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Authors: John Lawrence Reynolds

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BOOK: Solitary Dancer
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Donovan grinned coldly, like a smartass teenager ready to throw a line back at a teacher, daring the teacher to deal with him, watching Tim Fox manoeuvre the Plymouth down Boylston Street. “Me? You want me to do backgrounding? What for? The guy's straighter'n a pimp's peeker on Saturday night. Get some whistles to do it. We got other people to talk to, right?”

“Look, you do that, I'll check some other stuff out.”

“Who with, your dope-head buddy McGuire? You think that hotshot's ever gonna find anything heavier'n an old cigar butt in the bottom of a wine bottle?”

Fox looked away, out the passenger window, his hand gripping the top of the steering wheel. “Hotchnik's an opening,” he said quietly. “Talk to him, run him down.”

“Opening? What opening? So he was banging her, so what?” Donovan began picking at his teeth with a matchbook cover. “So does that make him a number one perp or just another guy gotta start lookin' around for some fresh pussy?”

Tim Fox's face was a mask. “You want to clean up your language?” he said.

Donovan's jaw dropped open. “What, you only work with choirboys? Huh? Is that what's buggin' your ass? Hey, I'm no choirboy, Timmy. I spent six years in South Boston wiping brains off car fenders before I was in Berkeley Street long enough to take a piss. So what do I owe that guy back there, makes probably two, three hundred grand a year and dresses like he's going out to do yard work? I owe him maybe some college English, some Harvard horseshit language?” Donovan leaned forward, his arm on the dashboard, his head almost meeting the windshield, trying to catch Fox's eye, stare at him as he talked. “Comes down to it, what the fuck do I owe
you
?”

Danny Scrignoli had come out of Boston's North End twenty years ago ready to make his mark, get enough money to buy a house in Brookline or Cambridge and go back to the old neighbourhood, cruise Hanover Street in a black Caddy, the radio blasting some good doo-wop music and Danny waving to the old dagos standing outside the espresso bars, wearing their topcoats with the black velvet collars, talking the old country language.

All Danny had was high school, which was more than Danny's old man, the florist, had, but it wasn't enough to get Danny anything better than a messenger job downtown at a branch of the Bank of New England. Not a hell of a lot, and a long way from a Cadillac, but sometimes that happened to Italian kids in Boston, even street-smart ones like Danny and his older brother Gino, proving that having some talent and working your ass off doesn't get you the American dream all the time.

All it got Gino was dead.

Gino Scrignoli was the best shortstop the Boston school system had ever produced, soft hands, speed on the bases and able to turn the double play at second, jumping like a garlic-eating kangaroo to avoid the slide coming in from first, the guy with his spikes up, trying to break the throw. Boston College picked Gino up like he was a diamond bracelet lying in the grass and he made varsity baseball as a sophomore, playing every day, going three-for-four some games, making maybe one, two errors all season. In his junior year Gino Scrignoli the baseball hero took courses in American History and Art Appreciation and dated blonde co-eds with blue eyes and tight sweaters and names like Buffy and Rebecca, showing them the North End, walking them down Hanover Street while his kid brother Danny jumped around them, slipping his hand into the girl's or running behind to grip Gino's bicep and say to anybody listening, “This's my brother, Gino Scrignoli, the Indians are scouting him.”

And it was true. Cleveland offered him a contract, big bonus and all, and Gino was ready to go, ready to sign, but the old man said no, not until you get your education. Gino's twenty years old, he can sign if he wants, but the old man's word was law, had been all of Gino's life. “Sign, for Christ's sakes!” Danny begged his brother, five years older, soft hands, great speed on the bases, but Gino just smiled and said, “Lotsa time, Dinny.” That's what Gino called him, Dinny.

“You could be down in Florida, sleeping with broads there, getting some double-A experience,” Danny begged him, but Gino shrugged and said, “Maybe the old man's right. Get the education, have something to fall back on, keep the grades up.”

Then, middle of his senior year, Gino finally signs, just a couple of courses away from graduation. Cleveland management said he could finish his studies at spring training and through the first month of the season playing double-A ball in Davenport or Albany, some place like that. Then he could write his exams, graduate. They'd wait. Speed like that, hands like those, hit a curve ball the way Gino could, they'd wait.

