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Authors: Frank Lentricchia

The Accidental Pallbearer (16 page)

BOOK: The Accidental Pallbearer
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“Who plays us?”

“Pacino and Brando.”

“Brando is dead.”

“WHAT?!”

“Synakowski has the same fantasy. We become rich and famous in a minor sort of way.”

“They want to give me minor, Eliot? I take it.”

Between 1:30 and 6:30, Conte in the foetid air of the Super 8 naps and works on the scenario. Sketches the set, the blocking, roughs in the dialogue, suggests themes for improvisation, describes the costumes, stipulates acts to be performed with the key props. He’s regained his health. He’s never felt better. It excites him to work the scenario.

At 6:30 sharp, Rintrona at the door. Takes one look at
Conte and says, “You look like a new man since lunch. They say this is the meaning of falling in love. I wouldn’t know. Against all odds, Katie’s got a thing for you, you lucky bastard. Here’s what you need for Coca’s drink.”

Conte invites him in. Rintrona sits on the bed as Conte paces, a little manic, a manila folder in hand, paper-clipped at the open edges. He says, “Look this over for tomorrow. We meet at my house at 6:30. We change in the car. No need to memorize. Make it part of you. Make the character you and all else follows.”

Rintrona rises, takes the folder, and startles Conte by saying, “In the Program we have a saying, I’m referring to AA, but I’m not telling you you’re a candidate. I only observe you’re wound tight like a white knuckler. The saying is an acronym. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. KISS is also wisdom for detectives. At lunch you mentioned forty-seven confusing characters.”

“Did I mention Ronald Sheehan?”

“Number forty-eight.”

“Attended DePellaccio in the hospital. An esteemed physician with honorary degrees. He died in a one-car accident a few months after DePellaccio’s so-called heart attack.”

“Another victim of conspiracy?”

“I believe so.”

“Only two people matter, Eliot, who we come down on like a ton of jagged bricks. In private, without pain-in-the-ass witnesses. Coca and Kinter. That’s it. Keep it simple and I’ll see you
domani
.”

“One other thing, Bobby.”

“Yeah?”

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

“What I’m saying.”

She’s in form-fitting black leather pants and a long-sleeved, low-necked top whose design and vivid color very few women can wear to advantage. Catherine Cruz is one of the very few. She apologizes for having to get take-out from the Thai Café. Planned to cook, but another one of those extended and bruising conversations with her daughter knocked her for a loop.

He says, “Our kids … I sympathize.”

“For some reason, Eliot, unhappy encounters tend to whet my appetite. A psychiatrist could have a field day with me. Are you famished?”

“I am.” (Allowing himself to think “for you too.”)

A spread of crispy catfish, wonton soup, steamed rice, and basil rolls, which they’ll dip in a spicy hot sweet sauce. She says, “The dessert they make, which I foolishly bought, will destroy us both.”

“Good,” he says.

She offers him a Thai beer. He politely declines.

“This fine wine, then?”

“Might you have a Coke? Water is okay too.”

“Coke it is.”

Unlike their first date at the Q Shack, which went as if they’d known each other long before, this one is awkward – this second meeting is burdened by the knowledge of how
much, so quickly, had been felt, and frankly exchanged, at the Q Shack, and now here they are in her studio apartment with a sweeping view of the Hudson, just the two of them, and the sense of intimacy and the pressure of what now? What next?

She says, “Have fun at lunch with Bobby?”

“He’s something else, Catherine, isn’t he?”

“A constant entertainment and the most devoted family guy I’ve met. When Bobby returned, he said, Katie, I’m the canary that just swallowed the cat.” (Fishing.)

Conte tells her a truth of a preliminary sort that won’t be questioned. “He’s advising me on a delicate case.”

“Very mysterious, Detective Conte. Mystery is good. Anticipation is good too, up to a point. I hope it goes well for you.”

“We’ll see.”

“We’ll see is what anticipation is all about, isn’t it?”

Not to be outdone, he responds in kind to her code: “Both the pleasure and the agony. I’ve always known the agony as a big part of the pleasure.”

Conte and Cruz forget themselves for a moment, lay aside their troubles, and the dinner and conversation become ever more delectable, until over coffee and coconut cake he tells her that at the Q Shack he had misled her about his children, when he told her that he and they were irreversibly alienated. He’s sorry he didn’t level with her.

“In fact, Catherine, they’re dead.”

She can’t respond.

He says, “Do you watch CNN by any chance?”

“For about an hour after dinner.”

“Recall a story out of California last week about a woman arrested on suspicion of murdering her adult children?”

She doesn’t want to answer. After a long pause, she nods.

“That was my ex, those were her. My girls. Rosalind and Emily. I haven’t seen them since I moved east twenty years ago.”

He leaves the table, walks to the window, stares at the river.

“They’re gone. She’s been released.”

She joins him at the window. His voice is lifeless.

“I don’t believe she did it. What’s the difference who did? … What’s the difference? … Where’s the satisfaction in knowing who? What good will it do me?”

She takes his hand, but doesn’t speak.

“I thought for the longest time I felt nothing for them because of – what’s the point of going over the marriage and the separation? The coldness from the beginning. The bitterness that came too quickly. The actual hatred at the end and damages not even God, if there is one, could redeem. Now this, thirty years later. I’m empty. That’s who I am. I totally failed. No chance now to give the love they shouldn’t have had to earn, and never got from me. God is not interested.”

She turns his head toward her. He embraces her. He steps back. Not wanting to feel what he’s suddenly feeling.

