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Authors: Peter Blauner

Tags: #Hard Case Crime

Casino Moon (13 page)

BOOK: Casino Moon
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22

PHENOMENAL. THERE WASN’T ANOTHER
smell in the world like it, Pigfucker thought. Death had its own odor. Not just the rotting, stinking corpse, but death itself. You could smell it coming up the block or going through a toll plaza. His third wife, Baby Jane the ball and chain, thought it was just the adrenaline rush of seeing dead bodies and knowing there was work to be done. But it was more than that. It was a real smell out there in the world. A smell that told you one thing was over and another was just beginning.

What was beginning tonight was the investigation into who killed Nick DiGregorio. But P.F. didn’t have much to do with that. He just stood in the weeds by the edge of the Boardwalk, watching state troopers and federal agents once again trample over any usable leads. The M.E.’s wagon was getting ready to take Nicky to the same place they’d taken his father a month before. And that German shepherd was still barking away in the back of the K-9 car.

A dozen or so black people from the neighborhood stood on the street corner, watching supervisors shout orders at each other. Beautiful. If P.F. had been working the case himself, he would’ve waded in among the spectators with a black uniformed officer and come up with three decent witnesses in five minutes. But once you had this many suits involved, nothing got done.

He watched a third assistant from the M.E.’s office come over to help hoist Nick’s body into the red Dodge van with the blacked-out windows. Ridiculous. He felt a burning sensation in his stomach and swallowed another Turns, remembering the first time he’d laid eyes on Nicky D. It had to be almost twenty years ago. He was a rookie officer then and Nick was a little kid with a John Travolta disco haircut, running to get coffee for Teddy. He couldn’t have been more than seven years old. A little kid wrestling on the floor with Teddy’s son Charlie.

The M.E.’s guys slammed the van doors on Nicky and went around the front to drive him away. P.F. hummed an old half-remembered country song.

A heavy hand fell on his shoulder and a familiar voice sounded in his ear. “Hey, buddy!”

He turned and found himself facing Wayne Sadowsky, the F.B.I. man. The pasty-faced ex-jock with the slight limp and the Southern accent.

“I was talkin’ to a friend of yours the other day.”

P.F. winced involuntarily. The idea of this bonehead conversing with an actual friend was like having him touch the food on your plate.

“What friend of mine would’ve said anything to you?”

Sadowsky looked up at the sky. His nose was mashed in like he’d had a youthful habit of chasing parked cars. “A Mr. Robert D’Errico,” he said finally. “Over at the Doubloon Casino. He said they were thinkin’ about hiring you as head of their security department.”

P.F. felt a pair of pliers grip his intestines, but tried not to react too much. “Wonderful,” he said. “And how is it he ended up talking to you?”

“He’d just been calling around to check out your references and ended up on my telephone line. Seems he’d been hearing some old story about an investigation you conducted a few years back with another friend of yours, a Detective Raymond. Seems you got called up before a grand jury because of it. At least that’s what Father D’Errico heard over at the Doubloon.”

P.F. felt the pliers’ grip tightening and turning in his stomach. “So what’d you tell him?”

“I told him I’d surely look into it,” Sadowsky drawled with a smile. “I believe that was part of a state probe into local police corruption.”

The pliers began to tug P.F.’s guts downward and he felt an uncomfortable widening in his bowels, remembering. It happened a little bit at a time. First, Paulie Raymond the detective brought him by to meet Teddy. Then it was free drinks at Teddy’s social club. And meals on the arm at Andolini’s. Soon Teddy was giving them color TVs and carpets to take home. “Sure, whatever you need, kid.” It was inevitable there’d be a phone call to ask for a favor in return. And it came in the middle of the Michael Dillon investigation. Paulie just stopped asking the right questions and P.F. didn’t have the nerve to pursue it on his own.

He’d never quite forgiven himself. Pete Farley, former altar boy and all-state hockey defenseman. He still remembered every question he’d been asked before the grand jury. It was only having a good lawyer like Burt Ryan that saved his shield back then. A breeze came in off the ocean but it wasn’t the kind of wind that cooled you off. It just blew your shirt against your skin and reminded you how much you’d been sweating.

