Murphy's Law : Book 2 | Red Harvest - Part 1 - Scenes 5 - 8

Murphy's Law
Book II: Red Harvest
Part I: Scenes V-VIII
By Josie

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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Part I: Arrival to Waterston

 
 
Scene V: Mrs. Donizetti
 
 
The next morning Jack again went to see Mrs. Donizetti. Still early, she was dressed in her housecoat enjoying her morning coffee. Given her lack of preparedness, he worried she might think him rude for imposing at this hour. Though just as the day before, she greeted him with warm welcome and a syrupy smile that looked as sweet as the cherries she held in her hand. He returned her smile and with hat in hand asked if he might come in to finish the conversation they had begun the day before.

He found her to be a very open and personable woman, very easy to attach yourself to. Much like his dear mother, he supposed. She, like Marie Donizetti, was more or less an open book. There was nothing hidden beneath the veneer. Both women were supportive and faithful to both family and friends with strong attachments to their immigrant past, and the traditions and heritage they brought with them to this country.

He had strong ties to his mother. Which in large part might go a long way toward explaining why committing to relationships outside work and that which he had with his good friend Rosco, his cat, hadn’t panned out so well. That might also go a long way toward explaining the close connection between Marie Donizetti and Sonya Pavel. A woman who was herself still closely linked to the traditions and social workings so much a part of her past. Something Marie Donizetti couldn’t speak more highly about.

She poured him a cup of coffee then sat down beside him still latched on to those cherries. The tips of her fingers stained the same cherry red.

“Do you enjoy them?” he asked. “Cherries?” he then sought to clarify with a gesture toward her hands.

“Oh,” She looked down as if caught unaware she was still holding on to them. “One of my guilt pleasures,” she mused. “They are truly a divine fruit, don’t you think?”

“Yes ma’am, they are that. A bit early in the season for them though, isn’t it?”

“Yes, the local harvest isn’t for another week or two. These I think are from down south. I saw them in the store last night. Plump, dark, sweet . . . well, you know, I just couldn’t pass them up.”

“Would you like one, Mr. Murphy,” she held out her hand.

“No, thank you, I don’t fancy them as I once did. As a boy, I could sniff them out from a hundred feet and you’d be hard pressed to get me out of here until I ate every last one of them, but not anymore.”

“Oh, why is that?”

“Don’t know exactly. Maybe too many bellyaches. I’ve heard they’re none too healthy for the raven and crow either. Ravenous birds both. You see, the pit has cyanide and can be quite deadly if you breach the pit.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that.” She flushed as if afflicted by a tinge of guilt. “I guess in every little sin there is always a little disappointment and regret.”

“Huh!” Jack grumbled. “So they say,” he replied, thinking back to a time long ago when his mother had expressed the same sentiment.

“More coffee then, Mr. Murphy?”

“No, ma’am. As I’ve mentioned I’m here because I’m looking for anyone who might be able to help me find Sonya’s daughter, Michelle. It is important that she hear the unfortunate news from me before she stumbles upon it on her own.”

“That is very kind Mr. Murphy, but honestly, there were few who really know her all that well. For the most part her life revolved around her daughter and the small delicatessen where she worked. She was a cook, you know.” Marie Donizetti began reminiscing about her friend.

“Vlady told me she made some of the best Sarmale this side of Bucharest,” she carried on. “Sonya didn’t make a lot of money, but she paid her rent on time and had enough to make payments on an old upright Bechstein piano.”

“Vlady,” he asked, intrigued by the name that conjured up such interesting images. “Who’s Vlady?”

“Sanda Vladimirescu. Vlady was her pet name. Sonya met her at the delicatessen. She was a Doctor of Psychiatry back in Romania, a woman of great power and strength.”

“You don’t say.” he perked up. “That doesn’t sound like the kind of person you just bump into everyday, leastwise not at a delicatessen.”

“Well, it is a rather tight knit community and they did share so much in common, being fellow ex-patriots and all. They became close personal friends and with Michelle’s problems, it was a natural fit. Although . . .” Marie’s voice tailed off.

“What was that?” he urged.

“Nothing, it’s just that sometimes I got the impression that Vlady had more of a say in what happened in Sonya’s life than she had of her own.”

For some reason Marie’s composite picture of Sanda, or Vlady as she liked to call her, made him think about the picture he had taken from atop the bureau in Sonya’s bedroom. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out the picture of Michelle and the unidentified woman and showed it to Marie.

“Is this her?” he asked as he again studied the tall, robust woman with broad shoulders and thick muscular limbs that would have looked as well on a man. She was dressed in a gray pencil skirt with matching blazer that looked rather stiff and regimented. With her black, Jack style knee boots and her silver gray hair formed into a bun, she looked the sort who could manager herself quite well. Not to mention the gaunt, anemic looking 16 year old standing as if at attention at her side.

“Yes, that’s Vlady. She’s well respected in her profession I’m told. She was once in charge of a large hospital in Romania, but she had to flee when the soviets wanted to purge the intelligentsia to strengthen their grip when many were looking west with hope for a new order.”