He says, “I need to get back. Big day tomorrow.”

She says, “Are you free on Saturday?”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to come up to Utica.”

“We could listen to the opera in the afternoon, then go
to The Chesterfield for dinner. The owners are friends of mine. Rosie and Dom. They’d love to meet you.”

He turns toward the window: “There’s your river, Catherine.”

“After dinner at The Chesterfield, unless you object, I won’t drive home. I’ll stay.”

“What are we saying the meaning of ‘stay’ is?”

“Sleep in your bed.”

At the door, she says, “I want you to do something.”

He looks at her.

“Put your hands on my breasts.”

He does.

He says, “Will this help?”

“Yes,” she says. “Yes.”

CHAPTER 18

Conte over the speed limit, near Schenectady, enters the Mohawk Valley’s mouth – down its long throat he goes – all the way down to the bottom of the belly at exit 33, Utica at last, where he tunes in to WIBX and a bulletin of the latest news: “An anonymous police source is reporting tonight that a neighbor of Janice McPherson has come forward to say that while walking his dog on Chestnut Street, between 8:30 and 9:00
P.M.
, he recalls a large man entering the murder victim’s house. Unfortunately, our source stated, it was too dark and at too great a distance for the witness to notice anything other than the man’s impressive size.”

If the neighbor’s estimate is accurate – if the large man can be placed at the scene within a time frame ultimately corroborated by the coroner – then Janice’s son will testify as to Conte’s urgent interest in seeing the mother – witnesses at the college will testify that he’d been to her office a few days before – one of them will claim to have overheard heated conversation as she strolled past the victim’s door – and then, inevitably, he thinks, the dog-walker’s description of a large man entering her house at the fatal time becomes damning. Dr. Jekyll, allow me the pleasure of introducing you to Mr. Hyde.

Home at 11:30 – the light flashing on his answering machine. Two messages. The first at 10:05:

El, Toots. Your father was taken to Saint Elizabeth’s about an hour ago by ambulance. He called from his room. Antonio’s with him. I hate to say it, but it doesn’t look too good at this point, but maybe not the worst, God willing. El, I, uh, hope you’ll get over to the hospital first thing in the morning. If not tonight. He wants to see you very much, believe me. It’s time, El.

The second at 10:20:

Detective Conte, it’s Tom. I saw something that reminded me of something in those blow-up pictures on your desk this morning. I couldn’t place it at the time. The mouth. I just placed it. The tiny no-lips mouth. Why my tenant is wearing a wig and moustache I have no idea, but I’m betting you do. Tomorrow morning, after he goes to work, I intend to investigate his storage in the attic. You looked into the suitcase. I’m looking into his fuckin’ boxes. You never know. I’ll be in touch.

In spite of the hour’s lateness, Conte returns Castellano’s call and gets his answering machine:

Tom, please take this very seriously. Jed Kinter is extremely dangerous. Let’s talk first thing in the
morning. Don’t do anything crazy. Do nothing until we talk.

Conte sleeps no more than an hour, if that. At 7:00 he calls Castellano, gets the man himself, and apologizes for calling at such an hour. Castellano replies, “You call 7:00 in the morning early? You got some kind of lifestyle, Detective.” Conte warns him that Kinter has likely done multiple murders – “stay out of his way – be careful how you look at him – say you’re coming down with a cold, or whatever, if you run into him – try to act bored in his presence.”

Castellano replies, “Christ, I’m always bored. Listen to this: I already did my investigation while Kinter slept. 3:00 in the morning, Detective, I’m up in the attic on catlike feet. Guess what? I found built-up shoes and a revolver. The fuckin’ shorty kept the shoes.”

“Jesus Christ, Tom.”

“I confiscated the fuckin’ revolver.”

“You’re out of your mind.”

“And you’re not, Detective?”

“Does he usually eat at home and stick around in the evenings?”

“Sometimes he’s here, mostly he’s not. Tonight, he’ll definitely be here.”

“How do you know that?”

“How do I know? Last night I invited this bastard for dinner. That’s how I know.”

“He accepted?”

“Naturally.”

“Naturally?? How long do you think he’ll stay?”

“As long as it takes.”

“What are you saying to me, Tom?”

“I’m saying he’ll be here from six to fuckin’ indefinite. In other words, whenever you can get here, Detective, to do what you have to do.”

“What are you telling me, Tom?”

“I’m telling you I guarantee it, Detective.”

“Don’t do anything crazy, Tom.”

“This fuckin’ guy, Detective? Ever since he came here three years ago, he acts like I’m his father. I think he’s got some kind of perversity about Italian men of a certain age. We have a nice relationship.”

“I’ll come over after seven or eight. I’ll call in advance.”

“No need to call. Just come.”

“Tom, you’re really beginning to scare me.”

“About time, Detective, don’t ya think?”

He approaches Silvio Conte’s private room as a nurse exits. He stops her, she glares: “Excuse me, Teresa, what can you tell me about the seriousness of my father’s condition?”

Teresa, once a knockout who has added twenty-five pounds to her diminutive frame, responds: “I look like a doctor to you?”

“As a matter of fact, I think you –”

“Nice try.”

As she pushes past, he says, “He’s my father. He
is
my father, Teresa.”

She gives him an incredulous look: “Years ago, as we all know, he semi-adopted a black child, who has since risen to glory. And we all hear the rumors he fathered a daughter out of wedlock. As far as I can tell, you’re not black. I’m calling security.”

“Let me show you my ID.”

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