“So what can I do for you?” he asked Sadowsky coolly.

“Well I’ll tell you, partner,” said the agent with exaggerated folksiness. “We could sure use a hand with this case we have right here.”

He looked off after the M.E.’s van following a squad car racing down New Hampshire Avenue, with lights blazing and sirens going.

“What do you have so far?” he asked Sadowsky. “I thought Nick’s grandma saw the whole thing.”

“That poor sweet lady’s in the hospital with a stroke—she won’t be IDing anybody any time soon.” Sadowsky grimaced. “You know the expression,
to gowno warte?”

“No.” But it sounded hilarious with a Southern accent.

“It’s Polish, means we got jack shit. We’re gettin’ our asses kicked, and that is the sad and sorry truth of it. Why, we still don’t know who killed ol’ Larry.”

He thrust out his lower lip, and for a moment P.F. almost felt sorry for him. A big Polish kid from the South in a white-bread outfit like the F.B.I. It couldn’t be easy. But then he recalled the way Sadowsky had been squeezing his balls a minute before and his sympathy went away.

“So what am I supposed to do about it?”

“I was thinking maybe since you obviously knew some of the gentlemen in Teddy Marino’s crew, you could maybe ask around for us a little.”

The venom splashed in the pit of P.F.’s stomach. “Why the fuck should I do anything for you?!”

Sadowsky broadened his grin and his accent. “Well, shit, I was thinking about your Mr. D’Errico and those questions he was asking. Your cooperation would certainly cast them in a different light. I’m not saying anybody would outright lie for you, but the truth has a way of being shaded.”

This feeb might have a future in New Jersey politics, P.F. thought.

“Well, if I admit I know people in Teddy’s crew, aren’t I opening myself up for more questions?” he countered.

“It’s strictly off the record,” said Sadowsky, hands in his pockets like he was carrying the most valuable lint in the state. “You scratch mine, I’ll scratch yours. No one else needs to know about it.”

P.F. watched a few more of the black people on the corner drifting back to their houses when the Mormon-looking F.B.I agents tried to question them. He hated to do anything to help the feebs. It violated something in his bones. On the other hand, he wanted this job at the Doubloon as badly as he’d wanted to lose his virginity. And these old questions about his past with Paulie could hang him up.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, hoping that would be enough.

“Well, Father D’Errico should be calling back in a few days, so I’d try to do better than that,” Sadowsky pressed him. “Remember, I’ve got supervisors too and they’re squeezing me for answers.”

“Shit rolls downhill,” P.F. muttered.

“Even faster when it rains.”

Only after he said this did P.F. notice it had begun to drizzle again. Something about the death of a DiGregorio brought on the rains. The street took on a sleek shine and the rest of the people went back into their houses. Sadowsky put his collar up and lit a cigarette. He probably likes this, thought P.F. Standing in the rain, smoking a cigarette while they haul a body off to the morgue. Maybe it makes him feel like he’s on some old
Dragnet
episode. It figured Sadowsky didn’t have a wedding ring on. Men who’d been single all their lives could afford to hold on to their romantic delusions about themselves.

“I’ll get back to you soon as I can,” he told the agent.

“That sounds just fine.” Sadowsky patted his shoulder. “And by the way, if things work out with you getting the job at the casino, do you think you could get me seats for the title bout this fall? I always do enjoy a good fight.”

23

THE WORLD CAME BACK
to me in pieces. First there was the ache in my ears. Then the throb in my right ankle. The brown metallic taste in my mouth. And the hangover that felt like a broken tooth in my brain.

I propped myself up on one elbow and looked over at Rosemary, just waking up on the pillow next to me.

Her body gave off a sweet, heavy female odor and her face was smooth and unspoiled by makeup.

“Jesus,” she said, her eyelids fluttering. “What got into you last night?”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

She rolled over and winced like an injured athlete hobbling in off the field. “We did it from all points on the compass and a few I hadn’t been to before.”

I sat up straight and the hangover poked at the top of my skull, like it was trying to break through the bone. “So how was I?”

She got up and drew the bedsheet around her breasts. “You were a little out of control.”

