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The Woman in White Marble

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Joy LennickAs an evacuee in World War 11 (up a mountain in South Wales), I read my library books by candlelight: frightening tales by the Brothers Grimm and magical stories by Hans Christian Andersen. That was it, I was hooked. Books always featured as presents and I loved nothing better than putting words on a blank page. I wrote a modest play, which was acted on the school stage, plus short stories and simple poems. With maturity, came marriage and three sons. I wore many hats in the business world and was offered the chance to write a factual book (having ran a small hotel with my husband) aptly called Running a Small Hotel. I updated a few other authors’ books and wrote another factual book: Jobs in Baking & Confectionery. Poetry followed, and when I retired to Spain with my ‘other half,’ I won first prize in the

lst International Short Story competition held in Torrevieja. Hurricane Halsey, a true sea adventure followed (as biographer), then my memoir My Gentle War, containing excerpts from my late father’s war diary written in France was published.  My most recent book The Catalyst is my first faction novel. I am a group leader for the local U3A writing class, and belong to WordPlay, who have published several anthologies containing some of my short stories. My husband has just hand-written his memoir: A Life Worth Living, which I edited (just published) and I’ve recently finished ‘semi-ghosting’ another book for publishing in the new year.

Joy Lennick

Sunday
Jan172016

Freeze

Place: An empty, former Delicatessen store, situated in a minor business hub on Third Avenue between East 103rd and E110 streets, East Harlem, New York, USA.

Time: 2.00 a.m.

“SWEET JESUS, LEFTIE! Cool it.”

 “You givin’ me orders, Groden? You still owe me big time – just like this bum…”

To emphasise his feelings, ‘Leftie’, slimly built, but deceptively strong, who had been busy with his fists, kicked the inert figure lying, bleeding, on the tiled floor.  Decidedly devious, but not of a violent nature, Groden winced, not liking the way the night, or rather early morning, was turning out. The

three of them had, after all, agreed to have a ‘civilised’ meeting, although he very much doubted that Leftie knew the meaning of the word.

“The pig’s in the freezer, like I promised,” said Groden.

“The pig’s just a start. What about the thousand bucks?” Leftie was obviously not in a bargaining mood.

“Times are difficult, Leftie.”

Yeah – for ALL of us, Groden!”

The body on the floor moved slightly and moaned, so Leftie made light work of hauling the  unfortunate   guy to his feet and smashing him hard with his right fist: the breaking of one or more teeth quite audible.  Groden winced again as the slightly built guy met the tiles, hitting the back of his head, from which a thin trail of blood oozed like a small, red stream.

“Stop it Leftie, you’ll kill him. Stop it!” Groden shouted as someone rattled the door handle, which was locked. Leftie put a finger to his lips while whoever was outside yelled:

“What’s goin’ on in there?” and rattled the door handle again.  Fortunately for Leftie, the lighting inside was dim and grime and posters covered up most of the door and window glass as the person tried to see what was going on.  With luck again on Leftie’s side, the curious passer-by thought it prudent not to investigate further and left. Groden bent over the still body on the floor, slapped the guy’s face and pulled him up by his tee shirt with no effect.

“Lennie? Can you hear me, Lennie? Get up!”  Paling, Groden looked up at Leftie.

“Christ, Leftie. Lennie’s just about breathing.”

“Shit!”

“You hard bastard. Is that all you can say?” Groden instantly knew that he was talking to someone with frozen feelings if he had any at all.

“Let’s put him in the freezer for now, in case that nosey bum returns. He’s nearly dead anyway.…”

“What? He’ll freeze to death.” Groden, not used to such violence, was shocked at the suggestion. .

Leftie shrugged:

He’s just a worthless bum.  No-one’s gonna miss him!”

Appalled at the gross idea, Groden nevertheless stood stock still while Leftie dragged the unfortunate – by now unconscious - Lennie into the freezer, aware that Leftie had too much on him.  Whatever the outcome, Groden somehow knew that he was in for the ride, however bumpy that might turn out to be.

 “You can help me get rid of his body tonight, Groden, so get thinkin’…You’ve no choice!” Leftie gave an evil chuckle, continuing:

“Cheer up, Groden -  it coulda been you.”

After handing over one pig carcass to Leftie, they left the store; Groden locking the door.

At 2.45 a would-be thief was in the process of breaking into the premises but left in haste when disturbed by a police car approaching.    

                                                            ********

8.45 a.m

IT IS A HOT, HUMID, July morning in New York.  The sky is a pleasing shade of blue: Madonna or

lapu lazuli, depending on your interpretation; and a session of rap singing competes with raucous voices raised to a dangerous level in an East Harlem side street.  Detective Maurice Shiff is on his way to pick up his ‘side-kick rookie’ Chuck Johnson.  Cutting the engine of his white Toyota Prius at the kerb outside Chuck’s apartment, he presses the car horn impatiently for several seconds.  It is a full two minutes before Chuck emerges, still tucking his shirt into his pants.

“Jesus, move it, Chuck.  We’re already late. Washington’ll be hopping…” The ‘Washington’ to which he was referring is Washington Carson, black Captain of the 25th Police Precinct in East Harlem.  The Monday morning ‘Crime round-up’ of homicides and other serious police matters took place at nine o’clock sharp.  Maurice taps his watch, gesticulating and miming in a typical Continental manner.  With his light olive-skinned looks and coal-black curly hair, he could be Italian or Spanish.  He is, in fact, a Russian Jew, his grand-parents having emigrated to America, firstly from the pograms in Russia and then Poland in the 1920s.  His father, Samuel, died aged 45, leaving his mother Bella – now 81, to cook and sew to bring up her two sons alone.  Maurice is a pleasing specimen of manhood at 43, whilst not quite reaching the heroic heights of Superman (whom he dreamt about in his teens). Despite being a ‘Cerebral guy,’ he also regularly works out at Mo’s Gym, and plays basketball at the East Harlem Center on 130 East 101st encouraging aimless teenagers who live near his mother – who proudly proclaims that:

“I’m the only Jewess left on my block!”

In the past, she was bemused to watch the almost mass exodus of the Jews and witness synagogues in the area metamorphasize into churches.   Now, mainly Puerto Ricans live in East Harlem. Back to the present action, Chuck opens Maurice’s car door, slides in beside him, still half awake and mumbles a greeting.  In complete physical contrast, blond as a Swede, spiky-haired Chuck, takes out a comb and tries taming his mop of hair.

“So well?”

Maurice’s expression softens as he starts the car and heads towards the home of the 25th Police Precinct.

“So well, what?” Chuck collapses, like a lanky string-less puppet, into his seat with a yawn.

“Man what a night…You shoulda seen her, man!”

Who?

“Lola.”

“Lola?” adding “Lap or pole dancer?”

Chuck ignored the question and said, sliding down further in his seat, grinning:

“Sow ye oats while ye may, is my motto…Just because you’re past it bud…

As my dear Mom used to say, why go out for burgers when you’ve prime steak at home!”

Maurice raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, well you may have somethin’ there M.  Your Louise is a right looker!”

She’s also intelligent Chuck – though I doubt that comes high on your list of desirable attributes at present!”

Chuck guffawed and said that the conversation was getting boring as Maurice negotiated the thickening traffic. Maurice had met Louise Merchant, who was thirty-eight years old, when he nearly knocked her flying in a local delicatessen while purchasing a stick of salami sausage. They dated, ‘clicked’ and now lived in a small West Harlem apartment.  Louise is a secretary, mad about Maurice, and is keen to have a gold ring on her finger and a baby in that order.  Although he loves Louise, for reasons known only to himself, Maurice prefers things the way they are. Having parked, and once inside police headquarters, the detective and his rookie greeted fellow cops cops gathering for the captain’s briefing with high fives and a few mumbled “Hi’s.

Responding to an itchy nose, Maurice said:

“Wonder what the old guy’s got on the itinerary today, Chuck? Espionage, computer hacking, arson – who knows!”

Maybe your schnozzle should be consulted, whatever it is…” Chuck neatly moved out of Maurice’s reach with a grin.