“Sonya must have felt quite fortunate.”

“Oh yes, and I can assure you she was quite good to Sonya and worked wonders with Michelle.”

“Did she visit often?”

“Yes, quite often. In fact she was such a frequent visitor I often wondered how Sonya could possibly afford the cost on her meager salary. I know I couldn’t.”

“Did you ask her?”

“I did. We had become great friends over the years. We had developed the trust and confidence in each others judgment to speak openly. Even about things we were taught as young girls to keep to ourselves.”

“Oh?” He queried, not quite following along.

“Yes, well, it’s not an American way of thinking, but in the old world girls are taught to quietly endure. So I know it wasn’t easy for her to admit to me Vlady did all of her work for free.”

“For free?” he sounded incredulous.”

“Yes, but it didn’t surprise me because that’s just the sort of person Vlady was. She was a generous woman with a heart of gold, not to mention very good at her profession.”

“Is that a fact,” Jack sounding not at all convinced. He didn’t share the same belief in the goodness of people that Marie apparently did. The way things worked in his world, one’s own self-interest was always the card kept hidden, tucked under a sleeve.

“Oh yes, I can assure you, Vlady was very generous and quite personable as well. As best as I can describe her, it was as if she were reborn anew each and every day just to share this moment with you.”

“Pardon ma’am, but if you don’t mind my saying, you sound as though you were a bit smitten by her spell as well.”

“Smitten by her spell?” she echoed his words. “Well I admit there was something uplifting about her. She seemed to rise above the everyday clamor. Effortlessly it seemed, always in complete control of everything around her. She had a compelling presence that much is sure.”

“It sounds as though Michelle was in very good hands.”

“Yes she was. When Vlady was present, she was the perfect child. She certainly had a lot of influence over her. Certainly more then Sonya or Milhaela had.”

“Who was Milhaela?” he cast a squint-eyed gaze.

“Mihaela Ceausescu.” Mary laughed, “Oh I know, it’s not the sort of name that just rolls off the tongue. I just called her Millie. She’s another ex-patriot and a close friend of Vlady’s. She and Vlady knew each other in Romania and worked together as a team very well.”

“That was Sonya’s saving grace actually, because she not only taught Michelle her daily lessons, but executed Vlady’s therapy program perfectly.”

“What exactly was Michelle’s problem?”

“Well,” Mrs. Donizetti followed after a deep sigh. “Sonya told me she suffered from an early childhood trauma, something about Michelle having a sense of abandonment.”

“It was a form of depression then?”

“I suppose. Sonya said that Michelle believed she had been abandoned when she was a small child, and because it happened in the night, she feared the dark. So as the moon began to rise, so would her state of unease. Of course her fears were only imaginary, but all quite real to her. By day’s end she’d become angry at the world, easily agitated and sometimes reduced to tears. Then she’d withdraw and become as sullen as the notes she’d sit down to play on the piano.”

“Of course she wasn’t always that way. It was only toward day’s end that she’d slip into the malaise. That’s when the poor girl seemed caught in the twilight struggling to remain in this world.”

“Sonya wasn’t able to cheer her up?” Jack attempted to lighten the mood. “You know, teach her to play Chop-Sticks instead of Isle of the Dead, or something?” Only the dear woman would have none of it.

“Of course, Mr. Murphy, what kind of mother would she be if she hadn’t? Like any caring mother she’d rock her on her lap to sooth her. Plus she had those special words Vlady had told her to use to calm her. Part of her therapy, you see.”

“Did it work?”

“When Vlady looked her in the eyes it did, most certainly. I think that’s why Vlady only visited in the night. To show her that not only dark thinks came out of the night.”

“She only visited at night?” He asked, sounding as astounded as he looked.

“Yes. I thought that was understood, Mr. Murphy?”

“No ma’am! In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of such a thing. They say just about everything happens in New York. Heck, I can get my shirts pressed at 3 in the morning, but doctor visits . . . Now that’s a first for me. Then again, a lot of what you’ve said has in one way or another broken new ground for me. I know I tend to be a bit cynical. Maybe it’s the nature of the job or maybe it’s just that I’ve seen a bit too much, but surely you must have found something odd about that as well.”

“No I didn’t, Mr. Murphy, none at all. Sonja needed help, Vlady provided it and I was happy she did.”

“How did she manage to pay for Mihaela’s services?”

“I honestly don’t know. Perhaps Vlady did since it was she who made the arrangements.”

“Well, there you go, Mrs. Donizetti!” Jack slapped his thigh.

“Excused me, Mr. Murphy?”

“You don’t see anything odd in that? She makes night visits for free and pays for Sonya’s child care too? That sounds like more than just a friendship to me.” He voiced his concern. All the while thinking the lists of possible suspected “intimates” was growing infinitely longer.

“Mrs. Donizetti, I don’t want you to take offense to what I am about to ask next, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t. Did Vlady stay the night?”