And they gave him a signing bonus, twenty grand. Gino passes half of it on to the old man and spends some of the rest on a restored fire-breathing Norton 900, the last of the British motorcycles made back in the days when Limey bikes could still kick anybody's ass, even a Harley's, down a winding road.

The next day, Gino gave Danny a ride on the Norton, tear-assing over the Longfellow Bridge into Cambridge, Danny smiling all the way, thinking he'd get bugs in his teeth unless he closed his mouth but smiling anyway.

That was Saturday afternoon, a cold dry February day. Gino had a plane to catch for Daytona Beach on Monday.

Early Sunday morning, Danny woke to hear the Norton being fired up outside, the sound of its steel muscle cutting the quiet of the North End neighbourhood, Gino taking it out for one last ride along the river before storing the bike for the season. Danny smiled and rolled over, went back to sleep.

Danny had never heard his father scream before, never heard anybody scream like that again, and as soon as it woke him up, he knew.

“Cold weather like this, a bike's tires don't grip so well,” one of the cops at the door said, as if trying to explain the mechanics, the physics of it, trying to make sense of the death of a kid with soft hands, good speed on the bases.

Gino lost it tearing down Memorial Drive along the river in the gray dawn light. Nobody saw it happen. The cops found the body on the road near a gap in the fence where the Norton had torn through, sailing riderless into the water.

“Leave the son of a bitch in there!” the old man cried when the police said they were searching the river for the motorcycle.

Maybe they did. Danny never knew.

Danny was a decent athlete but he didn't have Gino's hands or speed and he wasn't able to track a curve ball all the way in from the mound. Danny never had a lot of things his brother had except the craving to walk down Hanover Street and have the old dagos nod at him and recognize and respect him, as they had his brother, the Big League Kid.

So there he was a couple of years later, eighteen years old and a messenger boy for a bank, working on Congress Street for a lousy two hundred bucks a week, and he comes around a corner one night with his head down, scuffing his sneakers, pissed off because he had to stay late while the jerk accountant finished some stuff, and he looks up and right there on Franklin two guys are putting the boots to a cop. The cruiser door is wide open in the middle of the road and the cop's on the sidewalk, one guy holding his gun on him and both of them kicking him, so much blood in the cop's eyes he can't see, he's just trying to protect himself.

They spot Danny and Danny doesn't think, he jumps into the cruiser, afraid to turn his back and give the guy with the gun a good target. He slips the Ford in gear and peels that sucker out of there, half expecting the rear window to be blown away, blasting the horn like hell as he drives, not knowing how to work the police radio. He gets around the corner, still leaning on the horn, and he clicks something on the radio until he hears the dispatcher's voice and yells where he is, “Franklin south of Congress, there's a cop down, get your asses here!” into the microphone, hitting every goddamn button in sight.

Then he turns the cruiser around, points it back up Franklin, and the cop is still there on his back, rolling from side to side, but the two guys have taken off, and by the time he reaches the cop he hears the sirens.

The city gave him a commendation and a press conference, Jack the Bear Kavander shaking his hand and smiling at the cameras. Right there on TV Kavander asked Danny if he'd ever thought of being a Boston cop. Danny said, “Not until now,” and Kavander told him to come by Berkeley Street some day, any day, Boston needed more brave young men like Danny Scrignoli.

Might just do it, Danny thought. Not too many cops drive BMWs. But they get respect. And Gino would've approved. Gino would've been impressed.

Danny showed up at Kavander's office the next day and he was fast-tracked into the academy two weeks behind everybody else, they had to bump some turkey to make room in the first-year class for Scrignoli the hero, Gino's kid brother. And Danny caught up with the others and graduated in the top ten in his class. Scrignoli the cop now.

The cop Danny saved, the one rolling around on Franklin Street who let two guys jump him and take his .38 Police Special, was Stu Cauley. A month later his gun was used in a fatal holdup on Columbus Avenue and Cauley never worked a beat again, never got anything more demanding than counter duty on Berkeley Street.

They said it was because of the damage to his eye but everybody knew about the holdup with Cauley's gun.

Everybody knew.