The Captain softened his men up with a joke, as always, and then got down to the serious business of the day.  Although tough when called for, he had a very human side, which made him more approachable than their last captain who was attributed with having no known father.

“The weekend has yielded the usual batch of drunken miscreants, two muggings, one ‘near rape,’ whatever that amounted to… two burglaries and two ’violent marital disagreements’ – haven’t read  the report yet.   NO murders, guys! Nada.  Shiff and Johnson – check out a reported break in.”

Armed with the details, Maurice and Chuck headed for their car, and having downed their second coffee of the day, accompanied by a cream cheese bagel, proceeded to the shop a few miles east.  Conversation was sparse as Chuck was still recuperating from his wild night of over-indulgence.  Around 10.30 a.m. they arrived at the site of the break-in. Having parked up, the two men approached the building - a double-fronted empty store - and removed the sealing tape placed there by two of their two of their colleagues earlier on finding the door open.  They were met by a damp, earthy odour, redolent of closed, unused, empty premises, as they entered.

“Jemmied…” said Chuck, fingering the door-jamb, continuing:

“Wonder what they were looking for? The place is empty.”

“They? Well, he/she/they wouldn’t a known that for sure until that got in, would they?”

Maurice replied.  Chuck mumbled a “Spose,while taking stock of his surroundings.

Strange!” Maurice tapped his lips with a finger.

“What is?”

“That the juice is still on.  This place musta been empty for months…”

Maurice pressed a switch on the wall and the ensuing light made them both blink.

“Howdya know that, M?”

Listen!”

“A freezer!”

Yup, heard it humming as we came in.”

Both men stepped deeper into the large room, side-stepping a flier shoved under the door promoting THE GREAT DECEIVER who promised to ‘Wow you at parties…’ whatever that entailed. Three sets of dry, but previously muddy, footprints (there had been a brief summer down-pour just after midnight) didn’t go unnoticed - one set on the edge of the rumpled flier, the others on the tiled floor - all scuffed but recognisable.  There was also a cigar stub, which Maurice bagged.    

“Good idea if we check the freezer, eh Chuck?” Maurice stepped purposefully towards the back of the room where a large walk-in freezer dominated the space. Behind him, Chuck sucked his teeth as the cold hit him.  Both men shivered.  Exchanging pained expressions, they turned in opposite directions to explore the spacious interior, Chuck silently gesticulating his surprise on finding a pig carcass hanging on a hook.  There were what looked to be a pile of frozen rags in the corner Maurice approached, until examined more closely.

“JESUS!” Maurice, clearly shocked at what he’d discovered, called Chuck over.

“It’s Lennie the limp. Poor ganef…” he said, and despite feeling sure that the body, partly hidden by old clothes and an empty sack , was bereft of life, bent down and felt for a pulse.  There was none.  In fact the body was as cold as marble. Noting Lennie’s attire – a red tee shirt and blue denim shorts – Chuck said:

“Hardly the right dress for such Arctic conditions, eh M?” To which Maurice, still shocked, simply shook his head.

“Re the moniker, was Lennie Welsh, and did he suffer a disablement in one of two places?” Chuck asked, giving a nervous chuckle.

Oh, very droll!” Maurice gave a wry grin, continuing…

“This is a first, Chuck.  What are the odds on finding the body of someone you know? And no, he didn’t hail from Wales.  He originally came from Italy. His surname’s Corelli. He was  a small-time pimp at one time – rumoured to be equally small fry in the Mafia. He was involved in a mysterious car accident which left him with a badly damaged leg, hence the nick-name.  I hadn’t seen him for a few years.”  

Maurice stared down at the ashen, almost vulpine, face of Lennie with another shake of his head and phoned through to the Police Examiner’s office, reported their finding and requested that they pick up the cadaver ASAP.  Simultaneously shivering, the two men left the freezer, closing the door behind them, Maurice aware of the fluctuating air temperature affecting the examination of Lennie’s body during the post mortem.

Having waited until their colleagues arrived, Maurice and Chuck then drove to police headquarters where Maurice typed up the murder report, secure in the knowledge that Lennie hadn’t wandered into the freezer of his own volition. Apart from their later stop for iced tea, it then nearing 85 degrees, plus a couple of hot dogs, the pair spent the afternoon checking on Lennie’s former acquaintances.  They discovered that one:  Bruno Mancini, had been fished out of the East River six months previously with a bullet in the back of his head, and that Lionel Griffen, an embezzler, had died of cancer.  That just left a shady character called Leftie Rogers, sometimes called Roger the dodger, to check on.  After more phoning around, the men put in some leg work, calling in on one or two clubs and a pool hall.  As expected, the guys they questioned clammed up, and they were about to give up for the day, when a more chatty character, known to being ‘occasionally co-operative’ named Willie Walters, wandered in.

“Yeah, I know Lennie,” he said when questioned, adding:

 “Wadya wanna know?”

They refrained from telling him that Lennie was dead.

“Did he ever hang out with Leftie Rogers alias Roger the dodger?

Maurice unconsciously massaged the end of his nose, while Chuck yawned.

“Don’t know no Leftie guy. There’s a Wanda though.  She’s his latest Romanian squeeze.”

The two policemen exchanged bemused glances.

“He played pool last week with a thick-set guy and a thinner dude I’d never seen before.

 Didn’t quite catch their names, but one sounded like Doden or Drogen, Willie added.

 Sing Canary, sing… thought Maurice.

Thanking him, Maurice bought him a whisky shot before returning to the scene of the crime, with Chuck in tow. Back outside the former Deli, with the body removed and the door again sealed, Maurice studied a slightly torn notice affixed to the window that had rang an unanswered bell earlier, offering the shop on a long lease, and took note of the telephone number. Despite Maurice having recognised the victim on discovery of his body, further identification was thought necessary. With ‘loud-mouthed’ Willie’s assistance, Lennie’s girl friend Wanda was located and formally identified his body in the morgue, while sobbing copiously, declaring,

“He was no angel, but sure was kind to me.”

Maurice thought it a welcome human touch as he doubted that many would weep at Lennie’s passing.    However, regardless of Lennie’s questionable deeds and status, with his intense dislike of anyone willing or keen to take another’s person’s life, he was determined to track down his killer. When he finally received the Police Examiner’s Report, Maurice was not surprised at the findings.

As suspected:

“Lennie Corelli, the deceased’s, body contained a high percentage of alcohol and traces of cocaine. There were several contusions: four on the jaw-line, and one mid-way down on the back of the  skull.”   He further read: “The exact time of death could not be correctly ascertained due to the partial thawing of the body during its removal from the freezer in which it was found and the period it rested before and during the autopsy.  Conclusion: It is thought that the deceased was still alive when placed in the freezer, but died soon afterwards of hyperthermia.”

While waiting for the Coroner’s Report, Maurice had rung the number of the deli’s agent.  A young female with a broad Bronx accent answered.

“Groden & Walsh. How may I help you?” Within minutes, Maurice had an appointment to meet Mr. Groden the next day. As stiflingly hot as the day before, that particular Thursday saw Chuck waiting outside an unobtrusive, concrete-rendered building near North General hospital, while Maurice entered the reception area and was ushered into an impressive office.  Behind an oak desk, sat the formidable figure of Geoffrey Groden, a thickset, porcine-faced, forty-plus-year-old, smoking a large cigar.

After introducing himself as Kevin Klein, Maurice at first showed an interest in one or two empty shops he had noticed en route, and then studied Groden’s reaction as he asked about the now infamous (while not publicly so) deli.  Groden immediately took the cigar from his mouth, lowered his eyes and said, all too hastily:

“I’m very sorry but someone signed up for that store on Friday.”

A great shame,said Maurice, continuing,

 “With its position and size, it had great potential. I’ll think on about the others.”

Maurice left the office, thinking that there was something familiar about Geoffrey Groden.  Maybe he had seen him in a line up… crooks were adept at assuming aliases.

On leaving the building, Maurice put Chuck in the picture, keeping out of sight until he spotted a gleaming, beetle-black Cadillac emerging from the under-ground car park.

