Book II: Red Harvest
Part I: Scenes I-IV
Jack Murphy once again delves into the murky underworld to find a missing girl. Armed with only his dry-wit and cynicism, he journeys to a quiet little farm town called Waterston. It’s a beautiful place, renown for its cherries and the orchards that dotted the landscape against the rolling green hills beyond. But it’s also a world where the hunter becomes the hunted and where the forces of good collide with the evil cloaked in the myth and mysticism of an ancient belief.
It’s also a place where some find "the Red Harvest sinfully wild to enjoy, while others find nothing more than disappointment and regret . . ."
The Legal Stuff: Murphy's Law: Book II - Red Harvest © 2009 by josie.
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In Essex, just outside Waterston, there’s this wonderful place where his father would take the family out for a picnic when the cherry blossoms were in bloom. He remembered it as a much longer trip back then. Or so it seemed for a young boy who had to stand on the seat of that old Packard just to see the ocean of white blossoms that dotted the landscape against the rolling green hills beyond.
Then when that one, best-of-all spots was found, his mother would spread out a blanket and set out the lunch while he played in the snow-like petals that covered the ground. They were velvety soft to touch, almost sinfully alluring to look at, much like the temptation he saw in his mother's blood red lips when she looked to favor his father. He felt as though the beauty and the bounty he saw around him was his own personal treasure, as perfect as anything can be.
“Yes,” his mother had agreed, “the blossoms are beautiful and later will come the harvest of the sweet fruit, sinfully wild to enjoy. Except for greedy little boy’s who suffer a bellyache from the sin of overindulging,” she'd tease, "and of course the crow who in their lust for the blood red fruit breach the pit. So keep in mind there’s disappointment and regret beneath the beauty and the bounty of the Red Harvest as well.”
Scene I: Jack Murphy’s New Partner
Brooklyn, New York
April 3rd, 1963
Jack slowly hobbled his way across the parade field on his crutches, just as obstinate as ever and still clinging to that pig-headed notion of self-sufficiency. That step-swing-step glide made for a tough commute no matter how you cut it, especially for a man like Jack Murphy. A man who prided himself on getting things done, and the unassisted miles he had put on those size 12, EE shoes.
He caught up with Abe Monday just moments before the ceremony was to begin. To his right stood Arina and Michelle, behind him the 3rd precinct looking their finest dressed in parade blues.
“Better late then never huh, Jack?” Abe nudged his friend, his attention focused on the events unfolding on stage.
Leaning forward on his crutches Jack peered around Abe’s large frame and silently acknowledged Michelle, returning her smile. The look in her eyes told him all he need know. She was safe, happy and once again whole, no longer caught in the twilight, hovering between this world and Vlady’s dark world of hatred and deceit.
He warmly embraced Arina’s smile as well. He was glad to see she had finally found her footing. It had been no less a struggle for her, nor would the wounds be easy to mend. Like so many other wrongs in this world, those wounds were left for time alone to heal.
“Broken femur, remember Abe?” Jack leaned down and tapped his cast.
“Huh, you wouldn’t happen to be looking for a little sympathy, would yah, you ornery ol’coot?” Abe cracked a smile.
“I would if I thought you had any to give out, Meathead.”
“Tsk, tsk,” Abe followed his lead. “There you go calling me a Meathead when I was just about ready to offer you a job.”
“You offering or were you planning on leaving without me?” Jack relied. His dry, dead-pan expression unchanged throughout as the Mayor delivered the final words of his address and the honor guard raised their guns in salute.
“I’m offering. Are you taking?” Abe managed to get out between the thunderous rounds.
Jack smiled then looked up at Cecil, now shaking hands with the list of local dignitaries. “He looks good up there, doesn’t he?” Jack looked on with some pride.
“He ought to. He had one hell of a role model.”
“Well, least I got him to swear off them jelly donuts. That ought to account for something.”
“The kid took one giant leap for mankind and has won the Medal of Honor. Yeah, sure, it had to be the jelly donuts!” Abe smirked and Jack paid him no mind as he watched the Commissioner award Cecil his medal followed by a pair of Sergeant’s stripes for both Arn and himself. Cecil’s to accompany his promotion to detective, and Arn’s to take with him into retirement.
“So, what about it?” Abe finally turned to face his hobbled friend on crutches.
Jack thought for a moment then replied with an expression almost as oblique as his sidelong glance. “Know what I’m thinking about, buddy?”
“No, tell me.” Abe took the bait.
“I’m thinking about a nice little place with a cherry orchard round back. You got something like that you’re willing to offer?”
“You mean someplace out in the countryside where a guy can grow old, fat and lazy like me?”
“Sure, leastwise that’s how I envisioned it. Maybe I’ll get me one of those plump little Romanian housemaids too.”
“One without the fangs, right?”
“Well now, that might not be so bad. Look what that Transylvanian bloodsucker did for Arn. He looks younger. He’s definitely carrying around a lot bigger smile and he hasn’t been this sober in twenty years.”