“Sir!” she recoiled as if suffering a blow, “To whom have I been talking to all this while? Have I not sufficiently explained to you the kind of woman Sonya was?”

“Yes, ma’am, you have, and I do apologize. It’s just that I need to know how you can be so sure of that?”

“Because, Lieutenant Murphy. That front door sounds a buzzer whether opened from the inside or from without. I know exactly the time she departed each and every night.”

“So it does. Well again I apologize, but my intent wasn’t to besmirch anyone’s reputation. I am simply trying to find Michelle and it’s my job to leave no rock unturned.”

“Well I can assure you, sir, there was nothing more to it. Vlady was simply a generous woman who did what she did out of the goodness of her heart, nothing more.”

“So that’s it then. Michelle was simply depressed?”

“Depression can be a serious thing, Mr. Murphy, and I can assure you her condition was most debilitating.”

“Did Vlady eventually help Michelle overcome her problem?”

“Yes, but that only came about after she moved away to live with Vlady.”

“Don’t tell me!” Jack sounded off rather incredulously as he leaned back in his seat. “Yet another generous offer from the woman with a heart of gold.”

“Yes, Mr. Murphy, it was. Even I knew Sonya couldn’t provide the kind of help Michelle needn’t. Not on her own at least.”

“When was the last time you’ve spoken with Vlady or Mihaela?”

“Sadly, I’ve not heard from either since Michelle disappeared. Neither had Sonya, or so she said when I ask.”

“She disappeared? She ran away from Vlady?”

“No, that happened shortly after her return home. About a month later as I recall. She had been making plans to restart her life. Only it didn’t turn out that way. One day Sonya came home and found her gone. It was so sad, really. She had blossomed into such a beautiful young woman. You should have seen her. She was such a joy to behold.”

“Was a missing persons report filed?”

“Yes, Vlady personally assured me. Of course Michelle was 18 by then, a young adult. Still the police did look for her, but apparently she had just disappeared.”

“Huh! Well, the last I’ve heard the laws of physics hadn’t been suspended yet.”

“Excuse me, detective?” she seemed a bit puzzled by the connection.

“In this country folks don’t just disappear, ma’am. Tell me, is Vlady still practicing?”

“Practicing?” again, she seemed a little confused.

“Yes, you said she was a Doctor of Psychiatry. Is she still in practice?”

“Oh dear, well, I think you must have misunderstood. Yes, she was a doctor of some renown, but that was in Romania. She wasn’t licensed to practice in this country.”

“You’re kidding, right?” he flinched, blindsided by her statement.

“I certainly am not, sir,” she sounded off rather indignant. “She confessed as much to me when I asked if she might have a look at Mrs. Caruthers in apartment 3 who was struggling with the loss of her husband.”

“Damn,” he muttered. Until now, he was trying to temper his judgments, determined to not rush blindly into anything. After all, he had been down that road before and it hadn’t worked out so well. So anything short of finding the assailant standing over his victim with smoking gun still in hand, the case would definitely have to come to him. And so it had! Like a train bearing down on a collision course he could no longer avoid.

“I think I should have a talk with this Vlady. Do you know where I can find her?”

“No. Although I do know it’s a rural address because during cherry season she always brought me a basket of cherries. She said they came from a small orchard behind her home.”

“Just one more question, Mrs. Donizetti. You’ve made a point of telling me Sonya loved Michelle dearly. That would seem to discount the need for Michelle to hide away from her. So I need ask. Did you ever see Michelle hug Vlady?”

Mrs. Donizetti sat back in her chair. He could tell her mind was racing, though she said nothing, until after a long pause she lowered her head and simply whisper, “I don’t know.” Then again she looked up as if to plea, “I don’t think it was part of her treatment plan.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Donizetti.” He replied, knowing what he had to do next. “I will be back in touch when I find Michelle.”

“Good luck, Mr. Murphy,” the dear woman said with a tissue in hand to dry her eyes. He smiled and reassured her he’d find Michelle.
 
 
Scene VI: The Pink Flamingo
 
 
It wasn’t until 8 that evening that Michael again appeared with guitar case in hand heading for work. Cecil again followed with a sober Arn sitting beside him in the cab. Careful to keep his distance, they made their way up Claymore Boulevard to the newly refurbished and resurrected Fox Theater, now a club called the Pink Flamingo. The old art deco theater had been reconfigured into a strip club and for some odd reason had developed quite a reputation among the avant-garde and nouveau riche.

The place was packed most nights even though as far as strip clubs go the Pink Flamingo was rather tame. The club had its own private security as well. The security crew tolerated little in the way of unsavory behavior, and if you stepped out of line, their response was usually quick, concise and bordered on the barbaric. Needless to say, with violent crime near non-existent the police were happy to leave them to their own devises.

It was also a private club with a “By Invitation Only” door policy. Something Cecil discovered when he tried to follow Michael into the club. The 15 minutes he spent wrangling with the 6-3, 250 + pound doorman couldn’t get him in. Even a crisp new 20 slipped into his pocket failed to turn the trick. However, when he upped it a 100, he got a very abrupt and dire warning to “mind your P’s and Q’s” before finally being allowed inside.