“Let’s tail him, Chuck. I wanna see where he goes, or maybe lives. 

Keeping a car in between theirs and Groden’s vehicle, they followed their suspect for several miles.

Patches of greenery gradually replaced the concrete jungle, and several larger, more ornate, houses appeared on the horizon: Groden soon pulling into the open-gated driveway of one such property. 

Maurice turned to Chuck:

 “Let’s get ourselves a search warrant, bud.”

 “The house?”

The office first.” Maurice turned the car around at the next intersection. At police headquarters, they were given a search warrant with reluctance and after much persuasive talk,and returned to Groden’s office, keeping out of the way until the staff had locked up for the day. Once inside, they ferreted around for evidence. Reading through various documents and papers, at first lead Maurice to think that perhaps he was barking up the wrong tree. Maybe his ‘gut reaction’ was simply the after affects of having eaten one of his mother’s heavy meals…Whoever heard of a Jewish woman who couldn’t make proper chicken soup!? Kosher his mother’s home was not.  He smiled as she flitted across his consciousness.  Having decided while he was still in the womb that he should be a lawyer, she was disappointed when he became a detective, calling him a Klutz!” adding “You could be killed!”  However, the fact that his younger brother -My son, Joseph the doctor!” – fulfilled a birth-wish, left her happy.

The pair continued searching the office, when Chuck spoke:-

“I thought you said that this Joe was thickset and overweight!”

“I did. Why?”

“Would a pair of dirty trainers be of interest?” Chuck held them up like a trophy from a corner cupboard.  To his surprise, Maurice planted a kiss in the middle of his forehead.

“Bingo!” he said as he bagged the sports’ shoes.  Riffling through a drawer of Groden’s

desk, Maurice found a key which unlocked a filing cabinet nearby, producing more incriminating evidence: the Deeds to three properties.  So, Groden owned the crime deli, plus the house and a farm, way out of town.

“A busy guy, our Mr Groden. A finger in many pies. Especially pork pies!” said Maurice.

They shared a snigger.  About to leave, armed with the sneakers for DNA sampling, Maurice came across a photograph of Groden in an envelope, with one arm around the shoulder of a prominent Mafia member he recognised.  Tapping the evidence, he said:

“Chuck, old buddie, the onion’s startin’ to peel!”

Back at headquarters, he surprised the captain with tangible evidence against Groden.  Time dragged as Groden’s DNA was corroborated.

“Eureka!” He said to Chuck on the ‘phone a few days later.

“However,” he added, “There’s still somethin’ botherin’ me.  Damned if I can figure out what it is!”

Give your brain a break, M.  Looks as if Groden is our man!”

One of them, anyway, Chuck.  The other one is just as important to nail.”

The arrest warrant was typed up on the following Monday.

The two men were in good humour as they entered Groden’s office.  He frowned on recognising Maurice and vehemently expressed his innocence, as expected.  The detective read him his rights, before formally arresting him.  Remonstrating, he requested a lawyer.

“I dunno no Lennie Corelli…It’s a frame-up!”

How many times had that been claimed over the years, Maurice thought. A few hours later, having appointed and seen his lawyer, Groden refused to talk, apart from refuting implication in the crime.

“The canary aint sung yet…” was Chuck’s take on the situation.

Once in court, when questioned by the Prosecution Lawyer, Groden again denied having any knowledge  of the victim and said:

“So what? I own the joint,.” when shown his cigar stub: (“An expensive Havana”) and reluctantly admitted owning the sports shoes which perfectly matched one set of footprints, saying “Why wooden’ my footprints be there?”

Groden continued to plead his innocence and only admitted to putting one pig – as found – in the freezer, explaining, in a waffling manner, that it was for a friend. With only circumstantial evidence against Groden, the case was adjourned, much to Maurice and Chuck’s frustration.  They had, however, not reckoned on the dedication of one particularly keen member of the forensic team: Eleanor Tamsin, who found one of Groden’s thumb prints on Lennie’s tee shirt after the adjournment.  The case was reopened.   

As soon as he arrived in court, Groden shocked everyone by blurting out:

“It was Leftie what done it! We’d shot a few games of pool – the three of us – an’ went back to my

place, the deli.”  

“But it was empty, was it not, Mr. Groden?” The prosecuting lawyer raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, but I wanted to show leftie the pigs.”

The pigs?”

“Yeah, I own a farm and rear ‘em.  Leftie’s in the pork pie business.”

Convenient!  Not part payment for Mafia favours then?”

The defence lawyer sprung to his feet.

“I object your honour.  Mafia connections have not been proved.”

Sustained,” said the judge.

May I approach the bench your honour? I have a photograph which may be of interest. Evidence marked C.”

 The prosecution lawyer handed the judge the photograph.

  “Banged to rights, eh Chuck,” Maurice whispered.  Thereafter, Groden admitted that there was  “A fight…”

When questioned further, it was established that both Groden and Lennie owed Leftie substantial amounts of money for both drug and gambling debts.  The judge called it a day until Leftie could be traced and arrested. Unsurprisingly, Leftie had temporarily vanished, while Groden stewed in a  cell.

Two weeks later, on a tip off, one of the officers from the 23rd Police Precinct - who often worked in harness with the 25th - located the whereabouts of Leftie Rogers, rang Maurice and he was duly arrested and taken into custody. Rogers immediately denied the murder, blaming Groden, and for many long hours it was like a verbal court tennis match.  Eventually:

“OK, I admit to knockin’ Lennie out and puttin’ him in the freezer to cool off.”

At that juncture, there were gasps of disbelief and a snigger from members of the jury. Rogers continued,“…When I went to let him out, he was dead. Groden wooden help me get rid of his body. I panicked and left.”

“With the pig tucked under your arm, Mr Rogers?” Jury members laughed. He went on…

“I suggest that the deceased was still alive when you placed him in the freezer and that you knew he

he couldn’t last long under such conditions.”

At that point Groden decided to tell the truth of the matter.

The judge thereafter stated it to be: “A heinous crime! How you could have let the accused put the deceased - not knowing whether he was actually dead – into a freezer defies belief.  You are equally culpable.”

Rogers was sentenced to twelve years for manslaughter, Groden nine. Maurice and Chuck discussed the outcome over a beer.

“When Leftie said that he put Lennie into the freezer  to ‘cool off’ -  Jesus –  that mustave been the  most inane, lunatic statement of all time!” said Maurice, adding:

“There’s still somethin’ buggin’ me about Groden though…

He stroked the tip of his nose before striking the side of his head with the palm of one hand –

“Shmuck!  Basketball! That’s where I’d seen him tryin’ to get rid of some flab. Fancy me not  recognising him. Another beer?  We’re celebrating…Why the frown?”

I was wondering about the break in.”

A minor matter, Chuck. He/she/they were disturbed.  A murder’s just been solved.

 L’Chaim, buddie!”  

Copyright©2016 Joy Lennick

Monday
Feb012016

The O’Reilly Case

East River, East Harlem
New York 3.00 a.m. on a balmy July morning.

SEDUCED BY THE WARM breeze ruffling the dark waters of the East River, the shimmering moonlight on its surface, and their heightened feelings for each other, a young couple aimlessly strolled along the footpath, holding hands, oblivious of the time.

Apart from the almost imperceptible scamper of a lone rat, all was quiet, until two warring cats and a distant car horn broke the silence. The couple stopped, kissed and the guy whispered who knew what into the girl’s ear. She giggled and their pace quickened as they entered a stretch of open, while neglected, parkland. Nearing the denser foliage of a few trees, they sat down upon the parched grass and embraced again, and then the guy gently laid the girl on her back. She smiled, looked tenderly into her lover’s eyes, then let a piercing scream echoe into the night sky.

***

Detective Maurice Shiff’s ‘Blackberry’ rang in a ‘no nonsense’ brief staccato fashion, twice, which echoed in a dream he was enjoying, until reality dawned…it really WAS ringing! The call was from the 25th Police Precinct, East Harlem headquarters. He managed a muffled, sleepy

“Shit…” before answering.