The doorbell rang and a moment later Ronnie Schantz ushered Dan Scrignoli into Ollie's room, the undercover cop wearing a chocolate brown suede windbreaker over a Penn State sweatshirt and blue trousers.

“Hey,” Scrignoli said, grinning at McGuire like he was going to hug him. He reached his arms out to grab McGuire's biceps and squeeze.

“Get his ass out of here,” Ollie Schantz growled. “Feed him some good pasta, clean the crap out of his system, maybe get him laid.”

Scrignoli released his grip on McGuire's arms and walked to Ollie's bedside. “How you doin'?” he said to Ollie softly. “You still mean enough to go bear huntin' with a willow switch?”

“I'm okay,” Ollie nodded. “I'm doin' okay.” He lifted his good arm in McGuire's direction. “But he's not. If I could get up, I'd kick his ass, what he needs.”

Scrignoli placed his arm across McGuire's shoulder. “Son of a gun's too tough for me to tackle,” he said. “But I'll do my best.”

“Just give me a ride downtown,” McGuire said, and headed for the front door without a goodbye.

“I'm out of it.” Tim Fox had his jacket off and the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, exposing a gold Omega watch with an alligator leather strap and thick forearms that made him look like a heavy-weight sparring partner. “If Donovan's on it, I'm not. It's as simple as that.”

Fat Eddie closed his eyes and shifted his weight from one buttock to the other. It was well past six o'clock, he had reports to finish and a visit to the gastroenterologist to endure the next morning, and here was his most professional lieutenant, his only black detective, sitting across from him in a snit because an acting louie didn't show him enough respect.

“You can't just walk off a case, Timmy,” Vance said.

“Watch me.” Tim Fox sat back in his chair, his heavy arms folded across his chest, the light catching the gold on the Omega. “Just watch me. I'll put up with a lot, Eddie. A hell of a lot. But I won't put up with a racist bastard telling me that my black ass doesn't belong behind a full louie's badge.”

Vance frowned. “He tell you that?”

Fox nodded.

“He said he doesn't think a black person should be a lieutenant?”

Fox leaned forward and his eyes locked onto Fat Eddie's. “That's what I said, didn't I, Eddie? Didn't I just say that?”

Vance nodded. Well now, Fat Eddie thought. Sparks between teams you expect. Sometimes it's even beneficial, it shows intensity. But open racism was something else again. “I'll have to call a hearing,” Fat Eddie said.

“I don't want a hearing.” Tim Fox sat back in his chair. “I don't want any finger pointing or name-calling. I just don't want to cross paths with Donovan on a case. Any case. I can't work with the man and that's it.”

Fat Eddie stared down at his stomach, its inner workings about to betray him with an inevitable emission of gas in the presence of Tim Fox, the elegant Tim Fox. “I'll look after it,” he said.

“How?”

“I'll remove his acting lieutenant status.”

“And?”

Vance shrugged. “Reassign him.”

“Who do I work with?”

Fat Eddie sighed. “Give me time,” he said. “We're stretched, Tim. You know that.”

“This Lorenzo case is tough,” Fox said. He stood up and adjusted the crease in his trousers. “There'll be a lot of interviews to make and sift. I need help, Eddie.”

“You'll get it,” Vance promised. Just get out of here, he pleaded silently. “I'll leave a note on Donovan's voice mail that he's off the case, that he's to see me as soon as I'm back tomorrow.”

“Back?” Tim Fox had turned to leave. “Back from where?”

“Doctor's appointment. Nothing serious.” Fat Eddie smiled, creasing his mustache. “Checkup, that's all. Relax, Tim. You're the best on the team, I know it, the commissioner knows it. And we can't tolerate racial slurs. I'll do everything I can, you'll see.”

“Thanks.” Fox strode thoughtfully to Eddie's office door. “I appreciate it.”

“No problem,” Vance said. “No problem at all.” Please get the hell out, he wanted to say.

Chapter Eight

“We built this goddamn town, people like you and me, our families,” Danny Scrignoli said to McGuire. “The pasta-makers and the potato-eaters, the guineas and the shamrocks, right? Where'd this town be without us micks?”