Abe laughed. “You know, Jack, I think I finally found the guy I should have married.”
“You think so?” Jack made a bit of a face.
“Yup! We’d have been the perfect odd couple.”
“Felix was the quirky one, right?” Jack played with the thought.
“Quirky? Hell, they were both nuts.”
“Yeah, well, that much fits. By the way,” Jack led into his next round of tortured thought. “That job you’re offering. It wouldn’t happen to be for a Meter Maid would it? Cause I wouldn’t want to disappoint. Honestly, I don’t think I can do the skirt and heels thing. At least not up to the same award winning standard Cecil managed to pull off.”
“You’ll learn, Jack!” Abe throw his arm around his hobbled friend’s shoulder. “Come on, buddy. Let’s go see if we can roust us up a vamp with enough of a bite to get you into those Meter Maid heels.”
“I guess I’m going to need me some longer crutches.” Jack smiled then started out with Abe keeping pace with his step-swing-step glide.
Two weeks earlier . . .
The patrol car radio crackled to life as Jack approached the intersection. He leaned in, reached for the radio and responded with his location. It was a general call coming from outside his designate area of operation, but waited through the long burst of static regardless, to see if anyone would pick up the call.
“That’s a 411, isn’t that us?” Cecil inquired, though carefully. The last thing he wanted was to trip over Murphy’s short fuse.
“No, it’s Harrington’s,” he managed to get out before the follow up from dispatch came through directing his unit to respond.
“Wishful thinking,” replied Cecil as he flipped on the siren and the red light.
Jack negotiated the speeding squad car through the heavy traffic with practiced precision while Cecil fastened his belt, eased back in his seat and took stock of the man sitting behind the wheel. His focus was intense and the lines on his face were illuminated by the alternate flashes of amber and red. And that’s how he saw him.
“One day everything you touch glows golden amber, the next foreboding red of things gone wrong. The job is a trial in progress, not a decision,” that much he knew. It’s a test of character not decided by wins, but how you bounce back from the losses. Only the finest raise to the top in this war, and that’s what defined Jack Murphy.
“He isn’t perfect,” but in his eyes, “Jack Murphy will always be the guy I’d want on my side, no matter the outcome.”
“. . . Well, you sure didn’t win yourself no favors downtown, that’s for certain,” Jack’s voice cut into his thoughts. “It took a big set to say what you did, and the way I see it, you ought to be wearing that with some pride.”
Cecil sat back in the seat monitoring their progress while trying his best to keep his emotions in check. If he was feeling that pride it would have been hard to tell from the cool indifference he wore on his face. Sure it was a winning concession followed by the time-honored punch to the forearm delivered by a man whose opinion he wholly respected. It was notable praise to be sure, but even as a rookie he knew in this line of work you wore your stripes on the sleeves, not your feelings.
“A left here, Lieutenant,” Cecil called out with the new found sense of confidence that only comes with proving you’re made of the right stuff.
They had just left the Commissioner’s office where the Kline case hearing had been held and were now traveling east on Delaney a little more than a half-mile from the Tremont address. The area was out of Jack’s usual bailiwick and given his druthers would have preferred someone else pick up the call. Unfortunately Harrington was busy, and as he was the only other crime scene investigator available in the area at the time, he hadn’t the luxury. “I told yah Cecil. The name’s Jack, please.”
”Yeah, okay, thanks Jack!” Cecil smiled.
”For what?” Jack sounded rather annoyed.
“For the opportunity. You know, to . . .” he fought to find the words, “to prove myself.”
“You’ve earned it, Cecil. Don’t downgrade what you did.” Jack made a hard left and then raced down 143rd until he saw the gathered crowd, the ambulance and the bevy of patrol cars parked at the scene. He found a place to park across the street, shut down the old black and white cruiser then turned toward Cecil. “Look Cecil! No one expected you to say diddly-squat at the hearing, but the fact that you did shows me a lot.”
“Yes I did!” Cecil replied with a fistful of defiance. “Captain Turner was wrong. Dead wrong, and he was lying through his teeth.”
“Yeah, well, thanks buddy. If you hadn’t stepped in I would’ve been shark bait for sure.”
“Nah, besides, Gerald dropped the assault charges anyway.”
“Amelia!” Jack corrected.
“Gerald, Amelia, whomever! The point is there was nothing there, except disobeying Turner’s supposed cease and desist order that I knew was a lie. It’s just like I said to the Commissioner,” he added as if feeling the need to recount his testimony.
“I asked Turner how he felt about the merits of the case on the very day it all came down. He stated his opinion and I listened. I then asked him why he didn’t just order you to drop the case if he was convinced it was a dead end.”
“I’m not sure what I expected him to say,” Cecil followed, “but it sure wasn’t that. I mean imagine the nerve it takes to look a fella in the eye and say, ‘No, I want him to stew in his own juices. It’ll taste better.’ He was cool as a cucumber when he said it too. Like some voodoo witch doctor thrusting a pin into your back.”