“Shiff?” asked a voice.

“Yup,” said Maurice with a stifled yawn.

“Carson here. We need you, Shiff. There’s been a possible homicide. Bring Johnson and look lively!”

After replying in the affirmative, Maurice turned to face his partner, Louise, now half awake, and told her that he was wanted at police headquarters. With a kiss on her forehead, a curse, followed by another yawn and a deep sigh, he phoned his working partner, Chuck Johnson. Louise sleepily told him to “Take care babe,” and rolled over. Meanwhile, Chuck was taking some time to answer, and when he did, cursed him in no uncertain manner. Maurice correctly guessed why… After dousing his face with cold water, downing a swig and running a comb through his thick, dark hair, he reluctantly put on his uniform; gun in its holster, and left the apartment, closing the door quietly behind him. A blast of warm air met him as he stepped into the still night, making him appreciate that it was July and not December. Chuck was waiting on the pavement outside his apartment block with a scowl on his face as Maurice drew up in his white Toyota Prius. Opening the passenger door, mumbling a greeting, Chuck slid his rangy body in. with obvious reluctance. In light-hearted mode, Maurice said, with a grin: “Top o’ the mornin’ Chuck! ola stay over?” (Lola being Chuck’s latest ‘bit of hot stuff.’)

“Howdga know?”

“Just a wild guess.”

“What’s up anyway, A homicide?”

“Maybe.”

“If it is, it’s a bloody awful time to get yourself bumped off, if you ask me!”

“Isn’t it just!” said Maurice, giving the statement an ironic inflection. At headquarters, the detective and his partner were briefed.

“Around 3.00 a.m. a couple down by the East River on earmarked land, were indulging in a bit of hankie pinkie – lying under an old plane tree - when the girl looked up and saw two legs dangling from a branch on the other side. Her guy investigated and found the hanged, dead body of a vagrant. The guy’s a medical student and could see the stiff was beyond help. He phoned us a few minutes later. Two of our men picked them up and they’re still here now. Stubbins and Murphy are at the scene, and I want you to relieve them and have a poke around. OK Shiff, Johnson? Any questions? Get moving.”

By then wide awake, the adrenalin pumping, the two men were caught up in their own thoughts, both conscious that, if it was a case of murder, it could prove to be a hard one to crack. Attitudes to vagrants could be unsympathetic.

When they arrived at the scene of the possible crime: an under-developed stretch of parkland situated between East 131st and West 145th streets, they spoke to the two cops present: Tom Murphy and Gary Stubbins. Gary said a brief “Hi,”while Tom filled them in on the pertinent details:

“Hi Mo, Chuck. This is a bum one. We cut the poor guy down around 3.40. As you can see, the stiff is a middle-aged vagrant. No identification papers on the body, but we found an old pocket book in his jeans containing a five dollar bill, and a crumpled snapshot of a white-haired old lady. S’pose she could his Mom. At first, we thought he coulda hung himself, until we noticed the freshly bloodied abrasion on his chin; also the loose earth near the tree suggested a scuffle.”

After the area and the body had been photographed, Maurice stooped over the victim, until the unpleasant combination of urine, stale beer and excrement made him retch and cover his mouth and nose. “Jesus!” he said, with feeling and a grimace, holding up a hand to keep Chuck away from a similar experience. He studied the body from a distance, working his way up, rather than down. (Maybe a habit taken from reading Hebrew in the distant past, he thought.) The sandals the man wore were broken and worn; his toenails uncut and filthy. His dark blue jeans were greasy and torn, and the blue and black checked shirt - too thick for the present warm weather - was missing several buttons. Maurice studied the almost emaciated body and equally emaciated face – discoloured and blotchy from being hanged by the neck – of the unfortunate guy, with a frown. A slightly protruding, bony chin bore the stubble growth of several days, and his brown, lank hair hung like matted string to his shoulders. He mused that his last thoughts could not have been pleasant ones. He must have been petrified. How could such a small-boned, thin man have been a threat to anyone? What misdeed had he committed that he deserved such a horrendous end to his miserable life?

Rogers, the Medical Examiner, arrived at that juncture and went through the usual procedure before removing the body. Just before he was zipped into the body bag, Maurice took another quick look at his face, noticing the fact that his mouth was slightly lopsided. Spotting the rope used to hang the victim - curled up like a dead, evil snake which had done its worst - in the clue bag, he unconsciously touched his own throat and rubbed his nose.

“Surely, he was what Dickens called ‘part of the dispossessed,’ eh Chuck!” he said, with a shake of his head. His partner gave him an odd look and said:

“Whatever you say, M!” Maurice silently wondered what sort of a life the unfortunate guy had had before becoming a vagrant. After all, he thought, none of us are born vagrants.

“A dime for them, boss?”

“Just wondering about the poor devil, Chuck”

“Oh come on, he’s just another weak bum who fell by the wayside. The world’s full of ‘em!”

“You don’t spend much time wondering about human nature, do you Chuck?”

“Don’t you go gettin’ all religious and preachy on me, M.”

“You know very well I’m an atheist but I do care about humanity!”

“Yeah, well….” For once, Chuck was lost for words and looked – to his credit – embarrassed.

For reasons Maurice couldn’t quite understand himself, the dead body being transported to the morgue had touched a particularly raw nerve. He’d seen enough dead bodies in his years with the force, including those of several down and outs. Perhaps it was the method of his death that disturbed him. There was a vulnerability about this one that got to him. He chided himself and his professionalism took over. With a sweeping look around, he said to his partner:

“This stretch of the river and open ground sure needs a face lift, wouldn’t you say?”

Both men carried powerful torches which they switched on to send arcs of light sweeping around patches of rough ground darkened by various, dusty bushes and trees, and in shadows, out of reach of the silvered rays of the moon. Wearing gloves, Maurice and Chuck ‘finger searched’ the earth, broken twigs and damaged leaves immediately under the tree on which the victim had been hung. They found nothing, apart from trampled, patchy grass. Given the dry nature of the ground, Maurice doubted that they would get much in the way of satisfying shoe prints. Widening their search to the footpath, they found nothing of note, just some hardened gum, and a few cigarette ends which Chuck bagged anyway. The two men, having concentrated on their search for clues, had exchanged few words when Maurice broke their silence.

“I’ve a strong feeling we’re in for a long wait with this one, Chuck,” he said, continuing “Let’s cordon the area off until it’s light. I can’t see what else we can do here for now. Fancy a coffee?” Having phoned through to headquarters for replacement cops and seen them arrive, they quenched their thirsts and reported back to headquarters to file their reports. Both men then returned to their respective homes for a few hours sleep: Louise’s welcome pleasing Maurice no end, whereas – to his dismay – Chuck’s Lola had “Flown the coop,” as he later told Maurice.

Later in the day, there was still no breakthrough in the way of clues or leads. As Tom Murphy had already told him, there were no papers on the body to prove the vagrant’s identity; just the faded photograph of an elderly woman with a shock of white hair. Recalling the five dollar bill, Maurice said:

“At least we can rule out robbery,” his mind travelling down other avenues of conjecture. Several days passed, and apart from involvement in paper work, a couple of ‘affrays’ concerning crack selling - it being a sub culture of the ‘El Barrio’ area - two muggings and three ‘domestic violence’ incidents, there was still no movement forward in the hanging case. Posters bearing a drawn likeness of the deceased were printed and distributed far and wide. There was no response, and to Maurice’s disappointment two further weeks went by without a lead of any kind.

In between time, there was the Coroner’s Report to study, a part of which read:

‘The blow on the chin of the deceased is consistent with being struck by a closed fist. However, actual death was caused by being hung by the neck by a stout rope, thereby causing severe bruising and strangulation. Furthermore, it is evident that the victim had suffered a stroke, indicative by the slack mouth and affected left arm. This was confirmed by a brain scan.’