“All that for what?” he asked himself. “Admission to a floor show lounge with a small crowd, a meager handful of so-so Flamingo Girls and where a bottle of water costs 5.00 plus another 5.00 tip for the girl to retrieve it?”

The disproportionate size of the small crowd to the cars in the parking lot was the first tip-off that the small floor show lounge he had been escorted into was not where the action was. Certainly nothing he saw was attractive enough to draw the fanfare that came with the place. The floor show wasn’t that hot either. Nor the band which was an all girl topless band wearing g-strings, heels and couldn’t play a lick.

Not that anyone seemed to care. Although Cecil did find it reassuring that Michael wasn’t among them. Fact is, Michael was nowhere to be seen. He also noticed that other than the security detail, everyone who worked there were women, including the bartender who with a scowl and an attitude read him the riot act when he asked for a refill. “Look, buddy, you know the house rules. You want something, ask the hostess.”

“Damn, it’s only water. For all the bucks I laid out to get in this place you’d think a guy would be entitled to a bit of personal service.”

“Oh, there yah go. You guys are all the same. It gets a bit crowded, things stack up a bit and you come out crying like babies that ain’t been fed.”

It was a stinging indictment, meant to put him in his place. That is, if you were to discount the fact that the crowd wasn’t all that large at all. Or, while her mouth was busy spewing her venom at him, she was facing away. Her eyes fixated on something he’d not notice before now. A hallway illuminated by a faint pink light located at the rear of the lounge. Cecil chose to follow her eyes.

“Yeah, well, I guess I’m sorry. I didn’t mean too . . .”

“Look, exercise a little patience,” she interrupted. “You know, everyone is trying their best.”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll ask the hostess.” Cecil returned to the lounge then worked his way toward the rear of the room. He was dead certain that’s were the action was, and couldn’t wait to see what the acclaim was all about. Actually he was somewhat excited by the myriad of possibilities. So much so that in his rush to get in, he failed to noticed the pair of security guards rising up to block his entry.

“I.D.,” the nastier of the two asked and Cecil responded by pulling out his wallet to show his drivers license.

“Ah, no, sorry fella, I meant your club I.D.”

“Club I.D? I’m supposed to have a club I.D to get some personal service around here?”

“Look, Mister . . . Mister,” he pause to give the driver’s license a second look. “Bend-over!” he mockingly stressed the first syllable. “I would suggest you turn round, have a seat and watch the floor show. Pronto!”

He got the message. For some reason access to whatever was down that hall was being monitored rather tightly. He hadn’t the slightest idea as to why, but one thing was certain. He wasn’t going to be listening to Michael play guitar anytime soon. Not until he could figure a way to gain access to that room.

Cecil decided to call it a night and went out to talk it over with Arn. He wasn’t feeling all that pleased with what had just transpired. He not only didn’t know anymore than before, but they had fleeced him out of a hundred and fifty bucks.

He started to cross the street when he saw a cleaning van pull up and back in the alley that separated the Pink Flamingo from an abandon building next door. His curiosity getting the better of him he walked over to have a look.

The first thing he noticed was that it wasn’t an alley. Rather it was a delivery entrance that abruptly terminated midway between the front and rear of the building. The drive sloped down. That meant the side service door entrance was a story above, with a flight of steps leading down. At the bottom of the stairs was a trash bin full to overflowing. Again, as the amount of refuse would seem to indicate, there was a lot more going inside than what he had seen thus far.

He watched as two cleaning ladies dressed in white smocks exited the van. They gathered up their things then walked up the long flight and rang the buzzer. An inspection hatch in the door slid open and after presenting their identification they were allowed to enter. Through that opened door he again saw the same faint pink light.

Thankfully, he found Arn awake and sober working on a crossword puzzle. Arn was also in the midst of rattling off a few choice words because Cecil had failed to pluck a few pink feathers to bring back to his thoroughly disappointed partner.

“Ah, sorry Arn, there wasn’t all that much to look at, with or without the feathers. I didn’t see Michael or much of anything else for that matter. Apparently anything worth seeing is going on behind closed doors. What I’m trying to figure out is what’s at play here; Girls, drugs, gambling . . . singing and dancing parakeets who do a great Gene Kelly?”

Arn laughed in a way he’d not heard before. Like a man with a debilitating disease, but not yet defeated, still fought to throw his hat into the ring. “I wouldn’t place my bets on dancing parakeets. You know, it could be nothing at all. Maybe it’s just a private club for certain folks to share a common interest and want to hobnob in private.

“Like who?”

“I don’t know. It could be anyone. Artists, businessmen, immigrants . . .”

“Immigrants?” Cecil interrupted. “The folks I saw didn’t look like immigrants to me.”

“Sure they are, buddy. We all are. Take me for examine. I was born in Ireland and belong to the Shamrock Club.”

“I thought they shut that place down for distilling without a license?”

