Chapter 38

Traffic on 95 North was not in my favor, but with a little luck and healthy disregard for the rules of the road, I figure I can just make roll call. Normally I kinda hate being late, especially to a meeting where I can’t get in un-noticed.  Even though Lt Giancarlo’s text said to report directly to him, (…at least I think that’s what it meant!),  I’m still an everyday patrol cop and that means be in the Squad Room  7:00 am sharp and listen to Sgt Flerherty tell all of us how to do our jobs safely and how it’s our duty to the citizens of the city of Providence and blah, blah.

I glanced at my phone and the text still showed: ‘Come in… G’    I started to grin,  goddamn! this just might be my shot at trading in my same olds for some real police work! Just gots to get to the station, and make that transition.

The Providence Police Department is located directly over the Providence Fire Station. Combining essential city services into one location seemed like a great idea in the late 1950s, when the biggest public safety issues were:  a) the next hurricane and b) keeping up with the dead gangster calls from Federal Hill. Square grey granite, the front of the building had an unlikely  splash of red  from the four overhead doors for the various  trucks and fire engines.  The police department was on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The Squad Room was on the 2nd floor, a 12 x 14 (probably big enough for the entire Department when the place was built) room furnished in ‘Elementary Modern’ school desks, (the kind with the solid plastic desk top that looked kinda like an apostrophe? )… now that I think about it, the room looks like most 1950s classrooms, right down to the greenish floor tile. Every day, before each shift, special assignments, notes, new APBs and general schedule bullshit was announced, gripes were solicited and we were all sent out on the street.  I’ve only been on the force 3 years, but my least favorite part of the job was these daily meetings, mostly because the old veteran cops, who for the most part thrived on the shift meeting, it gave ’em a chance to be ‘wise old timers’…  always plenty of advice for rookies, which to them was anyone who joined the force after Carter was President. Sgt Flerherty seemed to encourage this, sort of a ‘bad cop, worse cop‘ approach to management. He’d stand at the front of the room and listen to some of the most arrant nonsense come from these guys and would only interrupt if it looked like someone was getting pissed off enough to start something, then he’d say, ‘gentlemen!! save that shit for the street!’  At least until the ladies started to show up in uniform. Then even he had to change. And, while most cops hate change, a career Shift Supervisor like Flerherty abhorred change. He knew that women are totally suited to police work… in administration or, if especially gifted, maybe back-up Dispatcher. Beat cop? With a gun? On patrol? no, no and ‘faith ‘n begorra’ no!!  Story has it that it was a young cop on the rise back in the late 80s who managed to help Flerherty to accept modern police work.  That kind of help is as likely to breed resentment as it is gratitude.

“Campbell! it says here that  you’re off today’s roster, you’ve been re-assigned to Lt Giancarlo up in the Detective Division.” Sgt. Flerherty seemed more put out by the change to his patrol  schedule than anything else.  He ran the pre-shift meetings like a male nun, eyes glinting behind wire-rimmed glasses, looking for any deviation from ‘the right way to start a shift’.

Your uniform looks like you slept in it!  I’ll not be having any of my men disgracing the uniform, so get yourself a little more presentable before you go up to see them plainclothes,” the scorn in his voice when saying ‘plainclothes‘, spoke volumes about the career that Flerherty had worked to achieve. ‘The real cops,‘ as he always concluded the pre-shift meetings, ‘…are them out there not hiding behind fancy clothes and un-marked cars. Get out there and do your duty.

Flerherty made a check mark on his clipboard and without another word, started passing out the day’s shift assignments. The laughing started at the back of the squad room, where the old timers always sat.  I figured I had just enough time to change back to my civies and be only moderately late, so I ignored them.  As I walked up to the front of the room, Henries leaned over and whispered to his partner, Jacobson, “What do they call a 3 year patrol cop in plainclothes?” I stopped, the muscles tightening in my shoulders, which for me is never a good sign unless I’m about to subdue a prisoner or bust up a bar fight. As I started to turn, I felt a hand grab my right wrist.  Jackie Carleone, a 7 year veteran, and my training supervisor when I started,  looked up and shook her head. I smiled at her and continued up to the front of the room, past Flerherty, who was so engrossed in something on his podium that he didn’t look up.  As I got to the door, I  looked back, flipped off the back of the room, in the general direction of Henries and Jacobson.  Jackie was studying something on the desk in front of her, the movement of her shoulders the only give-away to her laughter.