They were in La Venezia on Salem Street, and the conversation from other tables in the crowded restaurant masked the traffic sounds of the elevated expressway a block away. The voices were loud and vibrant, charged with passion and life, a fusion of Italian, English and Portuguese.

“Not me,” McGuire said.

“What? Whattaya mean, not you?” Scrignoli lifted a glass of Chianti to his lips and held it there. “You're Irish as hell, it's all over you.”

“Worcester,” McGuire said. “I'm from Worcester.”

“Yeah?” Scrignoli took a long sip of wine. “I never knew that,” he said. “I thought all the time you were a Boston kid.”

McGuire had palmed his last pill and swallowed it dry, riding down from Revere Beach in Scrignoli's car, Danny not noticing because he was babbling on about some woman he was chasing. “Little redhead, no boobs but a great ass.” The pill had begun its work. To McGuire's surprise he discovered himself smiling, enjoying himself, glad to be where he was. He sipped the wine and savoured its astringency. “What'd you order for us?” he asked.

Scrignoli had taken charge from the moment they entered the restaurant, greeting the owner and patrons and waitresses with a broad smile and Italian phrases interrupted by quick embraces. “Leave it to me,” Scrignoli had said when the menus arrived, and McGuire had not even listened as Scrignoli ordered the meal in Italian to a woman who looked like an overweight Liza Minnelli, all eyes and lips and hips.

Now Scrignoli answered. “We got some arancini coming, that's a baked rice ball stuffed with meat and cheese.” He kissed the tips of his fingers. “Orgasmic, McGuire. Fuckin' orgasmic. Then I ordered baked cavatelli for me, that's with ricotta, egg, mozzarella and Parmesan in a marinara sauce and you got some veal paragina coming 'cause I thought you'd want something like that, all that Anglo-Saxon stuff rattling around in your genes.”

McGuire said it sounded good and he drank more wine, wondering when the defenses of the Demerol would begin to crumble, how soon he would become headachy and nauseous again.

The arancini arrived with a salad and it was as good as Scrignoli promised. It had been years since McGuire had eaten at a North End restaurant, never with Danny Scrignoli.

“Did you hear, they make anybody yet on that case they were trying to hang you for, the one on Newbury Street, woman beat to death?” Scrignoli asked. He finished the remains of the arancini on his plate, pushing it onto a last scrap of Italian bread, raising it to his mouth and washing it down with more wine.

“Don't know,” McGuire answered.

Scrignoli frowned. “Somebody said you were related to her.”

“Only by divorce.”

The other man laughed. “Christ, I went through mine two years ago.” He set the plate aside, turned the stem of the wineglass in circles, watching the patterns. “Miss the kids. That's what I miss most of all. My kids.”

“It happens.”

“So this woman was, what? A sister-in-law?”

McGuire nodded. Heather is dead, he reminded himself. All those years I wished her to be and now she is. Somehow it wasn't sufficient, satisfying.

Scrignoli turned away, looked at the floor for a minute, then back at McGuire. “Look, I gotta ask you something. The victim, her name was Heather Lorenzo, right? Lived over an art gallery on Newbury?”

McGuire nodded. “Antique store. She lived over an antique store.”

Scrignoli closed his eyes and nodded. “Son of a bitch,” he whispered.

The waitress arrived to remove the dishes and Scrignoli waited for her to leave before resting his forearms on the table and leaning forward, holding McGuire in his gaze. “I knew her,” he said softly. “I mean, I never
met
her but I knew about her.” His fist came down on the table, rattling the eating utensils
.
“Jee-
sus,
this could be a real screw-up. I gotta tell you about it.”

“Doesn't matter to me,” McGuire said.

“You're still a suspect, I hear. It's gotta matter to you.”

McGuire shook his head.

“Anyway, it matters to
me
.”

McGuire was about to ask how when the waitress returned with the main course. “I'll tell you about it later,” Scrignoli said, and began eating distractedly. McGuire wanted to tell Danny he didn't give a damn, he was out of it, out of police work, out of anything that smacked of responsibility, including relationships, but he said nothing. When Scrignoli asked how his food was, McGuire told him it was damn good and Scrignoli nodded but didn't appear pleased, just kept eating, mechanically, his mind in a distant place.