“The social club on 43rd and Pike, yeah, but you can never take the whiskey out of an Irishmen. We still distill our private stock.”

“That stuff will kill you Arn, if it doesn’t get you locked up first.”

“That’s why I wouldn’t bank much on your chances of escaping alive should you accidentally stumble in while we were mixing up a batch.”

“So you think that’s all there is to it?”

“Well now, I’m not saying there is and I’m not saying there isn’t. What I am saying is that above the name of the club on the marquee it says ‘Dimitru Brother’s Social Club. You did read that, right?”

“Dimitru? Where have I heard that name before? What is it, Polish?”

“Beats me. All I can tell you is the Irish aren’t the only folks big on that clan stuff. It would be as simple as that, or, as you say, it could be something worse. Only what’s it to you? You’re following this kid Michael Chapman, not Bulgarian mobsters, right?”

“Yeah, sure, but I can’t follow him if I can’t figure out a way to get inside that room.”

“Incognito!” Arn replied while eyeing the tray of disguises.

“A disguise isn’t what I need. I need a membership card,” he replied matter-of-factly. “They ain’t letting anyone in without one.”

“Those cleaning ladies have one.”

“Yeah they do, but in case you haven’t notice . . .”

“I have, and I’ve seen worse,” Arn curled up his lip into a wily smirk.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning I worked a case with vise cop a year back. He was digging into a pimping operation over on 43rd, and to get on the inside he did it up to the nines. Now if you know Cliff Morgan you wouldn’t bank much on his pulling it off. I mean, it ain’t like he’s got all that much to work with, if you get my drift. Only Francine proved me wrong. One day in her hands and he came out pretty enough to kiss.”

“Who’s Francine?”

“A beauty expert,” Arn beamed. “The best in the city, and when she’s not too busy she donates her time to vice. She owns a beauty shop now. Only for years she was the toast of Broadway. Fact, inside her shop she’s got the walls lined with the autographed photos of all the famous actresses she’s worked with over the years. A real artiste she is, and I can look you square in the eye and tell you flat out, Francine Frangella could turn a ham sandwich into a grenade.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope, and the way I see it girlfriend, with your build, your looks, you’d make a dandy. What are you, 5-8, 135-140 pounds?”

“Close,” Cecil was a bit tentative talking about an issue that had become his Achilles’ heel since joining the force. In a more perfect world he would’ve liked to defend himself by adding he was actually pushing 5-9. A big difference to him, but fearing further ridicule from a guy who was himself over 6’, he chose instead to change the subject. “Yeah, well, that still don’t get me inside. A club membership, remember?”

“You’re not listening fathead. Those cleaning ladies have one.”

“You’re suggesting I impersonate one of them?”

“It crossed my mind, yeah.”

“Okay wise guy, so I do it. I show up, hit one of them on the head and snatch her ID. Clever!”

“Nah, nah, it don’t go down like that. Look, you just work on freshening up that pretty smile. Let me work it out with the cleaning lady.”

“What? Now just how do you plan on doing that?”

“Let’s just say I’ve got my connections.”

“You go to church and pray a lot, right?”

“Yes, well, a little divine intervention never hurt. Although, sometimes a neighbor lady with a bad case of the hots for me don’t hurt none either. I never paid her much mind before because she’s kinda thick and her English ain’t so good.”

“Oh lord, don’t tell me.”

“Yip, Olga just happens to work for the exact same cleaning company.”

“You sure?” Cecil asked, thinking it might be the remnants of the whiskey talking.

“Oh yeah, seen the truck parked outside. So, are you game?”

“You’re serious!”

“Dead serious!” Arn looked him in the eye. “I know I can hold up my end. The question is, do you have what it takes to grasp that brass ring?”
 
 
Scene VII: A Community of Ex-Patriots
 
 
The next morning Jack was back in the office to research the history of the names Mrs. Donizetti had mentioned. No criminal records had been found. He then searched for the missing person’s report that would have been filed when Michelle turned up missing. Again, he found nothing. Why no report had been filed piqued his interest, especially since Dr. “Vlady” Vladimirescu had said she filed it personally.

A quick search though the INS records confirmed the fact that Vlady wasn’t licensed to practice psychiatry in this country. She was however educated as such in Romania. Her application for asylum listed Bucharest as her last known address before leaving under fear of persecution by the Soviets. She was subsequently granted asylum in West Germany before immigrating to New York. Her current address was listed as River Road, Waterston, New Jersey.

Having found the information he needed he hopped into his car and headed for Waterston to have a talk with Vlady. The town was just a short hop across the George Washington Bridge, plus another hours ride though the Essex county countryside where small farms and orchards dotted the landscape. He followed the rural route until he located the mail box. He turned off on a narrow gravel road that lead to a two story brick home that fronted several acres of cherries round back. The address on the lamp post at the foot of the driveway indicated he had found the right address.

