Their coke would probably kill you, they’re so dirty.” Dolores paused and took a puff of her cigarette, glancing at the TV. “Wouldn’t snort that shit anyway.”

The sound from the television rose in the silence between the two of them. “That’s not all they deal, either, like I said. They be killin’ my people with horse (sorry, heroin) and other shit, too. Love to get rid of them. Sure would like that. Sure would.

“They never caught the angel that tried to cut Duncan Scott’s throat, either. Ha.

“Every Scott and that Earl Small are rotten. Everyone except Theodora, Davey’s mother. Guess she got herself tied up with them and couldn’t get out. That happens.”

“I see,” said Vince in a muffled voice, choking a little on his water.

“You want some more ice water?” asked Dolores.

“Sure,” said Vince.

Dolores got up and slipped her shoes back on. A song started up on the juke, competing with the low sound of the television -- In The Still of the Night with the Five Satins singing in their perfect harmony. She went into the kitchen and got a glass pitcher filled with water and ice.

I remember that night in May. The stars were bright above… Ice floated in a thick layer on the top of the pitcher; the glass was sweating down the sides. Vincente’s mind drifted to the song…I’ll hope and I’ll pray to keep your precious love. Well before the light. Hold me again with all of your might. Dolores put the pitcher in front of Vince after refilling his glass. She poured herself one too, humming a little to the juke while watching the television. Noises interrupted them from the kitchen -- the sounds of banging crockery and aluminum pans.

Suddenly Dolores called towards the back in a loud, raspy voice, “Stop bangin’ those pans in there…We have customers!” She laughed again, like a little eruption of bubbles in her throat, in spite of the serious conversation. She got up from her soap opera and closed the swinging door to the kitchen with a deliberate bang.

In the still of the night. In the still of the night. So before the light, hold me again with all of your might. In the still of the night. In the still of the night… Vince thought of his daughter and the danger he had put himself in. He shivered a little, despite the heat. He lost his desire for lunch. He could eat later. He hadn’t expected any information, and this was just too important to talk about over the clang of silverware and the smell of food.

The voice of the cook joined the falsetto at the end of the song accented with a perfect doo-wop from two other voices. The sound of loud laughter burst from Dolores, still watching her soap opera. Without raising her eyes from the television, she commented to Vince, “This place ain’t nothin’ this time of day. You wait, though, by tonight we’ll have maybe a hundred folks ordering food and buyin’ groceries. Look at the grooves on that floor in front of the fish case. You can see which pick is the freshest and what taste is the favorite -- just by looking at the deepest grooves.

“That floor was brand new when we moved in ten years ago. I mean, I thought wood floors were meant to last. You see,” she said, getting up in her bare feet and leaning over the flat glass top of the case, pointing down at the floor. She was so small that she had to stand on her toes to lean over the case.

Vincente gulped down half a glass of water as Dolores sat back down, immediately re-absorbed in her soap opera as if she hadn’t gotten up. One of the customers walked over and turned up the speed on the tall, floor fan by the front door, catching a much cooler breeze from the opened door and dragging it inside, rippling the full-length, flowered cotton curtains that covered the display windows shutting out the blazing heat of the afternoon sun.

Someone else put another nickel in the jukebox in the back of the restaurant. The flow of customers was starting to pick up. The juke was turned down so that the music was audible but echoed quietly throughout the restaurant mixing in with the sounds of the soap opera. James Brown came on singing with a heavy but muffled beat, most of which was lost up by the counter in the noise of the fan.

Vince hesitated, then said, “You said that Davey isn’t dead. Where is he? Has anyone seen him?”

“Yeah, probably,” said Dolores, bending over to turn the sound of the TV off at a commercial. “That’s what’s on the grapevine from around here. My dad’s the one with the news. He’s a handyman, works near that neighborhood once in a while and runs a shrimp boat in the summer.” She got up and put her empty glass on the counter. “I think you should talk to him if you really want to know.” She paused and looked up sharply at Vince, “You say your name is Roberto?”

Vince looked away and said, “Yeah. Roberto García.”

“Oh,” replied Dolores, looking masked but polite. “Okay. My son, Junior, will be coming over soon. He can take you over to our house.” She got up and ran the cash register for a customer so the conversation lapsed into silence for a while.

Dolores lit another cigarette and received a delivery of a couple of crates of red snapper and catfish packed in ice around the back, through the kitchen. She started pouring the ice into a refrigerated glass case on the other side of the cash register, put on a thick pair of rubber gloves and lined the fish up inside the case. Someone else brought in a crate of oranges from the front door and set it up at an angle on the floor at the base of the display windows. She paid the man and he left.

She sat down again, turning up the sound on the TV. “Busy day, as usual. You should see it on the weekends.” She stretched her legs out in front of her and asked Vince, “So you Cajun? From Cuba or South America or something?”

Vince answered, “No. I’m Mexican, a little Cajun, too, though.”

“Yeah. I thought so. I figured, you being from Louisiana. I know there are a few Spanish people down there. Your mom a Cajun girl?”

“Yeah.”

A little boy, who looked a lot like Dolores, walked into the restaurant. He was dressed in a striped t-shirt and slightly oversized blue jeans held together by necessity with a belt and rolled up at the bottoms into overly large cuffs. He had a red metal toy car in his hand and looked like he was about seven or eight years old. His sneakers were laced-up red Flyers, but one lace dragged on the floor and looked broken off and worn out.

Dolores smiled at him and said, “Hi, Junior. You want an orange?”

He answered with a smile and went over to the crate of oranges and put one in his pocket, sitting down on the edge of the wooden display window platform. He ran the toy car back and forth on the edge of the display area.

“Gramps home?” she asked him, sitting down again.

“Yup,” the child answered.

“Junior, this man here is Mr. García. I want you to take him over to the house. He needs to talk to grandpa. You just tell him that I said so.”

“‘Kay, mommy,” Junior answered and got up with the orange bulging out of his side pocket and the car in his hand. Walking over to Vince, he said, “Come on with me. I’ll walk you over to our house.”

Vince got up from the counter and smiled at Junior.

Taking off her insulated rubber gloves, Dolores closed the fish cases from her side of the check out. She walked to the counter again, picked up a damp dish towel and started to wipe the counter down, clearing away the pitcher of ice water and the two glasses that she and Vince had used. She said, while she worked, “We have fried shrimp, wild and regular rice -- and everything you see here in the fish case on the weekends. My mother cooks sometimes, like this weekend, and she can cook. Better than our regular cook. You should come over then. By the way,” she smiled slightly and looked up at Vince, “you a cop?”

Junior looked up at Vince as well, throwing the orange in the air and catching it. Vince looked at Dolores thoughtfully and answered, “Not exactly.”

“Now, how can you be ‘not exactly’ a cop?” said Dolores, tilting her head to the side, skeptically.

“I’m deputized, but not a regular cop.”

“Thought so. Thought you must have something to do with the Scott thing or I wouldn’t be sending you over to my house.” Dolores hesitated, then spoke with a sly grin, “Your disguise doesn’t look so real up close.”

Vince looked down, a little embarrassed and said, “Thank you for the help.”

“Don’t thank me. We want that whole crowd locked up. I’ll thank you when you do that.”

Vince breathed in loudly and lifted his cane into his palm. He smiled at Dolores and said, “Well, I might just take you up on that fried shrimp. You’ll get any of the news from your dad and I‘ll fill you in on anything else you might want to know when I get back.”

“Take care,” she said sitting down again, turning the volume on the television up and flipping her shoes off as the theme music from The Guiding Light came on, whirring into the sound of the floor fan and the rhythm of the pulsing curtains in both display windows.

Junior walked out the door with Vince following him.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

 

Vince hadn’t called for more than a week and Julietta was getting a little nervous. To take her mind off her father, Jacinta’s grandmother (everyone called her Abuelita) had been teaching her how to make tortillas. Although the Garcías had a gas stove in their kitchen, Jacinta’s grandmother preferred to make tortillas outside on a small wood-fired adobe stove. The small stove was under a large metal awning covering the back door. She had also prepared some traditional dishes that Julie was not familiar with, such as guacamole, using a mortar in a stone bowl.

Julie had never tasted an avocado before, either. In fact, she had never even seen one. But when she tasted her first avocado (eating slices with lemon and salt), she thought it was to die for. She ate an entire avocado by herself with Jacinta and Abuelita gaping at her.

Julie created nicely made enchiladas for as many meals as she could. She had also learned to make a nicely toasted stack of corn tortillas pretty much by herself. When she did that, it was Abuelita’s time to watch TV and sit down to rest. Julie convinced everyone that they needed to eat corn tortillas and enchiladas again and again until she had worn out her guest status in those departments.

As much as she tried, though, she started to get more and more restless, silent and withdrawn, going to the living room to read instead of playing with Jacinta. The only time she would cheer up was when she got to help cooking.

Every day, she seemed to get more depressed, and hugged Romeo to her as he sat in her lap by the window. She tried to hide her feelings from the Garcías, but she knew they had noticed that she was not playing as much as she used to. Sitting in the easy chair in the living room, she stared out the opened curtains at the street. She would find herself looking for her dad like she was holding a vigil. She began to fall asleep there, and forget to go to Jacinta’s room. Papa Garcí a carried her into his daughter’s room a few days in a row, until she got embarrassed and tried harder not to fall asleep in the chair -- but it didn’t work very well.

In the mornings, when she awoke, Jacinta would try and get her interested in playing poker or Monopoly. But she could not do it, and even Jacinta’s English lessons languished. The only thing she seemed to be interested in was reading and holding Romeo. The dog would whine when she did not pet him after hauling him up into her lap. He would get bored and try to jump down. He was really glad to go outside when Jacinta’s friends came over to get together after school. Romeo went alone, just following Jacinta out the door. Julietta just did not want to do anything. Nothing.

Jacinta’s compassion and frustration grew until she decided to solve the problem by enticing her to sneak outside with her after midnight again. She resolved that tonight they would go past the back yard wall again. When she suggested it to Julie, as she sat in the living room reading, she felt a small spark of excitement and intrigue well up inside of her. The devil whispered in her ear as her dad used to say. Then she smiled at Jacinta and said in a subdued voice, “Okay. I guess I have to shake myself out of this mood somehow.”

Jacinta replied conspiratorially, getting closer to Julie’s chair with a growing grin on her face, “We’re going to have a big adventure tonight. We’ll go much further into the desert than we went before, but we cannot bring Romeo with us because it is too dangerous. There are wolves, pumas and rattlers. Even a chuckwalla might eat him, he is so small.” She grabbed Julie’s arm when she was close enough and sat down on the floor, smiling up at her.

Julie had been reading Robinson Crusoe (the whole book by Daniel Defoe). The book closed and fell to the floor. “We can tie him up by the back door again,” she suggested, ignoring the fallen book.

“Yeah. We should wear our knee-high boots. We have to be careful…” Jacinta said wisely.

“Of the snakes and tarantulas…” Julie added.

“…and the scorpions and armadillos,” she replied.

_______

Late that night, way after midnight, when Jacinta’s parents and grandmother were obviously asleep, the two girls put on blue jeans and laced up their calf-length boots. The air was cooler at night, so they both put on a couple of dark, hooded sweatshirts.

They were in luck because the sky was clear and luminescent. The moon was going to be full and it hung low in the sky, looking larger than usual. They put Romeo on a long rope and tied him in the yard behind the wall. He was normally a rather quiet, obedient kind of guy and they thought he would be pretty happy to be outside, just watching them come and go. They were usually correct about this, so they were betting he would be quiet and not give them away.

Walking gingerly, they passed the back yard wall and stood breathlessly in the moonlight. They could see clearly for quite a distance. The moon and stars were as bright as a series of street lights. Suddenly, Jacinta spotted the large coyote they had seen before. At least, it looked identical.

From about one hundred feet beyond that coyote, came the howl of another coyote. Julie froze and turned to run inside the safety of the backyard again and slam the wrought iron gate on the wall closed -- but Jacinta grabbed the back of her sweatshirt and held onto it tightly saying, “ Don’t!

“Why not?” she whined, starting to whimper quietly.

Wait…Don’t move,” Jacinta said in a voice that had a tension Julie had never heard her use before. “The coyote is moving toward us. Just don’t move. Be quiet.”

Shit.

“Watch your mouth. Hush. The coyotes will not move forward too much if you are still.”

Julie’s teeth started to chatter and Jacinta turned her around towards her and put her hand tightly over her mouth. Julie finally fell still feeling Jacinta’s grip squashing her lips and wrenching her sweatshirt out of shape. There were two new coyotes that were much smaller and plainer-looking than the big one. Their facial markings were almost absent and the fur around their faces was not anywhere as thick as the large coyote. The two small coyotes had moved much closer, but held still in the shadows of some yucca, just like Jacinta said they would. They could still vaguely make out the shape of the larger one.

“I am going to frighten that big one away. I don’t think it is from the same pack as the smaller ones. Don’t even breathe. I need both of my hands,” whispered Jacinta in Julie’s ear.

VAMANOS!!” she exploded, clapping her hands loudly. She then put both index fingers inside her mouth and let loose with the loudest whistle that Julie had ever heard anyone make -- let alone an eight year old kid.

She did this several times with a swooping tone from a low note to a high note. The big coyote backed up and slunk into the darker areas of the trees. Then, it turned and ran swiftly away like the swell of the ocean as the tide pulls it away from the shore. It disappeared into the deep blackness of the surrounding long-needle Mexican pine and tall grass. The other, smaller coyotes, though, had drawn closer -- but only by a little. When Julie looked into their eyes, they seemed undisturbed. One of them even seemed to wag its tail a little.

Jacinta did not pay any attention to these small coyotes and began walking to her right, heading back towards the houses and following the wall around her yard and the yards of her neighbors. She grabbed Julie’s hand tightly, but she was smiling this time. Julie tripped along after her, watching her feet for anything that she might not want to step on.

“Now, we are going to find out who is sending that big, nosy coyote over to spy on us.”

“Where are we going?” Julie asked, thankful that the moon was still bright. There were no clouds at all and the stars and planets filled the sky like a galaxy on fire. Like you could see more parts of the universe here, on this night, than any other place on the planet.

“You’ll see. I am pretty sure I know who that large coyote is and I want to know if he is still awake. Maybe there is something we can do to stop him before he tells my dad what we’ve been doing…you know, get him to mind his own business.”

“You mean you can tell him to stop using the big coyote to spy on us? Like that coyote can tell him what we have been doing?”

“Yeah. Sort of like that. I want him to put his telescope away and trust us to take care of ourselves. Sssh…here’s his house.” Jacinta suddenly jerked Julie behind a bush. There was a man walking past his kitchen window in a white undershirt. It was a funny time to have his lights on -- maybe two or three in the morning. Yet, he seemed to be wide awake.

A coyote (perhaps one of the smaller ones they had seen near Jacinta’s house) howled behind them, very close by. It was answered by another and yet another coyote -- almost encircling the children to one side. They could see them when they looked back. The shadows of the animals kept moving, then standing still among the grass, yucca and pine.

The man inside the house peered out directly at the girls. They ducked further down behind a bush. Jacinta fell flat on her face in the dust. Julie covered her mouth and swallowed a guffaw. At the same time, she stepped on Jacinta’s hand with her boot. She saw the dust bubble up around her friend’s down-turned face and heard her moan.

Oww…” Jacinta squealed quietly, in a muffled voice.

Julie quickly moved her foot.

Qué pasa?!” shouted a voice from the house.

Shit,” Julie blurted quietly. She spit inadvertently as she swore, just as Jacinta got up into a crouch, raising a small cloud of dust, which blew up on a breeze and went directly into Julie’s gaping mouth. Her spit had caught Jacinta in the face as she was getting up.

“Yuck,” exclaimed Jacinta, wiping the spit from her face with her hand. Julie coughed and giggled at the same time.

Several coyotes began to howl and yip in a serenade covering their clumsiness and noise as they crawled painfully away from Jacinta’s neighbor’s house. The back door of his house banged open as they stood to run into the shadows and darkness. They could hear someone circling the yard. They used the surrounding trees to hide behind and ran right past a coyote (practically stepping on it) as they entered Jacinta’s yard. Quietly clicking the gate shut, they stood -- leaning on her high brick wall -- panting and out of breath.

Holy Mother of God in Heaven…” Julie gulped out, coughing and panting on the grit that was still in her mouth, feeling her forehead start to sweat even though the night was still cool.

Still gasping for breath, Jacinta said, “That’s got to be him. I know where he works and he has a day job. Now, he might know we are on to him and maybe he will stop watching us. I don’t want him telling my parents or Abuelita anything. We’re just fine and we don’t need any supervision,”

“We are strong,” she paused and looked up at the sky as if there was a star there, or a god, or ancestor somewhere that was listening. Julie looked up too. Like, she could reach up there for Jacinta’s grandmother’s big, strong arms. She could see Abuelita looking down at them, her eyes twinkling like two stars in a constellation. Suddenly, she felt a lot better.

Jacinta continued, looking right into Julie’s eyes, “I know how to take care of myself. You know how to take care of yourself. And, besides, this is really fun.” Jacinta turned towards Julie and put her palm on her face in a sign of affection, with a wide, bright mischievous grin. Julie could see a broad gap where she was missing a tooth in the back of her mouth, which she had not seen before. Jacinta moved her hand and they both started to laugh, still out of breath.

“We almost fell over that coyote,” Julie said, her chest still heaving.

“Did you see how calm it was?” Jacinta smiled.

“Yeah. We must have really startled it, though.”

“It won’t be angry. It knows we were more frightened than it was. We better go in and clean up. I am all full of dust and you don’t look too good, either.” Jacinta paused and looked into Julie’s eyes again. “Did you notice who those coyotes looked like?” She asked nonchalantly.

“Hmm?” Julie responded, confused.

“The two little coyotes. They looked like my parents.” She paused again, and said, “The big, ugly one is no relation.”

Julie looked surprised. “I thought the big one was kind of pretty -- even prettier than the smaller ones.” She thought of the small coyotes with Jacinta’s parents’ faces superimposed over their long snouts and chuckled quietly to herself.

Jacinta got a little agitated, responding, “No, the big one was ugly because he should not have been there. He was the one that was dangerous. The smaller ones are beautiful because they knew us. You might say that they liked us. They would not have hurt us.” Jacinta looked thoughtful. “But, maybe we should not leave the back yard for a while. And leave the gate shut.”

Julie agreed whole heartedly. “We can see plenty of things from behind the gate.”

“Yeah,” said Jacinta. “If my parents find out about this, they could get angry. They would probably forbid us to do this. There’s no point in tempting nature. Even if we see a puma, we can run right back into the house much more easily from behind the gate.”

“A puma?” Julie said faintly.

“They don’t usually come this close to humans,” explained Jacinta, bravely.

Julietta went over to her little Romeo, untying him, picking him up and holding him close -- a little too tightly. Then, the two girls went back into the house.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Vincente and Junior walked up the street from Eva’s Restaurant until they came to a small, brick two story house. Sitting on the cement of the front stairs was an older black man with white hair in a white t-shirt and faded blue work pants. He was whittling something that looked like a penny whistle. The old man looked questioningly at Vince.

“Hey, gramps,” greeted Junior. “Mom said to bring Mr. García over to talk to you.” He got the orange out of his pocket and threw it into the air several times, catching it deftly each time.

“What ‘cha got there, Junior?” asked the old man, nodding at Vince and turning back to the little boy.

“Mom gave me an orange.”

The old man reached over and plucked the fruit out of the air the next time Junior threw it.

“Hey!! That‘s mine!” exclaimed the little boy.

“Finders’ keepers,” said the old man, smiling. “What ‘cha gonna give me to get it back?”

“Aw, gramps!” the boy responded, looking miffed and leaning his elbow on the old man’s thigh. Then he said, “I’ll give you my bag of jumbo marbles.”

“Don’t want no marbles.”

“Then I’ll give you a punch in the nose.”

 

With that, the little boy jumped up a couple of stairs and threw his arms around the old man’s neck, trying to wrestle the orange out of his hand from behind his back, with no success. His grandfather laughed and handed Junior his orange and the whistle he had been carving.

“What’s Mr. García want, Junior?” asked the old man, finally turning his attention to Vincente as Junior sat down and began to peel the orange and examine the wooden whistle.

“Mommy said to bring him over to talk to you. He wants to know about that dumb ‘ole Davey Scott.”

Junior’s grandfather lost his smile and went silent. “You go in the house, Junior.”

“Okay, gramps,” answered the little boy, too intrigued with the new whistle to pay too much attention to his grandfather’s change in mood.

_______

My name’s Julius Jackson,” the old man said, as he extended his hand to Vince. They shook hands. He went on, “I’m Eva’s husband and I expect you met Dolores. She’s my daughter. She gave me a call before you got here. Been expecting you. What do you want to know about any of those Scotts for? They’re a real rough crowd.”

Vince reached up and took his wig and suit jacket off because of the heat. He then reached under his shirt and took the padding out as well. “I’m the traveling salesman that got beat up and killed Davey Scott.”

“Davey ain’t dead. Some of my buddies and me think we seen him off the coast,” responded Julius. He looked Vincente up and down and commented, “Yeah. Now you look like the guy they been trying to railroad with that shit. Those Scotts have been doin’ a lot of things. I won’t even work in that neighborhood anymore.” Julius got up and brushed the shavings off his worn blue work trousers, straightening up a bit. Motioning to Vince, he continued, “Why don’t you come into the kitchen. I have some fresh, home-grown, mint tea in the fridge. It’s mighty good with lemon and honey on ice.”

The sweat was starting to drip down Vince’s cheeks and he smiled at the old man. “Sure. Sounds good. It’s really getting hot in this suit.”

“Well, I wouldn’t take that get-up off in public. Those Scotts have been doin’ more than accusing you of murder. Let’s just go on in.” With that, Jackson led Vince up the stairs and into his house, walking into the kitchen and shutting the swinging door between the kitchen and the rest of his house. He turned on a large, revolving table fan that sat on one of the counters. “Junior don’t need to hear this,” he commented.

Vince took a chair at the kitchen table, removing his dress shirt, stripping down to his sleeveless undershirt. Mr. Jackson went to the fridge and got a plastic container of cold tea, taking it to the counter and mixing two tall glasses with lemon slices, honey and ice. Vince’s undershirt was starting to show sweat spots on his chest and under his arms.

“Funny how you don’t sweat until you take off all those clothes,” he sighed.

“Yup,” said Jackson. “That’s the way it is.” He paused and looked sharply at Vince. “So you know about their cocaine business, too?”

Vincente tensed.

 

They both took a large sip of iced tea. Jackson reached over and re-positioned the fan so that it was aimed at the table. He said, “It must be over one hundred degrees out there. Humid, too.”

“One hundred and ten,” commented Vince, drinking more tea. “This lemon sure cuts the heat, though. Thanks.” Vince gulped almost audibly, made a quick decision, and said, “Yeah. I am aware that the Scotts are involved in drug trafficking. That’s the real reason I think they did what they did.”

“No problem. You’re in a lot of trouble, but I might be able to help you out. You just happened to talk to the right person.”

Vince looked at him expectantly.

“ I run a shrimp boat and fish off the Delaware -- and up and down the New Jersey coastline for my main income. I sell on the docks and at my wife’s restaurant. I also handyman around town occasionally. My family works for the city in Philadelphia. That’s how I know the Scotts.”

“I know.”

“Well, I heard this story and saw the newspaper. Right away, I thought the time-frame was peculiar. I would never trust a Scott to tell the truth. So, I doubted the story from the ‘git go.

“You know Bannister Willis?”

Vince tensed again, but said, “Yes.”

“Well, Willis is a big dealer, but he don’t deal to black folks. Not him. Money’s too small. Most black folks, especially poor ones, were still drinkin’ Vin Mariani with the smilin’ Pope on the label until 1954, and takin’ Dr. C.J. Walker’s toothache pills. Ain’t no money like a silver Mercedes in that. There’s even talk about the other parts of the family trafficking heroin and Turkish morphine. Now, I’m not into helping’ no one distribute that kinda’ stuff. I have grandchildren.

“ This guy, Willis, is courtin’ Princeton, the ivy league. Some of my people think he is actually a professor there. Imagine that?! He deals cocaine to New York City’s intelligentsia -- best selling authors, ballerinas, symphony musicians and famous poets. I’ve heard of him. A lot. Folks think he is crazy. There‘s some talk about the Willis family bein‘ connected with Jewish and Italian mobsters, as well, in order to get their drugs to the street.

“Black folks do powder cocaine now, but some of us folks don’t like the heroin or morphine. And big-city white mobsters mean trouble.”

“He used to be the son of a poor farmer,” interjected Vince.

“But, you know what I think? I think he doesn’t know what he messed with when he hired the Scotts. They’re just plain no good. They can’t even fix a city sewer without tryin’ to cheat somebody. I don’t like that. They go too far. Anywhere they are is too close for me. Some lady tried to cut Davey’s father’s throat a few years back. Bet that was why.

“He don‘t know what he messed with even with his own family.”

“I think we have Bannister Willis on our side in terms of the Scotts,” said Vince and told Julius about the letter that was left in his trunk in San Antonio.

“Well, let’s get started on this situation, then. I’ll tell you what we know about Davey Scott. Since you know Bannister Willis that will make things easier.” Julius Jackson got up again and turned the table fan on high. He leaned against the counter and went on speaking.

“ I was out on my boat, trolling around north of Stone Harbor along the New Jersey coastline, and coming in close to the shoreline of a few uninhabited islands. I was late and had just been thinking about putting on my running lights, when I saw a puff of smoke from the interior of one of the islands. These places are so wild they don’t even have names -- so that was a little unusual, but not unheard of.

“Then, as I turned to circle further out to sea in order to come back around and go back in towards Atlantic City, I spotted a skiff tying up on the shore of one of the smaller islands. Looked like the island where I had seen the smoke. There were three men there that looked like they had some supplies with them. This was about the end of last April.

“It sort of looked like Davey, his dad and Earl Small, but I wasn’t sure. Something else I should tell you about.” Jackson leaned across the table. “Folks say that the real reason they wanted Davey to play dead is that those two shameful older men are making him rob banks all over the farmlands in Pennsylvania. There were accusations in the Inquirer that the older men killed a couple of bank guards, so the charges are not just bank robbery. Ain’t nobody gonna be looking for Davey if they think he’s dead. He’s real useful if he’s the one that enters the bank. Folks’ll just think it’s somebody that sort of looks like him. Police work ain’t all that sophisticated.

“We all think, my family anyway, that Duncan Scott and Earl Small take time from their jobs in Philadelphia to drive Davey around to do the robberies. We even have evidence that they wear disguises like you do.” Julius sat down again and took a sip of his ice tea.

“Well, I wasn’t totally sure that was Davey, ‘cause I was so far away. I thought nothing of seeing three guys with all that gear, since folks camp and hunt out there all the time, so I sort of forgot about it for a while. But, you ain‘t gonna forget if you thought you saw Davey.”

Vincente leaned on his elbow, raking his hair with his hand. “So, how did you find out about the bank robberies and everything?”

“ Well, first thing, they been in the newspapers, although they did not identify the Scotts or Small. Second, I got a couple of friends that go hunting on the islands and several other places near the Delaware River, and up past Cape May. The cabin that we all think Davey’s been living in is usually empty. In fact, it was in mildly rough shape. Porch was falling off -- no front stairs -- stuff like that.

“One day, when my friends were out hunting, it started to rain. Really started coming down. They were a bit too far inland to make it back to their skiff before they got soaked. They ran towards the old cabin which was much closer, since they were pretty much in the middle of the island.

“As they got near the place, they noticed the porch and stairs had been fixed. There was light in the windows and smoke coming from the stove pipe on the roof. They hunched down and snuck up to a windowsill in the back of the cabin, curious to find out what was going on before they tried to knock. They saw Davey, Duncan Scott and Small. They knew all of them and the story about Davey being dead. They hid under the window and listened.

“All of them was playin’ cards and gittin’ drunk. They were laughing and shouting jokes at each other about the fools they were playing folks for. These two friends of mine even heard them talk about some of the banks they hit. The Scotts and Small were flashing bundles of cash at each other and even pulled out a section of the ceiling to hide it again.

“Well, my buddies got soaking wet that night, but they were no way gonna try and knock on that door. Forget the money or the stash that they saw. It wasn’t worth gettin’a bullet in their hides.

“ That’s how I know that those three guys on the beach might for sure have been them. It’s hard to miss Davey’s damn, blonde hair. Hair bright like an angel, but he ain’t no angel. And the others are not that difficult to recognize, either.” Julius paused and seemed to be lost in thought. “Don’t know if they’re still up there but I can take you down in my shrimp boat -- if that‘s what you feel you need to do. I’d be glad to help you get rid of those drug runners if I can.”

Vince was silent, thinking, trying to absorb all of this. Finally, he said, “Okay.”

“ I can take you Saturday night,” said Jackson. “You’d better wear some dark clothes. I have some gum-boots that should fit you; I’ll give you a flashlight, too.” Jackson paused. “And I think you know enough not to tell anyone else about this. If you want to tell the police later on -- and they’re still there, do it when you get home. I assume you don’t live around here anymore. I’d appreciate it if you did not mention me. You can just tell them that you borrowed a skiff from someone else.”

“Sure,” Vincente assured him.

“I got a couple of businesses, a good reputation and a family. I cannot afford to get too close to weird goings-on like this. But, I will help you. I just don’t like a nice guy like you getting shafted by those no-accounts.” Jackson got up and filled their glasses with more tea, honey, lemon and fresh ice. They finished their tea in silence while the fan whirred. Then, Jackson went to the kitchen door and called to Junior who came into the room.

“Roberto, you might as well get into that disguise again. And,” Julius Jackson said as he looked down at Junior, “you keep your mouth closed about Mr. García here. You know how evil the Scotts are.”

“Sure, gramps. My lips are sealed.” Junior looked up at his grandfather and said in a tough, sure voice, full of bravado, “You gonna git ‘em?”

“Maybe, Junior, if you keep your word and keep us safe.”

“I’ll do it, gramps. You know me. I’m as good as my word.” Junior smiled at his gramps, looked up at him again, and added, puckering his lips for a kiss, “Thanks for the whistle, grandpa. Gimme some sugar.” Jackson reached down and picked his grandson up, smooching him loudly on the cheek. He rubbed his grandson’s head and put him down on the floor again, saying, “Love you, baby. Now, you take Mr. García and show him the bathroom so he can wash up and get into his disguise again. Then, you take him back to Eva’s.”

Jackson put their empty glasses in the sink and turned as Vincente started down the hall. “I gotta get busy and make some dinner for my family. I’ll meet you at Eva’s at nine-thirty Saturday night.”

“I’ll be there, Mr. Jackson,” called Vince from the bathroom.

He washed up and put his disguise back on. As he was leaving with Junior, Julius Jackson said loudly, “You might want to get to Eva’s early. Saturday night we have the fried shrimp special with cornbread and greens, this time of year. And the jukebox usually plays all evening.”