There was a long silent pause followed by the sound of Jack sucking in a lung full of air, then slowing releasing the gut full of tension that had been building up. “I just said the truth. That’s my job, right, to tell the truth?”
“Don’t worry kid, the Commissioner saw you weren’t trying to grease your own skids. Still, it took some moxy to say it, and you oughta be damn proud of it.” Jack made his peace and reached out to shake his hand to seal the deal. Then with a slight, self-assured grin he asked, “No more jelly donuts?”
“Nope! Gave them up. They fatten you up like a porker and my mama didn’t teach me to grow up to be a pig.”
Jack smiled, slipped on his fedora and opened the door, “Come on partner, let’s me and you go do us some investigating.” Only this time, he promised himself, he was going to let this case come to him.
Scene II: The Crime Scene
Jack and Cecil were greeted by a patrolmen standing guard to secure the scene. The area was cordoned off and his partner was standing some feet away talking with a gentleman and an elderly lady while the medical examiner awaited his arrival.
“Detectives?” the officer enquired.
“Yes, Jack Murphy, 4th precinct. This here is Cecil Benover, my assistant. Are you the OIC?”
“Yes Sir, Marvin Costanza, 3rd precinct,” he replied, only he was looking past him, giving Cecil the once over, his expression slightly askew.
Jack knew the look. He had seen it before on the faces of those who’d stare and wonder how a fidgety little guy half their size could land such a plum job. Fact is, the scrutiny was almost expected. As expected as what he knew was coming next.
“Ben-over?” the patrolman framed his response in such a way that anyone within ear shot couldn’t help but insinuate the missing “d.”
“Uh-huh,” Jack fired off, “just like you’re going to be doing once I tag you with a fat lip, moron.” Jack palmed his fedora, adjusted the rim and followed quite calmly, “Now, officer Costanza, if you will kindly tell me what you’ve got here.”
“You tell me,” Costanza sounded off, a tad irate. “We arrived at the scene at 5:15 approximately 10 minutes after receiving the emergency call from Mr. Turley,” he said with a nod toward the man who was talking with his partner. “He lives in the apartment building across the street and states he was in the process of closing a bedroom window when he heard a scream, looked round and saw the victim terminating her aerial gymnastics.”
“Yeah, so, why call homicide?” Jack looked up, spotted the curtain blowing out of the fifth floor window of the old brownstone, then down at the covered body sprawled out on the sidewalk directly below.
“Patience Lieutenant, you haven’t heard the punch line. It seems about a minute after witnessing the fall he saw a female run out of the building and jump into red, 58 Chevy Bel-Air coupe with a white top. He described her as young, Caucasian, 5-7, 5-8, thin, bosomy with shoulder length black hair. She was wearing a long black skirt and a white blouse.”
“Now here’s the kicker,” Costanza added. “He says the woman was in such a hurry to leave that she apparently stepped on the gas before releasing the emergency brake. When she finally did release the brake the car lurched forward, jumped the curb and smashed into the parking sign.” Again he nodded, only this time toward the pole with a sign resting on the ground alongside the shattered glass of a headlamp.
“He sounds pretty sure about the make of the car,” Jack replied.
“He should. He’s a mechanic. He works at the Chevrolet garage on 85th.”
“Well that oughta do it. You put an APB on the car?”
“Yes, they’re looking for it now.”
Jack again looked up and asked, “You’ve got the apartment sealed off?”
“Yes, I’ve got it cordoned off with a patrolman at the door.”
“I don’t see anyone from forensics. They show up yet?”
“Nope, they’re busy cleaning up Harrington’s mess. Dispatch has diverted a back up unit and they’re on the way.”
Jack spotted Henry Snyder, the attending Medical Examiner completing his paper work alongside the body. “Hey, Henry, enjoying the spring weather?”
“I’ve seen better, Murph, and you?”
“Not bad, actually. I got me a new polka partner. I’ve been working on that seven-step, schottische-style.”
“Geeze, don’t tell me some crazed Nazi dentist has got you by the testicles too?” Henry dished out a plate of his usual deadpan wit. Although it did come with a rather broad grin, which on the whole, suited the man quite well. Maintaining a sense of humor is important in his line of work and Henry was no exception. After all, he had just taken quite a licking from that two-timing dentist he had been married to. Only a year into his third marriage and the cheap German import had gotten away with everything but his socks in the divorce settlement.
“I said polka, Henry, not Goose Step.”
“Hey, if I had known those gold-capped teeth weren’t hers before I married her maybe I might still have my balls.” Jack laughed and slapped his old friend on the back before getting back to the uncomfortable business at hand. “Well, what do you have for me, my friend?”
“Hum, well, the way I’ve got it figured it was a first rate plunge. Head first!”
“You found any lacerations, bruises, abrasions, contusions or 38 caliber bullet holes otherwise not accounted for?”
