I FOUND IT HARD to resist the temptation to go home immediately and check on the envelope in my desk, to match it with the one I’d taken from Yolanda’s wastebasket. But it was nearly three o’clock, and I was already running late. Andrea had told me she was working an early shift, seven to three-thirty.
As planned, I called her when I got to the Visitor Center on the edge of lab property.
“Gloria, I was hoping you’d get here soon. I’ll be right out.”
Andrea met me at a wide turnstile meant to accommodate several people, or one person and a bicycle, or Andrea and me. She pushed her badge through a slot and entered a PIN code with great haste, nearly out of breath.
“There’s someone I want to show you.”
Someone to show me? Odd choice of words, I thought, but it became clear when Andrea wrapped her hand around my wrist and led me toward the fishbowl that was Tony Taruffi’s office. She positioned us behind an orange felt partition. I hoped the cubicle’s resident, a Jeff Bonivert according to the sign, wouldn’t appear and call 911.
“See that man with Tony?” I nodded, and focused on a short, wide man in a tweed jacket, engaged in animated conversation with Yolanda’s former boss. “That’s Garth Allen.” Andrea sounded as if I should know the name. The man had a jaunty air about him in spite of graying hair and half glasses perched on his nose. A talk-show host? A movie star? If so, I
was lost. I’d abandoned my interest in popular culture right after the Kennedy administration.
“He’s the safety manager for the nuclear power regulators. He oversees the contract they have with the lab—we give technical advice to the safety inspectors.” My look must have betrayed my continued bafflement but Andrea remained patient. “Allen’s the one who’d be on the line if Yolanda uncovered a problem with boron. I thought you’d want to see him,” Andrea whispered, using her hands to emphasize a word here and there. “He could be a suspect.”
I gave her a smile, hoping she’d interpret it as appreciation. “Interesting. Thanks.” I had no idea what to do with the visual data Andrea had provided with such flourish. Evidently she’d taken to heart my comment that “everyone was a suspect.” But I couldn’t put Allen on a short list simply because he was in charge of safety at reactors. Or because he was in conference with the man who’d fired Yolanda. I might as well go with an indictment for a poor fashion choice—he wore polyester jeanlike pants and a leather-elbowed jacket.
I regretted not having read the boron file Matt had given to me. Yolanda’s thick portfolio might hold more possibilities than the articles I’d fallen asleep with last night. While I was sizing up my options, Allen and Taruffi left the office and walked toward us. Andrea and I slipped around the partition as if a grand coincidence had brought us all together.
“Dr. Lamerino. You’re here so often, we’ll have to get you a badge.” Taruffi leaned into me, closer than I thought necessary for normal conversation. His silky tone and sweet-smelling cologne provoked me to move away from him, and from pretense. It seemed a “nothing to lose” moment.
“A badge would come in handy,” I told him. “Since I’ll be wanting to interview Yolanda’s colleagues.”
The look of consternation that took over Taruffi’s face, though momentary, was worth the price I’d pay for stepping out of line, either by feeling guilty later or when the real cops found me out.
Allen cleared his throat and extended his hand. “Garth Allen. You’re with the police?”
I smiled. “As a technical consultant. I understand you’re familiar with such contracts.”
Allen nodded and laughed. He seemed more relaxed—less guilty?—than Taruffi. “Listen, Dr … .Marino?”
“Right. I used to know a Buddy Marino.”
We Italians all know each other, I almost said, but I let Allen continue instead.
“I’d love to talk to you. But I’m only here till COB tomorrow.”
“Garth works out of Washington,” Taruffi said, apparently proud to be doing business with a true bureaucrat, one who knew the acronym for
close of business
, the end of the workday.
Andrea stepped back and leaned against our ambush partition. Her small dark eyes darted back and forth among us as we spoke. I figured her smile was self-congratulatory at having inadvertently set up the bizarre meeting.
“How about tomorrow morning?” I asked Allen, whipping out my electronic calendar at the same time. Busy police consultant that I am.
“It’d have to be early. Seven-thirty? I’ll buy you a cup of coffee in Tony’s office.”
Very funny these government men. “I’ll see you then.”
Andrea and I walked off, heads held high, as if we’d just discovered evidence for hypergravity.
“Wow,” was all she said until we got to her cubicle on the other side of the building, the wing with green partitions instead of orange.
I gave her a smile of genuine gratitude. “I’m really glad to have an interview with Allen. I wouldn’t even have known about him if it weren’t for you.”
“You know I love to help.” She retrieved a pile of papers from her desk and handed it to me. “I picked these up. They’re copies of the newsletters Yolanda’s group puts out. Some of
them are old, but you never know.” She raised her eyebrows in a conspiratorial gesture.
“Good work, Andrea.” I looked at my watch. “And you’re not even getting paid for this. Your shift is up.”
She waved her hand. “It’s OK. I’m free tonight. Maybe we could have dinner?”