Vince laughed and yelled back, “Think I would like that.” Feeling lighter and more hopeful, he walked with Junior back to Eva’s.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

 

Jacinta, Julietta and Romeo did not, so far, get caught on their midnight adventures. Julie was now busy in the kitchen teaching Jacinta and Abuelita how to make canoli and learning how to make churros. For dinner that night they made guacamole, quesadillas and burritos.

Mostly, Abuelita did the frying with both girls watching closely. They took turns removing the pastries from the hot oil with metal tongs, putting them on a large, rectangular cookie sheet lined with paper towels.

They chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and onion for topping on the tortillas. While they did that, they sang some of the songs that Jacinta had taught Julie in Spanish. When Julie was done chopping vegetables, she ran to get her ukulele and played along.

Later that night when the two of them were in their pajamas and Romeo was lying across one of the pillows, the phone rang. Julie lay across the bottom of the double bed and was reading out loud to Jacinta who was lying on the floor, following along with the same book. Occasionally, there were late night phone calls because of Chief García’s job. But, every time there were, Julie would stop what she was doing and listen to see if anyone called her name. It had been about two weeks since her dad had phoned. Her anxiety had lessened, though, since Jacinta and she had been taking trips past the wall behind the house on a pretty regular basis.

“Julietta!” Emilio García called loudly from the living room. “Are you awake? Your father is on the phone. Come here, niña!”

Julie dropped the book, and seemed to sprint off the bed effortlessly. She broke into a run, running right into the long, strong legs of Jacinta’s father. He grabbed her and steadied her on her feet. She followed him into the living room, where she broke into another run and grabbed the receiver. Capt. García patted Julie on the shoulder and walked away to give her some privacy.

Daddy?! Are you okay? What took you so long to call?”

“Julie?” her father’s voice crackled on the line.

“I was really worried. I almost got sick!” She paused. “We saw some coyotes…” she went on excitedly, making sure Jacinta’s father was out of hearing range.

“Hey, Sunshine! Whoa, there girl! Coyotes…in the house?”

Julie laughed and retorted, watching Capt. García walk down to Jacinta‘s room, “No, silly, outside, past the back yard gate. We were sneaking out at night, really late. But we stayed close to the back wall. We stopped doing it though, too scary. Don’t tell anyone…”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line and sigh of resignation. Vince’s voice sounded weak and almost defeated, “Julie?

“It’s okay, Daddy. Jacinta knows what she is doing. She knows how to scare the coyotes away. I’ve seen her do it. They don’t even follow us unless she wants them to.”

“Okay, but you better be safe. And I don’t want you to do this anymore. I have enough on my mind.”

“Sorry,” Julietta said.

“Promise?”

“Yup. I told you that we’ve already decided not to go past the gate anymore.”

“Good. Fine. Anyway, I’m okay. The disguise is working perfectly. I even have some folks helping me do my investigation. I should be back in a few weeks. I was so busy investigating the Scotts that I just showered and went to sleep when I got back to my rooming house.”

Julietta said nothing.

 

“Julie…?” Vince could not bring himself to tell her about the dangerous journey he was getting ready to embark on.

“It’s okay, Pop,” answered Julietta quietly, sensing something she could not identify. Her intuition told her that he was withholding something. She couldn’t think of anything else to say, so she said, “Be safe, Pop.”

“I will. You too, Butterfly.”

“I will.”

“I’ll call as soon as I can.”

“Okay. I love you, Daddy.”

“Love you, too. Kiss Romeo for me.”

“Yuck.”

Promise?

“No.”

“‘Kay, bye.”

Julie made a kissing noise and handed the receiver to Chief García who had come over to her and indicated that he wanted to speak to her dad. As Julie went down the hall, she heard the Chief speaking softly and intensely on the phone and caught a fragment of the conversation.

“Yes, I understand. Find out if you can…just be careful. They probably have guns,” said Garcí a. The rest of the conversation was lost as Julie turned into Jacinta’s room, which was dark now. There was a hint of gardenia from outside the open window as the wind blew the curtain forward, carrying more of the luscious scent into the room. The moon was full and bright, as if it contained some sort of human knowledge -- or a knowledge of humanity. The sky was translucent with soft clouds moving slowly over its light. A single coyote called high and clear. Several coyotes yipped and howled back in an orchestration of friendship. Julietta was soon asleep -- too tired to worry anymore that night.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty

The deepening night in Tennessee brought a heavy silence with it as a kerosene lamp went on in a wood cabin on the edge of a huge corn field bordered by a thick forest. The moon was going to be almost full tonight. Or so close to full, you could not tell if it was full, or if you had to wait a few days.

The gurgle of a small infant came through the loosely hinged door along with the melodic sound of a concertina squeeze box. One voice was quietly singing something that sounded like a lullaby. Another voice spoke softly in Spanish. These sounds drifted subtly over the scant light of the one room cabin and down a dirt path in front of a long row of similar cabins.

There was, maybe, a few hundred acres of corn, strawberries and other crops spread out past the woods that surrounded the cabins. A pretty cream, brown and tan mother opossum with five tiny babies ran into the woods as soon as the lantern came on and the light shone from under the cabin door.

The moon in Mexico this night was almost the same moon as eight years ago on that night. Such things happen. Even if you don’t believe in astrology, the sight of a similar phase of the moon, its quality of brightness, or size (small or large), proximity (near or far) can call up memories of a different place, long ago. There might be some similarity in the tenor of the night -- the tenor of the moon.

The voices of two men spoke quietly again, cajoling the infant. They were farm workers near the border of Tennessee and Virginia. The place was so rural that the name of the township only conjured up a small set of “downtown” buildings that did not include much more than a post office, a bank, a town hall and a few stores in a three block area about ten miles away. The cabins that the farm workers lived in did not even have electricity or running water. The names of the two men were Pedro Mendoza and Juan Ramirez. They both had families in Guadalajara. That was why they lived together. They were from the same city in Mexico. They were brothers now; the only family they had for the years they had been together was each other.

They both had dreams of bringing their families to America. Both of them had worked in the United States for over ten years. The babies they left behind were almost teenagers now. Their own babies. They had their photographs thumbtacked to the walls of the cabin over a small zinc-topped table. Upon that table sat a basket with another baby in it. Not their own. Next to the basket was a propane camp stove and a few enameled tin dishes, cups and silverware. There was milk warming on one burner and a pot with coffee heating on the other.

Pedro and Juan sat at the table talking to the baby and making her feel comfortable. Juan began to sing to her from time to time, playing his small octagonal accordion. The one he had brought with him from Mexico.

They had found her on the hard packed earth in front of Eustis Parker’s gas station.

Neither of them had thought twice about picking her up. They knew Eustis and they knew he was a smuggler. He smuggled illegal farm workers for the Whittakers and others. In fact, he had helped get them their jobs at the Whittaker farm. They also suspected that he smuggled other things. As soon as Juan had seen Bannister Willis’ car he had grabbed the basket that the child was in. Who wants a baby around people like Parker or Willis? Smuggling created either problems and fortune – both usually.

If they had to, they could raise the baby themselves. There were some farm workers in nearby towns that had wives and small children. They could make arrangements during the day to have the child cared for. And cared for well. Besides, the baby looked Mexican. She had pretty deep, dark brown eyes and shiny black curly hair. And those dimples.

It could be a miracle. They had both lost touch with the childhood of their own children. And maybe some poor Mexican woman could not take care of her child. What Americano would put a baby in a picnic basket anyway? A Mexican might though. Someone who was here illegally but wanted to leave her child here to be raised in this wealthy land of opportunity.

If it was anything else, Eustis knew to call them if he had seen them drive up, late as usual, trying to get some gasoline for the weekend. The local police might know who they were, as mean as they were. It was not an alternative that the two Mexicans would want to choose.

It was a miracle. See? Even a normal, quiet act of kindness was a small miracle. This tiny child was a small miracle. The hand of the Divine had brought them there, they were sure. Las Manos de Dios . These callused hands that husked corn and raised Whittaker crops -- working, sacrificing so long away from their own loved ones: their elderly mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and wives, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews -- their own children. Their hands were now the hands of God. Their hands were aiding the miracle of life. They represented the Unseen.

Bannister Willis and the Willis cartel should not get this baby. She was theirs.

A loud knock broke their quiet reverie. A coarse voice called out, “Pedro! Juan! Can I come in? Someone’s called about you.”

The two men looked at each other. Juan had tears in his eyes but said, “, sí. Come in.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-One

Vincente decided to go to Eva’s early on Saturday night and have dinner there. It was a good thing he did because there was only one table left and the counter was full, too. The restaurant was filled with people sitting at the small, round café tables covered with plastic red and white checkered table cloths. The menu for that evening was printed on cards stuck in metal stands on each table: fried and battered or broiled red snapper and catfish, cornbread and collard greens; wild or white rice; jambalaya; battered fried shrimp and French fries. There were side dishes such as black-eyed peas and butter beans. As usual, there was a bottle of hot sauce on each table along with the salt and pepper.

Fresh copies of The Arkansas State Press, The Richmond Planet, and a few other papers were stacked neatly on Eva’s newsstand near the cash register. Vince got up and bought a copy of the Planet. All the papers were from various black communities outside of New Jersey. He noticed a small headline on an op-ed about Earl Francis Lloyd and Nat Clifton. The two athletes were the first black players in the NBA. Vince liked to follow basketball. Atlantic City was famous for its black baseball players, such as Pop Lloyd, as well, which Vince knew.

Vincente took the one table left, ordering fried shrimp with wild rice, greens and cornbread -- with a side of butter beans -- as he perused the rest of the newspaper. Most combo plates sold for $1.50. The ceiling fans were on, humming relief from the day’s heat. Somebody had turned the juke on by throwing a nickel in it. The lighted jukebox glowed as the music subtly began to push through the noise of the crowd.

A high voice coming from the jukebox sang lightly above everyone inside the restaurant like another soft, cool breeze in the background.

Only you can make this world seem right.

Only you can make the darkness bright.

Only you and you alone can thrill me like you do…

Only you can make this change in me.

For it’s true, you are my destiny…

” by Buck Ram and Ande Rand.)

 

Vince poured himself another tall glass of ice water.

_______

By the time Vince finished eating it was about 9:15. Julius would be there soon. He got up and pushed past a short line of smartly dressed folks at the take-out sign, making his way to the cash register. There was an older man in stained and worn blue work clothes in front of him picking out some fresh fish. There were a few fresh vegetables in another small glass-fronted, ice cabinet. The man picked out a few green peppers and bought a small bag of rice. Vince had to wait until Dolores (who was working tonight) cleaned the fish, weighed them and wrapped them in white grocery paper, putting them in the man’s own vinyl shopping bag along with his other purchases. She added up the man’s purchases on the register. She had her shiny hair braided into some elegant corn rows in an intricate spiral pattern this evening and wore a tight black dress that emphasized her small figure. Accented with her heavy gold hoop earrings, she looked lovely. She flashed the fish-gutting knife expertly and smiled at him.

Her mother, Eva, was working take-out, which was really not a separate area -- just a corner of the counter near the kitchen under a sign that said “Take-Out”. The place was continuously full. Folks getting take-out were sitting on benches outside, waiting, some of them smoking cigarettes, most not. There were quite a few well-dressed couples and folks with small children seated at the larger cafe tables. Someone made another selection on the jukebox. The words and the music were lost in the noise at the counter and the ring of the cash register. Vince thought that he heard the smooth, buttery voice of Sarah Vaughn, singing in and out of the conversations around him. Things were starting to pick up for the evening. Soon the place would get even more crowded.

_______

Vincente could feel the rush of air from the open front door. It was finally getting cooler, so he was glad he had brought a jacket. He was not in disguise so he had parked the Chevy close by. By this time, he had clued all the Jacksons into his real name and story. He finally got to the head of the line, paid Dolores and walked towards the door. She grinned at him, but was too busy to make any comments or wish him well, but the friendship that had grown between him and her family was explanatory in its silence. They had a mutual agreement as to the purposes of their mission. And that was enough.

The succulent scent of fried fish followed him into the street. He saw Julius Jackson leaning against a beat-up, old Ford pickup truck. He waved at Vince when he saw him.

Hey, Vince!”

“Hey yourself, Julius…”

They shook hands and Vince got in on the passenger side. Julius started the truck.

“My nephew, Eddie, is going to meet us at the dock. He’s the other half of my fishing business.” Jackson looked at Vince. “You got a gun?”

Vince looked back at him and showed him one of the double-barreled Derringers, and answered, “I have two of these and a box of cartridges.”

Jackson chuckled. “A little small for the job. Those are not too bad at close range, but I brought my .45 and a deer rifle.”

Vince blew his cheeks out.

Jackson continued, “Better to be safe than sorry. I’m a big guy and a higher gauge is easy for me to use. The kick back you know…”

“Yeah,” agreed Vincente. “The Derringers are easy to conceal and they have a half-way decent range. I can only shoot four bullets at a time, though.”

“Well, you got back-up now. My nephew has my other .45, ammo and his own shotgun. I’ll tell you now, though,” said Julius as he turned down a road that brought the ocean into view, “me and Eddie are gonna stay out of view in the woods. Ed might head down to the skiff early so we’ll be set up for a quick get away if we need one. We will be primed and ready to take off if you need to run and hop into the skiff.

“It’ll be up to you to go up to the cabin. But, we will be right behind you, using the trees for cover. It doesn’t make sense that people like the Scotts and Small would know that two black men are out there helping you. But we will be close enough to back you up anyway. We’ll be watching you.”

“That’s cool,” replied Vince, checking the safeties on the Derringers and putting one in each side pocket of his jacket.

Jackson pulled up to a dock that had a small booth next to it for selling fish and parked. The two men walked up the dock to a medium-sized fishing boat with a dinghy attached to one side. The name of the boat was the Africa, painted next to a sun-faded outline of the continent.

Eddie, Julius Jackson’s nephew, was there already and handed Vince a pair of gum-boots as they boarded the vessel. There was a large cabin with four seats and two bunks overhead. Ed and Julius sat in captain’s chairs facing the windshield and Vince sat behind them facing a side window. The cabin was enclosed but the door was propped open to let in a little air.

By the time the Africa got close to Sea Isle City, some dim moonlight was reflected in the dark water of the ocean, which swelled with small choppy waves. Julius turned his running lights on. The small fishing boat bounced and lurched. It was about ten p.m. according to the lighted clock on the dashboard. They skimmed past several small islands and Jackson turned his running lights off.

Ed said, looking up at the sky, “Looks like it might rain.”

“Hope not,” replied Julius, steering in a semi-circle until they reached the shore of a barely visible sand spit near another small island. “Look,” he said, releasing his anchor and pointing at a small, light-colored curl rising into the sky, “I can see that smoke again.”

Eddie answered, “Yeah, right there. I see it, too. Looks like somebody’s still in that cabin. If the Scotts or Small are here, they must be tied up on the other side of the island. Don‘t think anyone would try and make it out here this time of night, in this darkness, without running lights. They wouldn’t be able to see the name of our boat either, which is good.”

“They wouldn’t even see the boat without the running lights -- or the dinghy for that matter. We picked a good night,” said Julius exiting the cabin and walking out on deck, followed by the other two men.

Vince looked up and saw the smoke. The men released the Africa’s dinghy, which had a small motor attached to it, as well as a set of oars. All three men clambered down the ladder attached to the larger boat into the skiff. Julius had turned the running lights out well before he had set anchor, so it was difficult to see anything at all. The darkness created a blanketed blindness. The sound of lapping waves echoed against the fishing boat as it rocked gently back and forth. Vincente missed a step in the ladder and almost fell into the water.

It was a short distance from shore, so the two fishermen decided to row to keep the noise down. They ran the skiff up onto the sandy beach and tied a rope from the bow of the boat to a tree.

“Tide’s in. The water is deep now. We have to tie the dinghy up, so we won’t come back and find it floating out off the shore,” said Ed in explanation, pulling on a black watch cap.

Ed and Julius checked their guns and left one of the shotguns hidden under a tarpaulin in the skiff. They gave another watch cap to Vincente.

Julius called to both men over his shoulder as he started walking up the beach into the forest, “Follow me. There’s a path most of the way up there.”

Ed turned to Vince as they entered the woods. “Too bad we had to anchor here, because it’s a shorter distance to the cabin from the other side of the island.”

They walked single file as quietly as they could, hearing only the rushing sound of the brush moving against their legs and the more distant sounds of the ocean pushing into the shore. All three men had turned their flashlights on towards the ground since the sky was filling up with clouds and there was no light from the hidden moon. The air was salty and getting colder. The scent of crushed pine needles was heavy. A few rain drops began to make their way noisily through the trees. A deer broke through the pine up ahead of them and ran across the slender path. It was a doe followed by an orange spotted fawn that sprinted lithely behind her. They could have disturbed them at rest. The men paused a second. Vincente started to sweat.

A sparkle from the rain drops on a leaf showed in Vince’s flashlight. Julius flicked his light off and said softly, “We should put our lights out now. We’re getting close to the cabin. See, the smell of the wood smoke is getting much stronger. Ed and I will show you which window we think is the safest to listen under, then we’ll wait back here. I don’t want them to see us, but we’ll have our guns out and be covering you. If anything happens we’ll try and protect you. You should meet us back at the boat if we have to split up and run.”

The sound of a boat engine echoed in the distance on the far side of the island.

“Good thing those deer were not close enough to the cabin to draw too much attention. They covered our noise coming in,” commented Ed in a whisper. “Anyone used to staying out here would be used to the sound of deer.”

Vince pulled a Derringer out of his right pocket, and pulled his watch cap lower. He zipped his windbreaker up to his chin, still sweating. His palms were getting wet. It wasn’t from heat; the night was cool. It was from nerves. The hand holding the Derringer was shaking a little.

“Crouch down good now and go ‘round the back, away from the porch. There‘s a back window there you can look through,” Julius whispered, pointing to the back wall of the cabin as they came to a break in the forest. “We’ll stay right here.” Ed and Julius stepped back into the trees and were hidden again. Julius pulled out his .45 and Ed leveled his shotgun at the front (and only) door.

Vincente held his breath, leading with his right-handed Derringer, and taking the safety off. He crouched down and moved forward in the light drizzle until he was directly under the well-lit back window. He rose slightly, with his shoulder leaning on the wooden side of the cabin wall. The window was open so it was easy to hear. He could hear the slapping of cards on a table and the clang of an empty beer can tossed onto the floor. He took a tentative peek in the side of the window, his face still well-hidden in the shadows of the building. Davey, his dad and Earl Small were there with a stack of hundred dollar bills in front of them. And what looked like the same type of package containing a kilo of cocaine that Vince had been stuck with.

The stuff was wrapped in wax and plasticine like before. Vince tripped over a rock as he leaned forward to see more clearly, he coughed inadvertently. All three men looked up, quiet and stopped playing cards.

Suddenly, Davey got up and lurched towards the front door, slamming it open clumsily. Vince crouched down under the window, trying to make himself smaller and positioned his body behind some of the rock pilings that the cabin was built on, hoping they hadn’t heard or seen him. There was the sound and smell of urine being released in a steamy stream on the ground. The front door was still open and kerosene lamps from inside the cabin shed more light in a semi-circle around the front of the building.

“Hey, Earl,” shouted Davey, obviously still urinating (and taking a while to do it too), “when we going to hit another bank? We could make $100,000 this year. I’m getting tired of stayin’ out here by myself. I think we should start moving into New York pretty soon. We can quit the cocaine business and tell Willis to hit the road. We never made that much money from his shit anyway.”

“Yeah,” came Earl Small’s voice from inside the cabin, “you know, you’re right. I don’t want folks to get too used to our style in Pennsylvania.”

“Or our faces, either…even with wigs and mustaches,” added Duncan Scott with a laugh.”Fucking noisy deer! Did you hear that? Davey, get your gun. We can have some fresh venison tonight, screw hunting season.”

Vince went dead inside and crouched lower.

Davey put his hands up in mock surrender. “Well, they’d never think of me.” He laughed loudly. “I’m dead! I don’t think we’ll have any problems. We haven’t so far. We need to get rid of that coke, though. Shit! You are imagining things, Pop. I didn’t hear a thing. Don’t see no deer out here. It’s too dark anyway.”

Suddenly, a series of six huge, carbon arc lamps lit the front of the cabin and another six lit the back.

“You! Davey Scott. Don’t move. You just stay put! Put your hands in the air!” Theodora Scott and three state troopers with double-barreled shotguns stepped into the clearing. Everything and everyone was illuminated in the arc lamps as if daylight had just, suddenly, come up over the horizon. There were another three cops covering the back of the cabin, and more deeper in the woods.

The troopers stormed into the cabin and pushed Earl Small and Scott, Sr. flat on their faces, cuffing their hands across their backs. The table had fallen over in their surprise -- sloppily spilling beer, money and playing cards onto the floor. Luckily, the kerosene lamps were hanging on hooks on opposite sides of the cabin walls.

The only obvious gun in the room seemed to be a deer rifle leaning against the door jamb, too far away to be of any use.

Vince had stepped into the light with his own hands in the air. Julius and Eddie were nowhere to be seen, presumably running back down to their skiff. A shot rang out over Vince’s head as Davey was subdued and brought to his knees, having his arms wrenched behind him by two muscular cops. He started to cry, sobbing loudly, saying something jumbled underneath the sound of his tears as his hands were cuffed.

Vince fell forward onto his stomach when he heard the shot and, covering his head with his arms, shouted over the melee, “I’m innocent! I’m the guy the Scott family accused of murdering Davey! I’m just out here because I heard Davey was still alive! I was trying to clear myself.”

The cops looked around to see who had fired at Vince, since they recognized him from his posters. Theodora Scott lowered the rifle she had grabbed from inside the cabin door, when everyone else was busy capturing and subduing the bank robbers. She stood between her son and Vincente.

“Do you think for a moment that I did not recognize you, Mr. Bonaventura? I knew who you were the first time I saw you walk around Eva’s neighborhood in your disguise,” said Theodora, walking closer to Vincente and handing her shotgun to one of the policemen at her side. She was a large woman who towered over Vince as he rose to his knees and stood up, brushing the pine needles and dirt from himself. Theodora was wearing a flowered dress, gum-boots and a dark vinyl rain slicker.

“But you didn’t warn your son, husband or Mr. Small?” questioned Vince in a quiet voice.

Theodora walked right up to him and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I did not know Davey was still alive. Mr. Small claimed to have taken him to the hospital. And, when he said he died, my husband claimed to have taken the body to the crematorium in Philadelphia. I first suspected something when my husband did not wait for a wake, but he said it was so much cheaper just to cremate and the city of Philadelphia provided that for us.

“Both my husband and Earl worked for the city. I became suspicious of the two of them when I called the City Public Works department a few times when my husband told me they were working overtime and their supervisor said they weren’t there.

“Then I heard the two of them laughing and talking on the porch about some ‘jobs’ they had done in Pennsylvania. They left a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer on the porch table open to an article about several bank robberies in rural Pennsylvania. There was a description of the young man who had actually entered the banks. The boy was described as being unusually muscular with very large shoulders and a charming smile. It just sounded like Davey. I had no real proof of anything.” She paused and looked up with tears in her eyes. “We had had more money than usual. I just thought it was from my husband’s overtime. At least I did for a while. I really began to worry when the robberies began to include the shooting death of several bank guards. Then Duncan was assaulted down the block from our home.

“I suspected you or one of the Willis family, but the police said the suspect was probably a woman. God knows my husband and son and some of their other relatives could have angered almost anyone.

“ I went to the police when I saw you without your disguise tonight, dressed in gum-boots -- and then saw you get into Julius Jackson’s truck. Eva’s is very close to my house -- just a few blocks away. I shop at her fish market and know Mr. Jackson from handy work around the neighborhood.

“Earl should have been home this weekend, but he wasn‘t. His wife called his department in Philadelphia and he wasn‘t there either. I thought maybe you had found something out.” Tears began to course down Theodora’s cheeks; she wiped them away with the palms of her hands.

“ I figured that you were about to close in on the hunting cabin that Earl bought a few months ago. It wasn’t difficult to guess that Davey might have been living out here -- meeting Earl, my husband and his relatives when they should have been working in Philadelphia.” Her voice choked and she went silent, looking back at her son.

Davey was still kneeling, crying and shaking his head saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know…I didn’t know what to do. What can I do? I’m so sorry. They shot the guards. It wasn’t me. It wasn‘t my fault.”

Theodora turned back to Vincente and said, “I’m sorry to have shot at you. I only meant to warn you not to do anything to my son. I thought you might have a gun.”

Vincente looked down at his feet and replied quietly, “I do. I have a couple of Derringers.”

Theodora was silent for a moment. She turned again to face Vincente more fully, her eyes drier. “I’ve never liked the bully that my husband and his friends turned Davey into. He used to be a sweet, obedient and even clever child. I am happy he is alive. They goaded him and laughed when he hurt other people. They told him that that was what it was to be a man.

“ I don’t agree. He could have been a kind man -- a helpful, protective man. But, the cruelty of Earl, my husband and others crushed the goodness out of him.”

Theodora walked back to her son as he stood up, his hands cuffed behind his back, looking his mother in the eyes and apologizing again. “Now,” she said, dry-eyed, directly to Davey, “the police have told me that the three of you will be on trial for a combination of ten bank robberies, the murder of two bank guards, cocaine trafficking, and what you did to Mr. Bonaventura. I will visit you in prison and be in the court room. I will testify against you in court, but I will be your support when you are sentenced. If you can prove that you did not shoot anyone, only your father and Earl will be on trial for murder. You might have a second chance.

“You need to change, Davey. You need to find a new kind of life. Even in jail. Maybe you will find it there. I‘ll be there for you. They deserve whatever they get for what they did to you. I never want to see either one of them again.”

The police took Davey by each arm and led him away still whimpering. The other two men were already in police custody and secured on a Coast Guard boat.

Theodora took her scarf off and looked into the light rain and the sky, shaking her hair free a little. “I have to go with them. I am a witness. I turned my own family into the authorities, and told the police what I knew right before we came out here. It was about time my husband’s wickedness ended.” She glanced over as the police closed the cabin door and turned the last of the arc lamps out, turning their flash lights on. They had damped the fire, gathered their evidence and turned the kerosene lamps off. They motioned to Theodora to follow them. She hesitated and said, “I have a few more things to say to Mr. Bonaventura. I know the way. I will be right there. Give me a few minutes.” The police agreed and moved off towards the shore.

Julius and Eddie stepped out from behind the trees and came over to Vincente and Theodora.

“Hello, Mrs. Scott,” said Julius.

“Hello, Mr. Jackson,” responded Theodora, kindly. “I’m glad I was able to finally put this tribulation behind us. I know how terrible these men have been. It isn’t easy for me, but the house is paid for and I can do some house cleaning to cover my bills.” She paused and gave Jackson, Ed and Vince a small smile as she moved away towards the direction that the police had taken. She looked back and said, “I won’t miss my husband. He has hurt me many times. Maybe this will give my son a chance to atone and learn the real meaning of kindness.”

She moved off down the trail resolutely, as she put her head scarf back on.

When Jackson, Eddie and Vince got to their skiff, they saw a small, expensive yacht resplendent with sparkling running lights pass close by. There was a tall man with a cane wearing a fine rain slicker standing on the deck. The yacht blew its horn as they started their own motor.

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Two

Julietta and Jacinta stopped going beyond the gate in the back yard just as Julie had promised her dad, although they still went out with Romeo late at night. They saw the two small, plain coyotes frequently. And also a couple of large hawks and other small animals. Jacinta’s family never said anything about their previous trips into the desert, except a comment or two that Chief García made about the neighbor that the two girls had seen awake in the early hours of the morning. The Garcías were friendly with him and spoke to him occasionally.

They had all been sitting around the kitchen table at dinner one night, the Chief and his wife were talking about this neighbor and describing the fact that he was an artist, a painter, and how he had just won a national award for his beautiful landscapes of Mexico. In fact, they were discussing purchasing one of his paintings to hang in the living room.

Jacinta spoke up, and said in a slightly agitated voice, “I don’t like his paintings.”

Emilio García looked up from his dinner with a surprised expression on his face. “Why, Jacinta! I didn’t know you had seen any of Señor Hernández’s paintings. Why don’t you like them? They are beautiful.”

“Magnificent, in fact,” Jacinta’s mother commented enthusiastically. Abuelita said nothing, but her eyes spoke volumes.

“I just don’t like them, that’s all. His colors make my stomach churn,” she replied.

Julietta snickered.

“He works so hard on them. I’ve heard he sometimes stays up all night painting and then goes to his day job in the morning,” her mother said, looking quizzically at her daughter.

Both parents seemed to have a funny sort of sparkle in their dark eyes as they spoke. Jacinta got up from the table and picked up Romeo, making for the back door. “Maybe that’s why his paintings look so sloppy to me. Look closer at them. They look smudgy.” She got a smug look on her face, and added, “Like he fell asleep on them.” She left with the dog and banged the door shut, sort of rudely.

Both her parents looked at each other with a shrug and laughed. Julietta felt embarrassed and got up so that she could sneak out to join Jacinta before anyone could say anything else.

As she reached the kitchen door, Chief García spoke to her, “Julietta, wait a minute.” Julietta felt her heart sink. “I spoke to your father last night.” Julie turned around and smiled a little. “He is on his way back here. Everything is okay. The young man that attacked him in Atlantic City was found alive. The whole thing was a scam and that boy, his dad and another man were arrested for what they did to your dad and a series of other crimes.”

“Wow,” said Julietta excitedly, “then Poppa is free? He will not be arrested?”

“No, Julie,” responded Chief García. “He won’t be arrested.”

“When is he supposed to be here?” asked Julie, sitting back down at the table.

“Probably in another couple of weeks. You should make sure all of your clothes and toys are clean and packed unless you are using them.”

Julie skipped around the side of the table, threw her arms around the chief and kissed him on the cheek. She did the same to Señora García, laughing more openly now. “Okay! O-kee Doe-kee! I’ll clean everything up. We’re pretty neat anyway. I have to go and tell Jacinta!” She smiled at Abuelita as she ran out the door into the backyard. Jacinta would tell her grandmother what had happened later, since they were speaking in English and Abuelita needed a translation.

As soon as Julietta entered the dusty yard area, she saw a large falcon land on the stone wall at the back of the yard by the wrought iron gate. Jacinta was holding the dog and smiling. She seemed to be speaking to the hawk. Romeo, as usual, acted wisely and was quiet, demur and unafraid.

_______

Vincente showed up less than a week and a half later. Julie was reading a comic book in Spanish. By now, she was pretty much fluent and back to her old bad reading habits. She liked all the cartoon pictures -- like most kids her age. She had formed an attachment to El Coyote, and had bought a collection of the comic book version. Romeo was snoring, curled up in her lap. She was sitting in the living room, glancing lazily out the window from time to time.