“Nah, looks like a routine Swan dive. By the looks of it, I’d say she scored a perfect 10. Can I bag her up?”
“Yeah, sure, you got a name?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot the introduction,” he replied while unzipping the body bag. “Jack Murphy, meet Sonya Pavel. 58 years old, 5-9, approximately 145 pounds, brown hair, green eyes, Caucasian and it would seem, still maidenly.” Other than the slightly askew symmetry, I’d say she was in reasonably good health, and fairly good looking.
“Maidenly, at 58?” Jack enquired.
“Not much of a social life I guess. You need any 8 by 10 glossies?”
“No, but I could use something along the lines of an anti-acid. You got anything in your bag, doc?” Henry turned toward Cecil, put his arm around his shoulder and told him, “Look out for this ornery ol’coot. I think he might be losing the stomach for the job.”
A few moments later he walked over toward Costanza’s partner. Beside him stood Marie Donizetti, the building super, and Gene Turley, the gentleman who had witnessed the fall and called for emergency assistance.
He introducing himself then took Mr. Turley aside and listened attentively as he repeated the story he had told the patrolman. He seemed a very thorough and competent eye-witness. He even managed to expand on his previous recollection of the woman he had seen running from the building. Upon further reflection he decided she wasn’t “running” out of the building. Rather, she was walking at a quickened pace with long strides and a rather masculine gait.
“From the way she moved, yeah, I’d say she was someone who was strong and agile.”
“That’s a pretty strong description considering you only got a momentary glimpse of her.”
“I was looking down right at her. See there?” he pointed to his apartment window directly across the street one story up. “I had me a birds-eye view.”
“Think you could pick her out of a line-up?”
“Well now, I didn’t say she was looking up at me.”
“Hm, well, come to think of it, no you didn’t. Although you did say you heard a scream as the victim fell, right Mr. Turley?”
“Are you sure, Mr. Turley, because timing is everything?”
“Well let’s see now. You said it took you a moment before you were able to spot the falling victim after you heard the scream. Since it takes approximately 2.1 seconds to complete a 50 foot fall I’d say you reacted pretty darn quickly.
“So?” Mr. Turley sounded off. “What’s the difference?” he followed defensively.
“Plenty, Mr. Turley! Screaming out before the fall might mean she wasn’t exactly looking forward to the experience. So now, please tell me again. Did you hear the scream before or during the fall? Just don’t tell me it was after.”
“After? What’s with the attitude, officer?” He snapped back. “I’m giving you the square deal.”
“Because it’s important that the lady lying over there gets a square deal too,” Jack replied, not backing down an inch.
“Yeah, well, sure” the gentleman backed off and moderated his tone, “I guess I ain’t really all that certain. It could have been before.”
“Fine, Mr. Turley. If I need further information I’ll be in touch.” He concluded his questioning and was walking back toward Mrs. Donizetti, the building Super, when he saw a forensic van pull up.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Donizetti. I’m Lieutenant Murphy with NYPD and this is my partner, Cecil Benover. May I call you Marie?”
“Fine, now I wonder if I might ask you to accompany me upstairs.” He dismissed the patrolmen and took up the dear woman’s hand. Then along with Cecil they followed the forensic team into the building. Cecil with his notebook in hand taking scrupulous notes, and Jack listening to Mrs. Donizetti reminisce about her recently deceased tenant as they worked their way up the stairs.
Marie Donizetti turned out to be a rather spry woman with a healthy set of lungs, at least for a 68 year old. She maintained a constant flow of chatter as the trio wound their way up the 5 flights. A steep and strenuous climb as the stairs tended to be in those old 20’s era brownstones. She was also quite animated, and if she was feeling the strain of just seeing her tenant and friend fall to her death, she had a funny way of showing it.
While the forensic team went through the apartment Jack sat down in the kitchen to continue his talk with Mrs. Donizetti. She had quite a bit to say about the deceased Sonya Pavel, whose actual first name was Oana. Sonya being an adapted name she had assumed after she emigrated from Communist Romania, supposedly to help ease the transition to a new life in America. Or so she had told the dear Mrs. Donizetti.
“She was a good tenant and friend,” Mary Donizetti began. “She worked very hard to make her way, starting out with nothing more than the clothes she wore when she arrived in this country. Not an easy course for anyone. Yet all the time I knew her she remained full of hope and optimism. She was not the woman you see laying out there in the street.”
“Where were you when it happened, Mrs. Donizetti?”
“Out shopping I am afraid. I returned just shortly before you arrived, Mr. Murphy.”
“She lived alone, is that correct?” He followed up.
“Yes, I suppose her life was such that the dear woman never had time to find someone to share the burden.”
“You mean in terms of intimate relationships, correct Mrs. Donizetti?”
“Yes, though she was pretty enough and her English was passable despite her heavy Romanian accent. I don’t think that was the problem. Although,” she added after giving it further thought. “It might have limited her circle of acquaintances. As it was, outside myself there were few who truly knew her.”