A quick change into my comfortable dress clothes and I was heading up the staircase to the 3rd floor.

 

Where the fuck have you been?!” the voice came out of an open office door at the far end of the room. From where I stood, I could see the open work space with the standard green metal desks, made even older looking by the computer monitors on each of the six desks, four of which were occupied. The Chief of Detective’s office was clearly marked by the wall of frosted glass windows that divided his office from the rest of the room. It’s occupant, Lt Robert Giancarlo didn’t bother getting up from his desk, “My note to your Sargent said to send you up here as soon as you got in!

Sorry, I stopped to change out of my uniform” I projected my voice so he’d hear me in the his office,  but was more interested in the 4 Detectives at their desks in the main office area. Not sleeping for 24 hours tended to simulate my throw-shit-at-people reflex and so, I figured a little of the humble-new-guy apology might not be such a bad thing.  But no one seemed interested and so I kept walking past them and into the private office of Lt Robert Giancarlo, Head of the Providence Police Department Detective Division.

 

 

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Chapter 34…

Cooking has always been one of the few things I do that actually seems to impress people, especially women.

I think it allows them to perceive what they see as a domestic feminine side to me that actually isn’t there.

Well, maybe a little. I just have never understood the concept of comfort food. Isn’t it all comfort food?

We could all just chew on dry dog food ( or the human equivalent, known as Fritos ) and stay alive, you know. But French Onion Soup has history, and you should always indulge a little when you indulge a little. Food is just so damned good.

So I actually followed her instructions. Got the groceries, drove to the address in Narragansett. Nice area.

Also threw a ball peen hammer in the bag so I could knock this girl upside the head if she didn’t start talking soon.

Because those security cameras had all kinds of stuff on the DVR. Both sisters, Jenn’s daughter, Jenn’s daughter’s boyfriend, Fucking Bobby, another guy who I presumed was Jenn’s ex- husband, and another guy who I couldn’ t place at all.

But I knew someone who could. So I made her some scrambled eggs with sauteed bacon and scallions, cornbread from scratch, mixed some pineapple juice with orange and split it with seltzer water. Eight O’ Clock  coffee ground from beans. ( Have Grinder, Will Travel.) Sweet potato home fries with a spot of maple syrup and brown sugared butter that goes with the cornbread nicely, too.

Pretty damned good. And for my client too, based on her finishing everything and then trying to chew the blue flowers off her Pfaltzgraff plate.  I served her seconds, and put a copy of the greatest hits of the security footage down beside her plate. I had already made a few extra copies.

” Let me get you another coffee. You’re not going to like this much. But it’ll be OK. As far as the legal ramifications go, I know a guy.”

 

Chapter 33

What the…I wriggled out from under the New England Patriots blanket I kept on the back of the couch. Hmm…soft, warm. I could lay here for…oh shit! What time is it? What day is it? I’m asking like there’s someone here to answer me. G zus.

Ow! How many times do I have to stub my toe on that damned coffee table! Coffee. Need it. There’d better be some in the cupboard. Bingo! Laughing, I couldn’t help myself. I started singing the old commercial – “Maxwell House, Good to the last…” oh shit! Roger! I forgot about him completely!

Where’d I put my phone? I hate when I leave stuff in strange places…where?…found it. Under the couch pillow. Exactly where I intentionally put it. Yeah, right. I really need to spend more time here. Then, I’d have some routines and I’d automatically know where I might have put stuff.

I stared at the phone. Thought for sure there would be at least one message from Roger. I gave him my number before we left his office. I’m certain of it….

And why do I think he should be calling me? Who hires a PD, takes him to her sister’s house, the scene of an apparent kidnapping, has a knock down, drag out with the cop dispatched to the scene and then runs out of the house, effectively stranding the guy without warning?! Wow. Saying it out loud, it does sound bad. Rude. And…odd. Better call him.