In between working shifts, Maurice worked out, played basket-ball, took Louise to the El Musica del Barrio Museum of Latin American & Caribbean Art and Culture, having a penchant for all the arts, and caught up on his reading when possible; Dale Rominger’s latest: The Woman in White Marble, thankfully now an Ebook, awaiting any spare time. However, while busy socially and with his police work – sometimes frantically so - Maurice never forgot the pathetic, haunting face of the hanged vagrant, still in a refrigerated drawer at the morgue with a tag on his big toe, awaiting identification.

Time was dragging on, when a vagrant buddy of the deceased wandered into the 25th precinct police headquarters and claimed that he knew – or thought that he knew – the dead man.

“Yer know the guy on the posters,” he began, before the desk cop held up a hand and stopped him.

“Wait a mo, bud, there are a few mug-shot posters around here. Which one?” He pointed to three on the walls at close quarters. With a grimy hand, the vagrant pointed to one:

“That’s Donald O’Reilly or I’m a monkey’s uncle!” Maurice happened to be in an adjoining office at the time, so the policeman on desk duties took the man in to him for questioning. With a feeling akin to mild relief, Maurice said

“Take a seat. Are you quite sure that the man on the poster is a Donald O’Reilly?” The man assured Maurice that he was, adding that he had wondered what had happened to him. Apparently he – his name being John Walters – had hitched a ride out of town to visit an old friend in another State, and on his return, had seen the poster.

“Don was orlright…A dumber and deaf like, but he shared anythin’ he had, which wasn’t much but still… Howdi die?”

“I’m afraid that he was found hanging from a tree, down by the East River.” John Walters, obviously finding the news disturbing, let his head droop down on his chest, and Maurice saw him hastily wipe a tear from an eye with a grubby finger.

”What bastard wooder done that? Don wooden hurt a fly! I’d like to attend his funeral.” John Walters shook his head.

“I doubt it’ll be for some time yet. We’re still trying to find his murderer or murderers.

Did the deceased… Donald, have any enemies that you knew of, John?”

“Not a one that I was aware of, sir. Except for keepin’ me company now and then, he kept himself to himself, being that he was deaf and dumb and all. He could read and write though, sir!”

With a brief appreciative smile, Maurice thanked the man, told him to keep in touch, and ushered him out. As he did, John Walters turned around and said:

“If it helps, I think that Don came from Cork in Ireland. He pointed it out on a map one day. I think that his Mom is still alive.”

It was a start. Checking local police records for a second time, Maurice found nothing. Scratching his his head, he wondered how long Donald 0’Reilly had been in America, likening progress on the case to swimming against the tide.

That night, Maurice was off duty. Louise made a meat loaf and invited his mother to dinner.

“So, how’s my son, the detective?” Bella asked Maurice, as if he were someone else. He grinned knowing it was a gentle reprimand for not ringing her for several days.

“Your son’s fine, Mom. How’s his Mom doin’?” He kissed her on one cheek, and she gave a little chuckle.

The next day, Maurice contacted a member of An Garda Siochana, Ireland’s National Police Service. After introducing himself, he told the constable who answered:

“I work for the 25th Police Precinct in East Harlem, New York and am trying to trace the mother of a murdered man called Donald O’Reilly. It’s reckoned she lives in County Cork. Give me your email address and I’ll send a copy of a photo found on the deceased’s body. Afraid I don’t have a first name.”

On checking various census forms, the Irish constable located a Mrs Mary O’Reilly who had a son called Donald and sent Maurice an email to that effect. Apparently, Mary O’Reilly confirmed that her son was deaf and dumb and had disappeared in 2005.

“I’ve a strong feelin’ in me bones that me Donald got work on board a ship heading for America, sir and maybe was given a job in the docks in New York for a while.” she told the constable, adding: “He was quite bright, so’e was. He could read and write really well. Every birthday and Christmas he sent me a nice card with nice words, sir but never explained much. But he missed me birthday last April, and I’ve been worrying ever since.” (John Walters later confirmed that Donald had had a stroke about then.)

Maurice felt a little better. At least the man had a verified identity which lent him some dignity, even though he was dead. However, he was surprised to receive a further email, especially as it was from Mary O’Reilly herself. She asked several questions, while he expertly skirted the cause of her son’s death in his reply. Another came back, expressing the wish to come to New York to see her son’s body and hopefully attend his funeral, which she wanted to arrange, if at all possible. Despite reservations, the case had become somehow personal.

Time really was of the essence, but Maurice doubted that they would find O’Reilly’s killer or killers before his mother arrived the following week. Nobody had seen or heard anything suspicious on the fatal night and no-one had came forward with any further information or leads.

On a whim – whilst having an off duty beer with Chuck – Maurice suggested that they re-visit the scene of the hanging.

“But why, M? The area was clean as a whistle.” “Humour me, Chuck. You never know.”

“Yeah, and it snows in New York in July!” Chuck shrugged, adding with a reluctant sigh

“OK boss, let’s go.”

A second thorough finger-search again found nothing, so the two men widened the search area.

“Tom Murphy also went over this section with a tooth comb,” said Chuck, sweating in the humidity of an early evening, with the temperature nearing 82 degrees. Maurice ignored him and carried on with his painstaking work. And then, after another half an hour had passed: “I’ve found somethin’!” Maurice shouted out.

“What?”

“A lighter – looks as if it rolled down the path and got stuck in a corner. It’s gold too…” he said on closer inspection.

“It could belong to anyone, M…”

“Granted, but one never knows.” Maurice bagged the lighter and they handed it in at headquarters.

August the first arrived, and with it, plenty of police work to keep Maurice and Chuck busy, especially petty crimes and muggings - unsurprising in the dire economic climate. East Harlem also had a high student drop-out rate and high truancy levels, with some families living below the poverty line, so sometimes it seemed a simple case of ‘needs be.’ Maurice had ambivalent feelings towards some non violent, petty crimes and befriended a few, needy teenagers, encouraging them to take up basketball and other sports.

Having previously booked a modest, but clean and comfortable room at the La Sienna hostal, which was more like a Guest House, on 241 West 123rd Streets for Mrs. O’Reilly, Maurice met her at Kennedy airport, somewhat surprised to see a fairly agile woman in her late seventies, whose face spoke of a life of hardship but to whom stoicism was a staunch allay. From her bearing: straight backed, head held high…he knew that she could cope with the horror and grief ahead, however painful it would be. She asked to be taken to see her son’s body as soon as possible, and after insisting that she stop for a cup of tea, Maurice took her to the mortuary, gently telling her en route how her son had died.

Around 16.00 hours a “highly charged” (the desk clerk’s evaluation) man literally barged into headquarters, shouting:

“I want police protection. I DEMAND POLICE PROTECTION!”

The desk clerk called for assistance. Maurice had just returned Mrs O’Reilly to her hostal to rest and recover from the shock of seeing her dead son.

“I got valuable information about a hangin’ but you gottta protect me!” the man blurted out.

“Calm down, bud. Who was hung?”

“Some poor hobo. ’E was like a lamb to the slaughter.”

“Who hung him?”

“Not so fast…you gotta promise me police protection first.”

“You’ve got it. Now give me some facts. So?” Maurice began “Mr? “Ledger.” “First name?”

“Winston – you muster heard o’ me: Big Win?” he said with a swagger reminding Maurice of a boxer about to enter the ring. He was spot on.

“I won several championships…

“Maurice thought it wise to humour him. “Oh yeah!” he said as if he had seen the light. Briefly elated at someone supposedly knowing of his prowess as a boxer, Winston suddenly slumped in his chair, remembering that it was over thirty years ago. Nowadays he couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag.

“It was Herman that hung the poor sap,” he said. “Herman who?”

“Search me, but he’s a real mean bastard. We had an argument and he stabbed me in the shoulder and threw me in the river to drown. That guy saw it all. Herman wooder stabbed him too but when we fought at the river’s edge, the knife fell in, so Herman took the rope out of his fishin’ boat and hung the poor sap to a tree.” Winston paused, continuing ‘

”E never uttered a darned word. Not a one. I hid for a while behind the boat then swam under the water until it was safe to get out. I bin hidin’ ever since.”

“So where can we find this Herman?” Maurice asked.