To further complicate Sonya’s life she had a teenaged daughter named Michelle who no longer lived with her. Mrs. Donizetti didn’t know Michelle by any other name, so she assumed she must have been born in this country and thus, given an American name.
“She wasn’t her birth child certainly, correct Marie?”
“Oh dear, well Sonya never said she wasn’t so I just assumed . . .” she tried to explain. “Although I suppose it was rather naíve of me to not have figured that out myself. Michelle hadn’t her looks at all. Don’t misunderstand. Sonya was quite pretty, but Michelle was unique in that regard.”
“She must have been a lovely girl,” he offered a sympathetic smile.
“Yes, I’m afraid I have no other words to describe her. She had an exceptional beauty, but she was also deeply troubled.”
“Yes. You see, she suffered from a debilitating mental condition. Her behavior was difficult to manage and even harder to predict. One moment she was like the essence of life itself and the next, withdrawn, sullen and lost to this world.”
“What about school?”
“Oh, she managed well for a period of time, but when she reached the age when a girl begins to . . .” she paused, then with a blush, “Well, I’m certain you understand, Mr. Murphy.”
“Oh, I see. Well, that sort of thing does happen.”
“I suppose. I know many girls experience that sort of thing, but honestly, not quite like that.”
A member of the forensic team interrupted their conversation and asked that Jack accompany him into the bedroom. Jack thanked Mrs. Donizetti for her help and told her he would be in touch if he needed any further information. He gave Cecil a nudge wanting him to accompany Mrs. Donizetti back down the stairs and then followed the investigator into the bedroom.
On the windowsill he was shown a clearing of dust where someone had sat, a palm imprint on each side. Proof that Sonya Pavel had fallen from that window, and with no signs of a struggle, proof that she sat on that narrow ledge, screamed then executed the Swan dive exactly as planned. That explanation of course didn’t negate the possibility she might have been offered a slight nudge before hand.
There was something else to consider as well. On the bed a closet full of clothes had been piled high as if someone in a moment of rage had just ripped them off the hangers and tossed them about. It was a sign that there had been some preceding event at the root of it all. The evidence did show that she had set herself up for the jump, but not necessarily unaided nor without a traumatic event preceding it.
No suicide note had been found and nothing else appeared touched. That would include some loose cash sitting on top of the bureau and a jewelry box filled with a modest selection of jewelry. Not much, but enough for someone to snatch if robbery were a motive.
“So where did the hurried woman seen exiting the building fit into this?” he wondered. “Assuming she had a role to play, it had to be someone important enough in her life to allow her inside her home, perhaps even into this very room. Someone very close, whose words were stinging and hurtful,” he speculated. Then as the timing of events seemed to show, “it was only after her departure that the devastated woman took her own life. So then, who was the unknown woman?”
“An intimate perhaps, a woman who might have even shared her bed that Mrs. Donizetti didn’t know about? A scorned lover like that would certainly fit the bill, but the woman seen leaving the building was young, and it would be hard keeping the perimeters of that kind of relationship sight unseen.”
“She did have a daughter, though not a child by birth. Nor was she living with her any longer. Still, as the evidence would seem to show a ‘troubled’ daughter did fit the criteria possibly better than any other plausible explanation.” In fact, he wholly expected he’d find her daughter hanging on to the end of this thread before he was through. His analysis of the scene was then interrupted by the patrolman who had been posted at the front door.
“Detective Murphy, they’ve located the car abandon. It belongs to a Michael Chapmen, 2306 East Sanger. We’ve already questioned the kid, but he’s covered.”
“I’d say so. He had reported the car stolen at 9 A.M this morning after finding it missing when he woke up. The ignition switch had been pulled as well.”
“Yeah, well, I guess that covers it.”
“We’re running the car for prints. Do you want us to detain the kid?”
“No reason to take the kid in, but I’ll need to have a look around and meet him. Give the patrolmen on site a call and tell them I’ll be there in 30 minutes after I finish up here.”
“Michael Chapman! So much for an easy fix,” he sighed, paused a moment to think it through, then set off to have a last look around. Sitting on top a bureau he found two pictures. One appeared to be of Sonya and her daughter, Michelle. The other was of her daughter and some unknown woman. He asked a member of the forensics team to catalogue the items before stuffing them into a protective envelop to take with him.
A moment later he was on his way to meet Michael Chapman. A Michael Chapman with a girlfriend or a wife, perhaps related to Sonya, he was most anxious to meet.
Scene III: Michael Chapman
Michael Chapman lived in a tenement on Sanger. On the whole, the brownstone tenements that lined the streets for miles in both directions were old and in some cases, dying remnants of the proud middle class who once lived there. The graffiti and the occasional boarded up window spoke to the decline. As did the crowd of chronically unemployed sitting on the tenement steps up and down the street. The stoop next door included, but not on Michael Chapman’s.