It’s was a big place, maybe 5-6 bedrooms with lattice windows and a large white portico that sheltered Adirondack chairs in the fashion reminiscent of an old country home. The home and the garden looked very well kept, as did the orchard around back. The kind of place he’d always dreamed about retiring to once he’d had his fill of the street wars.

He got out and walked around to get a sense of the place. The air cool and crisp, filled with the scent of cherries nearing the time of harvest. On the portico he found a bushel full of rolled up daily newspapers scattered about. A clear sign that no one had been at the home for weeks. Nevertheless he knocked and waited patiently for the response that never came.

He turned and walked back toward his car feeling somewhat disappointed, especially after all that Marie Donizetti had told him. Although, that would mean he’d have to return tomorrow, which on the whole really didn’t sound all that bad. He’d only been there 15 minutes and was already enamored with the place. The ride out and the house, nothing was as he expected.

Then there was that orchard and those old boyhood memories of the ocean of white blossoms and the snow-like pedals that covered the ground. A beauty that was disappointingly short-lived. Looking up he saw a scattering of raven and crow swooping down with abandon upon the red harvest. Ravenous birds to be sure, near blinded by their lust.

Much like himself as a boy he supposed. Swooping down on a bagful of the blood red fruit until the bellyache that had him wishing he hadn’t. Or, perhaps, as had happened in the Kline case. A matter in which he felt so sure of himself he had swooped down upon the boy dispassionately, near blinded by his lust to assign blame in the case. Only it turned out he had been wrong, leaving himself and his reputation no less battered than that poor kid, Gerald.

It was on that thought he spotted a man standing alongside a small ramshackle place about 100 yards away. He also noted that the man was watching his every move. “Well, why not?” he asked himself. “Inquisitive neighbors usually knew more about your business than they do there own.”

It turned out the man who was supposedly fixing a lawn mower and surreptitiously watching him was Yuri Saban, a tall, burly fellow with a thick Slavic accent. Yuri was the local Mr. Fixit who was usually first on everyone’s list to call whenever something need be done. The included “Doc Vlady,” as Yuri affectionately called her. It did however take some doing to get the rather standoffish fellow to admit to it, or anything else for that matter. Especially considering how reticent he was about speaking to anyone asking questions about the good doctor with the surname of Murphy.

“Good day, sir. I’m Jack Murphy.”

“Yuri Saban,” he replied, giving Jack the once over through a squint-eyed gaze. “Perhaps you can help me, sir. I need to know when Dr. Vladimirescu might be home.”

“Huh!” he grunted, “I don’t know,” he followed grudgingly, as if afraid he had already said too much.

“Look Mr. Saban, I’m here to notify Dr. Vladimirescu that an old and dear friend of hers has passed on and to deliver my condolence, that’s all.”

“Oh? Well, maybe you come back next week, okay?”

“Vlady and I are old and dear friend, you know. We do some important business together.” he lied, hopeful of winning his confidence.

“Oh? Sorry, Mister . . .”

“Murphy, but please, call me Jack.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Sorry I did not know,” his response punctuated with an apologetic smile. “Doc Vlady and Mihaela Ceausescu are in Germany. Business, you know.”

“Mihaela Ceausescu?” he asked himself. If his memory served him, she was the woman who looked after Michelle and Vlady’s close personal friend. “When will she be back?”

“Maybe you ask Egore Banica. No, no. You ask Arina Stanasila, okay.” He pointed the way to a house further down the road. “Maybe she knows.”

“Ah, well, actually I feel fortune to not find her at home. I don’t like having to pass on such sad news. Unfortunately it’ll be just as hard on Sonya, I’m afraid,” again he lied, hoping that one didn’t come back to bite him.

“Sonya,” he beamed, “you know Sonya . . . Sonya Pavel?”

“Yes, and Michelle, great friends both,” Jack smiled broadly, realizing the ploy had worked. “You know Michelle, right?”

Yuri leaned in and lit up with a thousand watt smile, his brows rocketing skyward like a pair of craggy mountain peaks.

“Yes! Mea surioară băiat!” he nudged Jack on the shoulder and made like a guppy. “Michelle everyone knows!”

“Surioară-băiat?” Jack enquired.

“Yes, how do you say? Girl, ahm . . . boy?”

“Girl? Boy?” Jack tried to stitch one and one together. The link seemed so incongruous that to escape him entirely. That is, unless due to his poor command of the language he needed help finding the right English word to describe her in terms of her gender. “Ah, that would be a young woman.” He smiled in response, “Or more precisely a very pretty young woman.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Sorry, my English,” Yuri replied, then just as suddenly clammed up. “Now I am busy, okay? I must ask you to leave,” he scowled, turned around and walked away. As did Jack still trying to figure out what had been said to cause him to stop talking.

He drove to the house that Yuri had pointed to. Along the way he slowed to a crawl to check the names on the mail boxes as he drove past, noticing they were all Slavic names. Dragos, Puscasu, Vladu, all Romanian’s,” he thought, “A little community of ex-patriots sharing like customs and a shared heritage that no doubt went back countless generations.”