They refused the dessert menu and ordered espresso instead. Scrignoli made small talk about police department personnel they both knew until two women entered the restaurant and stood waiting to be shown to their table. Scrignoli commented on their figures but without the zeal he might have shown an hour earlier, then paid the bill and led the way through the chilly night to his car, saying nothing, as though weighing what he might tell McGuire who didn't care to listen anyway, who was wondering only where Django was and when he might see him next.

“You know I'm undercover, right?”

They were skirting Government Center in Scrignoli's Buick, the buildings gray and empty. McGuire grunted.

“Have been for, what? Three, maybe four years now.” Scrignoli turned onto Tremont. “Probably not much longer, blown it too many times. Can't work the streets anymore. So I'm doin' white collar stuff.” He looked across at McGuire who caught his glance with eyebrows raised. “Oh yeah, I can spin that shit out when I have to. Did a bunch of Cambridge yo-yos dealing hot computer equipment out of a place down near Central Wharf last year, and a whole family running insurance scams out of a big office on Copley Square, stuff like that. This spring, somebody tipped us to a bunch of stockbrokers in town running a game. Not S.E.C. stuff, you know, churning accounts, privileged information, none of that, that's out of our league. But little deals between them that's got nothing to do with taxes or anything, borderline stuff but big money, some really big money. Tough case. Turn here?”

They were approaching the Flamingo, the streets dark and crusty. McGuire had told Scrignoli to drop him off at the club, not knowing if the other man knew where he lived, how he lived.

“So we got a guy on the fringe, a heavy hitter. Not involved in things, not a perp himself but he knew what was going on, made some money on deals, we coulda nailed him as an accessory if we wanted to push it. Piece a cake. Dead to rights, but maybe if we nailed him he'd just get a fine, couple a hundred grand's all he'd pay.”

Scrignoli glided the Buick to a stop in front of the strip club. Two of the girls, Billie and Dakota, were standing in the doorway, flashing their thighs from under their robes, having a smoke. Billie bent from the waist to look through the car's windshield. She saw McGuire, puckered her lips, raised a hand in greeting and touched one open palm with two fingers of the other hand.

“You know her?” Scrignoli grinned at McGuire.

McGuire nodded.

“What's with the signal?” Scrignoli raised his hand and imitated the woman's gesture. “The hell's that mean?”

“Somebody's using my room.” McGuire stared out his window to the other side of the street where a Korean woman was leading her two children quickly along the sidewalk, gripping their hands. “One of the girls, with a john.”

Scrignoli studied McGuire for a moment, his mouth open, surprise and amusement in his eyes. Then he looked away and shrugged. “So whattaya do? Wait 'til they're finished?”

“It's a living.”

Scrignoli laughed. “Jesus, I never thought . . .” He shook away the rest of the sentence and leaned forward, resting his arms on the steering wheel. “Anyway, about this guy. He's a broker. Independent. I mean he's more than a trader, this guy's got a full operation, a whole floor of offices downtown, branch office in New York, another in Chicago. Maybe thirty-five, forty people working for him here. A house on the Cape, condo over on Marlborough and a hell of a big place out near Natick, private lake, horses, the whole bit. Married to this woman who's related to the Cabots, kind of broad they made up the word ‘classy' for.”

“So what's the point?” There would be at least ten dollars waiting for McGuire in his room and maybe Django was inside the club, Django and his handfuls of tiny white relief. The agony was perched on McGuire's doorstep, waiting to burst through his skull and pounce on his well-being.

“Two points.” Scrignoli twisted in the seat to face McGuire. “Two points I gotta make to you. First one. This guy, the broker, he turned for me. Took a hell of a lot of doing but I laid it out for him and his lawyer and his lawyer said, ‘Tell 'em,' so he told us. It wasn't the fine that scared him, hell, he spills a hundred grand a year through the cracks in the floor, wouldn't bother him. But he'd lose his license, and that'd be a bitch. And if his wife figured out some other shit. . . . Well, he'd probably have to find honest work.”

Scrignoli shifted in his seat, instinct directing his eyes to scan the street as he talked, watching for the unexpected face, the threatening motion, the movement where movement shouldn't be.