How am I going to explain why Bobby showing up yesterday was kind of weird? How do I tell him what I didn’t tell him but should have? How do I tell him I found Jenn’s journal. By accident. I found it, read it and…well, there’s stuff in there I’m still digesting. Stuff about Bobby. Her Bobby. My Bobby. Nope, he’s not going to like this one bit. Withholding evidence. Brilliant. What was I thinking?

Come on Roger. Pick up. ring, ring, ring… I know this guy didn’t have a hot date last night. Come on, pick up the damn phone! Do not make me leave a voice mail.

“Hello?”

“Roger. It’s Janice. We need to talk. Now. Take down this address.”

“Uh, Janice? You know what time it is? Wait! Not really asking you. It’s freaking 6:00 am!”

“Duh, Rog. I know. I told you. We need to talk. Stop off on your way, pick up some eggs, milk and bread and I’ll tell you over breakfast. And butter. I need some butter.”

“You’re kidding, right? Tell me I’m dreaming. Tell me my latest client didn’t just order me to do her grocery shopping and make a home delivery all before 7:00 am the morning after she ditched me at her missing sister’s house.”

“See you in an hour big guy.”

Just as I looked at the clock, I heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway around back. Not 5 minutes later, a knock on the door.

“A little after 7:00 am. Pretty good PI Guy. You made it in just over an hour. And you got real butter! Wait…what are these?”

“Like we say in the biz, it’s your dime payin’ for the time. These, my dear, are scones. Surprised you don’t know that. You being a fancy, jet setting attorney and all.”

“Hmph. They look different from the ones I’ve had. In England.” I grinned widely.

Roger looked up, smiled. He can take it like he can dish it. Good. He’s going to get an earful as soon as breakfast gets underway. Hell, why wait…”Listen, Roger. I mentioned there was something I needed to tell you.”

“And you will, but not before you tell me where you keep your cooking utensils – saute pans and…plates. Plates would be good.”

“You’re cooking breakfast?” I asked incredulously.

“I didn’t buy this fancy spread hoping you knew how to cook Ms. DiFranco. I know I can cook. So yeah, in answer to your question, I’m cooking breakfast. Now step aside before I put you aside.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 32…

In the annals of romantic imagery, I’m sure many a poet has made reference to that most seldom- seen and  yet most highly coveted of all; the classically sculpted feminine hand cast against a field of azure blue, flipping the bird out of a car window as it drives off into the sunset… was it Sandburg, or Robert Frost? Not exactly Venus on the clamshell, but pretty damned romantic for North Smithfield.

Actually, I have always aligned myself with the lunatic fringe that claims it to have been a scallop shell, and not a clamshell at all. What Greco- Roman female would be seen arising from a clam, or given the local fauna, a quahog, for God’s sake. Any respectable chowder chef would attest to the inherent difficulties, and to several pertinent related facts; clam chowder is made from quahogs, not clams; Venus insisted on a scallop shell, being much lighter, easier to work with, and much more iridescent. Many lesser-known Greco- Roman models conceded to working with quahogs, mainly because Venus’ lawyer quickly filed a patent on the use of the scallop shell image.

He is also part owner of George’s and a few day boats out of Galilee. This is widely known as synchronicity.

I had the place to myself. My client and the investigating detective both drove off in different directions, swept up in what appeared to be truly spectacular hissy fits. He almost forgot that he had a couple of uniform guys with him, and they barely made it back to the cruiser before Fucking Bobby pulled away. Too bad. I might have shared a cab with them, maybe found out some about Bobby’s recent activities. But for now… I stood in the middle of Jenn’s house, wondering if this were actually a crime scene or not.

I decided to take another look for cameras, and hopefully find what I really needed…a computer that would have the IP address that I needed to access the playback software.

I found a desktop in her daughter’s bedroom, and spent a nervous half-hour trying commonly used passwords. Jenn12345 did the trick. I got the IP address, and called a cab. I locked the front door behind me, hoping that whoever came along next had a key. There had already been more people in and out of here today than Port Authority. I had found a total of six cameras, strategically placed so that most of the house traffic would be accounted for. I considered wiping some prints on the way out, but thought it would be better to have to explain why I was there rather than lose all the other prints that would be found along with mine.