Arina Stansila was also a part of that community. A woman in her 60’s with a scraggly hair or two sprouting out like weeds on a rather tried-and-tested, war-torn face. Nevertheless, while she might have looked battle worn, she was still up to testing Jack’s mettle, or so he soon found out.

“Yes, ma’am. Mr. Saban had suggested you might know when Vlady would be returning from Germany.”

Her answer was quick and concise, and if Jack’s foot hadn’t been wedged inside the door, it would have hit him in the face. “Mrs. Stansila, please, I need to ask Vlady where I might get in touch with a mutual friend,” he again lied.

Arina peered out from behind the door. “I’m just the housekeeper. Go away . . . please!”

“Yes, of course, but I must know when to return. Mr. Saban doesn’t know and neither does Sonya.”

“Sonya?” she eyed him suspiciously, but she did manage to open the door a bit wider.

“Yes Sonya Pavel. Do you know her?”

“Yes.” She replied, still eyeing him warily.

“Well, you see Michelle is missing and she thinks Michelle might have gone with Vlady.”

“No, the doctor travels with Mihaela Ceausescu.”

“Do you know where I might find her?” he followed, careful to not set off her rather short fuse.

“No!” she again replied, sounding somewhat bitter or frightened, though Jack couldn’t tell which.

“Can you tell me who might know? Yuri said she was very popular, everyone knew her.” He smiled as if knowing more than he did.

Arina managed a slight smile as if reflecting back upon some fond remembrance of the girl. “Yes, a very good child, Michelle,” then the corner of her lips turned down into a scowl. “Bah, Saban’s a fool. He talks too much. He thinks he can because he had privileges. He thinks I don’t know. Calm her! Phooey! I spit on him!”

“Yes, it is sad. I can’t trust Saban either. That’s why I need to speak with you. What I don’t understand is why she favors him so? He is a rather coarse man.” He followed with a hunch.

“Yes. He ate my Parjoale, did Vlady’s bidding then laughed and treated me like a fool.”

“I know, I don’t understand it either. I think Vlady always favored him.” He reached for the only logical follow-up to her statement.

“Yes, always. At the Institute I was head nurse, not Yuri. Yet Vlady gave him privileges there too. Phooey!” she made like she was spitting on the floor.

“Well, I need to find Michelle. Can you help me?” Suddenly her face tightened up and grew fiery red. “No!” she scowled again attempting to shut the door.

“Mrs. Stansila, please! Sonya has asked this of me.”

“No, go away. I’m just the housekeeper,” she manages to get out before succeeding in slamming the door in his face.

Egore Banica was no different. He was a gardener by trade, or at least he was now. Who knows what he might have been in his past life. Like the others he had spoken to, the guy might just as well have been a brain surgeon back in his homeland. Although somehow he doubted it. Not with the thickness of this guy’s brow ridge.

In fact, the term Neanderthal came to mind. That is, until the man opened his mouth and began to speak. It seems the man with a face like Frankenstein was as articulate as a Harvard scholar. He had perfect command of the English language. “How do you do, Mr. Murphy, it’s a pleasure.” Well now, that put a hitch in his caveman theory.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Banica. You speak English very well.”

Egore chuckled, “Yes, I studied to be an interpreter for 12 years, but the soviets had no use for a Romanian who understood the language better then they did. It didn’t fit into their plan, you see. They wanted an ignorant slave class and the intelligentsia didn’t fit in that picture. So I became an administrator.”

“You worked for Vlady?”

“Yes, proudly so, for many years,” he explained. “She was the very best you know. Where other facilities were turning out the worse of the worse, Vlady turned out productive workers who had much to contribute, year after year.”

“Yes, well, Yuri had suggested you might know when Vlady would be returning from Germany.”

“No. Why do you ask?” he enquired in a voice that suddenly took on a harder edge.

“Sonya has asked me to find Michelle. I’m a close personal friend,” again he lied, hoping for his lucky break. “I’ve heard you knew her quiet well.”

“Yes, though no better than others around here. Michelle was troubled and Vlady needed all the help she could get. I will admit to doing my part. I’ve always had a predilection for that sort of thing, you know,” he beamed a buffoonish grin, and then somewhat more soberly summed up his reply. “However, in answer to your question, no, I’ve not seen Michelle for quite some time.”

“Huh, well I wonder why Arina Stansila seems to think you might be ‘privileged’ with that information as well?”

“Arina said that?” his voice trembled.

“Yes, she was quite clear on that point as I recall,” he followed, hoping the jab might prod the canary into singing with a bit more specificity. Only his luck ran out.

“That bitch! Then abruptly he turned cold and angry, wanting nothing more to do with the conversation. “I have work to do! I must ask you to leave, immediately!” Then just like the others he had spoken to, he entered the house and let the door slam with a bang.

“Had I pushed too far?” he wondered. “Had Egore seen through the pretense? Then too, what was the secret that hung over the heads of these people they fought so fiercely to protect?”