What drives past the house? Guess. Know, you know. Yup, the red and white Chevy.

The car was shiny clean -- washed with a mirrored paste wax shine. Vince parked and got out of the car. He was clean shaven, wearing his pink cowboy shirt with the purple snaps down the front, his sunglasses and a small panama hat. He had a new pair of sandals on. He didn’t waste any time getting some new clothes, Julie noted.

She dumped poor Romeo on his fat side on the floor. He woke up and stretched his legs sideways and yawned. Then he did something that that quiet dog almost never did -- he barked. He started out with a sort of burping woof. Then, he barked more loudly and raced Julie to the door.

Vince opened the front door just as Julie got there and she flew into his arms. He picked her up as Romeo kept up the noisy barking, wagging his curly tail as he artistically avoided being stepped on. Vince smooched Julie wetly, which she still hated and she struggled to get down. He hugged her more tightly until she screamed that it wasn’t funny. Then he threw her on the couch and reached down to grab the dog.

_______

Julie was sad to leave Jacinta and actually asked her how her parents would feel about her going with them to Chicago. She explained to her how much fun it would be. Jacinta didn’t think it would work. Although, she admitted that she did not look forward to going back to school and that learning math and English with Julie was a lot more fun. But, she knew her parents would not let her go now. Perhaps later, for a visit.

She was, also, reading and writing in English rather fluently. She did not, though, think that was enough to convince her folks to let her travel with them.

She helped Julie pack. Julie gave her anything of hers that she liked: her favorite books, toys and even her smaller plastic blue see-through purse -- and a lipstick. They both promised to write to each other and telephone when they could. And not tell any adults about the lipstick.

_______

The trip to Chicago was much less hectic and scary than the fugitive way Julie and Vince had driven to Mexico. Vince bought some really fine Mariachi records in Nuevo Laredo. And black cowboy hats (for both of them) in Laredo, on the American side of the border. He also purchased cowboy boots and a fancy cowgirl shirt with pearlized snaps for Julie. She also got a Roy Rogers picture book in San Antonio and did crossword puzzles most of the way to Illinois.

They stayed at motels all the way to the midwest. Vince even planned on getting a real driver’s license in his own name, and a common law birth certificate. Julie asked Vince if she could change her name to another name she had chosen and liked better than Julietta Bonaventura. He frowned at her and hit the side of her head.

They met another skunk going through Missouri, but this time the smell was way worse than the last time, because the skunk sprayed the dog at one of their stops…close up.

They stood by the entrance of the next motel that they wanted to check into that evening. Vince put their money on a lobby end table to avoid getting any closer to the front desk than he needed to. The desk clerk happily threw the room key to Vince from a distance. Julie stayed outside in the fresh air with Stinko, the puppy, until they found an outside water spigot and got the shampoo out of Vince’s plaid cloth suitcase. And, of course, the reliable old Old Spice. They got a bucket from one of the motel’s cleaners.

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet. ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; thou art thyself, though, not a Montague. What’s a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

[_ What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet -- _]

(from “Romeo & Juliet” by William Shakespeare)

Julie slathered the shampoo into Romeo’s hair and Vince gently hosed him off. The skunk scent started to fade after the third shampoo. They used a cloth rag to dry him off. And Julie sprinkled the Old Spice on him.

 

 

 

 

 

Part Three

Blue Speckled Robin’s Eggs, Lake Weed & Clouds of Minnows

Chicago, 1958

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

 

Ooo eee ooo ah ah.

Ting tang walla walla bing bang.

Ooo eee ooo ah ah,

ting tang walla walla bing bang.

 

.)

 

They arrived in Chicago a few days after they shampooed Romeo. (Good thing.) Vince got the desk job at Sears catalog that he wanted, and Julie and he settled into their new rental house and their new neighborhood. The new neighborhood turned out to be more wild and rural than suburban due to the fact that their tract-home area was very recently converted from wilderness, forest and farm to suburb. Chicago was everything Julie hoped it would be -- and it seemed to be everything that Vincente hoped it would be, too.

_______

On Saturdays, like in Dorchester, Vince would roll up the sleeves of his white dress shirt, tucked neatly under his suspenders, put on a clean, white apron and make one of his culinary specialties. Vincente could really cook.

He made buckwheat pancakes from scratch, homemade yeast breads, fried chicken, all kinds of stuffed pasta, canoli (an Italian pastry in a deep fried shell with citron and a sweetened ricotta stuffing), and of course -- that Louisiana delight -- shrimp jambalaya with a mountain of white and wild rice.

This house, like the one in Dorchester, had a fireplace, so the two of them looked forward to the colder weather and the snow. Good time to light a fire and get cozy.

_______

Near the middle of November, Jacinta called Julie on the phone. She had gotten a large Great Dane puppy and was really excited about it. It was the weekend, and Vince was cooking lasagna with farm fresh mozzarella they had gotten from a local Italian farmer (their new egg, butter, cream and milk man).

Julie pulled the phone cord around the corner from the kitchen into the hallway and sat on the floor, shutting the swinging kitchen door, so the cooking sounds and banging pots did not distract her. Jacinta said that the puppy was brown and beige and she took him for walks outside her backyard wall, like the two of them used to do. She said he was calm and quiet like Romeo. She also said she was teaching him commands in English.

Her teachers were giving her excellent grades in math and she thanked Julie.

She said, “I named the puppy Sergeant. Pop and I deputized him -- so he is Sergeant Sergeant. I taught him to sniff out marijuana.”

Julie gulped. Her father had been exuding a funny smell from the back porch once in a while. So, she knew that whatever he was doing out there probably involved silly weed, the kid’s drug of choice.

Poor clods that got Jacinta’s dog on their tail.

“Oh, really?” Julie commented, with studied nonchalance.

“Yes. Oh, really. And don’t act like you don’t know what marijuana is, either.”

“Well, I don’t,” Julie lied.

“I think you do,” said Jacinta.

Julie calculated her ignorance and weighed it against the fact that she had not admitted even having tried the stuff, nor mentioned the potent laughter value against its obvious illegality both in Mexico and America. In Mexico, marijuana had been technically prohibited since about 1925, following the DuPont Corporation’s objections to the smoking of pot by their Mexican farm workers, but the rule was not really enforced very vigorously. All of this she knew.

“I think my Pop smokes it,” Julie said, hoping to sound innocent.

“Oh,” Jacinta commented, swallowing her quiet, almost muffled reply. “I thought you just said you didn’t know what it was.”

“I think my Dad does, though.”

“Oh. Do you have any?”

“Of course not!” Julie replied, trying to sound shocked at the suggestion and trying not to laugh at this stupid conversation.

“I do,” commented Jacinta, slyly, with a deeper, more adult tone in her voice.

“You have silly weed?!”

“Don’t call it that. Call it marijuana. What do you think I do with Sergeant, anyway?”

“You steal people’s plants!?”

“I take samples for the police department.”

“Are you crazy?”

“No.”

“What if your dad catches you with it?”

“Then I’ll just say I saw it growing wild on the Monterrey mesa and it had pretty, little yellow flowers.”

“Whew! Do you smoke it?” Julie blurted at her.

“None of your business. Do you?”

“My Pop blows it in my face sometimes. I’m innocent, though. It’s not my fault.”

“I blow it in Sergeant’s face,” commented Jacinta, digging herself in even deeper.

“Do you inhale?” Julie asked, lamely.

“I try not to,” Jacinta answered, adding to their mutual pile of lies.

“Hmm…” Julie mused, not convinced. “You should try inhaling some time. It’s kind of fun.”

“I’ll think about it. How would you know if it’s fun or not?”

“I told you my dad blows it in my face. It makes me laugh. I can’t help inhaling it.”

“Maybe I’ll try that some time when I blow it in Sergeant’s face. Maybe I will inhale it by accident. Maybe I already have.”

“I think you would know it if you did,” Julie retorted, as she inadvertently snorted.

They both started laughing and Jacinta promised to call as soon as she could. She planned to visit this coming summer, or whenever her folks would let her. She put Sergeant on the phone and Julie got to hear him breathing.

_______

By the beginning of January, 1959, Julie was back in school and Vince was thinking of starting a part-time tailoring business while he was still working at Sears.

One Saturday, Julie had some of her new friends over, playing Monopoly on the porch. Vince walked through them on the way out the door, dressed in his knee-length black wool coat and a winter hat with soft black stretch ear muffs.

Julie asked, “Where are you going, Pop?”

“Downtown to look at some offices for rent. I might be late.”

“Okay,” she said, watching the Monopoly board for her next move.

“Bye,” said Vince. He leaned down and smooched her on the cheek as she made her move.

“Can you bring some calzones back for me? I need to have some for snacks and I don‘t want to make any.”

“Sure,” he assured her.

Vince went out the front door and closed it against the lightly falling snow. He had put a string of bells on the front door and they jangled merrily. Julie watched him as his shoulders became dusted with white powder and he walked towards the train station under the arching branches of the winter elms.

She was winning her Monopoly game. It was an old game, which Julie, Fred Young, Randy Collins and Sherrie Heath had been playing off and on for about three weeks. They occasionally substituted other players when one of them could not show up. As a result, they sometimes got to overtake a few of the flashy players (such as Sherrie), which was really cool. That was how Julie was winning right now. It was a kind of cheat. Ha, too bad.

When it got dark, they moved into the den and put the game on the floor. Julie turned the TV on to Flash Gordon, and they continued playing. Re-run movies came on later in the afternoon. Today’s film selection was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Julie made some cold cut and cheese double decker club sandwiches. And amazed her little friends by cutting and frying French fries. Everyone called home and checked in with their parents. They took a break from their Monopoly game and watched the beginning of the movie as they ate, musing on the great polished wood and brass interior of Nemo’s improbable submarine.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Four

 

Hush little baby, don’t say a word;

Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

 

And if that mockingbird won’t sing,

Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.

 

(The Mockingbird Song, American Traditional.)

 

Vincente had several appointments to see a few different suites of inexpensive offices in downtown Chicago (The Loop). In terms of his tailoring business, he knew that almost any useful handicraft could lead to prosperity. It could be the Bonaventura family’s brass ring turned to gold. He could easily save Julietta’s college money and buy his own house from a business like that -- and save most of the get-away money he got from Bannister Willis. If things worked out. He could become a worldwide fashion house.

Everyone in his family would benefit, right on down to second and third cousins he did not even know. It was a dream he had had for a long time. Just the extra money would be good, anyway. Part of that $50,000 of blood money that Bannister had given him was paying for his tailoring suite start up. He should feel guilty, but he didn’t. After all he went through due to Bannister, he felt Willis owed it to him -- and especially Julie, since she was the one who was put most at risk.

The first building he went to see was only a few blocks from Union Station, near Adams and LaSalle -- within easy walking distance from the train and his bus stop. Union Station was where he disembarked from the Burlington to walk to the bus stop that took him to his job at Sears and back again. So he could walk over to his own office from the bus stop after getting off work at Sears, and get on the train after working at his tailoring suite. That was convenient.

Walking down the snowy streets among the white granite skyscrapers, he caught sight of the address he was looking for. The edifice of the ten story building was old fashioned and ornately carved brown granite block. As he entered through the revolving glass door, he noticed that the lobby was small and attractive with dark wood paneling. The floor was polished green granite with brass strips. He stepped into the elevator and had to pull a lever attached to an inner cage also made of brass. Instead of having a solid elevator door close automatically, there was only this brass cage -- which was closed manually. Pressing the button for the fifth floor, he removed his gloves, hat and earmuffs, checking his notes for the office number.

He watched each floor pass through the cage door. At the fifth floor, the old elevator jerked and bounced to a stop with a grinding sound. He opened the cage door again, brushing past the now unused, round fold-up seat that the elevator operator would have used had there been one. He walked down the quiet corridor and knocked on the brown, wooden door of number 521.

A short, demur man in a grey suit opened the door. He was balding, rather rotund and soft spoken. The office suite consisted of three large rooms and closet space, which was much larger than Vincente had expected. The rooms were clean, sunny and well-ventilated. All the rooms had windows that looked out over the alley where there was parking space, a small yard and a hurricane fence.

He smiled at the rental agent, who had been expecting him, and said, “Hi, I’m Vincente Bonaventura.” Vince looked around at the sunbeams playing on the wood floor of the suite in appreciation. “So…these rooms are a hundred a month?” he asked.

The agent, whose name was Archie Harper, smiled back and said, “Yes, sir, they are. There is a bathroom down the hall, as well.”

“I think that this suite would be ideal for my business,” Vincente commented and paused to look out the window at the cascading snow, which was coming down even harder than when he walked over from the train. “I don’t think I need to look any further.”

“It would be difficult to find a nicer office in this price range,” agreed Harper.

“I think you are right,” answered Vincente, pulling his check book out of the inner pocket of his coat. “Is there a security deposit?”

“Yes, sir,” responded Harper. “Fifty dollars.”

Vince walked over to the only piece of furniture there, (besides a padded, green vinyl swivel armchair) which was located in the reception area -- a large, gray metal desk.

“The desk and chair come with the office,” said Harper.

Vincente sat down and wrote out a check. Harper filled out a receipt and handed it to him with several keys. Reaching under the desk, he pulled out a heavy, black dial phone and put it on top of the desk.

“This phone is still connected. I’ll change the bill to your name and we will send the new bill to you. The number is printed on the phone. We have a switchboard operator in the building next door that manages several office buildings. Just dial “0“ and tell her the number you wish to call and she will connect you. All incoming calls are connected through the operator, as well. She can take messages from you, too, and give them to your clients if they ring your number and you are not here or you do not wish to receive calls. She will also take messages from your clients for you.”

Vincente lifted the receiver and heard the dial tone, replacing it, he wrote his new business number down: FL4-5665. He swiveled the chair all the way around and smiled broadly at Archie Harper.

Harper asked, “Are you planning on printing business cards?”

“Yes,” answered Vince. “They should be ready next week, as soon as I can call the information in to my printer.”

“That’s fine. Just drop a card off at the switchboard and the operator will answer your phone when necessary with your preferred greeting and business name. The switchboard is open sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. We have many small offices that are open on the weekends and at night so we are able to keep the phones on most of the time.”

“That’s convenient, since I’ll be working at night and some weekends, too,” Vince replied.

“You can pick up your mail and packages from our mail room which is also next door. There is a small monthly fee for these services, but we find that this is a convenient and safe way to serve our office clients.” Harper stuck his hands in his suit coat pockets, rocking back on his heels, he continued, “Outgoing mail can be dropped off there, too.”

Vince grinned, folding his arms behind his head and leaning back in the swivel chair, making it creak on its mechanisms. He smiled at Harper and said, “That’s really wonderful. I didn’t expect so many services. I think this is just perfect…really more than I expected.”

Archie Harper handed Vince his business card. “Any bills will come through the mail room. If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a call. Our own rental clients are usually rather pleased with our services. We do not get many complaints.” Harper handed Vincente a few printed sheets with a diagram of the building plan, locations of the mail room and switchboard and other information about the rental.

Vince folded the papers and put them in the inside pocket of his coat and put the new keys on his key ring. Harper went to a closet, got his coat, hat, scarf and gloves as Vince got up from the desk. Vince put his arm around Archie’s shoulders as the two men walked to the door. They both took the elevator down to the first floor together and shook hands again as Vince headed towards State Street and his last appointment of the day.

_______

He glanced at his watch; it was close to four o’clock. The winter sun was already setting, and the snow was beginning to upsurge into his face and blind him occasionally. It was really turning into a winter squall. He turned the collar of his wool coat up as he looked for the office of his new accountant, which was supposedly only about three blocks from Harper‘s building. He had chosen this business by reputation and also its proximity to Union Station.

He found the building, which looked a lot like the building he had just rented an office in, and entered the lobby, deciding to take the stairs to the third floor. The door of his new accountant was open. He noted the name printed in gold leaf on the door: Guy Rochelle, CPA. He noticed a boot tray next to the door with a pair of wet, rubber galoshes in it, so he slid his own galoshes off and put them there, too.

______

There was a heavy, sweet smell that overwhelmed him as he entered Mr. Rochelle’s office. It was like a smoky perfume. Rochelle rose, smiled and shook his hand. Vince took a chair across from him.

Rochelle’s office did not look like a place of business. There was a dark, medium-sized oriental rug on the floor and many statues of dancing figures -- men in turbans and women in draped, ankle-length cloth. And a statue of what looked like a cobra.

Delicately placed around the room was a collection of wooden inlaid boxes and small, highly polished end tables, which were set next to the chairs. The tables were made of fine, dark and light carved wood -- also with intricate, inlaid designs like the boxes. The windows were covered in heavy, satin-lined, green brocade curtains. The powdery smell of the office seemed to change in fragrance as Vincente shifted in his chair. There was a large, gold brocade cushion on the floor on top of the rug behind the desk and in front of the curtains.

Rochelle, himself, was so soft spoken that Vincente had to lean forward to hear him. The fragrance in the room was making him light-headed. He had not stopped for lunch, so he supposed that was why. Rochelle also looked rather more like a boy than a man and he wore a gold and jeweled necklace that had some symbol on it that looked something like a “3” with a tail that had an eye on top of it. It flashed in the light when Rochelle would lean to the side and laugh -- which he did a lot.

Guy Rochelle had been recommended by a senior clothing buyer at Sears who also knew many smaller tailors and clothing designers who used him to keep their books and do their taxes. He had a very good reputation for being timely and honest. No one had mentioned anything about the exotic décor of his office.

As their meeting progressed, Guy explained that his brother was an Asian art dealer and that the fragrance in the air was incense from India. His brother, he continued, made many trips there and spoke Gujarati and Hindi, as well as a few dialects of Chinese and Thai. Guy got up and went into another room in his suite to get some debit and credit forms for Vincente, taking the receipts that Vince had brought over with him for filing.

[_ Vince’s attention began to wander. He rose to look at some of the inlaid wooden pictures on the wall -- scenes of cows and women dancing. _]

Rochelle walked back into the room so silently that he startled Vincente, who whirled around and noticed that Guy had no shoes on, just stockings. And fine, expensive, grey silk ones at that. Vince laughed and sat down again, feeling a little embarrassed.

As Guy Rochelle settled into his chair, he spoke quietly, “The pictorials that you were looking at are of Sri Krishna Mahadev, an ancient Hindu king and Sri Radharani, his queen. The dancing and seated forms represented in the metal statues on my desk are of Shiva -- an even older Hindu deity -- said to have miraculous powers. Like most traditional people, Indian Hindus consider some of their ancestors deities or gods.”

Vincente felt warmed with this intelligent explanation and smiled as he said, “The artwork is quite beautiful. These decorations are all from India?”

“Most of them, yes. They are gifts from my brother, Harry. I also meditate. That is my meditation [_ asana -- _] or seat -- behind me.” He indicated the oversized gold cushion. “I usually ask my clients to remove their shoes before they enter, but perhaps you can do this the next time you come.”

Vince nodded.

“ Well, I guess we have covered everything. Here is my card. Please call me if there is anything else you need.” Rochelle handed Vince a card with his business information printed on it. He then pressed both hands together, closed his eyes and bowed slightly -- as if he was thinking or trying to remember something.

Vince blinked. He got that funny, light-headed feeling again.

They stood and shook hands and Vince saw that Guy was wearing a metal bracelet made of three different colors twisted together into a spiral. He also noticed that Guy’s suit seemed to be made of smooth, gray, heavy silk and was beautifully hand-tailored. Guy had just put his suit jacket on, so Vincente had not noticed before.

Guy said, “I can call you a cab, if you wish. The weather is getting rather severe.”

Vince answered, “No, that’s okay. I only have to walk to Canal Street to get my commuter train at Union Station.”

Guy Rochelle came around the side of his desk, walked Vince to the door, and shut it after him. Vince put his galoshes back on and started down the hall in order to take the stairs to the lobby, but changed his mind and decided to walk down the back stairs, since he was closer to them and it would be a short cut to the street. He turned around and walked back down the hall towards the offices, noting that Guy had turned the light out in his reception area.

There was one more office at the end of the hallway. The incense smell got denser as he walked closer to the door. It seemed as if his feet were walking on air. His body felt like it was swimming.

As he turned to his left to head down the stairs, he caught sight of the sign on the office entrance. It read Harold Rochelle – Asian Art. He tried the door but it was locked. As he looked down, he noticed that there was a pair of heavy canvas slip-on shoes next to the door.

Vincente thought it was odd that Guy had not mentioned that his brother’s dealership was right down the hall, especially after he had complimented him on the beauty of the statues and other artwork in his office. Perhaps it had just slipped his mind. His own mind was soupy, like he had been drugged.

Vince left the building by the side exit and hit the street just as a billowing gust of snow slid into his face, forcing him to turn and walk backwards a few steps. He inadvertently looked up to the third floor and saw Guy watching him, framed in the light of the second window to the left of his reception area. Rochelle quickly disappeared, shutting the curtains abruptly. Startled, Vince promptly slipped on a strip of ice, fell over sideways into a snow bank and swore.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Five

When Vince got home, it was close to seven-thirty. Julietta was curled up, asleep, under a blanket in front of the television -- which was still on. The Monopoly game was next to her, neatly boxed and pushed to the side by the den wall. She had insisted to him that she had no experience at losing Monopoly pieces or even Monopoly money. It was her friends who did that. Vince was okay with that. He could believe almost anything Julie said about Monopoly or her games -- except that she didn’t cheat. Romeo was sprawled upside down on top of the edge of her blanket, snoring, with his feet in the air.

Vincente put his damp coat on the back of a chair near the fireplace. He went into his bedroom, changed his clothing, and went back outside a couple of times to get an armful of firewood and some whole logs from the garage. Romeo and Julie were still asleep as he sat down in front of the fireplace and lit a fire, replacing the spark screen when it was lit.

The dog woke up, stretched, got to his feet and arched his back, wagging his tail at Vince. A puff of smoke entered the room. He opened the damper in the fireplace more widely. As Vince stood up from lighting the fire and stretched, cracking his tired back, Julie awoke.

“Pop, you smell funny. Do you have some powder on, or perfume or something?” She laughed. “You smell like a lady or a baby.”

“Hunh?” said Vince, smelling the sleeve of his shirt. “Oh, that’s incense.”

“Did you go to church?”

“No. It’s from my new accountant’s office.”

“Your accountant uses incense? Is he a priest?”

“No. The incense is from India. His brother sells artifacts from India.”

“It smells really nice…” She groaned and rolled over to look at him. “It’s really late, Pop. Where were you?”

“Better get used to it. I rented a new office and met my new accountant. I told you that I might be late this morning.”

“What about your job at Sears?”

“I told you before; I’m going to do both. I can work at night at the new tailoring business, and on the weekends.”

“But what about me?” Julie whined pitifully. She must have had her ears turned off this morning. Just not paying any attention while playing Monopoly. That wasn‘t anything new. “Did you bring my calzones?” she continued, complaining in an irritating, squeaky voice.

“You can take the train and meet me at my new office and help me sew suits. Guess I forgot to tell you how late I might be today.” Vince paused, sitting down next to his daughter on the floor. “I also forgot your calzones.” He reached over and kissed her on her forehead. “I’m sorry.”

“ Really?!” She retorted, sitting up, instantly forgetting her selfish attitude -- and her calzones. “I can take the train by myself?”

“Sure,” said Vince, sitting down next to her, reaching over to stroke her unruly, curly hair. “It’s about time I taught you how to sew on a machine. Besides,” he continued, “I’m going to hire another tailor as soon as the business takes off.”

“Yeah,” She answered enthusiastically. “I can sew really well by hand. I can work on my doll clothes when you‘re busy. When can I go to see your new office?”

“ As soon as I get some of the paint and furniture, decorations and shelves and things. You and Romeo can help me put the place together so that it will look elegant. My suits are going to be expensive -- so we have to make the office look really special.” He ruffled her hair again. “You can answer the phone and take messages.”

“ Will do.” She laughed, generally happy to help her Pa out -- at least theoretically. “I’m your office girl.”

“Sure are.” Vince kissed her sloppily on the ear. “Did you eat dinner?”

“Yup, there’s some left for you in the fridge. There’s also some spaghetti and meat balls left from yesterday.”

Vince got up and went into the kitchen and began to rummage around, banging the fridge closed and getting his dinner into the oven to warm it up.

Julie got up and rolled the blanket up under her arm. Her hair had two pigtails skewed like alien antennae -- one on top of her head by her left ear and the other twisted sideways by her right ear. “I’m going to bed early,” she called back to Vincente as she walked out of the room and down the hall.

One of her socks was scrunched down to the middle of her foot and flopped up and down from the toe as she tripped towards her bedroom. Romeo followed her, stepping on the edge of the blanket, which had unrolled and trailed behind her like a bridal train.

_______

Another week of snow and school and raw, red icy hands passed. Vince was late every day, and Julie had planned and gotten permission for several overnight Monopoly parties. She preferred Monopoly to going downtown to visit Vince’s tailoring business. She did it once and found out that it was a little boring for her, let alone struggling through the dirty city slush and snow. She and Vince made tutti fruiti pistachio gelato (ice milk), froze several fully cooked, homemade sausage, anchovy, mushroom, ricotta and mozzarella deep-dish pizzas, and some cheese and meat ravioli in Alfredo sauce. These dishes were snacks for her and her friends (and Vince’s late night dinners).

Vince got the blender out and bought five pounds of bananas and a gallon of milk. He also put out a cinnamon shaker, vanilla and maple syrup. This was for fresh banana milk shakes. He knew how to impress Julie’s friends, and bananas make nice thick tasty milkshakes without all the sugar.

Everyone had to bring their own blankets, pillows and favorite stuff. Most came for the food and the laughter. Maybe it was also the adventure of late night Monopoly and black and white movies, ending with the Star Spangled Banner played at around two or three in the morning.

The American flag would pulse on the full screen of the TV, before it went completely white and fuzzy. A loud audio buzz let everyone know that the day’s programming was over, even if they had fallen asleep with the TV on. Vince usually got home earlier than that, but occasionally he forgot to turn the TV off, too, especially when he fell asleep in his easy chair.

Julie and her friends did other pajama party things, as well. There was always something new. They all liked to listen and sing to Vince’s now extensive record collection, which they would argue about and pile up on the spindle so that the phono would change records by itself, since each record was only one song. Then there were things like the little joker who always seemed to think of something like sneaking outside to get a handful of snow to stick down someone’s pajamas.

Julie only invited three kids at a time. That way, it was less likely that their parents would find out that there was no adult home in the house until really late, although everyone called home occasionally to let their parents know that they were okay.

Vince would show up around midnight, usually, with his arms full of wallpaper, fabric sample books, framed art prints and things like that.

_______

A couple of weeks later, on another Saturday, Vince and Julietta loaded the remainder of the decorations, paint, etc. into the huge trunk and back seat of the Chevy, letting Romeo climb in there, too. The furniture truck was going to meet them at the tailoring suite by about two.

They arrived in downtown Chicago before nine. Julie swept each room and closet and started to damp mop as Vince put up curtain rods and curtains. He painted two walls in the reception and fitting room areas in deep maroon, and pasted elegant gold, silver and pink striped, semi-flocked wallpaper on the other two walls.

The third room was for cloth, supply storage and some business records. The records were put in the old metal desk -- which had been moved back there. The room was painted in a dark, antique gold. The drapes for the storage room were of the same material as the other two rooms, except in a light brown, with a thick gold cord and tassels as accents. Vince had sewn the curtains himself the previous week, as soon as he had received his two commercial sewing machines.

The paint dried in a couple of hours and Vincente laid red, plush rugs and hung large photos of male models wearing his suits. He hung art prints by Rafael, Degas and other Impressionists in the reception and fitting rooms. The furniture arrived early and was brought up the back of the building in the service elevator. The furniture movers put eight black metal shelf sets in the storage room.

The furniture in the reception area transformed the room into something tasteful with a gold and red Elizabethan, full-sized couch covered in red velveteen. The movers also placed two large, comfortable chairs that were made of elegantly carved mahogany on either side of the couch. The easy chairs were covered in brown velvet accented by a shiny bronze fringe at the bottom. The movers centered a small mahogany desk and matching velvet-padded swivel chair on the other side of the room, so that they faced the easy chairs, couch and door.

A matching bronze velvet, half-size couch was put in the fitting room along with a seven foot dark, polished dining room table. Vincente planned on using the table to lay out and cut his patterns. A padded, professional suit steamer was put next to an ironing board. He moved the two sewing machines next to fancy, dark wood and gold side tables, which had storage drawers and a cabinet in each of them. Two mannequins with expandable parts for measuring each customer were placed in the room as well. A couple of carpenters came in and built a large, two bay changing booth against one wall of the fitting room.

A headless mannequin wearing an exquisite black watch plaid jacket with a tucked waist, large back and side pleats in soft, black lamb’s wool was fitted with a pair of baggie black lamb’s wool pleated dress pants with cuffs and a large fitted waistband. The mannequin was given a large-brimmed black fedora for a head. Vince rolled that into the reception room and placed it in a corner.

By five, both Vincente and Julietta were paint-splattered, tired and ready to eat. The office suite had been transformed. The sunny, large windows in each room were accented by ivy and flowering plants Vince had placed on the sills. He stuck a phonograph on a small recessed shelf in the reception area and covered the shelf with a matching curtain made of maroon brocade. He put on a guitar suite by Scarlatti, turning the volume down so that the music seemed to hang gently in the sunlight.

He took his classical LP collection out of some cardboard boxes and stacked them up on the shelf below the disguised phonograph. Vince and Julie sat down to some cheeseburgers and fries he had gotten when he went out to get the plants. He had also gotten a cheeseburger for Romeo. (Who received a maroon dog bed -- for use in the office -- procured at Woolworth’s at the same time.)

There was a knock at the door. Everyone, even Romeo, looked up in surprise. The place wasn’t even open yet. A tall, rakishly handsome man with a limp and a cane walked in as Vincente opened the door.

Bannister!” exclaimed Vince, looking worried.

_______

Vince sat down suddenly in the swivel chair behind his new desk. He stammered, “Bannister, I thought we were through with all of that…”

Bannister Willis sat down on the couch, without an invitation, facing Vince and placed his cane next to his leg. “I’m not here about our…” He glanced at Julietta, who had just finished her meal, and was peeking in from the other room with a broom in her hand, and continued, “…our former business.”

“That’s okay, Julie knows.”

Willis raised an eyebrow. “Well, anyway, I’m here in Chicago on other business.”

“Oh?”

“Um. Yes. ” Bannister looked uncomfortable for a moment, then went on, “You might have heard something about the history of my cartel. Actually, the cartel was run by my uncle and my father. My uncle still runs it, but my father just passed away a few weeks ago. So there are going to be some changes. That is why I want to talk to you.