And finally, back to the office, after paying for the cabbie’s kids’ first year of Brown University. We don’t need no stinking scholarships. Roland had apparently taken no messages, opting instead to sleep the morning away with his head stuck under his forepaw. I wished again that I could do that myself, but anatomy simply does not allow for it.

I had time in the cab to ponder some extremely odd phenomena, like why my client had bolted, where she may have gone, and why the local cop was acting so very strangely. And where the hell had he gone, leaving someone unattended in Jenn’s house?

He had really shown little interest in the missing sister, and I realized after the fact… he had not shown any interest in the physical setting whatsoever, as if he already knew the layout of the premises. Second nature. I had obviously wandered into the middle of some ugly, messy road- kill personal stuff… but I was invited. Actually, hired is the correct term. But again…who hires a PD and then takes off like that? I often quip that I’ve seen everything, but this was just weird. And she did have Jenn’s phone… I would really liked to have seen the call records. Why didn’t she show me that first?

Maybe I’ll ask her about that, once I ever find her again.

From my perspective, I suddenly realized that maybe I had two missing sisters on my hands?

The software loaded slowly, as it always does. Several error messages about bad addresses per usual, and then…voila. Not just six… ten cameras. Jenn had this place covered like it really was Port Authority.

Three weeks of back footage, and the only area that didn’t have any coverage was the bathroom. Thank God for small favors.

Time to put on the tea kettle and make a call to see if Caserta’s delivers. I hoped that this would turn out to be a very boring movie. For the most part.

Roland the Professional Lap Cat assumed the position, Caserta’s was twenty minutes out, and I pitched in to it.

 

 

Chapter 30…

I’m too old for this.

And getting older by the second. While the ranting continues from downstairs, I stand here desperately trying to determine how I can trace these cameras back to their source, and getting a little panicky about it. They have to be wondering what the hell I’m doing up here by now.

And then realize that I’m literally standing right in front of the damned answer. Hiding right in plain sight, as they say.

 There’s a 24- in. LED screen in the corner of the room, as a lot of bedrooms have, with a cable box on the shelf underneath it. And another cable box underneath that. Most people wouldn’t give this a second glance. It’s just another gizmo plugged into somebody’s TV.

Except this gizmo is an old GE Triplex DVR designed for security use. I’ve spent years wrestling with the damned thing, being widely used in general security applications. An operator’s manual obviously written by three blind, drunken Chinese engineers locked in a closet. I  can now clearly remember Jenn telling me years ago that she wanted to get one from her dad’s PI company to be able to track Aunt Mary’s nocturnal weirdness. She was  apparently busy hoarding canned goods, almost filling the garage with them. We joked at Aunt Mary’s expense, too, that she would be fully prepared for the Apocalypse. Because one needs to be able to offer the Four Horsemen a decent home-cooked meal, and Del Monte Creamed Corn is the perfect sidedish.

If only I could remember to follow the bread crumb trail. No, no…I stand here staring at a piece of equipment that I’m quite familiar with, wondering why it’s here at all. In the home of an ex- security account manager… who’s father ran a PI agency… that she got licensed through…

The bread crumbs are the size of golf balls nowadays. I am too damned old for this.

Next  row of crumbs… get the TV remote, get to the GE submenu, get the IP address to the DVR, and get the freak out of Dodge. Because I’ve still got the GE software suite on my laptop back at the office, from six years ago. Once a packrat…applies to software, too.

Thank you, Jesus. A breakthrough, finally. I just knew there would be one around here somewhere.

With a bit more luck, I’ll be able to watch this whole thing unfold in relative comfort back at the office. Just grab a six-pack of Guiness Blonde and some Orville Redenbacher on the way. This ‘ll be over in no time. And no, I will not share this information with the police presence downstairs. I have a strong hunch that ol’ Bobby is going to be all over this DVR.

And now to get back to Providence. Problematic, having ridden up here with someone who could still well prove to be up to her knees in this.

Way, way too old. Need rest. Need computer. Need faithful cat in attendance.

And, next time, try not to rely on possible suspects for transportation, dumbass.

 

Chapter 29

Really, Bobby? What is wrong with you?”

“I need to know. Who was she seeing? I know she was seeing someone.”