“I dunno. He was always cagey about where he lived. I used to play pool with the guy now and then, but I was a bit wary ‘cos of his temper. Ever disturbed a hornet’s nest?”

“So why did he stab you and throw you in the river, Winston?”

“I dunno…” Winston repeated, sniffed and clammed right up.

“Come on now, bud – you must have done somethin’ to upset the guy.” Winston had a look on his face which suggested he was searching for something original to say.

“After fishin’ from his boat, we tied up and were about to split when he asked me about a dame I fancy. He likes her too…and he told me to stay away from her or he would:

“Cut my fuckin’ heart out.” He got real heated up, pulled a knife and stabbed me in the shoulder. I tried to get away but he’s a strong dude and threw me in the water.”

The only part Maurice believed was about being stabbed and thrown in the river; guessing that they’d argued about a crack deal. With Winston Ledger ‘protected,’ the detective rung Chuck. They liaised, and went over details of the case together.

“Remember O’Reilly, Chuck? We’ve got a strong lead. A German guy called Herman. We need to find out where he hangs out.”

Their own police files revealed nothing, but a phone call to the 23rd proved fruitful. Coincidentally, Detective Jim Bolton had arrested a guy named Herman Friedrich, alias The Bear, only the day before for “Nailing a guy’s hand to a table… Yeah, a real gentle dude!” he said. Apparently, he lived on Coney Island but also owned a property in West Harlem.

Maurice and Chuck went to the cell where Herman was held and questioned him about the hanging. Faced with a huge, hairy man - the word Yetti was bandied about - who deserved the nickname of Bear, they watched, bemused, as he tried to look innocent. They knew, instinctively, that they had their man.

In time, Winston Ledger, shaking like a leaf, despite being screened from his attacker, identified Herman as the man who callously hung a helpless man who couldn’t hear or speak. It was ironic, and Maurice thought, doubly cruel that neither could Donald 0’Reilly have given written evidence as the stroke he had suffered affected his brain and ability to reason. He felt a deep dislike of the man - who still denied any wrong doing - and was keen to see him sentenced in court.

Maurice’s mother had befriended Mary O’Reilly; keeping an eye on her as she insisted on staying in New York until the case was heard. The couple running the hostal were sensitive to her plight and gave her a reasonable rate, so she had the eventual satisfaction of seeing her son’s killer jailed for life, without parole. DNA from the murderer was found on Donald’s clothing, the rope and a gold cigarette lighter.

Maurice’s family helped Mary 0’Reilly arrange a funeral service and cremation for her son, and his buddy John Walters also paid his last respects. They then took her to JFK International airport, she carefully carrying her son’s ashes for scattering in the Irish countryside.

“You know what, Chuck,” Maurice said later

“…I really felt for that brave Irish lady. Holding her son’s ashes musta been the closest she’d been to him for many years. Some people sure have bum lives!”

Copright © 2106 Joy Lennick

Monday
Feb152016

Pay Back Time

It was a gun-metal grey, wet November morning in East Harlem, New York.  Depressing clouds converged on the tips of the skyscrapers as Mrs. Isabel Alvirez battled with her umbrella. The wind whipped up, and she shivered as raindrops dribbled down the collar of her raincoat.  Fumbling with a door key, she was suddenly aware of a red balloon rising up before her at the mercy of the elements, and it made her smile; for, instantly, the balloon was at her 10th birthday party… So what that it was raining.
     Opening the black, newly painted and furnished door of a ground floor apartment, embellished with 100B, in brass letters, Isabel was immediately aware of an unpleasant, almost overpowering smell coming from the main living room.  Ill at ease, she left the front door open and pushed the partially open, living-room door even wider. Gingerly entering, she was confronted by the most horrific sight she had ever seen in her life. The tall, slim body of a man lay sprawled in a chair, his legs splayed out before him accentuating his height; his head back - his throat an open, congealed, bloody wound - in and around which maggots crawled. Mrs.Alvirez let out a bloodcurdling scream and averted her eyes.
     An alerted neighbour rushed in from her next door apartment in time to see her throwing up into a hastily procured plant pot, bereft of its artificial contents. Then, scrambling for her dropped purse with trembling hands, the distressed woman rummaged for tissues with which to wipe her mouth and to hold over her nose, finding it difficult to cope with the horror of the scene.
     The neighbour, soon aware of the victim’s ravaged body, gasped and mumbled:
     “Sweet Mary, mother of Jesus!”  and clamped a hand over her own nose and mouth, before asking the woman whether she was all right; a superfluous but understandable question.  She then lead the distressed woman from the room, closing the door behind her, and bade her drink a glass of water from the refrigerator in the kitchen.
     Thereafter, the neighbour – who introduced herself as Eva Sanchez – insisted she sat down in her own apartment and have a coffee laced with brandy while she telephoned the East Harlem 25th Police Precinct’s number.
     It was 9.30 on a Wednesday morning, and the rain squall was doing its best to disrupt the comings and goings of the mainly Puerto Rican local inhabitants.  Overhead, the grey sky promised more of the same.
     Detective Maurice Shiff and his working partner, Chuck Johnson, had been told of a drowning in the East River while at police headquarters, when the call came through from Mrs Sanchez and they were re-directed to the murder scene, accompanied by two members of the Forensic team. The address was two blocks away from the police station.
     Having parked up, two of the men strode up the single flight of steps leading to Mrs.Sanchez apartment, where the two, still agitated, women were waiting.
     “Good morning, ladies, or should I say a bad one?!” Maurice greeted them with a polite smile, continuing:
    “I’m detective Maurice Shiff and this is my partner Chuck Johnson,” adding - with a nod down the stairs in the other two policemen’s direction - “Daniels and Harper.” The detective produced identification as he spoke.  Both women nodded and introduced themselves, and then Isabel Alvirez handed Maurice the door key of the next door apartment, with a shaking hand. “Oh, senor…” was all she could manage to say before breaking down.  He patted her arm.
     “Naturally, we’ll need to ask you several questions, Mrs Alvirez, when we’re finished next door,” said Maurice.  She nodded again and said that she would wait in Mrs Sanchez’s apartment until needed.
      All four men masked up before letting themselves into 100B’s living room, and Harper immediately headed for the window, opening it to let in as much air as possible, despite the persistent rain.  The atmosphere and stench were vile and their expressions spoke volumes.  Several expletives were heard and Maurice thought himself fortunate not to have found too many corpses in such a putrid state.
     “Holy Moses, Chuck – how long has this guy been dead?” Harper answered his question:
     “Around a week, I’d say. The grubs are having quite a picnic.  It’s no joke!” He grimaced.
    “Who’s laughing?” said Maurice, with a shake of his head, thinking that maybe he should have heeded his mother’s wishes and become a lawyer.
     Daniels, an official photographer, completed the usual ground work and shots of the body, while Harper, the medical examiner – who had been at police headquarters when the call came through - finished his examination of the deceased. The body was removed shortly afterwards, and Maurice and Chuck rang the bell of the adjoining apartment.  Eva Sanchez, pretty and as colourfully dressed as a Christmas tree, Maurice thought, was thirty something and auburn-haired.  Smiling, she asked them in, by now a little more excited than shocked by the morning’s events.  She didn’t have much male company and her husband was working away she told them.  Maurice hid a smile as he noticed a frisson of interest from Chuck.  Eva insisted that both men have a:
       “Hot coffee to take away the chill and the shock.?” They didn’t refuse.
       “So, Mrs. Alvirez, “ Maurice began gently, turning his attention to the other woman.
       “What was your relationship with the deceased and what is his name?”
       (Despite searching the clothes on the body, no identification or other papers were found.) The bulky, middle-aged, chalk-pale, woman twisted a tissue until it disintegrated in her hands, still disturbed by coming across such a ghastly sight.
      “Never have I seen the man before. I am cleaning lady, senor.”  She hastily wiped a couple of determined tears from her cheeks with her fingers, sniffed and tried composing herself.  Maurice squeezed her shoulder gently and told her to take her time.
     “A man telephone me, knowing I clean for a friend of his and say, on behalf of a Mr. Metcalf, would you clean his apartment every month because he spend a little time there. He will leave money on table. He brought me key. And…for three months now, I clean.  It is easy!”
     “So, in all that time, you never met Mr.Metcalf?” Maurice asked with a frown.
      “No, senor, never.”
      Maurice thanked her and asked both women if they would go to police headquarters and sign a statement, which they agreed to: Eva Sanchez being the most eager, Maurice observed. Police records, searched for fingerprints which matched the dead man’s, revealed nothing; no-one  in the immediate area was recently reported missing, and the name Metcalf didn’t come up. A likeness of the deceased was distributed over a wider area.  Still no response.
     Two weeks passed by before an intriguing telephone call was taken by the desk clerk at 25th. A Mrs Lulu Perez, who lived in New Jersey, reported her husband Maxwell Perez missing:
     “For three weeks now…”
Maurice thought three weeks rather a long period of time to elapse before reporting a husband missing. And why did she ring East Harlem’s police department when she lived in New Jersey?
     As Chuck commented:
     “The plot thickens, eh M?”
     “Yeah, I think the cogs are beginning to turn. We’d betta take a trip to New Jersey, bud. Prior to their journey, they did a spot of digging as to the name on the deeds of Mr.Metcalf’s apartment:
     “I give you three guesses, Chuck.”
     “Search me,” he pulled a face.
     ”Mrs. Lulu Perez!”
     “You’re kiddin’ me.”
     “Would I? We got work to do.”
Armed with Mrs Perez’ address, the two men arrived in New Jersey and easily found her ornate,  detached house, set in an acre of decorous landscaping, dotted with modern sculptures and boasting a fountain before it.  They rang the bell which set off a rousing rendition of ‘Stars and Stripes Forever…’  which made them guffaw quietly together.
     It couldn’t be denied that the blonde-haired woman who opened the door was what Chuck later enthusiastically called “Eye candy,” and was typical of a certain, sometimes vacuous, shallow type that Maurice abhorred, judging them to be: “Blonde clones with the same bland, slightly surprised look that plastic surgery often produces.” Nevertheless, Lulu, expensively if slightly tackily dressed in a figure hugging, short mauve dress, with a low neckline revealing a head-turning cleavage, was the type that Chuck couldn’t get enough of. He was a moth to her flame!  Lulu wore a sad, studied look that Maurice suspected she had practiced for the occasion.
      “Youall come in, gents,” she said.
      “Can I offer youall refreshments – coffee maybe! Do take a seat.”
She spoke with a Southern drawl, slightly accentuated, the detective thought. The two men thanked her and she gave Chuck a sad little smile before leaving the room to make the coffee. In her absence, they studied their surroundings, which Maurice could have forecast.  Every item was gaudy while expensive: white, Italian style furniture with gilt trim, animal skin rugs adorned the cream carpet and OTT objets d’art were everywhere.
     “They’re loaded!” said Chuck with approval in his voice, or was that envy, Maurice wondered. Chuck approved of gaudy.  Lulu entered the room carrying a tray laden with a plate of cookies and their coffees. As Maurice stirred his drink, he thought he’d better get down to business.
     “Mrs.Perez,” he started.
     “Oh do call me Lulu, Mr. Shiff. I don’t go in for ceremony.”
     “Right then, Lulu. I have to ask you several personal questions about your missing husband.”
      “Of course, I understand,” she replied.  “Have you any leads as to where he may be?”
      “That’s a tricky one to answer at present, Lulu. We don’t even know what Mr. Perez looks like!”
      “Silly ol’ me…” she said, sashaying towards the white grand piano, on which stood several photos in gilt frames.  She handed Maurice a photograph of herself with her arms around her husband: a handsome, dark-haired, slightly swarthy while slim man, with piercing, damson-black eyes.  He was unsmiling, and the word Satanic briefly crossed the detective’s mind.
     “Thanks,” he studied the couple, while Chuck looked over his shoulder. His partner was about to speak when Maurice gave him a warning look, having smothered his own reaction.  Mr. Metcalf and Mr.Perez were one and the same –dead as a Dodo – now lying in a refrigerated drawer at the morgue! Whoever had killed him, garrotting him with piano wire with such ferocity that the wire sliced deep into his throat as if it were made of cheese, had either been barking mad or filled with intense hatred. A myriad questions swam in Maurice’s head. Where to start!
     “Do you recognise my husband, Mr.Shiff?  Has anything happened to him?
Lulu Perez sounded anxious and innocent, her baby blue eyes widening. Maurice realised that he’d better soften the questioning before he told her that they’d found her husband’s body. Ignoring her pointed questions, he said:
     “Exactly when was the last time you saw your husband, and where did he say he was going?”
    