I felt a raw soreness in my right hand and looked down at it. There was a light red welt in the palm. Slowly I started to remember. This hand gripped the gun that killed Nick DiGregorio.

The rest of the night began to reassemble itself in my mind. Nicky’s eyes opening wide. The heat coming off the barrel of the gun. Going back to the car with Richie. Getting a drink. Finding one drink wasn’t enough; it took almost a pint of Chivas to calm down. That powerful feeling. That feeling of being powerful. To give or take a life. I’d felt like my dick was twelve inches long and I could fuck the earth with it. I flashed on taking Rosemary home from the cluband balling her in every room of my house. My wife and kids weren’t home.

I still wasn’t sure if I’d acted like that because I wanted to lose myself and forget what I’d done. Or if I’d been maybe a little turned on by it. Just considering that possibility made me feel disgusted with myself all over again.

“You want a cup of coffee?” Rosemary was staring at me.

“Yeah, yeah, sure. The instant’s on the kitchen counter.”

She left the room, trailing the bedsheet behind her.

I stood naked and shivering with the sunlight coming through the blinds and my mother’s eyes watching me from the black-and-white picture on the chest of drawers. Jesus stared down, exasperated, from the cross above the bed.

I wondered how long it would be before I was punished for what I’d done.

In the kitchen, I heard Rosemary putting the morning news on television and the clatter of pots and pans. I pulled on my boxers and went in to see what all the commotion was about.

“What have you got in that flour can?” she asked, pointing to the red canister on the counter. “Something weighs a ton in there. I was trying to move it and get at the coffeepot.”

“Just don’t move anything around too much.” I watched the TV weather girl with glazed eyes. “My wife and kids will be coming back here soon.”

“Where are they now, anyway?”

“I’ve had her over at her mother’s awhile.”

“Something smells like a cat in here,” she murmured.

The light coming through the window above the kitchen sink shifted, stripping shadows off the far wall. And all of a sudden, I was reminded why I had to kill Nicky. It was so my wife and children could come home and be safe.

Maybe I wasn’t so bad after all. But then the phone rang. My heart gave two dull thumps and stopped. I was sure it was some relative of Nicky’s promising to come get me.

But it turned out to be a friend of my daughter Rachel, looking for a play date.

“She’s not here right now,” I said, out of breath from sprinting across the room to pick it up. “Can I take a message?”

“Okay,” said a little voice that could’ve belonged to a boy or a girl. But then he or she hung up.

I just stood there for a second, feeling the cold sweat on my neck and looking at Rosemary’s long brown legs. How could I have brought her back here? What was the matter with me? She put one foot on top of the other and made a bow with her knees as she sipped her coffee and watched the news. She had beautiful thin ankles, not the swollen kind Carla had. This was who I should’ve married. But then I saw what she was watching on TV. There was a black-and-white mug shot of Nicky DiGregorio on the screen. Trying to look tough without a chin. The announcer was saying he’d been found dead under the Boardwalk last night.

“Did I tell you about this dream I had?” I said suddenly, just to distract Rosemary.

She turned and looked at me blankly.

“It was about my mother.” I found myself in a panic, trying to come up with something. “She always used to have these weird dreams. Like she’d dream of teeth and say that meant something bad was going to happen. Or after my real father disappeared, she’d dream about him crying. And then she’d say, ‘I don’t know what your father wants from me. He doesn’t have a grave for me to put flowers on.’”

“So what was your dream?” Rosemary tapped her bare foot on the scuffed linoleum floor.

“Oh. I don’t know. I guess my mother was crying to me this time.” I was just making it up. “What do you think it means?”

Rosemary looked down. “I think you need your floors swabbed more often.”

We went back to the bedroom to get dressed so I could drive her home. I didn’t know if she’d seen Nicky’s picture on the TV. And if she had, I wasn’t sure she’d remember he was the same guy who’d yelled at me that night we were in the car. I stuffed my muddy clothes into the back of the bathroom hamper. There was still sand in my socks from chasing Nick under the Boardwalk. I was so nervous puttingon a new shirt that I could barely get the buttons through the holes.