“And how do you know that? And why do you want to know? Tell me Bobby”

“Uh, gee, Miss “my shit don’t stink”, I happen to be conducting an investigation. As part of that investigation, I ask questions. Just trying to put a picture together. It wouldn’t be the first time an ex-lover went over the edge.”

“Then you’d better not take yourself out of the running”.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means Bobby. It means you never got over Jenn. You couldn’t stand that she shot you down. Not once but twice! Then, to put a little icing on the cake, her little sister turned around one day and did the same thing.”

“Don’t flatter yourself Jan. I got over you faster than a one night stand.”

“Classy, Bobby. Real classy. Should we take it outside? Huh? Away from curious co-workers, my private detective? Who, by the way, is upstairs no doubt doing all the things you should be doing.”

“I get it. Now I’m the total loser, bad guy. Watch many romance movies Janice? What’s next? You fall in love with the private dick, go off into the sunset and live happily ever after?”

“Get over yourself Bobby. I just want to find out what happened to my sister. I want to find Jenn. I want everything back to the way it was. You and me….we can do this some other time. How “bout you man up and we figure this shit out?”

“God, you could always piss me off Jan!”

“And stop calling me “Jan”. You know I never liked you calling me “Jan”.”

“Fine. Let’s call it a truce. I just want to go over it one more time. Give me the timeline from when you last saw Jenn to when you discovered her missing, her car in the driveway, the guy in the grey hoodie…the whole kittenkaboodle. Tell me when and how you contacted Roger and what the two of you have come up with so far. Anything and everything. I have to know it all.”

“You always were a tenacious son of a bitch Bobby. Got to give you that.”

Chapter 28…

“Gee, no I didn’t, Sherlock. I was just asking her why her bag was ringing when I called Jenn’s cell.’ Course, that could totally be a coincidence. Maybe you didn’t hear that while you were upstairs destroying the integrity of a potential crime scene. And you want to know what, now? About her love life? Really, Bob? There’s a direct threat to Jenn written on Jenn’s own bedroom wall, and you’re going to focus on what? How about this, Bob…you stay here and harass her little sister, and I’ll just go have a look upstairs. Maybe take a photo or two. Be back in a flash.”

The message had been scrawled in what looked like a sort of hurried fashion. Well, yeah…what did I expect? Calligraphy? In some sort of reddish lipstick…the letters all slanted upwards to the right, so almost certainly right- handed. So possibly there’s a tube-like container around, and it just might have a good fingerprint on it.

“Hey, guys, anyone spot something like a lipstick tube around the floor here, maybe? This doesn’t look like a marker or a Sharpie or anything.”

” Yeah, there was a tube of lipstick under the bed table. Bobby picked it up.”

Of course he did.

“Is it in evidence now?”

” No, we’ve just been poking around. Don’t really know what to call this yet.”

So someone scrawls the message, and drops the tube when they’re done? Maybe they were upset or agitated, and didn’t realize how dumb that was. Or maybe just the opposite. Or maybe just a big diversion. I would bet that the hoodie guy probably wrote this, which means he’s very directly involved…and if he had been interrupted when we pulled up, what the hell else had been going on?

” Has anyone checked the rest of the house? This may not be all there is.”

” Yeah, we’re just going to. Kind of a strange morning here.”

They went down the hallway toward the other upstairs rooms.

I stood looking at the message, and shot five or six photos on the phone. By stepping back, I realized that the guy who wrote this was probably about my height. There was a kind of evenness to the color of the lettering. He didn’t have to reach too far up or down to do it. A little frantic, but effortless.

I could hear voices coming up from the stairwell. Bobby was being aggressive again, and Janice’s voice seemed strained. Whatever was going on there…it sounded like it was completely between them. It didn’t have a tone that was about this missing sister thing at all. It was miles away from this…but could still be part of it. But the detective wasn’t acting much like one, and the concerned sister wasn’t acting all that concerned. Or, closer to the truth…very overly concerned…about something.

And Bobby probably grabbed the lipstick tube. Some kind of detective there.

I walked towards the top of the stairs, and the conversation changed from diffracted tonality to actual words.