He had heard of this sort of thing before. Ex-patriots sharing like customs and a shared heritage, grouping together to preserve, and if need be, fight for what was theirs. Such groups or clans were numerous in large cities, the immigrant neighborhoods in the greater New York area being a prime example. Although he had never seen one with a hierarchy that disseminated “privileges” like this one did. That is, except in the underworld where chieftains ruled with an iron fist, expecting blind obedience. Punishing those who didn’t and rewarding those who did.

Which to our keen-eyed detective begged the question, “If there was something more uniting this community other than a usual Sunday bazaar and annual Goulash eating contest what was it?” Though more importantly, “who disseminated those rights and privileges, and what role did Doc Vlady and Michelle play in all this?”

All questions he knew he’d have to find an answer to before he’d be able to pierce though the veil of secrecy to find Michelle. He would come back tomorrow. There was a lot here he needed to understand about these people. Not to mention Vlady, the woman who fraudulently passed herself off as a doctor, and wield her personage around like some medieval shield and spear.

Then there was this place. There was something about it that called out to him. He could feel it in the air ripe with temptation for that lush red fruit, and he could hear it in the regretful caw of those raven and crow.
 
 
Scene VIII: What are the chances of that?
 
 
It was midday when Cecil first spotted the girl through the window. He had been watching her for the better than an hour, using field glasses through the viewing port in the back of the van. He only got a periodic glimpse of her, coming and going in and out of view. It wasn’t the best angle considering he was parked a story below. Plus the white lace curtains stood between. A thin veil to be sure, but coupled with the odd angle, the best he could make out was her platinum hair, bare shoulders and he guessed a 36b cup bra. No, make that a little “c,” he mulled over the thought wanting to get that particular point just right.

A small point, but unable to see much else he followed those dancing, high-rise beauties around like a hawk zeroing in on his pray. “Huh,” he told himself, “I could think of worse assignments.”

It was at that moment he heard Arn returning from his mission. He had been gone the last 3 hours securing the cooperation of his lady friend. The lady living next door who worked for the Tepes Cleaning Company.

“Got it covered, buddy! Arn confirmed as he stepped in. “It wasn’t pretty though,” he followed with a huff, still a bit out of breath.

“It wasn’t?” Cecil looked on amused.

“Nope! On a scale of 1 to 10 I’d put it just under putting a pistol to your head and pulling the trigger.”

“Oh yeah? She sounds tough. What’d it cost you?”

“Don’t ask. Let’s just say the next time you need some plumbing done, don’t call a Romanian to clean out your pipes. Or at least not one with the lungs of a sump pump.”

“. . . and if that isn’t onerous enough for you,” he followed while pulling back his collar to expose a bright red oval abrasion on his neck, “Yep, fangs!”

“Wow! That’s some hickey,” Cecil marveled, peering in close. “So you’re saying this vampire is going to surrender her ID and let me go in her place?”

“Yep! I guess some women just find my Irish blood too irresistible to resist.”

“Maybe you ought to mention that to your wife.”

“Nah, I ain’t got that much blood to give.” Arn hooked his finger under his lip and pulled his mouth along as if he were a fish on a hook.

“So where is it, the I.D.?”

“I already handed it over to Francine for you.”

“You didn’t?”

“I did. She’s got to slap your picture over top. I told her to add a little extra dip to your do while she’s at it.” He smirked then blew Cecil a kiss. “Keep in mind though, we’ve only got 3 days, start to finish. If we don’t return her ID by then, we’ll both be praying for a ‘do-over’ button. Oh, and by the way, Francine will be by in a few minutes to pick you up.”

“She’s coming here to pick me up?”

“Yep, she volunteered. She said she wanted to cut off all avenues of escape. She sounded pretty hungry too.”

“Don’t tell me, another vampire?”

“Nope! More like a shark who ain’t had fresh meat in a week.”

“Aaah, sorry to disappoint, Arn, but . . .”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Arn cut in. “Don’t ‘but’ me. I’m not giving up my blood to that Transylvanian vampire just because you suddenly turn up with a hitch in your giddy-up.”

“Can’t, Arn, I’m staking out a babe in Michael’s apartment.”

“Yeah, who is it?”

“Who is it? How am I supposed to know?”

“Move over, let me have a look.” Arn snatched the glasses out of Cecil’s hand.

“Holy smoke! Well you’ve got to hand it to the guy. That’s one fine looking young lady. You think that’s the girl Jack’s looking for, the girl who was driving Michael’s car?”

“Could be, but her hair doesn’t match the description.”

“Where did she come from?”

“I don’t know. I checked the tenant list, but she doesn’t fit the description of anyone on the list.”

“No single young females?” Arn asked.

“No, all the tenants are elderly except Michael. They all have these strange foreign names too. The only woman is a Sveta Vladich. Only that girl in Michael’s apartment doesn’t look 68 years old to me. I guess she must have slipped in last night.”

“Hey, not on my watch, sonny boy”

“I was only gone 3 hours, Arn.”

“Well, there you have it. What are the chances of that?”


 
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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