“Just over three weeks ago.  He often went away on business trips for up to two weeks. He’s a highly respected lawyer, Mr. Shiff.  He has a practice here in town: ‘Perez and Duggan.’
Maurice nodded, made a note of the name, and then asked,
     “Didn’t he ring you in all that time?” Lulu looked a tad flustered for a moment.
     “Well, no,” she shrugged and added:  “We have a very open marriage.”
     “I see.  Did you argue before he left?”
Lulu fidgeted in her chair, and said an uncertain “No.”
     “Do you own any other properties, Lulu?”
    
“Yeah, we have a duplex in Florida where we go sometimes.”
      “Nowhere in East Harlem?”
     
“Goodness no!”  she said with feeling.
      Maurice felt slightly perplexed but suspected that Lulu was completely ignorant of the existence of the East Harlem apartment, despite it being in her name.
     “May I ask why you rang the police department in East Harlem?”
      “Well, I tried figuring out where Maxwell was, and then I thought back to a phone call he received  just before he left.  He said ‘Yeah, the Bronx and East Harlem.’ But he never discussed his business life with me.  That was totally off limits. “ She stopped talking and started twisting her wedding ring around her finger.
      So, Mr.Perez had been masquerading as Mr. Metcalf and probably had a secret life that his wife knew nothing of, despite his ‘respectable’ image.  There were several like him, Maurice mused.  Noting the detective’s more solemn expression, Lulu looked anxious:
          “Is everything orlright Mr Shiff?”  she asked, a genuinely bewildered look upon her face.

                                                                ******

     Much later that same day, Maurice booked a hotel room for Lulu Perez to stay in overnight as she had been completely shocked and shaken after identifying the body of her husband, whom she still knew as Maxwell Perez. The detective had the strongest feeling that there were plenty more mysteries to uncover before they got to the bottom of who killed him and why.
     Chuck offered to drive Lulu back to New Jersey as Maurice had promised to take his partner, Louise, out for dinner, and he had paper work to complete to boot.  This he did. For once, there were no interruptions, they had a lovely evening, and as Louise was driving, Maurice indulged in more wine than usual, which augured well for plans later in the evening.
     The next morning, Maurice and Chuck met at headquarters to go over what little information they had on the Metcalf/Perez case, and other police work, Maurice quickly noticing a jauntiness in Chuck’s manner.
     “You didn’t!” Maurice said, with an enquiring look.
     “No, I didn’t! Wadga take me for?  Her husband’s just been murdered for pete’s sake.”
    