And as I stood there deciding if I would give in to eavesdrop or not ( yes I would ), I  noticed something up in the corner of the living room.

Son of a bitch. A  tiny little security camera.

I had to smile. Even though I hadn’t talked to her in years, leopards don’t ever change their spots. Jenn was a tequila- drinking ninety- mile-an- hour rock and roll girl, but also a dedicated mom and absolute stone cold professional. And she might be in trouble right now, maybe in real danger, maybe even dead.

But she would leave a trail of bread crumbs. Hell, Jenn would leave a trail of club sandwich quarters by comparison. You just had to learn where to look. And if I had accidentally discovered one camera, there were almost certainly others.

I decided that I would certainly not mention this to Bobby. He showed every sign of being a terminal idiot, and did not deserve to know. I just couldn’t trust him. And he obviously didn’t know they were there, or he wouldn’t be downstairs right know trying to beat the stuffing out of Jenn’s sister. Figuratively, I hoped. Be she sounded like she was getting mad.

I found another camera discretely hidden behind two pair of sunglasses hanging on the corner of the dresser mirror. And I knew that I didn’t necessarily have to find all of them; I just had to trace one back to where they recorded to.

And yes, that was definitely an agitated and angry female voice wafting up the stairs.

 

 

 

The Winter People…

Apologies for being so late on the next chapter, but I have a viable excuse.

I’ve been reading. A lot.

I’ve been reading for the enjoyment, of course. Just for that sense of immersion into someone else’s universe.

But nowadays, I read so as to observe the way other writers seem to assemble stuff. If I can see into their process with a little more depth, I’m thinking it would help me with mine.

It could happen…

And just finished reading ” The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon. It’s a classic- flavored ghost story, intertwined with a murder mystery. If I had it in mind, I would probably try writing the one, and then the other… never considering that the two could be done at once. But there you have it. A two-dimensional guy sees in two dimensions. He’s heard about a possible third dimension, but it’s seems very remote to him. He struggles with the concept continually, and may yet achieve a breakthrough. But we must be patient.

Another analogy… as a kid, I remember learning to write in school. Everything was done with yellow lined paper to keep the lines and size of the letters in general order, all written with impossibly oversized pencils. But somewhere in the 5th- 6th grade, you graduated to an ink pen. They were black with a silver band in the center and wrote in blue ink. Kids were charged with not losing/ breaking/ eating them, or using them as weapons. Although we could just as well  have used the pencils as weapons, but that never occurred to us…because the idea was never presented as such. But apparently the pens were considered lethal.

Of course, most kids in the class were stained with blue ink most of the time.

That’s seems like where I am as a writer. Blue ink is everywhere, and I don’t yet know how it happens, or what can ever be done about it.

So reading stuff like” The Winter People” illuminates the blue ink, but doesn’t help much overall. A ghost story, and a murder mystery, told from three different character perspectives at once. By the time you figure that much out, you’re so far in that you can’t read fast enough. And the ending takes a completely unexpected turn. Masterful. Superb.

There’s no blue ink on Jennifer McMahon. At all.

Next chapter will be along shortly, as soon as I can get the taste of blue ink out of my mouth.

Chapter 26…

The Patron did just the trick. Hopefully, she was picturing herself on a tropical beach somewhere, hopefully with a guy who didn’t make her look like she actually ate a tennis ball. She was relaxed.

Good. Gives me some time to think. Really really need that. Time to assess what we’ve got so far.

a) Jenn supposedly missing, sister Janice goes looking for a private detective…not the police.

b) Sister not exactly forthcoming with information. And yet hired me. Why hedge stuff from the guy who’s on your side?

c) In a world where even little kids have phones, no one in this thing has called anyone else in this thing. That’s Jenn, her sister, her daughter, her ex- husband, several ex- boyfriends….and not to omit good old Bobby. Who used to be involved with Jenn. And apparently Janice too. Hence all the tennis ball references. Great… a family tree with no freaking branches on it.

d) Did Janice know about Jenn, et cetera? Talk about motive. Everybody in this thing has a motive. Going to have to look at all of them.

e) So that means that the cop at the top of the stairs is the probable bad guy, so far. If that’s true, then he’s likely ruining evidence as he goes along. And the prophetic writing on the wall… left by the hoodie guy who just ran out?… the one who the investigating detective seems totally disinterested in? Or maybe someone who was here much earlier…Janice? Ex-husband? Good Old Bobby? Maybe even Jenn, for all I know. Maybe even daughter Kendra, before she went to school this morning. What the hell is really going on here?