“He's gettin' ready to finger some buddies who've been filling their pockets with coin, big coin, for a long time,” he began again. “In return, he doesn't testify, him and his company come out of this with roses in their teeth. We're almost there, goddamn it. Almost there. Soon as we get the word in from the forensic accountants, that's what they call themselves, bunch of pencil pushers tracing money transfers and stuff, we move. We get their evidence nailed down and I make this one, we call in the Bureau, hand over a bunch of interstate scores for 'em, and I'm up a couple of notches, maybe get my ass off the street 'cause I'm tired, Joe. I'm really getting tired, and I'm too well-known. Can't work the Zone any more, not around here. And I'm losin' it too, losin' the edge.”

“Sounds like you've got a good source.” McGuire lowered his head, pinched the bridge of his nose.

“This guy's a gold mine, Joe.” Scrignoli became animated, like a man describing an expensive new car or a voluptuous woman. “He's a fuckin' mother lode. This guy can blow the whole scam in this town to the moon, trust me on that.”

“So what's the second point?”

Scrignoli exhaled slowly and struck the top of the steering wheel with the palm of his hand. “We start digging into his records and there it is. He was banging her, the Lorenzo woman. The broad you used to be related to. He'd get it on with her, her place, business trip to Florida, it's all there. Then she started blackmailing him and he paid her off but she came back for more. So that makes him a suspect. But he couldn't've done it. No way could this guy have done it, Joe.”

“Why not?”

Scrignoli poked McGuire's shoulder with a forefinger. “Because when Lorenzo got hers the other night, I was with the son of a bitch at his place on the Cape, working out his evidence. He never left my sight, Joe. All night long, except maybe to go have a whizz. Never left my sight.”

Dakota dropped her cigarette to the sidewalk, stubbed it out with her shoe and turned to enter the club with Billie, who headed for the john. Just inside the door two guys with long greasy hair and trucker's caps asked her to table dance for them. She said, “Not now, maybe later.”

Dakota recognized the guy McGuire had been sitting with outside in the car, fingered him. Didn't know his name, only that he was a cop. A while back, couple of years maybe, he'd busted her and some friends who were dealing a little snow, not a hell of a lot, just enough to keep them on top of things. They dropped the charges against her but she remembered the arrogant little Italian guy, undercover turd, would never forget him.

Jesus, was McGuire one of them too? All this time, McGuire mumbling and hanging around here, watching and listening, was the son of a bitch working undercover?

She'd better tell Dewey. And maybe Grizzly, and Django. Tell them what she saw, tell them maybe to take a hike from McGuire, hang him out to dry.

“You gonna tell me any more about your buddy, the broker?” McGuire was leaning forward, his elbows on the dashboard of Scrignoli's car, his head in his hands. Wait, he told himself. Wait until Danny's gone. Find Django, make the connection.

“What's to tell?” Scrignoli shrugged. “He's worth maybe fifty, sixty million. Keeps himself in shape, hell of a tennis player I hear. He's got a workout room in his house with enough Nautilus machines to train an army regiment.”

“And you're convinced he didn't do it.”

“No fuckin' way.” Scrignoli's voice grew stronger. “Told you, I was with this guy the night she was put through the wringer. All night long. Out on the Cape, going through his books, taking statements, putting everything in place. We started at nine and worked through till three. Almost finished off a bottle of Remy Martin between us, but who needs to know that, right? We crashed about three-thirty and were up before seven, having breakfast at a Denny's near Hyannis. Got back in town about ten and I was a mess the whole day but I had what I needed.”

Scrignoli slapped the steering wheel again. “See, here's where I can get screwed. Somebody starts sniffing around, thinks my guy's involved in a first-degree and spills it to his wife that he was having little romper room parties with your former sister-in-law over on Newbury, and there goes six months of work down the toilet. Along with my plan to spend a big chunk of my life in a hammock with unlimited beer and lots of broads close by. 'Cause there's no way this guy'll cooperate if his wife picks up on the Lorenzo bitch. No way. She'll put him out of business if she goes for a divorce. She gets half the company, I can't protect him any more from the P.A., he loses his license and he'll tell me to take a hike. You see what I'm sayin' here?”

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