“ I told you that I had polio as a child, although you might have heard. My family took me to Peru to recover and use the local herbal medicine -- all of which saved my life. While we were there, they learned how to grow coca leaves and bought about fifty acres of fine, high altitude farm land, which they still use.

“I continued my education there and became very good at math and science. Princeton offered me a full scholarship when I was eighteen. By that time, my family was selling powder cocaine and I was expected to do the same when I was older.

“ I really did not want to, but what could I do? They saved my life, taught me everything I knew -- and loved me. Cocaine is not that bad, cut properly. I learned how to refine coca leaves, even as a boy -- and I cut the powder myself at Princeton.” Bannister paused and shifted in his seat, away from his bad leg. “At any rate, I have quit the cocaine business. I have decided to try to do what I wanted to do at first -- to concentrate on my work as a tenured chemistry professor at Princeton.

Vince smiled a little doubtfully.

“I started re-thinking my participation when the Scotts went renegade. I am not a violent man. I was getting in too deep with that situation. Especially when we figured out that they were dealing heroin procured from a mobster-linked cartel locally in Atlantic City. My cocaine clients were usually rather artistic people. Famous people, poets, writers, symphony musicians and the like. There was no violence and minimal links to the mob. We were linked only in the sense that the mob did not like us because we were not under their control and did not use any of their people in our business.

“The Scotts were good at fixing boat motors and used their skiff to bring our product up the Delaware River to Trenton, near to Princeton. That was supposed to be their only business with us. They were a rough crowd but knew how to escape detection. They were not hired to be goons.

“Also, things are changing in terms of drug charges. The penalties are getting harsher and harsher. I fear, by the 1960’s cocaine will become a major illegal narcotic.”

Bannister paused, cleared his throat, hesitated again and went on. “It is hard for me to tell you this, but it might actually be too late for me to save my job. Princeton could forgive my cocaine activity, but they could fire me on moral grounds. The Ivy League sometimes questions the morality of street drugs. Sometimes they are more concerned with morality than legality, to an extent.

“The second point is that we’ve been pretty sure that our cartel has been under observation by the Feds for many years, which is why I started having you do some of the shipping. If the FBI finds any link to the mob in New York, Chicago or Boston (however vague or contrived), they may try to use me to inform on my family. They probably know I am only a small connection, and that I do not have anything to do with heroin or morphine. Any connection with me or my family to the mob or an arrest by the FBI could lead to my loss of tenure, as well. I have other plans if Princeton will not keep me. My family will understand. We have discussed everything.

“For the most part, you would have gotten the minimum sentence of 6 months in jail and/or a $600 fine for any cocaine charges. I would have made sure that Julie got back safely to her grandparents if you had gotten in trouble. Even if I had to drive her home myself, I would have done so.

“I did not want to risk my gift for chemistry. Or wind up with some trumped up charges like what the Scotts did to you. My family’s connection with racketeers could bring accusations that I or someone I know was involved in murder. Even Murder, Inc. I cannot risk the involvement anymore.”

“I don’t blame you.”

“Why didn’t you bring the police in when you found all those bags of cocaine in your car? I thought you were afraid for Julie and was not sure who I was. Or even what I might do to you. We might have been childhood friends, but people change.”

“I thought about all those things,” answered Vincente. “But, the real reason was that, at the time, I had no formal identity. No birth certificate, no social security card, nothing. Some of my family is here in the U.S. illegally, so I could not take the risk. My family continued doing things that way to avoid military service in order to continue supporting each other. We were not wealthy, as you know.”

Bannister laughed a little. “Ah, we were ragamuffins all right! Swamp doggies. Two little rascals smoking pot and taking coke pills in Mooringsport, eating roasted rattlesnake, playing chess and reading dime novels…”

“…until our brains got soft.”

Both men laughed. Julie peeked in from the other room and smiled too.

Willis got up and bear hugged Vincente, starting to cry, saying, “Oh, Vince, I’m so sorry. Things could have gone so wrong. Julie could have been hurt. You could have been executed because of the Scott thing, or gone to jail for life. It was all my fault.

“Well, dad is dead and I am not afraid anymore. You can count on me, and the Willis family, to stand up for you when we can.”

Bannister Willis was no longer the faceless man of the last eight years. Suddenly, he had a face, a name. What he had told Vincente had made a difference. He had a heart, some honor.

________

Later that night, after Bannister had left, Vince took out a dark wooden sign with scalloped corners that said, in gold leaf, Bonaventura Tailoring – Hours by Appointment – FL4-5665. He screwed it into the wall next to the front door of #521. As the winter sun began to set, he put a card case next to the phone containing his newly printed business cards. He also screwed a wooden card case underneath the new sign next to the door.

The two of them cleaned up the last of their paint cans and boxes, turned out the lights and locked the door. Carrying all the junk they did not want on a wheeled garbage cart, Julie and Vince took the service elevator to the back alley, dumped everything by the trash area and walked over to the Chevy.

They didn’t get home until around eight. Tomorrow was Sunday and both of them had their new week planned out -- starting that Monday. Julie was allowed as many overnights and friends as she wanted. Vince warned her that he was going to be working late quite a bit -- and she was allowed to call him whenever she needed to.

She could take the Burlington and walk to his tailoring suite whenever she wanted. But her friends were probably going to win over a long train ride and a soggy walk to the Harper building.

_______

Vincente put on a red satin vest and his best suit jacket early Monday morning, and packed both lunch and dinner. He tied a large black bow tie around his neck. He had gotten about twelve orders for suits from his contacts in the Italian community and some of the executives at Sears. Tonight he had three appointments for fittings and had to be at his office after work at Sears to receive his first bolts of cloth.

At eight, he had another appointment with Guy Rochelle who was about a ten minute walk from the new office, so walking over with the receipts from the remodeling was easy and a good chance to stretch his legs and grab some fresh air.

_______

Vince’s workday pasting up the catalog at Sears went well. After work, he took the bus over to Union Station and walked to his new office building. He noted, with satisfaction, that the Bonaventura’s Tailoring listing was up in the building directory next to the elevator. He went up to the fifth floor, opened the door to his suite, turned on all the lights and put some Paganini violins on the record player.

All three fittings went beautifully and Vince started to cut his patterns on the large cutting table. He stored his new bolts of cloth when they arrived and loaded both sewing machines with the correct thread. Looking at his watch, he noted that it was close to eight. He put on his coat, hat and galoshes, turned out his lights and stuck a night light into a socket in each room.

Locking his door, he walked to the elevator and took it down to the first floor.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

The sky was clear and bright tonight. The walk to the Rochelle building was invigorating and Vince took the stairs again. This time, he took both his rubber galoshes and shoes off when he reached Guy’s office and left them in the shoe tray in the hall. The incense tonight was a different fragrance and even heavier than the other night. There was light reflected in the hallway coming from Harry’s suite. Vince knocked on Guy’s door and entered, padding in in his stocking feet.

Guy was not there. Vince sat down and put his receipt folder and a debit/credit sheet on Guy’s desk. The incense was far less apparent inside the office. Just as Vince thought that he should walk down the hall to Harry Rochelle’s office, Guy walked in. He smiled at Vince and said, “Oh! I’m really sorry. I’m late.” He sat down at his desk and gathered Vince’s records, taking a look at them and opening a drawer to get out a fresh manila file folder.

In a soft voice he commented, “Your office seems to be very close by.”

Vince looked up and responded, “Yes, this is very convenient. I can walk over here after work and you seem to work rather late.”

Guy responded, smiling, “Yes, I am very busy right now.”

A loud explosion shook the building followed by the sound of shattering glass. A piercing alarm went off from across the street. Both Vince and Guy leapt up and ran to the window. A dark figure sprinted across several curbs piled high with snow in an incredibly agile manner and disappeared between two buildings.

The metal grating across a small storefront across the street had been twisted off its frame by the explosion and was bent out of shape -- dangling open in the imprecise light of the dark street. The display window lay shattered on the sidewalk.

Several police cars pulled up a few minutes later with their sirens blaring. A small fire, perhaps set off by the explosion, had started in the window. The fire department was called and the fire was put out before it did too much damage.

“My goodness,” commented Guy, sitting down at his desk again. “I wonder what that was?”

“Looks like that store front blew up. Could be a bad gas connection.” Vince paused, still standing by the window, peering at the scene below. He got a creepy feeling up the back of his neck, thinking about Bannister’s relatives, hoping that there was no connection with all of this. A bad connection, all right.

Guy shut a drawer. “I think I will close early tonight and go home. I will go over the things you gave me tomorrow.” Guy showed Vince to the door. Vincente put on his shoes and rubber galoshes and walked down the hall to the back stairs. Harry’s art dealership was closed and the light was turned out.

Bounding down the stairs, Vince hit the icy street and looked up at Guy’s windows. This time both offices were dark. A police officer walked over to him and rubbed his hands together. Stamping his feet, the cop blew out a long cloud of breath. “Cold night,” he commented to Vince.

“Sure is. What happened?” Vince asked.

“Front of the store blew up,” said the officer. “Looks like there was a jewel theft as well. It was only a couple of pieces as far as we can tell, but they were expensive ones. Blew the front of the safe off as well. We think the storefront explosion was a diversion.”

“Yeah. I saw the explosion. I was watching from across the street.”

“Really? See anything unusual?”

“Yeah, actually,” responded Vince. “I saw a guy, dressed in black, run between those two buildings over there.”

“See what he looked like?”

“No,” said Vince. “I was on the third floor, looking out of Guy Rochelle’s CPA office and could barely make out the shape of a man.”

“It’s pretty dark out here. No moon,” commented the cop, looking up at the darkened sky bordered by Chicago’s skyscrapers: a scrabble board of natural and man-made images framed by the square cement blocks of each building. The windows of the buildings were either dark and reflecting a few of the passing brighter clouds, or lit up occasionally as the building cleaners moved from office to office.

“True. But I definitely saw someone.”

“We’ll check that passage,” the cop turned his back to the wind to light a cigarette.

“You should consider quitting. That’s a dangerous habit. You have any kids?” remonstrated Vince gently.

“Ah, yeah. I have a little girl.” The cop looked up surprised, and blushed.

“Me too. She’s waiting for me at home right now.” Vince’s head jerked up and he shouted, “There! Look! There’s someone on top of that building.” Vince and the cop saw a dark figure jump from the top of one building to the top of another building on the other side of the street.

The elevated train over State Street banged and screamed against its metal tracks as it flew past overhead, deadening all thought for a full sixty seconds -- blotting out the running figure overhead. The clacking of the “L” running over each cross bar grabbed the words from Vincente’s tongue. Both men looked up at the train as if pleading with its noise would make a difference, or close their ears to the racket that slammed around against the buildings surrounding them.

When the train passed and the noise ceased, the cop, whose name was Captain Jim Kelly, called some of his back-up and they ran across the street. In a few minutes, Vince saw them reappear on the rooftops -- following the path the other man had taken.

Kelly turned to Vincente and said, “Don’t think we have much hope for catching up with that guy unless he is a maintenance man. It could be someone checking heat circulation or clearing ice due to that last heavy snow.”

Vince looked at his watch, and said hurriedly to Kelly, reaching into his coat pocket, “I have to catch my train. Here is one of my cards in case you need to get in touch with me. I work at Sears catalog and have a tailoring business a few blocks from here. Guy Rochelle, across the street on the third floor, is my accountant, so I am at his office frequently.”

Vincente paused and added in a quieter tone, “I am a deputized member of the Monterrey, Mexico police department.” He took out his official ID and showed it to Kelly who was impressed. “I will help you anyway I can. You can speak to Capt. Emilio García in Monterrey. He is my commanding officer there.”

Kelly took out a small notepad and took down some of the information. “Hmm…Bonaventura Tailoring,” he mused to himself, reading Vince’s business card. “Thanks. We’ve been having some problems like this for the last month in this vicinity. And, generally, up and down State Street. I’m stationed at Precinct 12. Just ask for Jim Kelly. If I’m not there, my secretary or a Lieutenant will speak with you.

“We’re putting on an extra detail in this area, but we cannot afford too much surveillance. The city cut our budget this year,” Capt. Kelly said as he smiled at Vincente ruefully, “so we can use all the extra help we can get.” Kelly extended his hand to Vince and they shook hands.

Vince began to doubt that this incident had anything to do with the drug cartel from Louisiana. With that thought, he began to feel a little relieved.

He shook his head in disbelief at the coincidence of running into another criminal situation so soon after having the Scotts arrested. Bannister had better not be behind this, or his cartel either. Everything was not due to Bannister. He reminded himself, as he did every so often -- not to be paranoid.

He picked his way down the icy street and hurried to catch the last commuter train to his suburban home. He glanced at his watch again as he neared the entrance to Union Station and broke into a run as he pushed through the revolving entrance doors and saw his train at Gate 7. The train blew steam out of its undercarriage. This was a sure sign that it was getting ready to move.

He dodged between the other late night commuters and ran through the rows of heavy long wooden benches in the passenger area until he got to the gate, his sides heaving. He waved frantically to the conductor, standing rather far down on the platform, checking for late passengers like him.

The sour, pungent smell of the heavy steam, exuded in large clouds from underneath the train, accidentally got sucked into his nostrils and he choked. He wasn’t sure if the conductor had seen him and not all the cars were open this late at night. One needed to run up by the watching conductor to find an open car. All the other cars were locked. Vince was too far down on the platform to be sure that he would make it. This was the last train until six o’clock tomorrow morning. And he had no intention of having to pay for a taxi ride all the way home.

His chest heaved once more as he inadvertently breathed the sour smell of the steam again. Running alongside the train, he finally managed to grab a stainless steel handle, pulling himself up into an open car.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Seven

While Vincente was busy sewing suits for his first customers, Julie had switched to blackjack and jigsaw puzzles for her overnight parties. Vince’s fine cooking was provoking very favorable comments in their suburban Chicago neighborhood. Comments ranged from how Vince should start his own restaurant -- to could he send doggie bags home with the kids that stayed over so their folks (and siblings, grandparents, cousins, etc.) could taste this exquisite cuisine. The doggie bag thing was okay-ed, but the restaurant idea evoked a slam-dunk into his easy chair and a large sigh.

More and more often, Vince would fall asleep in his undershirt in the den in front of the television and Julie would have to wake him up to go to bed. In fact, her slumber party friends sometimes stayed up later than he did. Frequently. They watched tons of old movies. She learned a lot about theater in those days -- and that is why.

_________

Bonaventura Tailoring was doing so well towards the end of winter, that Vince hired another tailor, a man named Gino Pesciolino. Gino was even smaller than Vincente and also wore wire-rimmed glasses.

He was very quick at the sewing machine and could do top-stitching by hand in beautiful, quick, even stitches. Gino was a tiny, somber man with a quick, surprisingly bright smile. More than once, Vincente’s customers thought that the two men were brothers.

The suits that Bonaventura Tailoring made sold, on average, for around two to five hundred dollars a piece for a three-piece suit. On occasion, they also made matching ties. Their designs were so popular that they had a waiting list.

Large middle vents in the jacket backs, side vents, suit jackets that stopped right above the knees, pleated trousers, textured satin linings and hidden pockets were only samples of their fashion designs that grew in popularity like a new, fertile garden in the spring. They also created modified Zoot suits with wide cuffs.

By May, 1959, the business could have expanded, but Gino and Vincente were happy to keep their clientele intimate and small. Adding Gracie Bonaventura’s sports hats to their fashion house was about all they wanted for the present.

_______

About the time when their quarterly taxes were due, Vincente and Gino put their receipts together and Vincente packed their accounting sheets in his briefcase in order to take them over to Guy Rochelle’s office on State Street. It had been raining a warm Spring rain off and on all evening.

The breeze from Lake Michigan cooled the cement all the way from the waterfront. A clear sky shone through the occasional rain. Glinting stars accented the upper corners of the granite buildings as if the universe was peeking in between everything man-made and cradling it all as inclusive.

The granite buildings were sun-washed all year. The sun beat down near State Street in a ferocious way during the day when the weather was clear. But not now. Not in the coolness of the night. Not in the rain.

Now and then, the buildings and streets were rinsed in a flood of spontaneous water, pelting so hard that where the rain could not reach stayed grey in waves of non-bleached stone up and down the walls of the buildings. Vincente had left his office when the rain had paused. He was lucky, it was dry all the way to Rochelle’s building.

He felt uplifted, as if he was flying, flying…

Vince started whistling and turned his old argyle sports cap to an angle. He flipped the door to Guy’s office building open and took the stairs two at a time.

The hallway on the third floor was dark as usual. There were only a few lights on in the building at night (like his own office building) -- enough to see your way around, but still shadowy and dark in the corners. Bright lights shone from both Guy and Harry’s suites. Vincente took off his still ubiquitous saddle shoes and knocked on Guy’s door. There was no answer.

He heard voices down the hall from the Asian art dealership. He thought he recognized Guy’s voice, so he padded down to the door in his socks. He had been consumed with curiosity to meet Harry and take a look at his handicrafts anyway. As he reached the office suite, voices echoed through the closed door. He could hear them before, when he was down the hall, but now he could hear them much more clearly.

A smoky rose smell pervaded that end of the hallway. Vincente was used to the incense by now. He made a note to himself to buy some of this beautiful scent and find out how he could do that from Rochelle. His body seemed to float a little and he got that light-headed feeling again.

Vince made a motion to knock on the door and noticed that the voices conversing in the office were not speaking English. It was some other language with a little roll on the “r” like Spanish. He did not recognize it, perhaps it was not a European language, perhaps it was an Indian language. Guy Rochelle’s soft voice could be heard speaking in this tongue as well. Vince heard him clearly -- and he was not speaking English. Vincente knocked on the door quietly.

For a second he wondered why Rochelle had not mentioned that he also spoke another, perhaps Asian, language like his brother. But, then, why should he? It was just something of interest -- not exactly relevant to their accounting work together. Vincente shrugged to himself and knocked again, a little louder. There were at least four people conversing intensely in moderately loud tones with a recording of drumming and a foreign-sounding string instrument droning behind their voices.

At last, the conversation ceased. The musical recording continued, muted in the background, and Guy Rochelle opened the door. He smiled at Vincente and said, “Oh, Mr. Bonaventura, I’m so sorry. I’m running late today. Just go to my office and take a seat. The door is unlocked.”

Guy Rochelle was just chock-full of interesting, and elegant, surprises. Among several piles of packages scattered around an almost furnitureless room, filled wall-to-wall with a strikingly beautiful oriental rug, was a group of dark-skinned men and women. They were sitting cross-legged on large floor cushions surrounding a large, low, polished wooden table. The women wore ornate traditionally draped clothing (like the artwork in Guy’s office) and the men wore simple, long embroidered shirts with no collars.

Along all the walls were glass-fronted, upright display cabinets filled with a breathtaking array of statuary and pictorials similar to the ones in Guy Rochelle’s own office. Vincente’s eyes were drawn to a large stringed instrument. It was sitting upright on a stand in one of the corners of the office. The size of a small cello, it was inlaid with a delicate, colorful pattern, which was embedded intricately in its front panels. There was also a small set of two hand drums, with a dot of rubber on each drum head. And a large drum with a shoulder strap as well. On top of one of the drums was a tiny set of brass cymbals. Looked like brother Harry was also a musician.

Guy followed his eyes and said, “The instruments are from India. The stringed instrument is a sitar; the set of small drums are called tablas; the larger drum is a mridanga and the little finger cymbals are karatalas.” He hesitated and smiled. “My brother and I have a little music group. We sing traditional Hindi devotional songs called bhajans and play traditional instrumentals called ragas as well. We were speaking Hindi together when you knocked.”

Vince pushed his over-sized argyle sports cap further back on his head and shoved his hands into his baggy pants pockets, commenting quietly, “I play ukulele and sing.”

Guy responded with a quiet laugh. “Lovely. The sitar is played with the sounding chamber standing upright on the floor, like it is on the stand. But, as you can see, the stops have a high wire between them. Perhaps, some time you would like to visit and I can show you how to play it. The mridanga and karatalas are very simple instruments and easy to learn -- especially the karatalas -- the little finger cymbals.” Guy stopped speaking, looking a little embarrassed. “Why don’t you make yourself comfortable in the other office? I have a little more business to complete here, and I will join you in a few minutes.”

He gave his head a little sideways nod, as if to say, ‘Is this okay with you?’ Vince answered, “Sure thing. See you over there, then.” Guy closed the door softly and Vince padded back down to the other office, feeling again what was now getting to be a very familiar light-headedness. That state of mind was becoming a regular companion when he was in Rochelle’s building.

_________

Vince turned the handle on Guy Rochelle’s office door, letting himself in. Suddenly, there was a scuffling noise either further down the hallway in the opposite direction from Harry Rochelle’s suite -- or in the last room of the three room suite that Guy occupied. Then the bang of a door echoed back towards Vincente with footsteps receding towards the front of the building. The sound of the elevator going down towards the lobby followed.

Vincente thought perhaps someone had been in the back of Guy Rochelle’s office suite. This place was starting to have an aura of real mystery around it -- compounded by the constant, rather heavy, presence of highly spiced incense that seemed to sit on his head like one of the heavy brass statues from Guy‘s office, but not uncomfortably. Vince went over to the window and looked down at the street. He saw a figure leave the Rochelle’s office building. The man looked up for a moment, facing the momentarily clear sky and a bright, full moon. It looked like Guy Rochelle. But it could not have been since Vincente had just left him in the other office suite.

Perhaps he had stepped out for a moment. He could have.

As he sat down, mildly confused, he noticed that Guy had placed a new, three foot statue of a seated elephant in a corner of the office, behind his desk and next to his meditation asana. It was a finely done sculpture with a lifelike touch, and a highly polished, golden-brass finish. There was a red oval gem between the elephant’s eyebrows. Guy had placed a yellow flowering plant in front of the statue. There was a stainless steel plate of round, deep-fried, dough balls on a marble stand next to the plant.

Vincente got up and helped himself to one, popping it delicately into his mouth. It tasted rather similar to the churros he had had in Mexico. He figured that Guy probably wouldn’t mind, or would not notice. Besides, why else would he have a plate of goodies out on a stand in his office? He chuckled to himself.

He imagined that he saw the trunk of the elephant move a little, in a slight wave of motion. He thought maybe the fried pastry had some oil of hashish in it. After all, most of this room was from that part of the world where hashish was commonly used. Maybe that was why he was always feeling so light-headed. Maybe he was getting a contact high from the residual smoke. Maybe Guy smoked hashish.

Vince smiled to himself again and sat down, removing the accounting sheets and receipts from his briefcase, wiggling the toes of his argyle socks and thinking that the soft padded rug felt good under his feet after a long day at work. He thought that it might not be a bad idea to take off his shoes and leave them outside of his own office in the Harper building, at least when he was working alone.

__________

Jacinta called from Monterrey towards the end of May. The two girls had been trying to plan a visit for this summer for a while -- for as long as Jacinta was allowed to stay. She let Julie know that her parents had said it was okay for her to come to Chicago. She said that they were talking about her arriving at the end of the next week. She was growing up, dealing for a plane ticket from Emilio and Flora Maria (her mother). Their plans began to develop from there.

Julie was almost finished with her school year. She took the school bus back and forth to school now. It was her first spring in Chicago and she was mesmerized by the variety of plants coming up. There was also a lot of poison oak and ivy in the more forested areas. Notably. And squirrels. One no, the other yes, definitely…

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Jacinta and Julie double and triple-checked everything with their parents, and thought Jacinta might be able to take a flight and arrive at O’Hare airport about noon on the following Sunday. She was going to stay with Julie and Vince for the rest of June and most of July. Julie cleaned the entire house, did the laundry and arranged the soup stocks and the canned vegetables in the pantry in the order she wanted to cook them. Vince made two loaves of bread -- one molasses and one long loaf of garlic bread. She cut the garlic bread in half and froze it. Last week had been the end of both of their school years. They had planned Jacinta’s visit to coincide with this fact.

Julie got busy again and cleaned and sorted all of her toys. It was inevitable that some stuff was torn, mutilated or stolen. She obviously did not do that, but especially with blackjack teams, it was difficult to limit players based on cleanliness, honesty and self-organizational skills.

She bought some bags of fake plastic coins to replace lost or stolen Monopoly money. She also got plastic farm animals to substitute for missing Monopoly players (inevitable) and to use as Tinkertoy/Erector set residents, etc. The winter had been hard on her Monopoly game and totally destructive to all jigsaw puzzles except the baby ones.

Ah, no matter. The neighborhood kids got invited to her house because she loved them. Pisano-pisana. Friends, friends, friends… What’s a new deck of cards, anyway, in view of a possible lifelong friendship?

When she was finished with her maniacal cleaning binge, it was TV all the rest of the week. She made a mental note to do things like wash windows, pick dead leaves off the plants, mist them and turn them around so that they grew fuller. All the towels and sheets were washed already.

Vince had started making frozen dinners for Jacinta’s visit. Of course, he made ravioli -- three different kinds. He made cheese, meat, and chopped seafood. The homemade sauces were all ready, sitting in their respective bell jars in the pantry, just simmer and add them to the pasta.

Julie made a note to get popping corn and more butter. She also upped the milkman’s order. She doubled it because she also had a guest list planned for keeping Jacinta happy.

Julie had started sewing doll clothes by hand, taking apart the old clothes and copying the patterns. A few days before Jacinta was due to arrive, she was finishing up her first set of handmade doll clothes.

One evening, closer to Jacinta’s arrival, it was getting late and Vince still had not come home. It was close to midnight, no moon. It was getting warmer every day, summer was moving in. The flowers were coming up everywhere, like a field of dreams, like the Wizard of Oz along the yellow brick road. She dozed -- falling asleep on top of her sewing with the TV still on. TV was in her dreams and she was sure that it was a valuable part of the after-life too.

_______

They drove to O’Hare Airport early Sunday morning and ate a late breakfast at a small restaurant in the airport. Vince and Julie both bought a couple of Chicago t-shirts. Vince also got a Sherlock Holmes novel by Conan Doyle. Julie got a Lois Lane super-sized, double edition comic book and they settled down to read near the gate that the flight from Monterrey was due to come in at.

Jacinta was in line by 12:15 and they all packed into the Chevy with her luggage. Julie had gotten an Archie double edition comic book for her as a gift -- so they read all the way back while they chatted and caught up on the news from Monterrey and Chicago.

The two girls played when they got home until it was so dark that Jacinta kept asking Julie if she was sure where she was when they had to walk home. She kept commenting that her neighborhood alleys and byways were like finding your way through the caves of los Cumbres des Monterrey. The famous caves. The Garcí a caves -- named after some ancestor of Jacinta’s father. And every other Garc ía that wanted to claim them.

Jacinta was stuck on Romeo all night. She even fell asleep with him planting his feet in her back. Julie truly felt she missed Sergeant big time, so she got out her lipsticks and they played with makeup to make Jacinta feel better. It worked.

When they went out to play the next day, Jacinta met an older kid who was a grade or two ahead of Julie in school (“Rico” Anastasio Valente -- from another Italian family). Rico had a medium-sized hound/Great Dane mix named Vito who looked like what Jacinta said was a twin to Sergeant, except Vito was silver gray with no spots. She started “borrowing” him as much as she could manage.

Vito and Romeo had a good relationship. At least it seemed that way. But Vito was still a dog -- and a young one at that, maybe about a year old. First thing Vito did upon entering Romeo’s realm was to lie down in Romeo’s doggie bed. He obviously did not fit in it, but since Romeo was the older dog, Vito tended to imitate him and steal things from him. Romeo was always a gentleman and simply found another soft place to lay down on -- some rug, chair or bed. He showed a great deal of flexibility. Good old Romeo.

If Romeo actually did object to something Vito did and challenged him, Vito would lay his paw on top of him and tack him firmly to the floor. Still and all, Romeo was top dog and Vito usually deferred to him when they would play “keep away” or catch and it was really funny to watch.

Vito would let Romeo catch or get the ball and then try a few tricks to dislodge it from Romeo’s mouth. He would poke him with one of his gigantic paws or nudge him with his nose, sometimes scooting him around the slick linoleum kitchen floor or knocking him over on his side. Gently, but with power.

_______

The summer progressed. June grew fecund and July wound its way like a vine around the passing of time as the Forsythia in Julie’s neighborhood continued to blossom with sunbursts of yellow stars. Jacinta and Julie planted a vegetable garden with Vince. At the end of July, Jacinta had to return to Mexico. So, one evening she was allowed to keep Vito overnight especially for that reason, and Vince was working late. He had said he would not be home until after nine, and had taken the car to work. It was about seven and barely approaching twilight. In the summer, true nightfall in the Chicago suburbs was often around ten or later.

Jacinta said, “Come here, Julie. I want to show you something. Let’s go out on the back porch.”

Julie answered from the kitchen where she was washing the last of the dinner dishes, “Just a minute, I’ll be right there.”

Jacinta was practicing jacks in Julie’s bedroom while Julie washed the dishes. Vito was watching the ball intently but not touching it. Romeo was under the bed doing the same thing.

Julie finished everything, got down off her step stool, and just left the dishes to dry in the dish rack. She yelled to Jacinta and said, “I’m ready!” Jacinta came into the kitchen, smiled at Julie enigmatically, flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulder and went out to the back porch. Vito came into the kitchen trailing after Jacinta, looked at Julie enigmatically, waited while she wiped her hands on a dish towel and followed her out the door. Romeo entered after them and curled up under an old, broken cane chair.

The back porch was screened-in in the summer and was more of a storage area than anything else. It was filled with boxes of old toys, clothes, most of their lawn and garden tools, motor oil, the landlord’s old broken furniture and appliances…things like that. Vito was curled up on the floor at their feet. Julie sat down next to Jacinta where she had cleared some space on a broken, vinyl-cushioned, half-sized glider that didn‘t glide anymore. She took a small metal box from her pocket. Inside were about ten fat marijuana cigarettes.

Julie expressed some shock, “Where did you get those?”

“I told you on the phone. Me and my dog get samples. I just rolled these to keep them tidy.”

You rolled those?” Julie was interested because she had never rolled a joint before and wasn’t sure -- felt awkward -- when she thought about doing that herself. It looked difficult.

“Yes, of course. It’s easy.”

“Where’d you get the cigarette papers?”

“I bought them at a tobacco store.”

“Oh.”

“I have more marijuana,” Jacinta commented, nonchalantly.

“How much more?”

“A lot. It’s in my suitcase, but you’d never find it.” She paused and got up, handing me the little open metal cough drop box. “Let’s close the door to the house first so your dad doesn’t smell this.”

“Okay.” Julie thought a minute as she closed the door. “Pop has some boxes of Indian incense,” she commented as she sat down. “We can burn a few sticks of that. It is very strong…I’ll get it.” She got up, ran, got the incense, and stuck the sticks in an ivy plant sitting on the porch windowsill. Julie went back, slammed the door to the house shut again and lit three sticks of incense at the same time.