Unlike the others, his tenement remained uniquely untouched by vagrants, vandals or blight. This in itself seemed nothing short of a miracle, especially since the newly refurbished building he lived in seemed such a likely target. The refinished stone and woodwork restored to its original luster looked as well presented as any seen on the upper Westside. Even the potted yellow geraniums that sat on the stoop seemed immune to the urban decay that was eating the rest of the neighborhood alive.
Even more amazing, not only did those who lived in the street keep a respective distance from his home, but apparently extended that privilege to his car as well. Yes, it had been stolen, but it had been left abandon just a few short blocks away. Left entirely intact, tires included. Now if that couldn’t be called divine intervention, Jack didn’t know what could.
When Jack and Cecil arrived they found the two patrolmen waiting in front of the building as ordered. Jack asked the patrolmen to recount the details of the interview and was told Michael Chapman was 19, worked as a musician and was single. The evening before Michael had returned home late from work. When he woke up at 9 A.M he found his car missing. A stolen car report had been filed, but as these things go, the system was so over taxed that nothing had as yet been done to locate the missing vehicle.
“I’d say he’s pretty lucky.” Jack replied. “Has he seen the car yet?”
“No, we told him the car was being printed and would be returned to him once we’re done.”
“Has anyone spoken to him about the condition of the car?”
“No, but then he didn’t ask either.” Jack asked Cecil to remain with the patrolmen and went in to talk with the boy.
Michael greeted Jack at the door. He was dressed in a brown bathrobe that draped down to the top of his sandals. With a hood and long bell sleeves, the robe looked the sort of thing you’d envision a monk might wear. And in a like manner, the robe buried all but his face beneath its thick wool weave.
An interesting face it was too. If a person’s worth were appraised by your looks, this kid would have been Fort Knox. He’s face was lean with smooth clean lines and a shadowy hollow beneath the cheek bones. His lips were rich and full, and the arch of his brows swept like wings over a pair of emerald green eyes that refused to let you go. Those eyes, that face looked as if drawn in soft pastels by a stroke of an artist’s brush that reached from his smooth, unblemished chin to the top of his clean shaven head.
It was hard to think of him as handsome or masculine or even feminine for that matter. Rather he looked like something that hovered about in a twilight world between.
“Mr. Chapman, what a pleasure to meet you. I’m detective Murphy from NYPD and I’m here to report we’ve located your vehicle.” He punctuated with a smile, though ever so slightly smug. “May I,” he asked with his fedora in hand pointing the way inside.
“Oh sure, come in detective, please.” Michael led him into a tidy and well appointed living room with Scandinavian-style white furnishing. All rather chic and modern with delicate white lace curtains covering the one window. On the wall adjacent the couch hung a large, handcrafted tapestry.
The tapestry was blood red in color with an intricate weave of old world patterns about the edges. Centering the tapestry was a medieval cathedral scene with a large man in black standing in front. About his shoulders he wore a cape with a high, stiff collar that rose up to frame the back of his head. In one hand he held a shield, in the other a spear. It was quite an intriguing bit of artistry. Very old, hand stitched and dyed, and all seemingly constructed in such a way that it drew Jack’s focus inward toward the man’s eyes that seemed to follow him wherever he traveled throughout the room.
Michael sat down upon the sofa while Jack chose to remain standing to have his look around. Still fidgeting with his fedora clasped in his hands.
“You know, you’re a very fortunate young man,” he smiled and wagged a finger as if lecturing the boy. “I mean, someone steals your car, returning it a few hours later and leaves it almost where he found it.”
“Now, that’s what I call good fortune, young man,” he added as he walked toward the window to have a look at those lovely curtains.
“Though I see you’ve had your share of good luck already.” He muttered while gently caressing the delicate lace with the tips of his fingers. They were also hand stitched, the delicate lacework sewn in a pattern of connecting white blossoms.
“Cherry blossoms?” he wondered. They certainly felt no less fragile, and like the tapestry, as out of place as the young man beneath the medieval robe. Nor had it escaped him that everything was neat, clean and orderly. Not how you’d expect to find the apartment of a 19 year old boy.
“Odd,” or so the disconnect appeared to him, becoming even more apparent when he peered down upon the street below. The contrast was inescapable. The maelstrom of poverty and crime had consumed everything in its path, yet somehow had bypass this kid and the tenement he lived in.
He found it all rather “suspect,” and then some, that much he felt sure, and if the kid wasn’t male with a clean shaven head and a solid alibi he’d already have him marked as the prime suspect in this case.
In the past he might have done so regardless. Act now and ask questions later. That had been Jack’s philosophy, but not anymore. He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to fall into that trap of rushing to judgment again. It was wrong, dead wrong, and no matter how much he hungered to nail this kid, Jack would resist the temptation. As far as he was concerned, if there was a case here to be made, it would definitely have to come to him.
“You’ve a very lovely apartment, I must say.” He again turned his attention to the boy.
“Thank you, detective.”