“You had better watch it with that drinking,” Rosemary said. “I don’t think you’re cut out for it.”

Downstairs, I had trouble starting the car. The engine bucked and whined three times before it finally turned over. And then once we got into traffic, I heard a strange rattling in the glove compartment. It occurred to me that I might have stashed the gun there in a drunken stupor.

Rosemary took a cigarette out of her pocketbook and rolled down the passenger side window. “So why’d you kill him?”

Her voice was so calm I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly at first. “Why’d I kill who?”

“That guy on television. The one they found under the Boardwalk.”

“What makes you think I had anything to do with that?” I gripped the steering wheel and saw my knuckles turn white.

She lit her cigarette and blew smoke out the window. We were stuck behind a line of cars trying to make a left onto Atlantic Avenue.

“Do I look stupid?” she asked. “Because if I do, go ahead and tell me what you’ve been telling me. I saw you come into the club last night, roaring drunk, with your clothes all muddy. And I saw the way you acted when we got home. So do not tell me any more lies. Was this some kind of Mafia hit?”

“I’m not in the mob,” I said dully.

“I know you’re in the mob, like I know my daughter is having her breakfast now.”

I checked the dashboard clock and saw it was ten after nine. I wondered what my own kids were doing.

“Well you’re under a misapprehension.”

“I know what a misapprehension is, Anthony,” she said in the arch formal voice she used when she was mad. “And this is not one of them.”

I was quiet for a few minutes as we finally inched into the left lane going north on Atlantic Avenue. One car after another was passing me on the right. But there wasn’t enough room to switch over and join them.

“Listen,” I said finally. “You asked me a question before, about whether I was in with the mob. And I told you the truth, that I wasn’t.”

Her lips rubbed together, like sticks about to start a campfire. “So how come that guy wound up dead after you had an argument with him?”

A spasm in my neck drew my head back. I put on my right hand signal trying to switch lanes again, but there still wasn’t enough room. I was stuck. The signal made a tick-tock sound on the dashboard, like an old clock running down.

“All right,” I said. “I’m going to tell you something and it’s not something I ever talked about with anybody else.” I stopped and took a deep breath. “Some of the people in my family, they’re, you know, they’re in with the mob.” My teeth were chattering just from talking about it. “And sometimes, they get into certain situations like, like the kind with this Nicky. The guy you saw on television. But that’s not me. I’m not a killer.”

I realized I was saying it as much for my benefit as for hers. Rosemary stared at the side of my head.

“You see, that’s why I’ve been struggling so hard to get away from that life. There’s more to me than that.”

“I don’t know if I should believe you,” she said quietly.

“Then believe what you want,” I snapped. “It’s the truth. I know who I am.”

She took a long drag on her cigarette and began to laugh softly to herself.

“What’s so funny?”

“You know, when I was growing up I used to watch the Miss America Pageant with my mother and carry around the broomstick like it was a scepter. Really. I used to pretend that I was Miss New Jersey. I’d perform all the different parts for my mother in the living room. The talent competition. Miss Congeniality. The swimsuit bit. It was just me and her, pretending.”

“I still don’t get it. Why’s that so amusing?”

“Because now I’m driving around with a married man whose father is one of the heads of the Mafia.”

“He’s not one of the heads.” I pumped my foot up and down on the brake. “He’s just an old guy who should retireto Florida. Besides, I already told you I’m trying to get beyond all that. I’m this close”—I showed her with my fingers—“to being able to raise all the money for this boxing thing.”

Actually I wasn’t any closer at all. That was the second weight pressing down on me today. I still owed fifty thousand dollars for training expenses and sanctioning fees, plus the ten thousand the shakedown artists at the boxing federation wanted.

Rosemary folded her arms and crossed her legs. “Well, if you’re so anxious to get away from the mob, why are you going into a sleazy business like boxing?”

“Let me tell you something.” I finally saw an opening between two cars on the right and slipped into it, following the flow of traffic downtown. “I can’t afford to be a snob about where I came from or how I’m getting out of it.” The wind ran through my hair. “And frankly, Rosemary, neither can you.”

BOOK: Casino Moon
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