As the incense curled and plumed, she sat down next to Jacinta. The scent was a new one and it filled her mind with its heavy, mind-consuming fragrance. She got a funny, light-headed sort of feeling, just from the incense.

“Are we going to smoke all of those?” Julie asked, pointing to Jacinta’s little metal box. She had never actually smoked anything before.

“Yes, silly, eventually. By the way, since you’ve never done this before, you have to hold your breath when you inhale and not let any smoke out.”

“Can you do that?”

“Yes.”

“You can’t let out any smoke at all?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Jacinta closed the metal box and put it on an end table. She lit the marijuana, inhaled, and held her breath. Vito fell asleep. The stars came out. Still, she held her breath.

Then, she jabbed the burning joint at Julie. She took it and deftly inhaled a small puff. It was easy. She liked it. She swallowed the first puff without even a curl of smoke leaking from her nostrils and inhaled another small toke.

“Here,” said Jacinta taking the joint from her hand. “Don’t be a bogart.”

“What’s a bogart?” Julie asked innocently, but Jacinta’s mouth was full of smoke and she held her finger up, indicating that she should wait for her answer.

She had never gotten this high before. When her father blew smoke in her face, he would crack jokes, poke her and make her laugh. This was serious. Julie felt like she was the wind. It felt like the screens were not there in the porch windows and the sky was a lake engulfing her. She was under water, breathing. She was the sky. She was the wind. She was…

Hey,” said Jacinta with a smile that glistened more than usual. “You are really stoned. I‘ve been holding this joint out to you forever. My arm is aching.”

“Stoned?” Julie’s voice questioned, without her there. Her body was still and everything, including speaking, was going on around her. Without her. She was the wind. She was…

“Hey!” said Jacinta again, more loudly, it seemed. “Stoned means you are high.” She paused, still holding the joint out to Julie. She added in a husky voice, “A bogart is someone who takes too many puffs at one time and does not pass the reefer. Like the way Humphrey Bogart clenches his teeth together when he talks.

“Like he can’t open his mouth even to give you a word. Like you’re clamping down on the thing and no one can get it out of your mouth. Take this thing before it burns my fingers.” Upon consideration, Jacinta took a bobby pin out of her hair and inserted the rest of the burning joint in it.

“Yeah,” Julie answered wonderingly, “I’m high.” I’m as high as the sky. I’m stoned. I am a rock. I don’t want to be a bogart. Ohh…

“High as a kite in July,” commented Jacinta, bogarting the rest of the joint herself.

 

“Hmm? Hmmm…?” Julie answered, drifting somewhere, somewhere beautiful. Jacinta took another toke and coughed all over it. Then she put the joint out by spitting on her fingers and squashing the lit end. She put the remainder in her little metal box. She told Julie that the stub of the marijuana cigarette was called a “roach” -- like a “cockroach”, only she said cucaracha.

Jacinta grabbed Julie’s hand and whispered, “Let’s run.”

Julie put a leash on Vito. Romeo had to stay behind. He was too short and fat, and could not keep up with them.

Jacinta grabbed Julie’s hand again and yanked her out the back door, pulling her out of the house into the fireflies and the night smell of lilacs. Gasping and laughing, she pulled Julie behind her. Julie pulled Vito behind her. After a short while, she began to complain about the pain in her hand -- and could Jacinta loosen her grip?

She let go.

They must have run for quite a few blocks when Jacinta stopped, panting heavily. She asked, “Where are we?”

There she goes again,” Julie thought to herself, now walking more slowly.

Julie’s neighborhood was a maze at night, filled with huge flowering bushes and the surprising occasional light of a street lamp breaking into the blanketing darkness. She could smell a bush and know where she was. She needed very little light, a star, a lighted porch, to see. Problem was, Jacinta did not smell mesa, so she was blinded by the darkness, which was much more engulfing than the usually well-lit, moon-brightened mountains of Monterrey. The vast, clear sky off the sub-tropics was not in evidence in central Illinois. The familiar scents were not there for her, either.

Julie kept Vito close to her side. She still had him on the leash (which was not that easy for a small nine year old hauling even a bred-down, medium-sized Great Dane mutt like Vito). But, Vito was a gray shadow. He followed the least tug on the leash. He would flit around a corner, silently, following between Julie’s feet without being stepped on. Of course, her feet were small and she had on her new P.F. Flyer canvas shoes with the double-rubber soles. So, even if she had stepped on Vito’s super-sized pancake paws, it would have felt like kitten nugs to him.

His huge bulk, seen in the dark of night, could make some folks in Julie’s neighborhood scream in fear as if they were bad souls, so she was careful not to startle anyone, as funny as that was. If they were not afraid, then they would come over to them and smile, patting the air, which was Vito’s night-colored back above Julie’s shoulders. Magic. The night was really magic, especially with that well-behaved shadow, Vito.

“Where are we?” demanded Jacinta again, grabbing Julie’s arm and forcing her to come to a stop.

“Hunh? Oh. About three blocks from my house.”

“You know the way back?”

“Of course. Why would I run around over here if I didn’t?”

Vito stopped and sniffed the air. Julie saw another dog. Oh. Oh. She could feel Vito starting to strain at the leash. In her imagination, she saw her small-boned, child-body trailing after him over someone’s now moonlit lawn, flying in the air like a kite or dragging on the ground behind him like a bag of trash.

A medium-sized hound appeared and walked a few paces into its yard sniffing around with its head to the ground. About then, the dog seemed to do a double-take, took a step backwards, stuck its nose into the air, sniffed, looked up and saw Vito -- the giant, the monster, the apparition. If a dog could say, ‘ Oh, Gawd have mercy on my soul!’ that one did. Taking ten seconds to assess the situation, the hound put its tail between its legs, turned around, and disappeared like a whisper back inside an open porch door. Smart dog.

Vito snorted loudly -- and it seemed, derisively. Julie breathed out again.

Dogs were mildly uncommon in her neighborhood. In fact, cats also, were virtually unknown. Good thing, too. Vito was the superior, muscled being, not Julie. Vito and Julie were friends simply because she trusted him. Not because she could control him.

Jacinta was right behind Julie, up against her shirt, so close that she could feel her breath on her neck. She said, touching the small of her back, “Are you sure you know where we are?”

Julie turned around and said, “Come on…I feel like I haven’t eaten all day. I’m hungry, let’s go home and make some hot, buttered popcorn.”

She heard Jacinta’s stomach growl. Vito barked at her stomach. She laughed. “You have the munchies,” she said, as they walked out of the alleyway and onto the street.

“What’s that?” Julie asked. “What’s the munchies?”

“When you smoke a lot of weed, you get hungry. It is a vitamin C thing. That is why you should eat fruit for the munchies, or drink fruit juice.”

“I didn’t smoke any weeds,” Julie chortled inadvertently as Vito padded up against her shoulder.

“Yes, you did. ‘Weed’ means marijuana. You use that word. Come on now, Julie.”

“Oh. Like silly weed.”

“Yes, correct. You’ve got it.”

They walked to Julie’s house and made a huge bowl of buttered popcorn seasoned with a

touch of turmeric, hing and kosher salt. (Vincente’s burgeoning interest in Indian

cuisine had produced these Asian seasonings in their kitchen.) Julie added some Parmesan and

melted butter while the popcorn was still hot. The two girls also ate wedges of cold watermelon.

 

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Gino Pesciolino was a tiny (not just small or puny -- but extra small) man. He was less than five feet tall by an inch or two. However, he was a talented and almost brilliant man. He was so quick at the sewing machine and cutting table that it was common for some customers to let their jaws slacken and their mouths drop open momentarily when they would catch sight of him at work, singing along quietly to some Italian opera as he worked at top speed.

There was no question that Vince would be in good shape in terms of handing the bulk of his work over to Gino if he needed to. At first, Gino had another full-time job in an office at a trucking dispatch garage. He was in shipping. By the beginning of March, Gino was beginning to re-think that. And so was Vince.

Bonaventura Tailoring had a waiting list of clients. Therefore, Vincente had suggested that Gino work for him full-time at more than twice what Gino was making at the shipping office. Not to mention that Gino loved working and listening to Respighi, Toscanini, Paganini, Vivaldi and Caruso all day long (which he couldn’t do in the shipping office). Gino thought about it overnight and agreed to Vincente’s proposal the next morning. It was the Fountains of Rome and The Four Seasons all over the office for weeks after that.

_______

Vince took the train to the tailoring business late one Saturday afternoon towards the end of July. As soon as he touched the door of the tailoring suite, it swung open. The lock was broken, shattered. The reception area was a mess. The brocade curtain from in front of the record player was lying on the rug. The records were scattered across the floor and on top of Vincente’s mahogany desk.

Gino was on vacation for a couple of weeks. Vince had to keep up with the clothing orders, so this was a serious impediment, especially if his files had been rifled too. He walked into the fitting room in shock.

It started to rain loudly. The sky darkened quickly and thunder kicked in somewhere underneath the cloud cover. The storm sent short bursts of lightening cascading overhead. The lightening captured the skyline behind the Harper building off and on like an ultra quick sequence of photographs, or postcards of downtown Chicago flashing past in the sky on an afternoon as dark as night. Office lights went on in a scattering of uneven patterns in several walls of contiguous skyscrapers.

The fitting room was much worse than the front office. The patterns on the cutting table were scattered on the floor. One sewing machine had been toppled. A window was wide open, letting the sudden downpour in on valuable material. Vince ran over, trying to avoid trampling on the delicately pinned pattern paper and cloth, and shut the casement with an inadvertent slam.

The storage room was in better shape. It seemed as if some bolts of cloth were missing but Vincente had not done an inventory since Gino had left on vacation. This was the first time he had really taken a good look at his storage area in weeks, except for whatever he needed specifically. Gino had been doing most of the cutting and fitting. Vince was on the other sewing machine and the reception area taking in new customers, answering the phone…letting Gino choose the records to play in the background as they worked. “Maybe Gino took some of the records home to listen to. But, that doesn’t explain the mess,” Vince thought to himself.

He sat down at the old, gray metal-topped desk that had come with the suite, and rested his head in his hands. They had moved that to the storage area and kept their records in it. The rain had finally stopped. The clouds had begun to disperse. The moon became visible, even though it was a little early for nightfall, and the humidity rising from the cement floor of the city began to clear a little. He noticed, looking down, that a file drawer was open and in slight disarray. He looked at the drawer again and shut it, closing it on a receipt, crossing his fingers that the intruder had not taken any of their records. For now, it just looked as if the interloper had been simply looking at their profits. He picked up his extension phone and dialed the operator.

“Hi, Winona, can you dial Jim Kelly’s office for me?”

“Sure, Mr. Bonaventura, everything okay?”

Vince hesitated and decided that he did not want all of Harper, Inc. to know about the break-in right now. “Yeah, yeah. Everything is fine. I just want to speak to Mr. Kelly.”

Kelly and Vince had been talking to each other occasionally and even met for lunch at Yang’s Chinese Restaurant once in a while. Yang’s was a nice little place between Chinatown and the Japanese community on the upper level of a converted warehouse building constructed like an open mall with a few small cafés, an acupuncturist, Oriental tourist shops, community meeting rooms, a Buddhist temple, a Chinese food market and an open area for Oriental foods sold from pushcarts. The large, open area also served the community as a place for early morning Tai Chi, and martial arts practice later at night when the market and most of the shops were closed. There was also an Oriental pharmacy at the end of the mall.

Vince really loved the atmosphere of the place and Kelly felt comfortable there, away from his precinct, the telephone and anyone who could casually interrupt his lunch or find him. The two of them did not talk about much, usually about misdemeanors or the justice and court system -- and generally gave Kelly a chance to vent.

Kelly picked up the phone, “Hello. Captain Kelly, here. How can I help you?”

“Hey, Jim. It’s Vince Bonaventura. I have a problem…”

“Okay?”

“Someone broke into my tailoring business last night…or this morning. Gino’s on vacation.” Vince paused, checking the weather through his window again. “Whoever broke in made a mess.”

“Anything missing?”

“I haven’t really looked yet.”

“Do you want to make out a police report?”

“Um. Yeah, I think I would like to.”

“Well, you’re in my precinct. Take a visual inventory, but don’t move too much around. We’ll want to see what things look like the way your intruder left them.” It sounded like Kelly took a gulp of coffee. Then he continued, “You have any cash in the place? Anything of value?”

“No. Uh, yeah. But, they didn’t touch my machinery…sewing machines, steam presser. Nothing like that. I take the cash box home every evening. It seems as if they were interested in my records, though.”

“That’s good on the outset. Don’t touch any doorjambs, window casements or walls. We’ll want to dust for fingerprints. I’ll send a squad car.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

“No problem. That area has really been busy lately. Jewel thief…”

“That guy again? Same sort of thing as the blown-out storefront?”

“Yeah. Usually the same modus operandi. Never takes much, only two or three expensive pieces. Except for that storefront, which might have been an accident, he never destroys or harms property. Seems to know where the safe is and picks the locks clean every time or blows the door off. Nice and neatly, too. Can’t figure out what he’s been using for an explosive. Maybe nitroglycerin. The lab tests are not back yet.

“Never sets off a burglar alarm. Never breaks in until the personnel are gone. And never hits small jewelers, only the big, upper class places.”

“A thief with a heart.”

“Or someone calculating how much time in prison they might save themselves by taking only a couple of pieces. As well as assuring himself a quick, clean getaway,” commented Kelly.

“I don’t know what someone like that would want with my place.”

“True. Doesn’t sound like our man in black.”

The squad car arrived within fifteen minutes. Vincente had not touched anything much. The cops dusted for prints, did a visual of the ransacking and wrote the incident up. Vince promised to get in touch with Captain Kelly as soon as he knew exactly what was missing.

Vincente called an emergency locksmith number that he kept by the desk phone. Within an hour the locksmith had replaced his old lock with a bolt that would be harder to slide open with a screwdriver. The new lock also had a very loud alarm attached to it that could be heard on the street by a passing patrol car.

What really bothered Vince, especially after he put everything back in place was that there was actually nothing much missing, except two bolts of very expensive suit material. His paperwork was all there, although not in the order he had left it. It didn’t make sense. After putting the long-playing records back in place on the shelf under the record player, he noticed that one of his favorite records, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Claude Debussy, was also missing.

He didn’t think Gino would have taken it, since he did not like Debussy -- not Italian enough. Gino thought Debussy sounded like pop music. Don’t even mention Ravel or the Bolero, which Gino had once described as the sound of screaming ghosts and broken-necked violins played by two year olds. That hurt, since Vincente loved the Bolero.

Vince thought Debussy and Ravel were clever, and was not prejudiced against French composers -- or anything non-Italian -- the way Gino was. At least Vince thought Gino was. He remembered the way that Gino curled his nose at hamburgers and insisted that they go to a good Italian deli instead of Walgreens. Then again, Vince had to say that an Italian deli was usually way better. Even a Jewish one.

A few receipts in the storage area (where all his old accounts were kept) had been pulled out and were obviously of interest to his intruder. But why money in the bank would interest his trespasser, he did not know.

By seven, although more stars had appeared in the sky, the night was still dark and misty, and there was some fog gathering like a low roll cloud on the ground. He totaled up his recent receipts and, picking up his accounting sheets, shrugged on his London Fog trench coat and his Totes rain hat. He walked out of the tailoring suite and turned the new lock on his office door, setting the alarm and headed in the direction of Guy Rochelle’s.

He had not told Archie Harper about the break-in. He could do that tomorrow. As Vince walked the few blocks to State Street, he decided to take a short cut. As he walked through a byway (so he could come out right in front of Rochelle’s building), he came out between two high-rise office buildings. He spotted Guy Rochelle under the illumination of a circle of street lights, walking down Adams to his left.

Hey, Guy!” called Vince.

Guy turned and jaywalked across Adams Street towards Madison. He turned around again and stared at Vincente.

Again, Vince called, “Wait a minute! I was just coming over. I’ll walk with you.” Vince hurried over to him.

Guy stopped on the sidewalk and smiled at him, “Well, hello. I need to hurry. I have to meet another client on Clark Street before I see you. I’ll meet you over at my office later.”

Vince looked at him. Guy was smiling but seemed ill at ease, tense and a little nervous. He thought, “Hmm, I’ve never seen him like that before. Tense? Not Guy.” He adjusted the wire-rimmed glasses on his nose.

“Okay,” answered Vincente, extending his hand. Guy took it. Vince noticed that Guy’s hand was rough. The skin on his hand looked red and slightly irritated. There was a small cut on the side of his palm. They shook hands. A dark blue car cruised past slowly as if the occupants were watching the two men. Vince’s memory went slightly sour.

“See you there,” he said over his shoulder as he walked hurriedly to the corner, looking at the back of the car as it turned.

“The door’s open. I should be there in about ten minutes. Make yourself comfortable,” said Guy towards Vince as he turned in the opposite direction.

As Rochelle disappeared around the corner, he relaxed a little and looked at his watch. He heard someone on the deserted street about a half block down and thought, “Oh, no…” and started walking slightly faster. He tensed again.

A shout came from behind him, “Hey! Hey, you!”

Rochelle stopped and looked around. He saw a man walking towards him. Not Bonaventura. He didn’t like this. Some stranger. It made him nervous. The man walked until he stood directly in front of him.

“Hello, Mr. Rochelle. Mah name’s Alder Willis. Y’all know anything about Bannister?”

Rochelle swallowed, what a strange accent for Chicago. It sounded like, hmm…, Louisiana, maybe? Maybe a friend of Bonaventura. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like it at all. He answered the man with irritation in his voice, “Um. No. I don’t know anyone named Bannister. Should I?”

“ Mah family -- we -- think you should.”

Rochelle started to anger. “And why is that?”

“Because he comes from a large family. A very large family. And we think y’all are getting too close to Vincente Bonaventura. He’s a friend of ours. We noticed that you are not entirely as honest as you should be.”

“Wait a minute,” responded Rochelle, angrily. “Wait just a minute. I don’t see what my business has to do with you. Bonaventura is a client of ours.”

“Ah know, and we just want to warn you that we know what’s been goin’ on and it’s got to stop. Ah think you know what Ah mean.”

Rochelle took a step backwards, saying, “Well, my good man, I don’t know what you are talking about. Hell…”

Alder Willis glared at Rochelle and grabbed his lapel. “You ain’t got the idea yet. You just get yourse'f straightened out and stay as far away from Vince as you can. And remember -- we’ll be watchin’ y'all.”

“Let me go!” exclaimed Rochelle, pulling away from Willis, his face bright red. He jerked backwards again, out of the other man’s grasp, and walked quickly away, breaking into a slight run.

Willis followed him at a distance, laughed at Rochelle’s fear, and waved at the dark blue car that followed the both of them, slowly.

_______

Vincente walked on towards Rochelle’s building. Reaching it, he took the back stairs since the side door to the building was open. He was not in much of a hurry, since Guy would not be there for a while. As he approached the second floor landing, he smelled the familiar rose incense that was one of his favorites. He also heard some familiar tabla and sitar music floating towards him as he ascended the stairs to the third floor.

Just as Vince got near Harry Rochelle’s door, the music swelled to a crescendo, then stopped. He got a mouthful of incense. It plumed over his brilliantined hair. The door was closed. Vince passed Harry’s office and politely walked down to Guy’s open door. He slid his shoes off and entered. He was feeling sort of winded from the heavy incense and his walk up the stairs. The late hour, he supposed. He sat down heavily, noticing that there was now a second meditation asana under the brocade curtains. There was a new, delicately-crafted, silver statue of a turbaned flute player on the desk in front of him.

He closed his eyes a moment. Suddenly, he felt like he was levitating. His eyes seemed to open, then close again without really seeing anything. The heaviness of his exertion went away. He was as light as a feather. He did not hear anyone walk into the room. He felt a hand on his shoulder and voice saying, “Vince…Vince…”

Opening his eyes, he stretched a little and took a deep breath as if he had not been breathing -- or had just had a nice, deep sleep.

“Uh. Oh, Guy. Hi.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure…I’m fine. I think I must be tired.” Vince rubbed his forehead. “I must have fallen asleep for a moment.” He looked up and noticed that Guy had changed his clothes.

Rochelle sat down at his desk and laughed rather quietly. “Well, we better get started.” He reached over and took the accounting papers and receipts from Vince. He opened his own folder for Bonaventura Tailors and started sorting through everything.

“Oh, by the way, we had some trouble over at my office.”

Guy looked up at Vince sharply and put the folder down. Vincente could hear him take in his breath.

“What happened?” asked Rochelle in a quiet, unusually subdued voice, even for him.

“ Um. We got ransacked. It was odd. Nothing much was taken -- just a phonograph record, maybe a couple of bolts of expensive material.”

“Oh, really?” rejoined Guy in a choked tone of voice. He began to look strained and his face became flushed. “When…did this happen?”

“Last night, I think. The thief broke the lock on my office door. I just changed it right before I came over.”

“I see.”

“The funny thing is that all of my expensive machinery was fine. It was like the guy was just taking a look around.” Vince thought uncomfortably about Bannister and the dark sedan he had seen this evening.

“Oh, I’m glad that nothing much was disturbed.”

“Well, not really, the fellow made quite a mess. I called Jim Kelly at precinct twelve and made out a police report. I don’t understand what the thief was looking for. Perhaps he broke in and took things from some of the other businesses in the building. He might have opened my office by mistake, expecting to find more of value. It looks like he went through my financial records.

“I haven’t had the time to call Archie Harper, but I will as soon as I leave here.”

“Do you want to use my phone? You can call him from here,” Guy offered with a hesitant smile.

“No, no. That’s okay. I’ll call him from my home. I have to hurry to catch the last train. I can’t take the time right now.” Vincente paused and smiled back. “Looks like you’ve been busy this evening, too. That was a quick clothing change from when I met you on Adams. When I saw you there, you had on a completely different outfit.”

Guy looked upset and flushed again. “Met me on Adams? Oh, ha. Yeah.” Guy looked down and his hand shook a little. “I’ve been in such a hurry all day.” He looked at Vince apologetically. “You’d better get going so that you can take advantage of this break in the weather.”

“Sure,” Vince agreed as he got up and put his trench coat on. He glanced at Rochelle and commented absently, “You should put something on that cut on your hand.”

 

Guy looked surprised and covered his hands, still looking at Vince. “Uh, yes. Yes, I will.”

Vince planned to leave by the front way, taking the elevator down and walking through the lobby. As he reached the end of Rochelle’s hallway, he heard a couple of loud, angry voices having an argument -- of which he heard only a snatch. The comment, “What is wrong with you?!” floated towards him as he entered the elevator.

Strange day…,” he thought to himself.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Forty

All We Are Say—ing Is Give Peace A Chance…”

Meanwhile, at home, on that same Saturday night, Jacinta and Julie had been watching TV as usual and had made some lasagna. Jacinta had been at Julie’s house for almost the entire month of July. Vito still stayed overnight rather frequently from time to time, and was there tonight. Jacinta’s little metal box seemed to be full no matter how much weed they smoked together. One began to wonder.

They had smoked some weed on the back porch again, as usual. Vince had never once said a word the whole time the two girls had been getting stoned back there. Julie had told him that the incense burning was because they had been practicing meditation on the porch and in the living room. Since she knew he smoked his weed (in an old corncob pipe) on the back porch, she guessed he thought any residual smell was his.

Just like Monterrey, the two of them ran around as late as they liked in the suburban mazes of Julie’s neighborhood -- especially when they had Vito. Which was what they did tonight, after smoking.

Because it was Saturday night, Vince was late as usual. The girls had run all over the place and snuck into a couple of backyards where Julie wanted to show Jacinta some rabbit cages filled with domestic (and mean) and wild (and sweet) rabbits. Then, tired, they walked home.

Out of breath and stoned, they burst through the door to the back porch, dodging all the various junk. Most of the junk on the porch belonged to the landlord and Julie wished he would remove it. She took the leash off Vito, gave him a Milk Bone cookie and some water. The two of them sat down on the broken vinyl of the glider.

“I’m hungry,” Julie said.

“Me, too,” answered Jacinta. She took out her little metal box, lit a fresh joint and took a deep, deep toke. The kind only a pair of very young lungs can do.

“What are you doing?” Julie exclaimed, surprised at her.

“What does it look like I am doing? We need some more weed. This is a party. I don’t even know when I will see you again, and I have to leave pretty soon. I can’t take this back with me. What if I get caught? My father is the Chief of Police and we will be ruined. Besides, I have more than enough marijuana back home.”

Holy Mother,” Julie said.

Jacinta gave her a long, hard look. “Don’t swear,” she said, handing the lit joint to her friend, with an inadvertent snort. Julie took it from her and laughed; the sweat from their run outside sliding through her curls and down the side of her face. Her stomach growled. She inhaled. The smoke seemed to reach to her scalp.

Jacinta started laughing and said, “There’s a lot more. Remember, I told you? I brought almost a pound with me.”

Julie waited until she could open her mouth again and breathe. It took a while. “Really? Did you want to get the whole neighborhood high?”

She paused as if the answer took some thought. “Not necessarily. I’ll show you.” She got up and went into the house. Julie smoked a little more herself and put out the joint, to wait for Jacinta.

After about ten minutes, she reappeared. “This is for your next birthday. I know it is in August. That‘s why I waited so long to show you the doll.” She was holding a rather large plastic baby doll with a cute red-and-white checkered dress on. Looking closely at Julie, she twisted the head of the doll off and showed her the inside of the toy.

Oh, my God,” Julie said. “The whole thing is stuffed with…”

“…marijuana,” they both said at the same time, bumping heads as Jacinta leaned over to check the neck of the doll at the same time Julie looked up.

Ow,” Julie said, rubbing the top of her head.

Jacinta picked up the unfinished joint as if she hadn‘t felt the knock, stuck it in a bobby pin and lit it. Sucking down the rest of the joint, she spit on the stub and ate it. Reaching over, she stuck the soft plastic head back on the doll again. She lit another fatly rolled, clumsy childish joint. “Who rolled this?” she asked no one with a frown of disapproval. Julie blushed.

“You are an addict,” Julie said, dopily.

“ You can’t get addicted to marijuana. But you have to watch your vitamin C levels and eat some fruit after smoking. Marijuana is also good in terms of preventing and healing some forms of cancer and tumors, although sometimes it drains too much vitamin C, ” retorted Jacinta as she inhaled until her cheeks puffed out. “Besides,” she added, “Shakespeare smoked weed -- and look how talented he was.”

“Oh.” Julie looked away from her. “I knew that.”

“At any rate, the doll is for you. You can play with it when you finish the marijuana inside of it. I would not advise playing with it before that. You might have a hard time explaining things if the head falls off.”

“Thanks. I’ll be smoking marijuana until I’m ten.” Julie looked at the doll. It had curly black hair like her own. Great dress, too, with a little matching apron. Hmm. She really thought it must be the best gift she would ever get. Counting what was inside.

Jacinta passed Julie the new joint. She put it to her lips and took a toke, passing it back to Jacinta.

After a couple minutes of this, Julie said (expertly wetting her fingers, putting the roach out and popping it into her mouth with a smile as she watched Jacinta‘s approving reaction), “I’ll start the popcorn.” Hesitating, she added, “And cut up some oranges.”

“Okay,” said Jacinta, “I’m ready for it.” She leaned over and looked in one of the large patch pockets on the apron of the doll. “Here…” She pushed her closed hand at Julie. “You’ll need a pipe for all that loose marijuana. You don‘t roll very well.”

Julie got up and took the pipe from her. It was a small, brass thing with a screw top on it.

“It’s from India. I know how much your Dad likes Indian things. It’s traditional. Marijuana is used for medicine all over the world and some of the yogis smoke it over there.”

“Yogi? What’s a yogi?”

 

Romeo sauntered in and jumped up on Jacinta, sat on her lap, settling close to her stomach. She smiled and stroked him.

“A yogi practices yoga. That is their profession. There are thousands and thousands of books on yoga in India. Yoga includes meditation, exercise, medicine, philosophy, magic and lots of other things.”

“Magic?”

“Yeah, like miraculously healing people, flying in the air, producing material objects at will and things like that. We have yogis in Mexico, but we don’t call them yogis. That is a Sanskrit word. The ones in India don’t eat any meat, fish, eggs or certain cheeses. Sometimes they don‘t eat garlic, onions or mushrooms, either. And of course, they don‘t drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, do sugar, or drink caffeine. Except some of the sadhu yogis, who combine tobacco and marijuana.”

“They must be pretty weak. Why are they sad?”

Jacinta frowned. “No, they’re not weak at all. They’re used to it,” she said wisely. “And they’re not sad. Sadhu is another Sanskrit word which has nothing to do with that.”

No shit, hunh. Interesting.”

“Your mouth gets worse and worse. By the way,” Jacinta paused as she spoke, putting the metal box back into her pocket. “Please don’t tell anyone about this. Especially your father. And you need to think about your choice of words.”

“I thought you said that you were collecting some of this for the police department.”

“I am, but that is a private project. I don’t want anyone interfering with it. I’ll have the information at my finger tips if my father ever needs it.”

“Right,” Julie said, doubtfully.

_______

The girls brought the dogs into the house. Julie went back out to the porch, opened all of the windows and lit three sticks of rose incense. She also lit two sticks of a different kind of incense in the living room and got the popcorn things out. Jacinta turned the TV on and sat down between Vito and Romeo on the rug.

 

 

Chapter Forty-One

Sunday: Vito Gets Breakfast

Vincente got home around ten that Saturday. It had started raining again. By the time he got off the train, it was misting lightly, but the suburban streetlights did not penetrate the blanket of fog that was forming so thickly below his knees that he could not see his feet as he walked down the echoing wooden stairs from the train station. It only took about ten minutes to walk to his house from there.

The trees dripped moisture, a blue jay announced itself by a harsh short call, as if to part the foggy night and perhaps reveal a star. As Vince opened the front door of his house, he noticed that the heavy smell of incense seemed to balloon around the front porch and intensify as he entered the living room. He hung his coat in the closet and put his sports cap on the shelf above the coat rack.

Jacinta and Julietta were still awake, talking quietly in Julie’s bedroom.

Vince went into the kitchen and noticed that there was about half a pot of popcorn next to the stove. He took a handful and popped it into his mouth. “Mmm…” he thought, “Parmesan.” He took another handful and crunched it, savoring the herbs and cheese as he walked over to the refrigerator and looked to see what he wanted to eat for dinner. It was late, and his stomach was making noises.

There was a cooked tray of seasoned meatballs, half a dish of lasagna and a salad that Julie had made. He put some spaghetti on to simmer. Then he went to the pantry and opened a bell jar of seasoned tomato sauce that he had made fresh from his garden. He added it to a saucepan with some of the meatballs. He looked into the salad and saw some chopped lobster and cubed mozzarella. He also saw the usual seasoned, toasted croutons, red onions and roasted garlic slices. He got the olive oil and vinegar shakers out of the fridge and put them on the table.