I have the sinking feeling that I’m being used as a cover by someone. Probably Janice. But why?

Time to think outside the box a little. Time to climb out of the box altogether.

Time to make something unexpected happen. Poke around a little.

I called Jenn’s old cell number, still in my list from years ago. Maybe we can find Jenn by just asking her where the hell she is.

And just then…wouldn’t you know? Another phone started ringing. It was coming from Janice’s little black patent-leather handbag.

Really?

Chapter 25

Like the sound of a fog horn in the distance, I could hear Bobby barking orders to his men – “dammit O’Malley! don’t be movin’ the furniture until DiMartini’s taken all his pictures!” And just like the swell of sea fog spreading over deserted beach, his voice receded as I realized I was being gently led downstairs.

“If memory serves me correctly young lady, your sister has a fairly decent stash of hooch somewhere in…bingo!”

Still lingering and lost in a haze of shock and disbelief at the scene upstairs, I watched PI Guy reach into a cabinet in the corner of Jenn’s dining room and pull out a silver bottle. I found my way to the couch in the living room, sat down. Feeling the oversized cushions reaching for my back, I suddenly felt really tired. The kind of tired you feel after driving an 800 mile marathon road trip with only one stop. No. No resistance. I gave in to the comfort of those cushions and let my body ease back into their soft embrace, eyes closing.

“This will do quite nicely.” Reluctantly, I opened my eyes. Roger was standing over me, silver bottle in one hand, shot glass in the other. “Nothing like a good shot of tequila to clear the cobwebs, right? Am I right?”

Was he doing his best to lighten the mood? Distract me? Prisoner to the moment, I semi-smiled and said “Sure”.

Noticing the bottle he was holding and watching him expertly fill the glass, my smile grew a little bigger. Jenn’s parties were legendary. Everything top shelf, liquor not withstanding. It was all or nothing with my sister. “Live for today!” she’d say. “It’s all that matters!”

This day was getting way too surreal. I hadn’t even noticed Roger was still talking. “…and did you know Patrón has nine different lines of tequila? They’ve even got a tequila-chocolate-coffee blend, Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa. Wild, isn’t it?” I shook my head slowly, side to side, up and down, as if I’d already had a few shots under my belt.

“Hm….think I’ve heard something about it….”

The first one went down without protest. A little surprising considering it was early afternoon and the “any time is a good time” days are long time residents in the “memory motel” of my youth. Who in God’s name invited Mr. Dali to this party….

Roger’s voice was a buzzing in the background. What was really keeping my attention was the rumble and commotion upstairs. Of policmen looking for clues and tagging evidence. As much as I tried, I couldn’t pretend it was the sound of pre-teen girls practicing the latest dance moves. In spite of impending and certain inebriation, hell, maybe because of it, my brain went to my niece Kendra’s 13th birthday party.

My niece had begged her mom to let her do something big.  “You only turn 13 once Mom!”, she’d say. Jenn had feigned serious contemplation over her daughter’s request for weeks. In the end? Kendra invited 20 of her “closest friends” to a weekend long slumber/dance party. Damn. I never had a party even come close to that. Hell, never even had a 13th birthday party.

(this is some kinda smooth tequila) My private revery continued…I’d been working in London the 3 months prior to Kendra’s birthday. Business being business, it became pretty clear it wouldn’t be concluded before the big day. Contracts and negotiations don’t recognize milestone life events. Publicity appearances don’t wait for a more convenient time. But I didn’t want to, nor would I, miss my niece celebrate her official first day as a teenager. I took the red eye out of London, surprised the crap out of everyone and had the best time I can remember with Jenn, Kendra and 20 of Kendra’s “closest friends”.

“Hey, History Man. I love that you’re so knowledgable about what we’re drinking and all, but can you give me a minute? You know. To chill?”

I extended my arm. “Hit me again big man. Hit me again”.