“Not like my place. Oh no,” he chuckled. “Shoot, I’ve had the same pots and dishes piled up in the sink for a week, and Rosco, my cat, sheds even worse than me,” he lowered his head and ran his hand over the bald spot on the back.
“You know, many a morning I wake up, look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘Darn, what I would give to have a full head of hair again.’ Then there’s you . . .” he made a bit of a face, “a young guy who could probably grow a head full of healthy shoulder length black hair near over night and what do you do? You shave your head. Funny world, ain’t it?”
“I’m a musician,” Michael replied while pointing to a guitar case sitting in the corner.
“Ah, then I guess that explains it. A musician! Well, you know, if we had never met up and I saw you on the street I think I could peg you as one. I mean, you look like you’ve got talent. You’ve the copyright looks too. Bet you’re quite the hit with the girls?”
Michael didn’t answer, but he did look off modestly. “Perhaps,” Jack took note, “with a tint of a blush?”
“Well, I’ll not bother you any longer. I just thought I’d stop by as a courtesy. We in the precinct pride ourselves in being good servants to the community and we want you to know we appreciate your support. Say . . .,” he suddenly piped up as if struck by a sudden revelation.
“Would you mind if I were to add your name of the list of those willing to donate to the Policemen’s Children’s fund? We like to remind the good citizens in the community a small measure of prevention serves us all in the long run.”
“No, not at all, detective.”
“Fine, fine, that’s quite a magnanimous gesture. I’m sure all the needy kiddies will be so happy to hear that. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he concluded, then reached out to take the boy’s hand, noticing his nicely manicured set of nails. Not long, but pampered well enough. Couple that with callous-free finger tips and it was easy enough to tell he had been wrapping those fingers around something, and it sure wasn’t the neck of a guitar.
He turned to leave then stopped and asked the question that was still on his mind. “Say, ahm, I forgot to ask. You didn’t by chance forget that you let your girlfriend borrow the car, did you?”
“No. You see, I have the only key right here,” he replied, and then picked up a set of keys from the nearby coffee table.
“Ah, so you do. Well then, other than being out some big bucks to repair the car I think you’re in pretty good shape.”
“No,” Michael seemed quite sure of himself, “no big expense. I had the left headlamp replaced before and it costs me next to nothing.”
“Huh,” Jack replied wondering how the boy could know that. “That’s alright, please don’t bother, I can find my own way out.”
A few moments later Jack was again outside. He dismissed the patrolmen, thanked them for their help then turned toward Cecil to ask the question that followed him like that haunting gaze of the man woven into the tapestry. “Well, what do you think?”
“What’s to wonder,” Cecil reasoned. He has a solid alibi. He’s not a girl with shoulder length black hair either.”
“Yeah, you’ve got that one nailed.” Jack agreed while disagreeing, knowing there had to be a tie. How else could the kid be so sure the repairs were going to cost him “next to nothing?” He hadn’t even seen the car. Or better yet, how could he know it was the left side that was damaged, not the right?
“Want to know what I think?” Jack asked.
“Sure do, Jack, what?”
“I think we should see who this kid plays with,” he replied, with the intensity and the tone of his voice suddenly ratcheted up a notch. “I’d like to know where he goes and does for the next week. I want you to sign out a surveillance van, park across the street over there and keep an eye on him. There isn’t a rear exit so it should be easy enough to cover. Meanwhile I’m going to see if Mrs. Donizetti can help me track down Sonya’s daughter. Although privately he felt whatever he found was going to lead him back to Michael’s door.
Scene IV: Arn Fife
The next morning Cecil returned to the office to draw up a surveillance plan as per department procedures. He presented his plan to the section chief and was assigned a case number, a vehicle and a partner from the Intelligence Gathering Unit. The chief then went on to explain the operational procedures.
“Your team will be required to report in with dispatch hourly. Plus a patrol car will be at your disposal should you require emergency assistance.” Then he read him the riot act. “If you return my van riddled with bullet holes, sonny boy, I’m going to plant my boot so far up your butt you’ll be coughing up leather.”
An hour later he drove to the department vehicle compound, signed out the van and met up with Arn Fife, the officer assigned to him. Arnold Fife, Arn for short, was a department veteran set for retirement in two weeks. The guy had spent the last 26 years of his life as a patrolman, having advanced to the grade of Sergeant for only one short stint. Not a particularly accomplished career for a gray haired, overfed, potted Irishman with an arthritic limp. Albeit one with the smell of cheap liquor on his breath who only by virtue of his longevity, just managed to hang on.
He knew the surveillance business though, and knew the operation of the van like the back of his hand.
“Now son, just take a deep breath, relax and let ol’Arn tell you how this thing here works.” he said as he wrapped an arm around Cecil’s shoulder. “You’re in good hands here, sonny,” he followed as he stepped into the back of the van, taking a seat next to a viewing portal.
“This here is the heart of the operation,” he followed, lighting up like a kid in a candy store. “From here you’ve got your telescopics, photographics and your long range listening devices. Over there you’ve got your closet where you’ll find your various disguise, wigs, mustaches and whatnot. Right here is your communications,” he pointed to radio sitting next to him.”