“Glad you know the meaning of decorum, Chuck!”
     “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, BOSS.”
     Maurice playfully ruffled his hair and they started discussing the meagre facts they had before them. Both men intuitively felt that the case would present more blind alleys than answered questions.
      A further trip to New Jersey confirmed that Maxwell Perez had been a respected lawyer, with a seemingly kosher-run practice and a reputation of being both ruthless while fair, a difficult blend to juggle.  He also headed a few charitable causes with his wife, and as he had the ability to charm: “Like a snake,” his widow later said, had quite a female following.
       A short time later, the two policemen received what amounted to a character assassination after speaking to an elderly relative of Perez’, who was visiting when they returned to question Lulu further.  They learned that Maxwell had been born in East Harlem to an American mother (a one time hooker they eventually discovered) and a Puerto Rican father with a shadowy past, 59 years ago.  The couple had had two sons: Maxwell being the eldest, and Daniel, who had died of a drug overdose when he was twenty years old. Maxwell, a precocious child, had the good fortune to possess a sharp brain and had a feeling for the law. Not for abiding by it, they later learned, but by making a huge amount of money from understanding and manipulating it for his own needs. The frail relative, a maternal uncle it turned out, who was fond of Lulu, had little love for his nephew and was a gift to the two policemen.
     “I shouldn’t be speaking of the dead in such a way, Mr. Shiff, but Maxwell came from a seed steeped in wickedness.  When he was only six years old, he drowned two kittens and boasted about it, and he chopped the tail off a puppy his mother bought him.  He was expelled from one school for being such a covert bully. He also dabbled in drugs, like his brother.  His mother, God rest her soul, was a simple, weak but good woman and she tried her hardest with him.  But his father…”the gravel-voiced man, who had introduced himself as Bernard Barlow, had a fit of coughing, apologised, and continued:
      “…. was a feckless bastard with an evil streak in his nature, and spent little time at home.
        I’m afraid that I’ve let my tongue run away with me!”
        Maurice thanked him for being so frank, but felt that there was a lot more to learn about Maxwell Perez alias Mr. Metcalf.  After Bernard Barlow left, Lulu made another pot of coffee.  The more he got to know her, the more Maurice realised he had misjudged her. While she wasn’t the brightest cookie in the jar, she came across as honest, straightforward and had a kind nature.
     “You know, Maurice, I really loved Max when I married him. Oh, I was also lured by the money and the glamour, I admit, but admired his sharp brain.  And he was kind and generous to me, at      first…and then, after about six months, he started hittin’ me for the most trivial reasons. He was sorry       afterwards, sometimes. The other side of him weren’t pretty! Did you know that I was wife number 4?
      Wife No.3 drowned herself in the bath when he threatened divorce, or so he told me.  My parents are       dead and the little family I have are in New Orleans and dirt poor.  Yer know, I had a feeling that Max       was a bit schizophrenic and that frightened me so, one day, around three months ago, I decided to make a fresh start.  We were only married for three years, but I had a little money of my own.  Then he came home unexpectedly, found me packin’ and  fractured two of my ribs.”
     “You aint goin’ anywhere, missy.  If you try, I’ll find you and kill you,” he said.
     Maurice and Chuck listened patiently, until Lulu broke down and started to sob, so Maurice gestured for Chuck to comfort her.
     “What a bastard!” Chuck said, several times on their journey back to New York later.

                                                                *****

     “I wonder what Perez’ partner’s like, Chuck? We need to pay him a visit.”
     And so, on a chill but improved day, with a watery sun trying to brighten the scene, the two men visited the plush offices of ‘Perez & Duggan’ and questioned Peter Duggan and his staff.  With the exception of one noticeably guarded, attractive secretary, they all seemed grieved at news of Perez’ death and spoke respectfully of him.  However, Maurice had reservations over some of his partner’s answers to their more pointed questions. Chuck agreed and suggested:
     “Somethin’s not right there, Mo.  I’d say he’s hidin’ something.’” Surprisingly, they didn’t have too long to wait before discovering what that was.  Once back in New York, the detective received an anonymous, succinct message which said:
    “Looking for Maxwell Perez’ murderer? Try Peter Duggan.”
    “A red herring, Chuck… I simply don‘t believe it.” Maurice looked thoughtful. Working on a hunch, he rang Rebecca Drew, Peter Duggan’s secretary.  She had just been fired!
    “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, bud!” he said to Chuck.  
    On another hunch: a detective’s bread and butter…Maurice rang Lulu Perez and asked her what she knew about Rebecca Drew.
     “That tramp!” was her simplistic answer.
     “Wanna know what I think, Chuck? Both Perez and Duggan were knocking Rebecca Drew up.
      Perez didn’t like the competition and threatened to tell Duggan’s wife – not caring if his own wife knew or not, and – as Alicia Duggan is an heiress - Duggan had to back off. But I still don’ think       that Duggan’s capable of murder.” Nevertheless, Maurice had another meeting with Peter Duggan, and asked him a few direct questions about his secretary, which he hotly refuted, saying that
     “Her work was unsatisfactory.” As he had a water-tight alibi for the period that Perez was murdered, Peter Duggan was discounted as a suspect.  Around about then, Chuck reminded his partner that, while they had a few clues as to what Perez’ got up to, they knew nothing of what his ‘doppelganger’ Metcalf’s role was in the complicated set-up.  Maurice contacted Isabel Alvirez for the phone number of her contact.  She was happy to oblige; an edge of nervousness entering her voice, admitting to have suffered several nightmares since her gruesome discovery.  Unfortunately an automated voice told the detective that the number was ‘Unavailable.’
     Earlier they had another meeting with the guys in Forensics, and Harper said:
     “Whoever garrotted the victim musta known him…There were no signs of a break in. He musta worn gloves, an’ I bet he took his shoes off too…One thing I do know, whoever killed him was one determined hombre!”
       As Maurice knew all too well, the apartment –apart from a minute amount of dust - was as clean as a whistle, and although he and Chuck had questioned immediate neighbours, no-one had seen anyone either going in or out.   As Chuck put it: “The guy was like a fuckin’ shadow…”
       Recalling that Lulu had mentioned the Bronx, Maurice and Chuck, armed with a photograph of Perez/Metcalf, paid a visit to the police headquarters. The wheels were soon set in motion.  A mug-shot, taken several years before, was on record which looked remarkably like their man, except for a moustache and what looked like a wig of brown hair.  He was known as Arnold Brevitt.
     “I’m pretty sure he’s our man, Chuck!  How many God-damn aliases did that guy have?” Maurice said.  A thumb-print clinched it. Brevitt - known as a small time crook - had spent some time in prison in his youth, and Detective Burrows said he was:
    “ Slippery as an eel. Most of the guys he hung around with were shit-scared of him.  He had a hellaver temper…” As for his recent activities, the Bronx old-timer knew nothing.  He’d heard that he had moved to New Jersey, and that was it.
     “Sounds like our man.”  Maurice rubbed the side of his nose.
    The electoral role was then checked for an address and the two men shouted ‘Eurekawhen they came across the name of Lulu Perez as being the owner of a modest house in the Bronx. And then, conveniently, the long arm of coincidence turned up when they checked out the house.
      “Hey, bud…” a voice shouted as they were about to open the gate “…you lookin’ for Metcalf?”
     “Well, yeah…” Maurice replied.
      “Don’ bother – heard he’s dead. And good riddance.”
      The detective noted that the man was down on his luck, evident both by his facial appearance and clothes.
      “Can we buy you a beer, buddy?” Maurice asked, feeling optimistic.  And so the twosome fed themselves and the vagrant and quenched their thirsts in a nearby diner.  They found that their new acquaintance had a lot to tell them.
     “Remember that Scarlet Pimpernel guy? Well, Metcalf was as elusive. He always had money and used it to blackmail and buy people.  No-one knew what he was up to most of the time as he was cunning as a fox and always did his dirty business through others.  He ruled a small gang of guys with fear. Dabbled in drugs –mainly crack; a bit of distortion and thieving. You name it! He had a dame - a sweet kid - but she died having an abortion.  I remember her heartbroken old Pa threatening to get even one day.” The policemen exchanged glances. 
   The vagrant, a well-spoken man, told them that his name was Sam. He was soon on a roll.
   “Then there was Roly Hollander.  He had good reason to hate Metcalf.  Metcalf double-crossed his young brother and he was shot by a rival gang.”
   The detective asked a few more questions as to the whereabouts of Hollander and the father of the young girl who had died.  Sam shrugged.
   “Dunno, sir…I think Hollander went to Australia recently, or was it Austria?” he shrugged again.
   “Haven’t a clue about the other guy. Who cared about that bastard Metcalf anyway?  Maybe it was a case  of pay-back time!”
    Despite further enquiries, it was as if both men had been spirited away.  They just met a wall of silence, and dead ends.  The case is still open, and Maurice Shiff has the Perez/Metcalf case on a back burner in his brain, set on simmer.

Copyright @ 2016 Joy Lennick