He put out dishes and silverware for himself and sat down by the telephone, looking up Archie Harper’s number in his personal phone book. It was a little late to call, but he wanted to notify Harper of the break-in and the new lock on his door. Just as he put his hand on the phone, it rang.

“Hello?…” he said.

“Mr. Bonaventura, it’s Archie Harper.”

Vince laughed lightly into the phone, “I was just going to call you!”

“Yes. Um. I have a rather serious matter to discuss with you. I am calling all our businesses in the building. Our maintenance crew has reported several broken locks leading in from the back entrance.”

“Yeah, I was broken into last night or early yesterday morning.”

“Really? That’s what I was calling about. You are the only office so far that seems to have been affected. Anything missing?”

“Not much, just a classical record, as far as I can tell. I made out a police report and I have a new office key for you. I have not spoken to Gino Pesciolino, my partner, yet. Perhaps he has the record, and we are only looking at some vandalism.”

“Oh good. I’ve spoken to precinct twelve myself. I have about three more folks to talk to. So far, the building is not missing anything, either. It is a little strange.”

“Hmm.”

“If anything occurs to you in the way of a suspect, such as a jealous business rival, please let me know and call Captain Kelly at the precinct. He told me that he knows you.” Archie paused.

 

“I will,” Vince interrupted Archie’s silence as he reached over to the stove, wedging the phone between his shoulder and his cheek and turning the flame off underneath his pasta and the pan filled with meatballs and sauce. “I will,” he repeated. “It seems like sort of an odd, useless crime. Why would anyone go to all the trouble of breaking in and not really take anything?”

“Don’t know,” answered Harper, musing as much to himself as Vincente. “Sorry, I called so late. You can pick up your new building keys in the mail room tomorrow when you come in. And leave a copy of your new office key for me.”

“Thanks, I will.”

“Have a good evening, Mr. Bonaventura,” said Archie. “Good night.”

Vince hung up the phone.

Putting the spaghetti in a colander, he drained the pasta. Then, he poured the sauce and meatballs into a bowl with some of the pasta in it, liberally sprinkling on some Parmesan and olive oil.

His mind re-played Harper’s call. Harper was always so terse -- not a very emotional guy. He wondered if it was Harper who had ransacked his office and had just broken the lock to cover up what he did. You know, crazy landlord, needs something? Maybe something is missing in his life? He pushed the thought out of his mind. He put the bowl of spaghetti on the kitchen table next to Julie’s salad.

Just as he sat down to his dinner, Vito walked into the room.

His head was at least a foot higher than the table, putting his nose and mouth within slurping distance of the spaghetti. Vince, with his mouth full of pasta, said, “Hi, Vito. What’s new, boy?” He swallowed. He knew what Vito wanted -- either what was in the spaghetti bowl or to be let out. Vince decided that letting Vito out into the backyard was more comfortable. He took the napkin tucked into his collar off and got up from the table.

Vito met him at the door to the back porch. As Vince opened the door, he noticed that the whole place smelled like stale incense mixed with the distinctive scent of fresh marijuana. He frowned and let Vito out.

Walking back into the house, he sat down again at the kitchen table and finished eating his dinner. The air was cool this evening. It was pleasant being in the mid-west. Down south, the air did not necessarily cool off that much at night -- unless you were near the ocean. He opened a window. A soft, summer breeze entered the kitchen. The noise of the rustling, rough-leaved elms refocused his attention. Vito barked.

As Vince walked back to the porch, he met Romeo there. “Guess this place is Times Square at this time of night. Eh, fellow?” Romeo sniffed at the bottom of the closed door. Vince let him out and Vito back in.

Vito walked back into the house in his quiet way, the moonlight reflecting off his sleek, grey back. He had that smiling, two-year-old, puppy-like, amused sparkle in his dark eyes. Amiably, he trotted quietly towards the living room, bumping into Vince who smoothed the short hair on his high back as he passed. He climbed into his favorite chair, laid down, settling into a large curl and closed his silent sentient eyes.

Vince liked having Vito around. It was like being around a very cooperative mute, like having Harpo Marx over when he felt like playing the harp. Vince was not a primate-centric person. He could see an equal personhood in almost any animal, especially Vito.

It had been a very long day, a shadow of worry crossed Vince’s mind as he took his pajamas out and brushed his teeth. Maybe it was time to decide between Sears and the tailoring business. True the tailoring business was not even a year old, but even now, he could sell the whole thing at a profit. Both jobs were, consistently, leading to too many fourteen hour workdays.

However, the money was so good that he was thinking of buying his own house earlier than he had originally planned when Bannister had given him the $50,000. Why rent if he could buy a house outright? Pay cash, no mortgage. And have plenty of savings, too. He had already sent money home to his parents again, so that they could remodel and repair their own home, adding a couple of rooms. He owed nothing, himself. It was a thought.

He took his shoes off, the left, then the right. On the bottom of his right shoe, a hand-rolled cigarette, with no filter, was stuck on the sole. He grimaced and peeled it off, gingerly holding it between his thumb and forefinger; he got up in his stocking feet and walked into the hall to examine it in better light. The cigarette paper tore open from the dry seam. What was inside was not tobacco. He lifted some of the material to his nose. It was marijuana.

Putting two and two together (namely Jacinta and Julietta), he walked to the back porch again, retracing his steps. Examining the floor by the broken, vinyl-covered glider, he noticed numerous small piles of ashes and a couple more hand-rolled small, cigarette-like objects. He picked one up and smelled it. Marijuana again. And not his, either. He didn’t leave things like that lying around and he smoked a pipe.

Walking into the kitchen, he checked his own stash of marijuana, kept hidden in an old wooden cigar box mixed in with the cleaning supplies. It did not seem to be disturbed. Nothing seemed to be missing from it. At least, nothing significant. That’s good. His mind drifted.

Tomorrow was Sunday. He suddenly felt exhausted. The break-in still bothered him. What if he had to move his entire business to another building? What really bothered him was that there seemed to be no motivation. What if it was a competitor who was just getting ready to really lay into him, really harass him? He could not think of anyone who might do that. Someone who liked Debussy? Bannister Willis? Archie Harper?What about the material?

What could they have been looking for?

Ahh, those girls. Refocusing, he smiled in spite of himself. Yeah, tomorrow. He would talk to them tomorrow.

_______

Sunday morning dawned crisp, clear and sunny. The trees swayed gently, fuller and more deeply green after the fog, the rain and the mist had given them nourishment. Even the woolly, starched leaves of the elms seemed to make less noise. Three brilliantly red cardinals sat together on a tree outside his bedroom window. It was Monarch season and a couple of butterflies drifted past the light chintz on his opened window as well.

Jacinta and Julietta had gotten up early and were making breakfast. Julietta had been reading recipe books from the local library and had decided to make something neither southern nor Italian. Almost a sin. She and Jacinta had gone though the books and decided on a cheese soufflé.

Using a ceramic angel food baking dish, they whipped the egg whites, flour and baking powder together, folding in the yolks. They placed the concoction in the baking dish and baked it at 300 degrees for about fifteen minutes. Removing the dish, they placed several thin slices of very sharp, white cheddar on the top, adding chopped hazelnuts and just a touch of Parmesan. Turning off the oven, they put the dish back in for about ten minutes and then took it out and put it on a trivet. They poached some freshly defrosted trout in a baking pan with about an inch of water in the bottom and reheated some of Vince’s garlic bread in the broiler, sprinkling on some fresh butter. When the trout was finished cooking, they emptied the pan of water and put the fish under the broiler for a minute or two, basting it with lemon and olive oil and inserting a few slices of fresh garlic in open slits in the skin.

Vince came in for the finale in his undershirt and pajama bottoms, just as the two girls were removing the spine, bones and head from the baked fish. He and Jacinta sat down at the table while Julie served. Soufflés are easy to make, but remain an impressive breakfast and even desert food (the chocolate or cinnamon/honey/ginger/molasses version), so even Vince was surprised. As much as he took Julie’s culinary skills for granted, his eyes delighted at her inventiveness. Cheddar was not an Italian food, but for the time being, they all went Americano.

Mmm…you outdid yourself, Mrs. Bonaventura.”

I’m not married to you.”

“You should be.”

Forget it, Pop. Just eat.”

“That’ll be a real pleasure. But I swear I‘m marrying somebody just like you.” Vince leaned over from his chair and kissed Julietta on the cheek with his mouth full of cheese and trout.

Julie said something unintelligible and wiped the spare cheese drool off her cheek.

She and Jacinta put out some orange juice, the hot toasted garlic bread and some heated up leftover turkey sausage -- just to finish something from the fridge. The early sun filtered in the kitchen windows.

_______

Oh, fiddlesticks…” Vince said, almost to himself, as the memory of last night replayed itself in his mind. He put his fork down in the middle of his plate, after a few large, satisfying bites of his breakfast. He took a large gulp of orange juice, and said, “I have to talk to both of you about something.”

The girls looked at each other, both of them seeming to sink about six inches deeper into their chairs. The sunlight flickered like a candle against the window glass. Vito padded over and looked at the remaining soufflé with a sweet, little grin in his eye-level eyes. He took a deep, loud in-breath and sat down as if to show off his devout feelings of camaraderie through a truthful display of easy obedience and a real inner self-knowledge of his own patient consideration of human beings.

“Hi, Vito,” said Jacinta.

Vito snorted out loudly and shifted his weight slowly from foot to foot, while remaining seated, his attention drifting from face to face and then back to the soufflé.

“Hi, Vito,” echoed Julietta.

Vito snorted again.

“Anyway,” resumed Vincente, continuing to eat and talking with his mouth full of a cheesy crust of egg and trout, “I found part of a marijuana cigarette on the bottom of my shoe last night.”

Julietta shot a glance at Jacinta who ignored the look and smiled at Vito and said, “Come here, Vito.” She extended her hand with some turkey sausage in it. Vito licked her on the face from her chin to her forehead and grabbed the sausage, wagging his long tail along with his puppy ass and making the paper napkins on the kitchen table fly up into the air and flutter back down again.

Romeo delicately walked underneath Vito, avoiding his big feet and nabbed a sausage from Jacinta, as well. He tippy-toed back underneath Vito’s large chest, avoiding the perils of his hulking frame, and retreated to the living room to eat his sausage in peace and tranquility -- where the girls had left the TV playing quietly. Their abandoned Monopoly game was still spread out on the floor.

Romeo walked onto the Monopoly board, scattering all the players and curled up on top of its cool, smooth surface. Never mind, the girls were wise. Before they got up to cook, one of them had written out their player positions on a pad of notepaper. Way to go.

Vince cleared his throat and took another large swig of orange juice. Trying again, he said, “Jacinta…”

She looked up with saccharin in the sweetness of her false, little face. Julietta darkened visibly. It was as if she was thinking, “You can’t trust her. Remember what she could have done to us in Monterrey.”

“Yes, sir,” responded Jacinta. She quickly batted her eyelashes, and flipped the hair off her shoulder. Her dark eyes flashed.

Vincente said, “Do you smoke marijuana?”

Jacinta started and quickly glanced sideways at Julie. “Ah…No, sir,” she answered, looking down at her gently folded hands on top of the napkin in her lap.

Vince turned to his daughter and said, “Do you?”

Julie had a sudden, semi-legitimate fit of sneezing.

Vince waited patiently until she had finished. “Do you?” he repeated.

She let out one last, loud sneeze, lied and said, “No, sir.”

“No, sir. What?”

“No, sir, please…”

“ No, sir, please -- what?”

“Yeah, sometimes…”

Jacinta looked a little peeved.

“Jacinta brought me a pound of marijuana stuffed in a doll, a genuine Indian brass pipe and some cigarette papers,” Julietta added hopelessly. “All the way from Mexico.”

Vincente smiled triumphantly. Jacinta glowered at the edge of the kitchen table.

“Want some?” Julie asked, getting right to the point. She smiled, coyly.

“You have a whole pound?” Vincente asked, incredulous.

“Yeah…” said Jacinta and Julietta simultaneously.

“About,” added Jacinta.

Vito got up off the floor where he had been sleeping, sat in front of the kitchen table and stared at the soufflé again.

Vince said, “Go and get the doll. I want to see this.”

Julie got up, ran into the hallway and down to her bedroom, calling over her shoulder, laughing, “I’ll be right back…”

Jacinta and Vince finished eating and cleared the dishes, leaving Julietta’s half-finished plate on the table. Both of them started washing the dishes.

Julietta reappeared, with the doll’s head removed and a giddy, relieved grin on her face, her hair wavering in a bunch on top of her head, like the curly mess it was this early in the morning – looking like Elsa Lancaster in Bride of Frankenstein.

 

(“Does this girl ever comb her hair?“ thought Vincente, thinking about the permanently neat hair-do on the doll and comparing it to his daughter‘s raggedy curls.)

Vito leaned over the table and flicked the rest of Julietta’s breakfast as neatly as possible into las Cuevas (caves) des Monterrey. His huge mouth.

Shit,” said everyone at the same time. Their deeper meanings and nuances were left hanging imaginatively in the air.

Vito…” chastised Vince weakly.

 

Chapter Forty-Two

Monday

Vince woke up early Monday morning before his alarm went off, thinking about Archie Harper. There was something about his curtness that still bothered him. Archie could have had an urge to take a peek at his financial records. And stolen the Debussy. That made some sense. It made him feel oddly comfortable that the two of them might share the same taste in classical music. And oddly uncomfortable. Harper was not a fancy dresser, so the theft of the suit material still did not make sense.

The tailoring community commonly shared designs and cloth, and referred customers to one another. They even gave start-up loans to new, young businesses. There was so much work for an urban tailor in Chicago, that it just did not piece itself together with a petty break-in.

On the other hand, Harper could have an interest in how much money he was bringing in -- and the rest of it -- perhaps just light fingers. A taste for classical music?

Harper’s mail room received deliveries when neither Vince nor Gino were there, so there was an opportunity to take whatever Vince got in the mail, which had not happened before. Winona and the other operators were faithful, discreet and honest in their message deliveries. They even slid message slips under his office door when the two tailors were not there. They had opportunity. But if it was one of them, it did not make sense that they did not steal something valuable that they could sell.

The wall phone in the kitchen rang. Vince glanced at his clock -- it was about seven. He had to get ready for his Sears job. He reached over and picked up his bedside extension.

Hello?”

“Hi Vince, good morning. It’s Gino. Sorry to call so early.”

Vince sat up and scratched his head, yawning. “That’s okay. What’s up?”

“I don’t think I can make it in today. I know I’m due back from vacation.”

Unh? Oh, okay. Why not?” The breeze coming in from Vince’s bedroom window threw the curtain open like small waves in a lake at sunrise.

“Well, to make a long story short, I need a little extra time.”

“Mnn… How much extra time? We have at least five suits to finish in the next two weeks. I was looking forward to you coming back to work today.”

“I don‘t need that much extra time. Today and part of tomorrow.”

Vince’s eyes drifted to the motion in the curtains. He could use some time off, too. “By the way, did you take some Debussy home with you? And two bolts of material?”

“No. Why would I do that? I don’t even like Debussy. Why the hell would I take it home? To scare the cat? Debussy sounds like little kiddy music. I don‘t even play it at the office. Vince, I did not take anything home.”

“ I don’t know. We got broken into, but nothing much was taken -- just those two things.”

“Really? Che l’inferno?! Did you speak to Jim Kelly?”

“Yeah.”

There was a deep silence on the phone line while Gino became lost in speculation and thought. “Merda! They didn’t take anything?”

“Just what I told you.”

Crazy, man. Maybe they were just looking for cash and didn’t find any. A lot of small businesses have cash boxes on the premises.”

“ Hmm, Gino, that’s probably exactly what happened. There is also some evidence that they looked at our cash receipts -- accounts receivable -- for the last three months.”

“Think it’s Harper?”

“That’s exactly what I thought, but his services are excellent and he has not even hinted at a rent increase or anything like that. He has been very helpful and never complained about anything.”

“He could always raise your rent later, after he has seen everything.”

Vito walked into the bedroom and climbed up on the bed with Vince. He curled up. Romeo, who was already there, moved on top of the pillow next to Vince at the head of the bed. Vincente stretched his legs and switched the phone to his other ear as the primal smell of warm dog drifted into his nose.

“Well, I think we should keep an eye on Harper, and give Jim Kelly a building key,” commented Gino.

“Good idea. So, why do you need some more time off?”

Gino was silent again for a while. “Uh. You know I’ve been dating Angelica Angioletto for a while?”

“ Yeah, you said you’ve been going out with her for about ten years -- I’d say that was ‘a while’.”

“Uh, hunh. I’ve known her since grammar school.”

“And?”

“Anyway, we felt it was time to get married. I gave her a ring this weekend…”

“Wow, Gino! That’s great. She’s a wonderful woman! Congratulations! Sure, buddy, you can take the whole week off if you want to.”

“Thanks, Vince. Thanks a lot. We need some time together to make plans. We’re looking for an apartment and the wedding reception is going to be at my folk’s house. You and Julietta are invited.”

“When’s the big day?’

“Maybe in a month, or so.”

“That’s just peachy, Gino! Wow, you’re the coolest cat. Call me next weekend.”

“Will do, Vince.”

“And, by the way, all your tuxes and men’s formal wear are free. It’s on me. Consider it a wedding gift.”

“That’ll make the grade, Vince. You’re the best man, you know. You gotta be the best man, mi pisano.”

“You bet.”

“You‘re hot. You‘re the best.”

“Oh, Gino…” commented Vince as an afterthought.

“Yeah?”

“Call before you go to the tailoring office. I put in a burglar alarm. We don’t want to lose any wedding clothes. You’ll need the new key so you don’t set the thing off.”

“Okay, Arrivederci.”

Caio.”

As Vince hung up the phone, Vito stretched his legs all the way out and pushed Vince to the edge of the bed. He might have been a puppy, but he must have weighed maybe a hundred pounds. Romeo whined. Vito’s long claws bit into Vince’s leg and hurt. “Ow,” he commented, rolling out of bed.

 

Romeo whined again.

__________

When Vince finished his workday at Sears, he took off his canvas shoes and put on his black wingtips. He usually stowed extra shoes under his desk. He never knew what the weather would be like. If he had to get up and walk around the office, he could put his work shoes back on. Canvas was more comfortable to sit around in.

He took the bus to his stop near LaSalle and Adams and walked to the Harper building. He would be late for another appointment at Guy’s because he was backed up with the work that Gino could not get to.

The shop’s quarterly taxes were due in mid-August. Vincente had a few more accounts to deliver to help get the forms completed. He would have to call to let Guy know that he might be late.

In fact, most of his sewing would have to wait, as well. He had to start calling Gino’s relatives and friends to set up fitting and measurement consultations. Things were starting to back up a little in terms of tailoring. Vince thought of Pesciolino’s marriage and his thoughts drifted gently back to his marriage with Emma. His life near Caddo Lake had been ideal in a lot of ways. Sure, there were the usual money issues in his family. There were other problems, too. There were ice and sleet storms in the winter -- even though northern Louisiana had only a few days of cold per month in the wintertime. It could suddenly go from seventy degrees Fahrenheit to below freezing for twenty-four hours. His family had to contend with the floods, hail and tornadoes in the summer, which was why his family no longer raised rice, or farmed.

Then there were the outhouses, which had spread Cholera from time to time. There were occasional Yellow Fever outbreaks, too. But, the countryside was filled with the birds, trees and flowers he had known since childhood. He remembered how the tone of each summer day was set in place by the incredible heat of the Louisiana evenings and nights.

He remembered the huge cypress trees and the knees of their roots knocking gently against his pirougí, and raising orphaned baby raccoons when he was a boy. Cajun concertina and drum music kept even the babies quiet and alert well after dark. The call of an egret would deepen the vast silences of the water, the endless water. Then, there was the beauty in the flight of two large blue herons, taking off from the edge of the bayou side by side -- each bird a mirrored imitation of the other, like some kind of universal spirit in duplicate. This reminded him of how easily his and Emma’s personalities had fit together. Their lives were like that perfect flight of two great blue herons together.

Emma had been his soul-mate. He had never given a serious thought to finding another wife after her death. Or even a girlfriend. Raising Julie and working for himself and his family subsumed the incredible vacancy in his heart that Emma’s passing had left behind. The almost ten years of distance had not completely erased this emptiness. Her photographs were still in his wallet and on his bedside table and desk here in the office.

Emma,” he whispered to himself. A single tear trickled down his cheek.

He walked in the front entrance to his building and took the elevator up. He opened the brass cage and exited, walking up to his door, and opening it with the new key. He looked around his reception area and into the fitting room. Nothing had been disturbed since the break-in on Saturday.

There were several notes that had been shoved under his door. He picked them up and sat down at his desk. He took out his wallet and removed several photos of Emma. One was his own wedding picture. Another was Emma alone, taken when he first met her. Yet another was Emma and their daughter as an infant. He spread them out on his desk, enclosing himself in another wordless reminiscence.

He put on Martini’s Plaisir D’Amour, a simple but beautiful baroque-like piece. He could hear Emma’s deep voice humming the tune. It made his mind still. He needed that right now.

_______

By nine, Vincente had made all his calls to Gino’s wedding party. He closed the office and left, on his way to Guy Rochelle’s. He had left a new key for Archie Harper, not wanting to tell him about the alarm, since he still harbored a small suspicion that Harper might have been the one that had broken in. The alarm disengaged automatically when the door lock was opened with the correct key. So, if it were Harper, he would have to destroy the doorjamb again in order to cover up the fact that he had a key. With no explanation as to why the alarm did not go off. You needed a second key to reset it as well. And Vince did not give Harper that key.

If it was someone without the first key, the alarm would go off -- and if there was a cruiser in the area, they could hear it from the street. At night, Kelly’s police crew would be by rather frequently, since they now had an extra detail on State Street. The alarm would continue to ring if someone actually did wedge the door open. And the noise would bring Kelly’s men into the building.

If anyone raised a window sash off the fire escape, the alarm would be triggered from there as well.

 

 

 

Chapter Forty-Three

Masquerade

 

When we played our charade

we were like children posing.

Playing at games, acting out names,

guessing the parts we played.

 

(“Charade“ lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Henry Mancini .)

 

The wedding? Emma floated back into his mind like the first hint of spring green through a cold mist, as he took the elevator down to the first floor. The music of her voice -- stretched long into three vowels, then four vowels, like a bird whose song slows with the heat. “Hey-ya ie-yah” instead of “Hey!” He never picked up the Louisiana accent, but she did. Probably because he traveled outside of Louisiana with his parents as a child. She had never been outside of the state except to visit Texas to see the rodeo. He was the one who had traveled.

He remembered the joke he used to tell her before sleep sometimes. Outside of Amarillo, Texas is a small town named “Goodnight”. So, you know, he would say, “Goodnight, Texas” to her, watching the water drift in shimmering waves from Caddo Lake, Louisiana into Caddo Lake, Texas from their window.

He remembered how the overbearing evening and late night sub-tropical heat of a Shreveport summer would cool instantly when she came into a room. It was something about her. Even with the baby.

She had to feed Julie, at first, late at night -- sometimes at two or three in the morning. She would use the bulb of a desk lamp in the bedroom to create a small circle of light, so she wouldn’t wake Vincente up. With the light behind her in arcs, framing her quiet arms, Vince could hear his infant daughter gurgle to the rhythm of the locusts and cicadas outside, in counterpoint.

Emma’s arms were strong, like a small man. Her forearms were knotted from using a washboard since she was seven years old, washing clothes for extra money. And banging out dance music for hours on the piano or concertina for the family and for hire on weekends and holidays.

But she would relax in that light, in the over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit heat -- on a blindingly dark, sweaty Louisiana night close to the black water of the bayou. The infrequent mating call of a male alligator -- with its deep, throaty growl, sounding like a huge watery prehistoric pterodactyl -- would warn them of itself. The sound would break into that blinding darkness. The water of the bayou would not change with the morning light, dark with cypress tannin.

And in that deepest blank night, the already huge, never cut, branches of the cypress seemed even more gargantuan -- completely covering any light in the sky. The darkness made it easy to walk into anything, even a large tree. Another alligator would growl further away, sending human minds back into themselves, as if one could recall the millions of years of life on earth with that one sound.

The calls of the other nocturnal animals would antiphon back and forth. Calling somewhere on the other side of the chicken coop. Their house was on one side of the chicken shed. The bayou was on the other. The Red River of Shreveport was a car ride away. They could see the lights of the sky from the top of a tree if they took the time to climb that high.

Especially at night, both of them (as Vince would awaken) moved their attention to the air surrounding the chicken shed at the same time in perfect motion, like one person. Listening for an alligator, large bright red fox or panther getting too close to the precious chickens. The light surrounding Emma would be still. That quiet captured their attention and their minds moved towards the bayou together. They did this every night. It was a ritual as soon as Emma saw that Vincente had awakened with the noise of the baby.

Their minds moved as if they were automatically walking side by side down the path towards the bayou together. They felt as if they could see a long, low shadow slide down a bank and into the water, gliding away in the ink with barely a ripple, but enough for the two of them to see and follow subtly with their eyes. Sure of what they saw and heard, vigilant for their livestock.

Singing to the baby. He remembered her singing to the baby: “Hush little baby don‘t say a word…” She had a deep, throaty voice. A beautiful, subtle, emotional voice.

Julie cried only a little. As soon as she caught sight of Emma, she would usually stop.

Emma, who was his friend, would be there. She would always be there. In all that familiar light. Wearing a cotton, flowered dress. She even slept in a dress like that, or in her slip. Her hair would be mussed with sleep. One thick, glossy black strand falling long over her shoulder -- down, down past her waist. Glinting in that light, her hair exuded a sweet herbal fragrance and a sheen that made part of her disappear into the yellow arcs of the light bulb, imprecisely, as she sat nursing Julie.

He wished he could awaken from his present life, and Emma, who was his friend, would be there.

_______

Vince left the office and exited the Harper building. His feet echoed on the sparkling concrete sidewalk. He walked up Adams to Dearborn. The air was light. It was windy. But not very windy. The moonlight hit the crystal quartz and sand mixture in the concrete below his feet as if he was walking on millions of stars, or cosmic lights. Tiny lights in the blue of the sky, not on this earth. He had his wingtips on, so the soles were hard on the pavement. He could hear each small tap as he walked. He could feel the moisture from the lakefront now, as he got closer to State.

The entire street was empty. During the day, when he was at Sears, Adams was extremely busy. Filled with business people, delivery trucks, regular car traffic and shoppers. Parking on this street during the day was, at the best, difficult. Usually impossible.

Now it was all his. He was alone. The sound of his feet, alone, hit the pavement.

Polished display windows amplified the streetlights. A spot of light came from a display window spilling itself in a jagged reflection on the sidewalk. A night watchman with a flashlight. Or just a light left on at night reflecting through the glass onto the sidewalk. He could feel the air on his neck. Soon it would be fall, but now it was still warm. It was as if the earth was sending the last of its summer heat up through the ground until it surrounded his body, and made even the rushing air around his shoulders warm.

He reached State Street and looked up at the two Rochelle suites. The lights were out in both of them. He was afraid he had missed Guy. Figuring he could push the accounting papers under his door, he entered the building from the side door, which was still unlocked. As he reached the staircase, he waved a “hello” at the night janitor who was washing part of the hallway floor.

“Mr. Bonaventura!” the janitor answered, putting his mop into a bucket of soapy, hot water and walking around the wet area of the floor over to Vince. “The Rochelle brothers are gone for the night. I think you missed them.”

Vince swore silently to himself, remembering that he had forgotten to call. He replied, “Ah, I thought that might happen.”

“Um, Mr. Bonaventura,” said the janitor. “I was wondering if you know anything about the storage unit in the basement?”

“No,” answered Vince.

“Can you come downstairs and take a look at it? Guy Rochelle is renting it. The lock was broken on it, and the owner of the building is away on vacation.”

“Why don’t you call Guy on the phone or talk to him in the morning?”

“I will…I did. I called both Harry and Guy. There was no answer on either phone. If you would, I would like you to verify what is in the unit. Then I’ll fix the lock for tonight and lock the basement door. It looks like valuable stuff.” The janitor seemed a bit nervous. “These units are not very secure, but either there is someone around, or the basement or entire building is locked. I don’t want anyone to think I took anything.”

Vince glanced at his watch. He had some extra time if he wanted to catch a later train, which would be time enough to allay the janitor’s fears. No problem. He could make another appointment with Guy later. He would have to run to catch the next train. “Okay,” he answered. “Let’s go…”

The two men descended into the basement with the janitor turning on lights as they went. At the very back of the basement, behind the boilers, were a series of large plywood doors secured with padlocks. At the end of this row was an open plywood door. A broken latch dangled from the closed padlock.

The janitor turned on the light in the open storage unit as soon as they reached it. The unit had been converted into some kind of workshop. There was a small machine on a worktable and a tray filled with clay. There were also spools of heavy wire. Copper, perhaps? Stainless steel? On a series of mostly empty metal shelves, there was a small blowtorch.

A loud noise interrupted them. It sounded like someone threw a bucket down the basement stairs. Rushing footsteps followed. Then a short spurt of running.

“Mr. Bonaventura! Wait! I’m here…” Guy Rochelle appeared, out of breath. He smiled, panting, his face flushed.

Vince walked out of the storage unit as Guy grabbed his arm and patted him on the back. “Oh,” said Vince in the stark light of the three exposed, naked bulbs dangling from the storage unit/workshop ceiling. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to enter your workshop. The janitor asked me to examine the broken latch.”

Rochelle’s smile disappeared and his hand tightened on Vince’s skinny arm. Vince winced. Rochelle let go. He laughed. “Oh, excuse me. It’s all right…” he commented in a slightly harsh voice as he reached over behind Vince and cut the light switch, closing the plywood door. “I have a lot of expensive tools in there. I was worried when I heard people down here this late.”

Vince rubbed his arm through his jacket. “Damn,” he thought to himself, “that hurt.”

The three men walked slowly towards the stairs together. “Joe,” said Guy quietly, “why don’t you straighten that latch out with a hammer and put some large screws in the jamb? You know, put it back together?” Guy paused. “And don’t forget to lock the basement door,” he added.

The janitor answered, “Sure thing. I’ll get on it right now, Mr. Rochelle.”

Guy reached over and picked up an empty square aluminum container that blocked their way up the stairs and put it back on an old, heavy wooden shelf alongside the staircase underneath the handrail. “Hit it with my foot running down the stairs…” he said in explanation.

“Oh,” said Vince.

Guy kept on talking, “I need to hire an answering service. I think I will as soon as I can.

“In terms of my storage unit, there is never anyone downstairs except Joe. The other storage units are full of office furniture and old office machines. Their owners mainly haul things in and out during the workday. You never hear anyone down here at this time of night.”

“It’s perfectly understandable that you were concerned.” Vince paused and echoed a question up at Guy as he exited the basement, “What was that stuff anyway?”