“You know how to operate all this stuff?” Cecil breathed in wonderment as he scanned the array of goodies.
“Oh yeah, buddy,” he affirmed. “Just point me the way and I’ll be wrappin’ it up for you in a nice little portfolio of 8x10 glosses before supper time.”
Yep, Arn knew the surveillance business alright. He had Cecil chock-full of confidence as he drove to the site while Arn played with his toys in back. Or at least that’s what Cecil thought was going on in back as he drove to the site, scoped it out, then settling on what he thought was the best possible spot. The place he chose was across the street from Michael’s second floor window and adjacent to his car now parked just outside the building.
“What’cha think, Arn,” he called out to grab Arn’s attention, “close enough to the target?”
He waited a moment then repeated his call before crawling into the back only to find Arn draped over the seat where he had left him, stone-cold out of it. Peeking out of his crinkled coat pocket he saw the bottle cap of his favorite brand of Irish whiskey. “Damn,” he hissed, wondering if after 28 years on the force it might all come to that for him as well.
He left Arn to sleep it off and crawled back into the front cab. There he sat trying not to look too conspicuous as he peered up at the second floor window. Without field glasses he couldn’t pick up all that much detail. Nor was his vantage point all that good. Still, he did have a perfect view of the front entrance which is all he really needed. Michael wouldn’t be leaving without him noticing.
Comparatively speaking, he found Michael’s tenement somewhat of an anomaly to say the least. Right smack dab in the middle of this urban wasteland the building stood out like an act of defiance. Its refurbished stone and burgundy colored millwork as daring as those potted yellow geraniums that lined the front stoop. How it managed to survive in a place like this was indeed a wonder.
For the most part he found the morning pretty uneventful, finding himself measuring his time by the hourly passing of the patrol car and his periodic contact with dispatch. Still the excitement, the adrenalin-rush and the sound of Arn snoring kept him pretty much on his toes and ready for anything when Michael finally did make his appearance. He wasn’t all that difficult to spot either.
Dressed in a pair of hip hugging white linen bell-bottoms and a flaming pink windbreaker he definitely looked the part. “Tall, thin and pretty for a boy,” he thought.
“Pretty? Hum,” well why not muse over the possibilities. Anyone would when confronted by a boy dressed in pink and white. Pair that with matching gold hoops in his ears, a set of lips that seemed to go on forever and you have one extraordinary young man. He wasn’t someone Cecil was going to pass by on the street and not stare, and wonder, even with his spit-shine head.
“Musician’s,” he muttered.
Anyway Michael stood for a moment with his arms folded staring at the damage to the left front lamp. He seemed to have his mind set on what need to be done. A moment later he jumped into the car, fiddled with the damaged ignition switch then set off with Cecil following a blocks distance behind to a repair shop on Kingston.
Cecil parked some distance away, behind a line of autos in various states of disrepair waiting to be serviced. With the shop apparently as busy as it looked, he wondered how the boy could possibly expect to get the work done in a week, let alone an afternoon. Yet he watched the boy telling this huge guy in greasy coveralls what he wanted to have happen and sure enough, the man grinning ear to ear nearly tripped on himself getting the car inside to begin work immediately.
Cecil looked up and saw the name “Dimitru Bros. Auto Repair” that fronted the building and wondered if he knew the man or whether Michael had offered to pay for his services in gold bullion. Whatever it was, an hour later the mechanic was backing that car out of the garage with 3 men still attached putting the finishing touches to the custom wax job that apparently came with the job.
“Da-damn,” he stammered in disbelief as he watched the guy hold open the door, beckon Michael to step in, then made sure he was comfortably situated before closing the door behind. A moment later he stood back and waved goodbye, flashing those pearly whites as if seeing his first born off to his first day at school. Behind him his three helpers followed suit. Beaming and waving their polishing rags high in the air, bidding him a farewell.
“Quite a guy that Michael,” he mulled over the scene that had just played out. “No fault in that. He knew what he wanted and made it happen.”
He couldn’t help but admire the kid. He had everything working for him and couldn’t help but wonder what Jack saw in him that drew his suspicion. If he was thinking this kid could be involved in the death of Sonya Pavel, a more unlikely character couldn’t have been found.
Still he had a job to do, which he did with all the expertise of a seasoned pro as he followed Michael home with Arn still snoring in the back. After watching Michael reenter his apartment he found a spot close to the one he had vacated earlier, and then crawled into the back to roust up a cup of coffee for Arn as he awaited the boys next move.
Acknowledgement: I need thank Amber Talamasca for her contributions and Amelia French, for her support and guidance. I’d love to thank my editor as well, but I’m afraid my dear friend cs. is a bit too modest to accept the accolades so richly deserved.
©2009 by josie ©. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, and compilation design) may be printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without expressed written consent of the copyright holder.
To Be Continued...
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