Guy watched him as he exited. “Oh, that unit is where I repair things. I also store and use special types of polish and finishers on my brother’s statues, furniture and other objects d’arte.”

A blow torch?” Vince questioned himself, internally. He looked at his watch. He had twenty minutes to catch the last train. “I have to run. My train…”

“Go ahead,” said Guy, smiling again.

“Here, take my receipts. I’ll make another appointment with you as soon as I can,” said Vince shoving his papers at Guy and beginning to run, slamming out of the exit like a linebacker.

Do that…” Guy called back in a voice muffled suddenly by the rush of wind as Vincente hit the street running.

On the way to the train, a huge clap of thunder made Vince jump. He was almost to Canal Street, running on Madison and turning down the home stretch onto Wells. Four more blocks. The thunder sounded again, slamming from edifice to edifice as if it was hitting huge one-sided drums. A silent light illuminated the entire city a second later, exposed before him as if a searchlight had ripped open the darkness and then extinguished itself. Lightening. He put on some speed, his shoes gripping the street. He saw the first drops of rain dampen the sidewalk but could not feel them. Union Station came into view, spreading itself lengthwise across Canal Street.

He reached the station out of breath, pushed through the whoosh of the revolving brass and glass doors and ran, dodging the other late night passengers and rows of shin-shattering wooden benches. The huge lighted clock on the wall over the terminals gave him five minutes as he ran past it and into the terminal, jogging alongside his train -- the train putting out that foul-smelling steam.

Just made it.

Sweat beads stood out on Vince’s forehead as he climbed into the silver train car and up to the upper level of the double decker and sat down. Up here, there were usually fewer passengers and mainly single seats. He removed his ticket from its booklet and clipped it on under the railing at his feet so the conductor could get at it and punch it. He leaned back and closed his eyes. The train jerked to a start and began to pull out of the station just as several huge raindrops pelted his window.

Just made it,” he thought again, and fell into a light sleep.

The conductor woke him at his stop.

The two blocks to his house soaked him right through his raincoat, past his dress shirt, to his skin. The rain was puddling up over the curbs by that time. The water running down his face partially blinded him. Leafy branches rocked in the heavy wind until the raindrops began to turn into hail, summer hail.

 

 

 

Chapter Forty-Four

A Lemon Yellow Corvette & A Harley Panhead Hydra-Glide

 

When the moon hits you eye like a big pizza pie.

That’s amore!

When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine.

That’s amore!

 

Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling.

And you’ll sing “Vita bella”.

Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay,

like a gay tarantella.

(“That’s Amore” music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Jack Brooks.)

 

Jacinta was getting ready to catch her plane back to Mexico later in the week. Vincente saw ads in the Tribune for a ‘57 Harley Panhead Hydra-Glide motorcycle with a two-up seat; and a bright yellow 1955 Corvette convertible with a Powerglide automatic transmission. Hmm… He wasn’t really looking for anything. [_ B-u-t --- _] after that last run through the rain, he was getting more and more thoughtful about what he could do about his commuting situation. He did not think that he could park a behemoth like the red and white Chevy anywhere downtown during or near business hours. The parking space behind his office building was not quite big enough for that car. The thought of anyone hitting it on their way through the alley was not pleasant.

But with a motorcycle or a sports car, or even both, he figured he could park anywhere in downtown Chicago in an empty space big enough for two to three shopping carts. He asked Julie about how she felt about riding with him on a Harley. She said no way . He said it was “for work”. She told him that she was small and only nine years old -- and that she wanted a bicycle, not a motorcycle.

What if she fell off on the highway? Would he know? Her arms were so small that her little fly hands would be waving at him from where she fell -- as he left the Eisenhower Expressway, connecting to the Dan Ryan, sailing on his carefree way to the lakefront, dumb as a doorknob, with her nowhere to be seen.

The Corvette, on the other hand, was also nice and small. Only a two seater. He was really tired of running for the train. Monday night, he could have drowned. He was so wet that Julie had to get his robe, so he could strip naked on the front porch and leave his wet cloths there over the backs of a couple of chairs to dry. It took his wingtips three days sitting in the sun to dry out. And they had to be steamed back into shape at the shoe repair place downtown.

At any rate, Vince went and bought the Corvette that Saturday and passed on that particular Harley, buying a cheaper one that needed some work -- which he planned on doing himself in the garage, adding a headlight, taillights and a stop lamp among other things. He said Corvettes reminded him of what he really wanted, which was a Ferrari. He thought that Ferraris were better crafted cars, but an American knock-off was okay too. Gino would not have done that, but Vincente did.

When they took Jacinta to O’Hare airport the next day, they went in the new sports car. What a hoot! Julie squashed into the front seat with Jacinta. There were only two bucket seats. There was barely enough space to breathe, especially with Jacinta smooshed in next to Julie in only one bucket.

Riding in the Corvette was like sitting on top of a little bird. Vince went over the speed limit a couple of times, just to see what the car felt like. He hit 100 mph. Julie and Jacinta screamed. Loudly.

When they caught their breath, Jacinta said she was going to make her dad buy one, too. She was such a copycat. But chic, you know, and a pisana. Julie didn’t mind.

_______

Julie returned Vito to Anastasio. And their home got quiet again. Romeo started stretching a lot, as if Vito had taken up too much room and he needed to make sure his legs had not been injured. He’d stretch his legs all the way out, and refuse to sleep curled up. He’d stretch and arch his back every time he awoke. He also took to lying around this way on the old cracked vinyl glider (something he had never done before) as if he needed more space.

The over-sized doll Jacinta had given Julie sat proudly (holding her secret) next to her other dolls on a bedroom shelf.

Vince started taking the Corvette to work every day -- or his repaired Harley on clear days, which he wound up keeping at work inside the loading dock to ride home on clear, bright nights or zip around with downtown after picking up his new girlfriend Chun-hua for a date to go shopping or do something together. Vince had met her in Chinatown when he had gone to dinner with Kelly. He could always take the Burlington in the morning to go to work if it rained.

Julie was beginning to think that his relationship with Chun-hua was amore, hmm…

 

 

Chapter Forty-Five

More About the Lemon Yellow Corvette

The sports car was only about twelve feet long and about four feet wide. Vince found parking at Sears and behind his tailoring suite easy. He even drove the four blocks to Rochelle’s State Street office. It was heaven not to have to run to catch the Burlington anymore. He gave driving lessons to Julie on the weekends. Since the Corvette was so small, she found it easy to handle. It was almost like a toy. Like learning to swim in salt water, as opposed to fresh water -- way easier due to the added buoyancy of the salt.

In a couple of weeks, the kid could shift into reverse, use the mirrors to park, and drive around the block without Vince’s help. Not bad for a nine year old. But, you know Julie was a lady.

In all the excitement over the new car and fixing the Harley, Vince had forgotten all about the strange workshop in Rochelle’s building. Any workshop in a storage unit would have looked unusual anyway, he figured. It was no big deal. With all the exotic Asian art and musical instruments -- it could have been anything.

_______

One evening, after the quarterly taxes were done, Vincente was sitting in Guy’s office. Bonaventura Tailoring was doing so well, that Vince was thinking seriously about hiring a third tailor besides himself and Gino. Gino’s fiancée, Angelica, was already making women’s and children’s clothing in her home and would soon be working at the tailoring shop doing the same thing. She could double part-time making men’s clothing as well, but Vince would still need more help.

Vincente was drowsy this evening. His long work hours, plus the incense in Guy’s reception room were making him doze. Distantly, he heard an engine start over the sound of a sitar and drums down the hall in Harry Rochelle’s suite. “Guy should be here soon,” he assured himself.

He heard a screech and the revving of an engine out of reverse and into drive. His eyes flew open. That really sounded like his Corvette. The engine had an unusually small sound. Way smaller than his Bel Air. And how many people had sports cars? Not too many.

At this hour, there were practically no cars parked around here (none that he saw when he pulled up). He got up and went to the window, pulling the heavy brocade curtains aside just in time to see the rear end of his convertible turning a corner. He stumbled to Guy’s phone and called Jim Kelly’s number. Kelly often worked a late shift. “Shit, shit, shit…” he swore internally.

Within fifteen minutes, all the officers on patrol that night had Vince’s information and a description of the yellow Corvette. He laid his head down on Guy’s desk and fell asleep in spite of himself. He was too tired, too depressed to care. Kelly would take care of it, if he could. The distant sound of a police siren drifted in through the window. “How can you love a car?” he thought to himself half in sleep -- half out. “But I love that car…and I am not ashamed. Darn it all…”

Guy placed his hand gently on Vince’s back. For a few seconds Vince forgot where he was. He awoke staring at the large, brass statue of the elephant god, Ganesha. The scent of fresh flowers wafted gently around his face. There was a large flower garland around the neck of the elephant statue. “Hunh? Oh, dang it…” Vince exclaimed, rubbing his face to send himself back into reality, “someone just stole my new sports car.”

Guy looked bemused and said, “Perhaps you just had a dream. Really, Mr. Bonaventura, Vince, you need to get more sleep. Not too many people would fall asleep if their car had just been stolen. I think, also, that you must be getting some kundalini. Have you been feeling light-headed or woozy from time to time?”

Vince thought back to the many times he had felt this way coming into Rochelle’s building. Generally, he blamed it on his long work hours. “Yes, I do get light-headed when I am over here sometimes,” he replied.

Rochelle nodded his head wisely. “That is an effect from spontaneous meditation. Kundalini is a technical terminology for an inner electrical vibration transmitted through ancient Hindu ancestors -- or gods, if you will. It is innate in all human beings. The far easterners call it Chi.”

Vince got up and stretched. “But, look,” he said as he walked over to the window, tripping over Guy’s meditation asana, pulling the curtains open again. He showed Guy the empty space where the sports car had been.

Guy’s face clouded. He frowned. “Yes…?” he said, confused.

“See…the car’s not there,” said Vincente.

“You parked in front of the building?”

“Yeah. Right there,” Vincente said, pointing to the same place outside.

“Oh, my. You’d better contact precinct twelve,” commented Guy, looking out the window nervously.

“I already did. All the cruisers in the city have my car’s info.”

Guy sat down, looking slightly angry.

Vince felt a little consoled. It wasn’t his car, yet Guy was so concerned. Vince addressed him softly, “Don’t worry about it. I can take a cab home. I’m sure I missed the last train already.”

“No. No, let me drive you. This is terrible. State Street has become so unsafe.” Guy looked like he was going to cry.

 

“ That’s not necessary. It’s a long round trip to my home.” Vincente smiled at Guy. “Whoever took the Corvette will have a tough time of it. It helps to have a friend who runs a police station. It also helps to have an unusual Corvette. Corvettes in that model do not include that shade of bright yellow. Corvette yellow is more of a harvest gold. Recently there have been other colors added, but not in that model -- and the visible difference in the body architecture is obvious compared to the more recent models. The guy before me had it painted himself. I might actually have one of the very few bright yellow ‘55 Corvettes in existence.”

“Yeah,” repeated Guy absently, “he’ll have a tough time…”

_______

Several days went by. Julie started fourth grade. Gino’s wedding was coming up at the end of the week. Jacinta called. Rico Valente said Vito was acting funny, and what did Julie and you guys do to him? Rico, who occasionally liked to be called Anastasio, had started greasing his hair back into an elaborate ducktail, wearing black, patent-leather vests and sharp-toed ankle boots with high Cuban heels. At only thirteen. He was the neighborhood genius, and never got anything but straight A’s, so he could dress any way he liked and get away with it, even in school.

When Rico Anastasio Valente talked, people listened.

Angelica’s gown was too long, Gino’s entire suit needed to be cut down. There were only five days to the wedding. Julie thought Rico was a brat and said so.

Vince was back to taking the train. He cried over the lost Corvette a couple of times when Julie couldn‘t see him, letting the tears be absorbed by his pillow…at night. Just a tear or two. He felt silly crying over a car. There were very few clear days right now, so he took the Harley back and forth to work only twice. He could not ride it in the driving mid-western rains.

He was beginning to develop new behavior patterns before falling asleep. He thought about the weather. How it felt without the right hat. Or coat. How easy it had been to stash a raincoat, a pair of gloves, a warm watch hat, ear muffs, lunch -- in that cute little car.

His business life was so much easier with a car like that. A toy car with an AM radio and a heater in the winter. All the new options made standard. Aw, Jeez…

He thought about driving with the top down on a snowy day. Just for a little while. Making Julie scream by going too fast.

Reality bites.

But just for a little while. Then sleep.

_______

Vince woke up refreshed and resigned. He had to wake up earlier in order to catch the train. And run if he was late. He had a date to meet Jim Kelly for dinner at Yang’s. He needed it.

Ahhh… Vito wasn’t there . He stretched his muscles towards the billowing sunlight captured in the curtains. He gave himself a quick shave. He still used a cake of soap in a cup with a brush -- and a straight razor, which he cleaned and polished on a strop, and sharpened on a whet stone. He thought that gave him a closer shave than a small new-fangled, Gillette razor. Probably did, too.

He tied a large red bow tie around his neck.

Julie!” he shouted from the bedroom as he shrugged on a gold brocade vest and tied on a pair of black wingtips. “Did you polish my shoes? Are you ready for school? Pack your lunch. I’m late today.”

What?!” answered Julietta distantly.

“Did anyone call?” Vincente shouted back.

“No,” said Julie, closer. “I’m ready. I packed my lunch. I’m having cold stuffed shells and breaded shrimp with garlic bread.”

“Take some fruit,” said Vince as he caught sight of his daughter standing in the doorway. She was dressed, but had not tried to brush her hair.

“Like what?” said Julie, with her coat on, ready for school, holding Romeo.

“Like an apple and a hunk of cheese. Did you let Romeo out? Brush your hair.”

“Yes. I don’t need the cheese. I already brushed my hair.”

“ Okay. I don’t believe you brushed your hair. Give me some of that honey and go wait for the bus -- and brush your hair again with feeling.”

Julietta went over and smooched her Pa on the cheek, handing him the dog. “‘Bye, Dad. I didn’t polish your shoes yet,” she said. “But I will.” She ran down the hall, grabbing her books.

Vince heard the front door slam. Looking out his open bedroom window, he yelled, “You didn’t brush your hair. Try and find a brush at school. Your hair looks like a bird’s nest!” He could hear his daughter laugh as she ran towards the bus stop.

Vincente put Romeo on the floor, still obsessing over his Corvette. He scratched his head in frustration over the lack of a phone call and got a yellow, button-up cashmere sweater out of his closet. He passed up a green and red argyle sports hat (with rue) and put on a small-brimmed grey Totes rain hat.

He grabbed his London Fog raincoat, slammed out the front door himself and started jogging towards the train station. He glanced at his watch. “Late again,” he thought to himself, frowning.

_______

Vince had barely made the train that morning, skipped lunch and left Sears early, wishing for his Harley so he didn’t have to wait for the bus. He had to work on the clothes for Gino’s wedding entourage. He had designed a red satin cummerbund and a brocaded white satin vest from the same material as Angelica’s gown as a surprise for Gino, and he was glad he had not cut those things yet. Gino, apparently, had lost weight. The fellow was so small that he might disappear if he lost any more.

As soon as he got to the tailoring suite, he put on Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. He took Gino’s suit coat and pants apart, expertly cut them down one size and left them laid out on the cutting table. He had to meet Jim Kelly at seven-thirty for dinner. He called a cab.

It was only six blocks to Yang’s restaurant in Chinatown. But that was six huge, long Chicago city blocks.

Kelly had already ordered by the time Vincente got there. There were a few Chinese people, mostly couples, sitting in a few of the booths. Yang’s was famous for its mushroom dishes, cooked melon (in season) and red bean steamed buns (called Bao in Chinese), among other traditional dishes. Vince clattered into his chair and breathed out with exertion.

“Heavy day?” questioned Kelly with his mouth full of food.

“ Oh, yeah,” answered Vincente, looking at the menu. “At least Vito, the neighborhood prehistoric canine giant, is not at my house anymore. My little girl brought him over when she had a friend staying with us. He used to sleep with me. He’s so big that I should have used my guest bed and let him have mine -- but then I suppose he would have followed me and crawled in there, too.” A waitress came over and Vince ordered a noodle dish, mushroom chicken and a slice of cooked melon.

“ I have some good news for you,” mumbled Kelly through his food. He added, with a rueful smile, “Hungry -- didn’t get breakfast or lunch.”

“What’s that?” Vince asked.

“One of my beat cops found your car.”

Yesss…” hissed Vincente in jubilation, putting his arms up in the ‘safe’ position like a referee. He gulped down an unchewed piece of chicken and hesitated, holding his breath. “Is it okay?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s fine. The guy who stole it, hot-wired it. And danged if he didn’t pick the door lock perfectly. Not even a scratch around the key hole.” Kelly paused and bit into his entree. “There’s a small dent on the passenger side, but no damage to the cloth top.”

Vincente wrinkled his forehead. Besa me mucho came on Yang’s sound system suddenly. His love. His second love after Julietta; his third love after Romeo -- was his lemon yellow Corvette convertible. Then came his newly repaired Harley. The singer’s deep, contralto voice continued in front of a slow, floral orchestration. Each word celebrated itself in his mind.

 

Besame,

besame mucho,

como si fuera ésta noche

la última vez.

 

Besame, besame mucho,

que tengo miedo a perderte

perderte después.

(“Besame Mucho” words and music by Consuelo Velazquez .)

 

Inside of himself, in his inner vision, he was waving his arms, dancing and singing along with the song, visualizing his beautiful, sweet yellow convertible. It was a small thing, but deeply rooted in his heart.

“Yeah, Vince, we found your Doodlebug for you.”

“Wow.”

“You can get it from me tonight and drive it home. It was parked on Michigan Avenue near the entrance to Lake Shore Drive. My men and I think it was a joy ride. Guess the thief thought the penalty too steep to keep the thing.”

“Or the car was too unusual and the thief did not want to sport for a paint job.”

“Possibly. Officer O’Brien will drive it over when I call him.”

“That’s great. Man, I really missed that car. You are the coolest cat.”

“Yeah. Keeps you out of the weather,” commented Jim, smiling at the compliment and looking at Vince’s still wet London Fog.

_______

Yang Chun-hua was Yang (the restaurant owner’s) daughter. She was a favorite with customers and Yang used to say she had a way of bringing customers back to his restaurant. She was a beautiful woman with long, dark hair, normally dressed-down in a University of Chicago t-shirt, an oversized plaid cotton flannel shirt and jeans. She was a law student at the U. of C. and taught English in the mall two nights a week. Vince was a little sweet on her and she knew it.

The older Yangs and Chun-hua’s younger brothers and sisters lived near Gary, Indiana. They owned a few acres of farm land where they raised Bok Choi (Chinese cabbage), several varieties of mushrooms, Chinese melon and other vegetables that they ate themselves and served in the restaurant. They commuted by car to Chicago. Chun-hua, on the other hand, was living in a University of Chicago dormitory, so she spent more time in town, mostly so that she could use the law library and so that early morning classes were no hassle.

Vincente had been out with her a few times. Once to see a movie. Once to go to the Art Institute. Tonight, she walked in from the kitchen carrying a tray with three bowls of lotus root soup as a gift. She put the bowls down on the table, and smiled brightly at Vincente as she sat down to join them.

“I hear the police found your Corvette,” she said to Vincente, in lieu of a greeting.

“Yeah, they did.” He smiled at Chun-hua, feeling his chin and thinking that he would look good in a well-trimmed goatee. “This soup is great,” he commented with a grin.

“Thanks. Looks like the rain really soaked you tonight.” She chuckled into her soup.

“Funny. Ha, ha,” replied Vince. “We should go out in my Corvette sometime. Or take a ride down the lakefront on my new Harley again. . As my daughter says, ‘It’s a hoot.’”

Chun-hua laughed, “I’d love to. I have to finish up a couple of papers for my contracts class, and then I’ll be free for a few days.”

“You know Gino’s getting married this weekend.”

“Yes. Mr. Kelly told me.”

“Call me Jim,” said Kelly, his mouth still stuffed.

“Well, you’re invited to the reception. The reception is at Gino’s folks’ apartment. His mother is an incredible cook. The food should be perfectly spectacular.”

“Sounds great,” said Chun-hua. “Good timing.”

Kelly looked up from his dinner for the first time that evening.

Vincente had finished eating and was smiling a little at Chun-hua. He stretched his back, feeling suddenly tired. He got up to pay his bill, apologizing to everyone and explaining that he was wet and exhausted, and needed to go home to his daughter and get some sleep.

Vince shook his wet London Fog out after paying his bill, refolded it across the back of a chair exposing another section of the coat to the air, and sat down again for a few minutes to wait for Kelly to call for his car.

“You’re studying civil law?” questioned Kelly, opening his fortune cookie and reading the slip of paper inside.

“ Yes. I plan to specialize in immigration law and the issues that concern the Chinese community -- and the immigrant community in general. I can translate for my people too.”

“My parents were immigrants from Cork, Ireland. It sounds like that is going to be a great profession. We all need advocacy at some point.”

“Yeah. It’s a pretty good profession already,” answered Chun-hua. “I am practically a practicing lawyer, although I haven‘t passed the bar yet. I do para-legal work right up to anything that needs a bar member‘s signature. Vince,” she continued, getting up from the table, “I’ll call you soon. The reception sounds like it would be fun. I can use a break from the library.” She smiled at both of them and walked back towards the kitchen. “I have an English language tutoring class tonight in the Chinese community center, so I have to hurry,” called Chun-hua over her shoulder. “Sorry, I have to rush…” She disappeared through the swinging kitchen door with a wave.

Jim Kelly turned to Vincente and said, “By the way, I had our mechanical team fix the hotwiring on the car. I’ll go call the precinct and tell them to bring the Corvette over.” As Kelly got up to call, a uniformed police officer walked into Yang’s.

“Captain Kelly, Mr. Bonaventura’s car is downstairs. We spoke to Mr. Yang and he said you were almost finished eating.” The cop looked around and said, “Nice place. Sure smells good.”

Kelly gave Vince a rueful look. “There goes my hiding place. As soon as we have a detail coming up here to do anything, it’s business-as-usual. I can see us conferencing right through to the fortune cookie. Oh,” Kelly went on, throwing the paper from his cookie at Vince. “My fortune said, ‘You will find many answers to your questions.’” He laughed, putting his uniform jacket on. “That happens to be one of my favorite fortunes. Kind of covers everything a cop might need.”

_______

Vince felt like he was smiling until it hurt as soon as he turned the Corvette’s engine over. He drove with the top up to the parking space behind his tailoring suite. He saw the light on. “Oh, good,” he thought. “Gino must be working late.” He remembered that Gino had said he was going to try and catch up with some of the wedding garb alterations and a few outstanding (slightly late) men’s wear orders. He got out of the car, locked up and walked over to Rochelle’s. Tonight, he was still a little bit jumpy about parking on State Street.

 

 

Chapter Forty-Six

Guy Rochelle looked up, startled, when Vincente walked up to his office door. Vince slipped his wingtips off into the boot tray and walked into the office.

“Why, hello, Mr. Bonaventura.” Guy looked at his watch and let out an embarrassed chuckle. “I must have forgotten your appointment.”

“That’s okay,” said Vince putting a stack of receipts on Guy’s desk. “The cops found my car,” he added, sitting down heavily.

“Really?” said Guy with a small smile. Then he frowned quickly and looked down.

Vince heard footsteps in the hall coming from the direction of the back stairs and Harry Rochelle’s office. Guy got up from his chair suddenly, knocking over a cup filled with pens and pencils, scattering them all over the desktop. While he was mumbling to himself and collecting the writing implements, someone walked into the office, hidden behind Vincente’s back.

“Oh,” said Guy, looking flushed as Vince turned slightly and was greeted by the sight of a man who looked exactly like Guy Rochelle. Exactly like Guy Rochelle.

“This is my twin brother. We’re identical,” explained Guy in a voice so low that Vince could barely hear him.

“It’s okay, Harry,” said the man who had walked around the desk and now stood directly in front of them. “You can tell him who I really am.”

“Uh,” whispered Guy.

“I think it’s time he knew.” The twin smiled and extended his hand (which, Vince observed, had a small healed-over scar on the side). “I’m actually the real Guy Rochelle. The person you thought was me, is Harry, my twin. I had some problems meeting clients due to personal and family reasons.”

“But, Guy…” said Harry, turning red and obviously becoming slightly angry.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” answered Guy trying to calm his brother. “It’s about time I met some of the clients I have been missing.” Turning to Vince, he said, “I am the one who has been doing your accounting. I just had some difficulties actually meeting clients.

“I had some problems due to a separation from my wife, so things were sort of disorganized for a while.” Guy pulled up a chair and sat down. “I have a couple of kids, too.”

Vincente looked from Harry to Guy and back to Harry again.

“Where’s your Corvette?” asked the real Guy nonchalantly, as he grabbed a stack of receipts and thumbed through them. Both of the other men startled at this.

“How did you know I had a Corvette?” asked Vince.

“Oh. Uh, I saw it from my brother’s window. I saw you get in it and drive away several times,” answered Guy.

Vince took a quiet, intuitive dislike to Harry’s brother. The whole thing made sense, but Harry could have told him the truth without using that elaborate ruse. He didn’t like this situation, but decided to give Guy a break. For now, anyway. He could always find another accounting firm if he changed his mind later.

As if reading his mind, Harry looked at Vince, pleading with his eyes. “Uh, that’s true. Guy has been having some difficulties. I guess,” said Harry, smiling slightly at his brother, “you must have pulled things together a little bit more than usual.”

“You bet I did,” said Guy. “I had divorce papers served on my wife this morning.”

“You’re going through with it?” said Harry, sounding surprised.

“I have to, Harry. I can’t take this limbo anymore.” Guy looked over at Vince. “Sorry, Mr. Bonaventura. I just had to clear the air.” Vince spread his hands. “Things just came to a boiling point. My wife and I have been separated over a year. I felt that I had to make the decision for both of us.”

“I don’t blame you,” said Harry.

Guy’s eyes suddenly filled with tears. “I’m trying…” he said in a choked voice. He put the papers back down on his desk, got up and walked out of the office.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bonaventura,” said Harry. “Let me speak to my brother a moment.”

Vince spread his hands again. He glanced at his watch out of the corner of his eye as he lowered his left arm. He adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. Close to nine. He wanted to go home. Thinking about it again, he gathered his papers, put them in his briefcase and rose. He was starting to get peeved. No, actually, he felt a rising anger. He didn’t need this. After that weird break-in and the interruption in his work schedule caused by the briefly stolen Corvette, he was building up a head of steam. He was thinking of hiring someone else to do his accounting. Who would blame him?

He heard Harry’s door slam shut and the two brothers arguing with slightly raised voices. He grabbed a pen and a piece of notebook paper and wrote a note to Guy/Harry explaining that one of them should call him.

As he walked out into the hallway and bent over to put his shoes on, he heard one of the men, probably the new Harry, say, “You’ll see. You probably just lost one of your best customers. You said…you promised that you would at least let me keep your clientele.”

Feeling like a rat, Vince snuck quietly out of the building and began the short walk to his own office building. State Street was deserted this time of night, as usual. He heard the sound of a car slow down behind him. His mind swam. It seemed as if he would never stop being paranoid.

_______

A silver Mercedes drew up next to him. As much as he wanted to forgive Bannister Willis -- he still wouldn’t mind if Bannister would just disappear -- vanish from his life. Just go away.

The back window of the Mercedes rolled down soundlessly and Bannister’s pale face appeared.

“Hey, Vince.”

“Hello, Bannister. How are you?” asked Vince, a little irritated, but trying to sound polite.

“That depends…”

Vince felt his heart start to pound. “On what?” he asked -- as if he really wanted to know.

“On whether or not I can trust you…”

Like you can,” thought Vince.

“ Come on, get in. I’ll give you a ride to your train -- or to your house.”

“Um. I can walk, Bannister. I have my car at the office.” He saw Bannister’s face fall, then added, “Well, you can drive me to my office.”

“Okay. Get in the back with me. I need to talk to you.”

Vince got in next to Bannister, noting the usual chauffeur. The car started to move smoothly forward on State towards Adams.

Bannister turned to face Vincente. “I’m on my way back to New England. I am going overseas from there.”

Vince looked at him in askance. “What about Princeton?”

Bannister’s mouth drooped, making him look like a sad, little boy -- like when the two of them used to wear overalls and no shirt in Mooringsport. Vulnerable. He looked alone and vulnerable.

“What is it, Benny?” It had been a lifetime since Vince had called Bannister by his nickname. “Hmm?…”

“Ah, Vince. I had to take a leave of absence from Princeton. If that works, I’ll be able to go back sometime and possibly salvage my job there. The Feds have charged some of my relatives with trafficking. Those damn Scotts…So far Princeton knows nothing about the charges. But the Feds have been at my family home and searched it. I have enough money to live overseas for the rest of my life.

“ Maybe I can work for a pharmacist in England under a false name or something.” His voice faltered, “I mean, if things don’t work out. You know I am a tenured professor. A full professor. My family tried not to involve me too much. That’s why I tried to break up the delivery of the cocaine a little. Things were getting hot. The Feds caught some of my go-betweens with counterfeit tax stamps and false pharmaceutical labels for the cocaine -- and they linked that to me.”

Bannister reached behind him and lifted a familiar wooden box. He seemed to be crying. “I really wanted you to have this.” He handed the box to Vincente. Vince opened it. It was the old chess set. Vince threw his arm around Bannister‘s shoulder and said, hugging him a little, “You know I love you, man. I kind of thought it was you all along and I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.”

Bannister continued, “You know cocaine was not a heavy charge back in ‘50. It is now. And it looks like the charges will just escalate in the future. It is not a safe racket anymore.” He smiled a little at Vince.

Bannister wiped his damp forehead with a handkerchief. “From New England, I have a berth on a fishing ship bound for Europe.” He turned to face Vincente. “That is, by the way, why your shop was ransacked. The FBI was looking for powder cocaine and any written evidence of your participation in our cartel.”

“The Scotts?”

“Yeah. They are trying to plea bargain their coke and some local heroin dealing charges by blowing the whistle on both you and me, and get out of part of their sentences. I don’t think it will work. You are clean. And, if I am lucky, they won’t catch me. And they don‘t have any evidence that I know of. My uncle is the one who is taking the fall.”

“If you are lucky.”

“ I’m feeling that way. Damn. I wish I had never met those idiot Scotts. The Feds have our land in Peru under surveillance according to my relatives. My uncle was arrested there. The Peruvians are also making cocaine trafficking illegal. They have some of our powder from there and the packaging matches the kilo that they got at the Scott’s cabin. So I have to run. They do not have much on you, though. Other than the fact that we know each other -- which isn’t enough to charge you.”

Bannister paused a moment, and added, “If you still smoke weed -- I’d hide it if I were you. They could search your home, too.”

Vince froze and thought of Julie’s doll and his cigar box.

“ I’m sure they’ll have their hands full trying to catch me. But I am used to this. We’ll be driving. This car is actually registered to my bodyguard -- the guy who is driving.

“No one, not the Scotts or Small or even Eustis Parker know him personally, or his name. We’ll be changing cars here in Chicago, anyway.

“I think the DEA and the FBI are watching your friends Jim Kelly and the Yangs, as well. I doubt if even the Captain is aware of either federal bureau or their investigation.”

Vince felt his face get hot. “Well, I’ll be good God damned,” he thought.

“We both know they won’t find anything, since there is nothing to find anymore,” commented Bannister as the car pulled up in front of Harper’s building. Vince got out and stood on the curb, leaning over and putting his elbow on top of the open car door.

 

Three dark-colored cars with Mars lights flashing and sirens screaming screeched around a corner onto LaSalle. Bannister’s car pulled away, speeding up with the back door still open, knocking Vince to the ground.

One of the unmarked cars pulled up next to Vince’s prone body. Two men in dark jackets and watch caps leaped out of the car, guns leveled at Vincente. The other two cars raced after the Mercedes.

FBI! Stay down! Put your hands behind your back!” barked one agent as Vince tried to get up from the sidewalk where he had fallen when Bannister’s car had sped away. “Hey, Pat, it’s only that Bonaventura guy. Ain’t no big time gangster here,” commented the agent who had commanded that he stay down. He sounded disappointed. He continued talking, “Should we bring him in for questioning?”

“I’ll call in and ask on the radio. It’s probably a waste of time. We need Willis himself.”

“Yeah,” replied the agent holding Vince on the ground, scratching his head and making a rough sound on his crew cut with his fingernails, something like a match on a friction strip. “And maybe that guy who left the door open for us. He might be a member of the Willis cartel. Those Scotts and Small are a bunch of liars. They will never get their plea deal.”

“What the hell were you doing with Bannister Willis? I think you should stay away from him,” said the agent that was still continuing to hold Vince’s face to the gritty sidewalk. Vince grunted. The wooden box holding the chess set dug into his stomach painfully. One of the agents relieved him of it and opened it, examining it carefully. Vince thought, “What guy who left the door open? There was yet another thief? Maybe the State Street jewel thief…who likes nice suits? That was a real mind-twister for him.”

The other agent lit a cigarette and went on conversationally, as if Vince was not there. “We broke that Willis cartel from Tennessee to Peru. This guy is only a tailor. There isn’t any evidence of anything else. We did his house and office and didn’t find even a note, let alone any dope.” Vince grunted again. “Don’t worry,” said the other agent intuitively with a laugh, handing the chess set back to him as he returned from their car. “We were more careful this time. Our supervisor said to tell you we do not need to bring you in, but to be prepared to be called in for questioning if we need you.”

“Yeah,” answered Vince’s captor. “We decided not to dump your place. I mean, the fact that it is becoming clearer that the Scotts tried to frame you a second time means something to us.”

“Can I get up now?” Vince broke in.

“Yeah. Sure,” said the guy with the crew cut.

Vince stood up and stretched, brushing himself off as both agents started to pat him down and looked inside his briefcase. His nose was cut and bleeding. His clothes were dirty and wet.

“Cigarette?” asked one of the agents, offering Vince a pack.

“Don’t smoke,” answered Vincente.

_______

Having the Corvette back was almost compensation for being knocked down by Bannister and held at gunpoint by the Feds. Vincente felt better when he walked around the back of the Harper building and saw his Corvette. He breathed out loudly. The two FBI agents had handed him their card and released him after telling him that he could still be called in and not to go anywhere without calling them. The lights were on and Gino was still working when Vincente walked up the back alley.

He opened the car, started the engine and pulled out of his parking space. He had not wanted to waste any time going upstairs to speak to Gino before he drove home. He would call. Gino would understand. He blew his horn a couple of times. Gino’s face appeared in one of the windows and he waved.

Vince put on speed as he entered Wacker Drive. Despite a light drizzle, he decided to put the top down and the radio on. As he flipped through the stations, the middle chorus from one of his all-time favorite songs caught his attention. Dominico Modugno’s light tenor lofted around and above him, singing in Italian. The Corvette moved down the highway like magic with its highly-tuned miniature V-8 making a fine hum, carefully at pace with the far away traffic; the last stragglers from rush hour. Even this late at night.

Vince pulled off onto a shoulder of the Dan Ryan and unsnapped the convertible top. As he reached over, pressed the automatic and the top started to fold down, he turned the radio up and heard this refrain:

 

Volare, oh, oh!

Cantare, oh, oh, oh, oh!

 

Vince snapped the folded top into place, jumped back in the Corvette and sang along loudly as the wind captured his voice and the lights of the city began to pull further away, giving way to only an occasional set of yellow industrial parking lot lights and a deep rural sort of undefined dark.

 

Nel blu, dipinto di blu.

Felice di stare lassù

 

[E volavo volavo
Felice più in alto del sole
Ed ancora più sù,
Mentre il mondo
Pian piano spariva laggiù,
Una musica dolce suonava
Soltanto per me.]

[Volare oh oh!
Cantare oh oh oh oh!
Nel blu dipinto di blu
Felice di stare lassù.]

 

(“Volare” lyrics by Dominico Modugno.)

 

That song always made him feel contented. It did so now, even though all kinds of weird things had happened to him (and he had an additional worry about his accounting firm).

Driving the rest of the way home with the top down, he could not help whistling that catchy tune as he parked in his garage and walked into the house.

It was close to ten, but Julie was still wide-awake, surrounded by homework papers, school workbooks and four or five balloons wrapped in wet papìer-maché newspaper strips. The rug was rolled back, exposing the ugly rubber floor-covering squares underneath it. The floor squares were dark chocolate with seriously unartistic multi-colored speckles in them, derserving of a unilateral “Ugh!!”

“What’s up, Honey Bun?” said Vince, bending over to give his daughter a kiss.

“Don’t touch anything,” replied Julietta without looking up. “I’m making puppets for a school project.”

“That sure is some ugly linoleum,” commented Vince as he hung his London Fog in the den closet.

“I know,” said Julie, agreeably.

Vince undid his bow tie and opened the buttons down the front of his dress shirt. “What are you giving Gino and Angelica for their wedding present?”

“Money. I didn’t have time to get a gift.”

“I don’t think they need four dollars and thirty-five cents.”

“Forty-nine cents. I found some pennies.”

“Hmm?”

“Doll clothes.”

“You’re giving them doll clothes?”

“Yeah. I don’t know how to make baby clothes yet. I made them one set for a boy doll and one set for a girl.” Julie picked up a dry papìer machéd balloon, popped it loudly and laughed. She started painting a face on the dry, hard mold with tempera paints. “That way I can keep my four dollars.”

“Make that fifty cents,” said Vince, throwing a penny at her back.

“Hey, be careful. Thank you,” she said without turning around. “I love pennies.”

“I’ll remember that…”

“I hope so. By the way, you are one lousy detective.”

Hunh?” answered Vincente, surprised at the change of subject. Forgetting that Julie had dealt with the FBI search all by herself. “I’m deputized -- not a detective. I’m more like a constable.”

_______

At Vincente’s house, the FBI had searched as much as they could without dumping out drawers, etc. They did not really think that he was involved in the coke trade by that time. As Julietta freaked out, she showed them around herself, playing hostess. She knew what they were looking for and held her doll the entire time, acting simple. She spoke to the doll like a kid (which she was), calling her “Josie”. Although she was crying inside, she played it ultra-cool for daddy and her home. She made sure that if the agents disturbed anything, she put it back in place.

Now, she got smart with her dad, as usual, saying, “Yeah, right. Some constable you are.”

He grabbed her and swung her upside down and then around and over his shoulder.

“Hey,” she said, weakly, dropping her doll on the floor. “Don’t step on my dolly,” she continued as Josie’s head fell off and her neck trickled a small amount of marijuana.

Vince answered, “Sorry, Josie,” and picked the doll up, tacking her head back on and putting her on an end table in a sitting position. He leaned over with Julie still over his shoulder and kissed the doll on the lips as Romeo walked through the weed scattered on the ugly linoleum -- scattering it some more.

“I put your cigar box outside in the garden when they were searching the house. You know they figured I was just a dumb, little girl. They never suspected a thing,” said his competent daughter as he lowered her to the floor, right side up. He landed hard in his easy chair, getting tired all of a sudden.

Vince was, again, just a step out of the way of danger. Just a step out of the way.

_______

The phone interrupted them with a loud, alarming jolt.

Damn it,” said Vincente, getting up out of his easy chair with a groan.

“Don’t swear,” commented Julie, hypocritically. Like father, like daughter.

The phone repeated a jangling, dinner-bell-on-the-ranch type alert again.

Julie,” Vince shouted from the kitchen, as he picked the receiver up. “I wish you would stop turning this phone up!”

“I had to,” she shouted back. “I need to hear it outside.”

“Then turn it back down again! Hello?” responded Vince to the large black handle of the phone. The sound of someone clearing their throat was flung into his ear.

“Mr. Bonaventura?”

Vince tensed. “It was Guy. Aw, shit, Harry,” he thought. “Yes?” he said aloud.

“Sorry…”

“Look, Harry, or whoever this is…”

“Harry.”

“Harry. I need some time right now.”

“Mr. Bonaventura, Vince, my brother is really an okay guy. He promised me tonight that he is moving out of his office and getting an apartment.”

“Oh, great,” replied Vincente, cynically (not realizing until now that Guy actually lived in his accounting office -- and still could not meet with clients), “just what I needed to cheer me up. That changes everything.”

There was a long, soft silence on the line. Vince swore he could smell rose incense coming from the phone. Well, at least he could take a guess that this might really be Harry.

“Uh, Mr. Bonaventura, Vince,” Harry started again, saying, “we need your business. I have supported Guy through this whole separation thing and I think he is going to be someone that you can trust as much as you trusted me.”

Vince paused as a rush of regret flooded his mind. “Okay, Harry, Guy…”

“Harry.”

“Harry. One more chance. Let’s just not play games with this twin thing. That’s the part that got me. It was unnecessary. You could have used your real names and given some excuse. I would have understood it if Guy could not make an evening appointment.”

“Sorry. For a while, when you first started coming over, I thought Guy might start showing up. It’s just that he’s had too many financial and emotional problems. I needed to try and keep his business together, so he wouldn’t loose everything. It is just so easy to fall into the trap of using our likeness to our advantage without explanation.”

“Well, you’re a good man, Harry. Okay…” responded Vince more amiably as he stretched the phone cord to the refrigerator and looked to see what would make a good snack. The pool of light from the fridge lit up Romeo’s curled up little body leaning against the warm lower panel of the appliance, sound asleep. Romeo started to snore as soon as Vince opened the fridge door.

Vince grabbed a leftover dish of stuffed shells, put them on the kitchen table and bit into one. Mmm…good cold, too. He muffled the rest of his sentence through the cheese filling, “I’ll give you another chance. I’ll see you both -- or whatever -- next week.”

“Oh,” exclaimed Harry. “Oh, thanks so much, Mr. Bonaventura. Thank you.”

Vince swallowed the pasta that had stuck in his throat. “You’re welcome,” he repeated as he coughed, then hiccupped.

“We’ll be looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks again.”

Covering the phone with his hand, Vince belched quietly, then said, “Bye, then.”

“Good night, Mr. Bonaventura,” said Harry in a happy voice.

Vince slammed the receiver down, disgusted with himself for forgiving Guy and Harry, thinking about his old friend Bannister Willis and how much trouble he had gotten him into.

Aw, shit,” he thought to himself. “Just kick me.”

 

 

 

Chapter Forty-Seven

The rest of the week, Vincente celebrated being back behind the wheel of his beloved yellow Corvette, treasuring each moment. Exercising the convertible top, cruising around the neighborhood, and driving over the speed limit on late night rides home from the tailoring suite -- once in a while anyway. He had found his Debussy stuck between his desk and the wall, where it must have fallen during the FBI search. That still did not explain the missing bolts of cloth. The FBI were thieves? It was not likely.

And, he had a date with Chun-hua on Saturday. He started to hum, thinking, [_ “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie -- That’s amore!…When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool -- That's amore!” _] All of Gino’s wedding clothing was ready. Life was good. And no Vito to fight with in bed. He spread his arms wide like Dean Martin and sang to himself, loudly.

He figured that Julietta was busy visiting friends around the neighborhood. It was Halloween, although Julie didn’t like the holiday all that much. But it was part of the usual kid’s stuff in this tract-home division next to the Eisenhower.

Vince slid his Corvette into the garage after a shortened workday. He had promised Julie that he would be home early to give out treats (bags of cheesy homemade popcorn) to her friends. As he walked in the door, he was astonished to see his daughter sitting on the floor, watching the TV with the record player going at the same time in the other room, rather annoyingly.

He could not hear anything but the overly loud introduction to a re-run of The Adventures of Superman.

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!)

Yes, it’s Superman … strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman … who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!”

Julie was finishing off a gallon carton of Neapolitan ice cream, dressed in her Minnie Mouse costume (which Angelica and Gino had made for her). The place reeked of marijuana. Romeo was loudly licking his feet. And Julie had strawberry and chocolate stains all down the front of her costume on Minnie’s white spot and part of her mouse skirt.

Vincente put his coat and hat in the front closet. The air had been getting colder, so he had been wearing his stretchy wool ear warmers underneath his argyle sports cap. He pulled the warmers off so he could hear and put them away.

“You’re eating junk food?! You’re eating junk food?!” Vincente exclaimed with compassionate horror. His daughter did not answer. “Julie?!

Julie answered, not taking her eyes off the TV and spooning the last of the ice cream into her mouth. “I smoked marijuana with some of my friends. They said that we were going to get busted. That’s good, because then they won’t ask for any more. I said they wouldn’t get arrested because they are too young. The worst they could get was counseling from Father Anselmo, which is pretty awful anyway. Seriously. That would be too bad for them.”

Vince sat down on the floor next to Julie. “What’s wrong, Honey?”

“Nothing,” answered Julietta, not looking at her father.

“You sound upset.”

“I am.”

“What happened?” questioned Vincente, rubbing Julie’s back.

Julietta moved away from his touch, saying, “Don’t touch me.”

Vince reacted with hurt. “What is it? What’s the matter?” he asked, concern filtering across his brow.

“ I need more money,” began Julie, crossly. “I do all the housework around here. None of the other kids have to cook for their parents --” Julie paused with a frown. “And I’m not going to cook for you anymore.” She was silent as her dad stifled a gasp of dismay.

“I left a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. You can wash them yourself. And I did not cook any food. I went out to White Castle and bought hamburgers and fries for myself. I think you need to hire someone else to work here. I’m tired of being your servant. None of the other kids have to clean anything but their own rooms. They don’t even wash dishes.”

Vince leaned over and scooped his daughter up into his arms. She squirmed and tried to wriggle out of his grasp. Giving up, her chest started to heave in big sobs as her Minnie Mouse ears fell off and landed on Romeo’s innocent little head. Romeo groaned and stretched his legs, letting the mouse ear hat lop to the side of his head and hang off one ear. Vince could hear the record player stick, clicking and spinning repeatedly, in the other room.

Julie,” Vince said helplessly as he hugged her.

She gasped out each word of explanation between sobs, “Rico-Valente-scared-me…”

“What on earth did he do to you?”

“ He-jumped-out-at-me,” Julie continued with heart-rending sobs still breaking up her speech. Then, she calmed and got control of herself, putting one arm around Vincente’s neck, sticking her thumb in her mouth and leaning sideways to look at him. “He says I ruined Vito because he takes off to visit other dogs -- mostly females,” she lisped through her thumb.

“But that’s normal. How can he say that you caused that? Want me to talk to him?”

“No. He threw a sheet over my head and put me in the bushes.”

“Did it hurt?” Vince asked, a little appalled.

“ No. It just scared me. I was out for a little early trick or treating, you know I don’t eat the candy -- I just give it away. I just keep the money and the good stuff like apples and popcorn. Anyway, he jumped out at me from behind someone’s house. He was disguised in a Halloween costume and I did not know who it was. I thought I was getting abducted or something. He scared the shit out of me.” Julie put her thumb back in her mouth obstinately after repeating the s-word. Her wire-reinforced Minnie Mouse tail moved back and forth behind her back. Her mouse skirt got caught on the wire and flipped up revealing her mouse underwear: lace-ruffled black panties.

“You can have more money, you know,” said Vince.

“Good,” answered Julie, without taking her thumb out.

“How much do you want?”

“Five dollars a week,” said Julie noncommittally, her words still muffled by her thumb.

Vince whistled.

“You can afford it,” commented Julie coldly, taking her thumb out of her mouth and putting it back in.

“ Okay, Honey Bunch, you got a raise.” Vince paused, then said softly --practically whispering -- into his daughter’s ear, “Do you really want me to hire some household help?”

“ No, not really. I was just angry because you’re never home like the other kid’s parents -- Anastasio bullied me ‘cause you weren’t here and he knew it. I went and told his mother what he did and she said she’d talk to him. She gave me a hug and drove me home, but I cried all the way. He is really big for his age.” Julie played with Vince’s cheek with the three free fingers of her right hand as she continued to suck her thumb. He laughed inadvertently.

“It’s just a small thing, Julie. We’ve been through so much more. You can afford to forgive Rico. It’s a mean old world out there and when we can, we need to forgive.”

“I know. When Rico apologizes, I’ll forgive him.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Romeo must have gone into the other room, bumped into the record player which was on the floor, setting the single playing again. The bass started to rock and roll. The little puglese walked out of the bedroom and down the hall, wiggling his little, friendly butt.

 

Take out the papers and the trash

or you don’t get no spendin’ cash.

 

If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor,

you ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.

 

Yakety yak. (Don’t talk back.)”

(“Yakety-Yak“ by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. )

 

Romeo came over jumped on Vince’s already crowded lap and gave him one short, neat shot in the face with his tongue. Julietta jumped off Vince with the dog, put him on the floor and went down the hall to get ready for bed. “Goodnight, Mr. Calabash,” she called, laughing, as she went into her bedroom.

“Funny you,” shouted Vince as she retreated.

“Funny you, too,” sassed Julie right back at him, “L’amo il papà.” (I love you, daddy.)

 

Chapter Forty-Eight

The next evening, Harry was packing up Guy’s personal things and had rented a U-Haul truck. Guy was meeting him at his new apartment on the near North Side.

Joe Frederico, the janitor, mentioned to Harry (as he was helping him carry Guy’s mattress out of the building) that Guy had a storage unit in the basement. Harry was surprised, since Guy had never mentioned this. But then, his brother had rarely spoken to him recently, other than to tell him where to find his client’s accounting files.

Harry followed Joe to the last padlocked unit and opened the latch with a screwdriver. Joe left to start cleaning the hallways and common areas in the building upstairs, telling Harry to let him know when he was finished so that he could screw the latch back on and continue helping him carry things out to the U-Haul truck.

Harry turned the lights on and began to look around. He looked at the small machine sitting on the worktable, then saw the blowtorch and the spools of wire. He frowned. He saw a pair of thick goggle-type glasses and tried them on. They magnified the spool of wire he was looking at. He sat down on Guy’s workshop stool.

“This,” he thought to himself, “looks like a jewelry centrifuge and clay molds, maybe.” He picked up a spool of the wire again. “And these might be spools of gold and silver wire.”

He rubbed his head and thought, “Why would Guy have jewelry making equipment? Why, on top of that, would he not tell me about it?” He, of course, would ask Guy about this tonight. Perhaps he was worried about supporting his family and started learning a new profession.

As Harry rose to leave, a few cardboard cartons on some shelves along the wall caught his eye. He noticed that the cartons were labeled with Japanese characters that indicated a food product, but Harry‘s Japanese was not that good, so he went over and opened a flap on the carton and looked at the contents. He assumed it was another type of jewelry making element. The words inside the carton were in English, as if the carton was used to mask the contents.

“[_ Plastique -- C3 -- Danger! ] [_Contents contain explosives!] Harry read on a package inside the carton. He was stunned. Something -- everything -- came together in his mind. “Oh, no,” he thought. A spontaneous tear trickled down from his eye. He put a square of the British plastic explosive in his hand. He had been in the military in World War II -- in one of the Air Force units that took part in the firebombing of Berlin.

Plastic explosives was well known among the fly boys. They delivered crates of it to resistance fighters all over Europe -- for demolition saboteurs. It was an early war-time use of Alfred Nobel’s invention, usually called dynamite powder (and thereafter, probably dedicated to Elizabeth the Second’s father, King George the Sixth), which contained a certain percentage of the volatile element called the Royal Demolition Explosive (or RDX). Hence the connection with King George.

Harry shut off the lights and went upstairs. He found Joe mopping the first floor hall. “Thanks, Joe,” said Harry, his palms sweating from the new realization of what he might have to do. “You can close the unit now. I can’t figure out what that stuff is. I’ll have to talk to Guy about it. He doesn’t have his home phone connected yet, so I’ll have to talk to him when I get to his place tonight. If he wants anything from the storage unit, I can drive over in my car and pick it up later. It’s all pretty small anyway.” Harry paused, wiping his hands on the inside of his jacket pockets, swallowing. “Except for the boxes. But, I can put them in my trunk.”

Joe looked up, replacing his mop in the bucket. “Okay, Mr. Rochelle, I’ll go down and fix the latch again,” he answered, wheeling the mop and bucket against a wall.

________

Harry finished closing up the U-Haul, drove over to a bakery and bought a dozen brownies and a few cold cans of Nehi soda. Then he drove over to Guy’s small one bedroom.

The two brothers emptied the U-Haul truck and brought everything upstairs. They brought up the last of the furniture, a couch. After they put it in place in Guy‘s small living room, Harry sat down on it, picked up a can opener, opened a can of Nehi orange soda by punching two triangles in the top of the can on opposite sides of each other with a spritz and handed the bag of brownies to Guy with a smile.

Phew! Glad that’s done,” Harry sighed, leaning back into the cushions and gulping the cold soda.

“Thanks, buddy,” responded Guy, grabbing a can of strawberry Nehi and the can opener, digging into the brownies hungrily and poking holes in the top of his can. He took off his new, rather expensive-looking suit jacket and put it over the back of the couch.

“No problem. I spoke to Vincente Bonaventura last night.” Harry squinted at Guy’s new jacket suspiciously.

“Really?”

“Yeah. He’s willing to keep his account with us.”

“Wow. That’s great,” answered Guy brushing some crumbs from his lap.

Harry smiled again and watched as Guy ate another brownie. His brother closed his eyes.

“Better wake up, you have to return the truck,” laughed his brother, with a lighter tone in his voice than usual.

Guy laughed with him and opened his eyes.

Harry said, “Oh, I forgot. Joe showed me your storage unit and I wanted to ask you if you wanted any of those things over here. I packed them up and brought them with me.”

 

Guy stiffened visibly.

“I noticed that you must have been learning a new trade,” commented Harry suavely. “Where did you learn how to make jewelry?” Harry’s eyes began to sharpen and his smile faded slightly.

Guy looked down to avoid his eyes and spilled some strawberry soda on his shirt. “Uh, yeah, I took a night school course.” He looked across the couch at Harry and tried to smile as he wiped his shirt with his hand ineffectually. He got a little tense, thinking about that weird southern guy, Alder Willis and what he had said about knowing things. He hoped…

“I suppose you took a course in World War II explosives, too.”

 

Guy seemed to be getting suddenly tired. His head began to droop. He dropped his soda on the floor and tried to stand up, looking desperate, like he wanted to run out the door. Harry rose too and grabbed Guy’s arm, pulling him down. Guy slumped back onto the couch looking dizzy, but still conscious.

I know what you did,” hissed Harry. “I put a dose of opium in these brownies because I need some explanations from you.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” slurred Guy, trying to keep his eyes open. “Harry…!”

“Don’t try and get me to sympathize with you. I have a deal for you, Guy. After we discuss what you’ve been doing.”

Guy slumped to his side and fell unconscious. Harry got up, pulled Guy to the floor and got some strapping that he had purchased from U-Haul. He strapped Guy’s arms to his back, and then strapped his legs together tightly.

Harry began to pace back and forth in the living room and cleaned up the spilled soda. He sat down on the couch. After about an hour, he went into the kitchen and got a dishrag. He went to the sink and soaked it in cold water. He also got a bottle of ammonia from the cabinet underneath the sink. Walking back into the living room, he knelt down and pressed the cold, wet cloth to Guy’s face, passing the opened bottle of ammonia under Guy’s nose.

Guy’s eyelids fluttered and opened. He took a deep breath and began to cry, rolling back and forth on the wooden floor.

“Shut up,” said Harry in a harsh voice.

“Let me go, Harry. I didn’t do anything.”

Yes, you did. You were making new settings for the gems you stole up and down State Street.”

“Honest to God, Harry, I didn’t…”

Be quiet!” Harry exploded, standing up suddenly, almost knocking over the soda at his foot. He reached over and grabbed it, swinging it up to his side. He tipped his soda, and sipped it, eyeing his brother coldly. He took his time responding. Then he said in a quiet tone with a deep sense of impatience, “I have no intention of turning you in.” He paused and his voice softened slightly as he continued, “Guy, I want something from you.”

Guy rolled over to look at his brother. “Anything,” Guy panted. “I’ll share everything…”

“That’s not necessary. I don’t want that. I want you to stop. That means no car theft type joy rides. No breaking into jewelry shops. No breaking into Bonaventura’s shop. Nothing. Or I’ll turn you in. I mean it.”

“How did you know I took the car?” asked Guy, surprised.

“Sounds like you. Greed, my dear brother. Greed. Makes you feel better? After the break-up with your wife?”

 

Guy began to cry in earnest now. He stopped and, looking angry now, he said, “And, by the way, I did not break into Bonaventura’s shop.”

“Then who did? I don’t trust you to tell the truth. It would cause too much trouble for the both of us if I turned you in. Besides, all I have from you is circumstantial: some illegal explosives; and some assumptions about your emotional state. A missing recording of Debussy. Two bolts of expensive material. A jewelry workshop. That explains the new suits which I did not think you had the money to buy. Like that jacket you had on just now.

“By the way, how much did you make from all of the gems you took?”

Guy stopped crying and looked at his brother. “About a million dollars. A Debussy record? New suits? I don’t know anything about that. This jacket was off the rack. It’s cut well, that’s all. It was on sale.”

Harry whistled. “Can you make settings for less expensive gems?”

“Of course. I’m an expert.”

 

“Well, that’s what you will be doing in the future to supplement your CPA business and pay your alimony. I can easily sell jewelry from my own store. Legitimate stuff. You keep the money you made with the stolen jewels to send your children to college and buy them homes when they marry. It will be enough even to send your grandchildren to college.” Harold narrowed his eyes at Guy and said icily, “If you don’t agree…”

“I agree,” responded Guy quickly.

“Good. Any problems and I can probably find a way to have you charged and locked up.” Harry paused and put his empty soda can on the floor. “Do you have any of the stolen gems left?”

“One or two.”

“How do you sell them?”

“I make new settings, as you know, and I mail the completed jewelry to Thailand where my partner sells them to European tourists.”

“Clever.”

“It worked. With the kids and the mortgage, my income was just not enough to support two households.”

“Do you think there will be any problems with your partner?”

“No. He has other, um, clients.”

“A regular fence?”

“Yes.”

“You won’t tell Bonaventura about the car, will you? I just had to give myself a ride in that thing, especially since I pick locks rather easily.” commented Guy. “I don’t even like Debussy. He sounds like he’s out of tune. I don’t have any idea who took it -- or who broke in there. Maybe it was his landlord. You know they do things like that sometimes.”

“I won’t tell Vincente. I doubt if the break-in was from his landlord. Why would he ransack the place? Don’t lie to me! Make sure you don’t wear those suits to work.”

“Okay, I broke in there once. Bonaventura makes enough money to cover that material. I know, I have seen his profits.”

 

Harry watched the last of the sun disappear through the window as the Chicago skyline drew its outline against streaks of pink and blue clouds. Like a fantasy.

Harry then went over and released the strapping on Guy’s chest and legs. Guy crawled over to the couch, pulled himself up and sat down, sinking into the cushions, crying with tears of remorse streaming down his cheeks. He buried his face in his hands.

“Well, telling the truth is a beginning. By the way, Guy, how did you learn to pick locks?”

“From a book.”

 

 

Epilogue

 

Captain James Kelly was leaning against his squad car, chewing a long wooden matchstick, talking to Vince. He shook his head and took the match out of his mouth and pointed it at Vince, saying, “I don’t understand it. It’s been about a month, and there have been no break-ins anywhere in our targeted area around State Street. Those robberies just seemed to have stopped all of a sudden.”

“Yeah. It’s really remarkable. Wonder what happened?” responded Vince as he took his driving gloves off. He dug the lucky silver dollar out of his pocket and started to flip it into the air off the tip of his thumb and catch it with the same hand while he was musing.

 

Their unanswered questions seemed to rise in the wind of the darkening Chicago evening.

The two of them were standing behind the Harper building. Vince was leaning against his yellow Corvette, nonchalantly, standing with his legs crossed. He put his hands into his pockets and started to whistle. The building lights went on and the two men were illuminated as the dark started accumulating around them. Gino and Angelica were shadowed periodically in the windows far above them on the fifth floor.

 

 

 

 

281

 


Jitterbug

A soft, non-graphic novel of the historical Fifties (1950-1958).Vincente Bonaventura is a dashing, fancy-dressing tailor/farmer from the dark cypress bayous of northern Louisiana, near Mooringsport. He seeks his fortune selling Fuller Brush and Electrolux vacuum cleaners door-to-door around the south while raising his infant daughter Julietta. An old childhood "friend" Bannister Willis stashes 5 kilos of uncut cocaine in the trunk of his Studebaker at a gas station in the backwaters of Tennessee, forcing Vince to mysteriously mail it General Delivery to the Princeton Department of Archaeology where it will be picked up. The gas station owner kidnaps Julietta due to carelessness on Vince's part and without the approval of Bannister who only wanted Vince's help. He did not want to hurt him. Vince is forced to participate as a cocaine mule for fear that something might happen to Julietta. For the next eight years Vince must dodge the Willis drug cartel, raise his daughter and try and figure out, first: who is doing this to him, and second: how to get out of it. From Caddo Lake, Louisiana, through Charlottesville; Philadelphia; Atlantic City; the Boston area; Monterrey, Mexico and back into the United States to Chicago, Julie helps her father mediate the Willis cartel and a minor contingent of the Boston mob. First book in the Bonaventura Cozy Mystery Series. The next book covers the sixties: it is entitled TIE DYE.

  • ISBN: 9781311475619
  • Author: Cathy Smith aka Sophia Watson aka Zara Brooks-Watson
  • Published: 2016-04-23 01:35:42
  • Words: 97646
Jitterbug Jitterbug