I hoped I’d kept my reaction internal—a hard swallow and a silent “uh-oh.” Lunch was one thing, part of the workday; dinner seemed more of a commitment to friendship. Andrea had come to the party Rose hosted to celebrate my one year back in Revere, but that had been our only purely social contact.
Matt was coming at seven. I didn’t know what he’d think about a third person. I didn’t know what
thought, except I suddenly felt very selfish.
“Come by my apartment at seven-thirty,” I finally said.
Andrea’s smile, buried in her cheeks, told me I’d made the right decision.
I ENTERED MY APARTMENT and went straight to my desk. I was almost surprised to find my letter where I’d placed it, as if the correspondence had a life of its own and had perhaps left for a while to visit Yolanda Fiore’s trash.
To my unaided eye the envelope from my anonymous pen pal and the one from Yolanda’s wastebasket came from the same batch. All the obvious features seemed the same—the fashionably rough texture, the size, the off-white tone, the slightly jagged edge on the flap. I sniffed each one, then looked around to be sure no one had witnessed the silly behavior.
I was reminded of expensive sets of letter paper popular as graduation presents years ago, with the name and address of the sender on the top sheet, and plain sheets meant for additional pages. Somewhere, I was sure, there was a companion sheet to my letter, with a name and an address.
If I gave the letter to Matt, there’d be considerable advantages—the police could canvass stationery stores, check for fingerprints, enlist the help of the post office. It pained me to
acknowledge the superior resources commanded by real law enforcement personnel.
I felt let down. All I’d done was demonstrate to myself that Yolanda and I had received mail from the same person, or from two members of the same family, or two customers of the same card shop. Not much, once I thought about it.
I wondered what Yolanda had done with the contents of her envelope, and if it was also a threatening note. I envisioned a request to meet her at the top of the library stairs on Thursday night, by the coat rack. Or maybe it was just a party invitation.
The blinking light on my answering machine gave me an excuse to postpone further deliberation on our mysterious correspondent.
“Peter here,” the first message started. Apparently Peter Mastrone was in one of his pretend-aristocracy moods. Probably watching British or subtitled films again. I’d been expecting the call.
Peter, who’d been teaching Italian at Revere High for decades, had been living a fantasy life since my return to Revere. In his mind, he and I were a couple, with him in charge. I’d dated him briefly in high school and he seemed to think I’d gone to California simply to give us a thirty-year breather before coming back to be with him again.
“Erin Wong told me you’ll be helping her with science projects this month and that you might stay on and work with her during the regular school year also. She’s thrilled.” A pause, while he adjusted his voice to a lower frequency. “I hope that doesn’t mean you’re dropping my class.” He laughed, as if the thought would never cross my mind.
Before I called him back I had to decide whether I wanted to continue my visits to his class. For a year I’d given monthly talks to Peter’s students, on Italian and Italian-American scientists—Galileo Galilei, Enrico Fermi, Alessandro Volta, Guglielmo Marconi, Maria Agnesi. I hadn’t run out of worthy subjects, but I was about out of patience with Peter’s constant nagging. He didn’t like my association with the Revere Police Department, either for business or social purposes.
I had a sudden brilliant idea, and picked up the phone to return Peter’s call.
He answered, and lost no time getting on my nerves. “I know you got in on Saturday, Gloria. I was hoping you’d have called me by now.”
“Yes, I had a good time in California, Peter. Thanks for asking.”
Peter always seemed to bring out the petty, junior-high side of me. Not a good way to start our second year in the same state. I pictured his tall, thin Sicilian frame, cool and dry in a crisp seersucker suit, even on this day with 85 percent relative humidity. I was more comfortable with Matt, who wrinkled easily.
“Sorry. You know I worry about you, Gloria. I figured you were already back to work.”
“The Fiore case. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard about it.”
I heard a long exasperated sigh. “I knew it.”
“Did you know Yolanda Fiore?” I asked him. Maybe I could get some information out of this otherwise unpleasant interaction.
“Just by reputation. One of those fuzzy-thinking liberals who’s always raving about one cause or another.”
“I don’t even pay attention. Something about radiation leaking out of the lab. Then there was a fuss about nuclear plants and how they store the waste. People like that just like to get their pictures in the paper.”
“Some people are like that.” Peter didn’t seem to know about John’s involvement in weapons protests.
“I was hoping we could get together and talk about classes for the fall. I don’t suppose you’re free for dinner?”
“Not tonight.” It’s already crowded here for dinner, I thought. “And about the class …”
“You’re dumping it, aren’t you?”
“I have a great idea for it. Do you remember Andrea Cabrini?
You met her at my party a couple of weeks ago. At the Galiganis’.”
“The, uh, full-figured woman. How could I forget?”
“Peter.” I made no effort to hide my annoyance.
“Sorry. What about her? You’re not thinking of replacing you with her?”
“Why not? She’s Italian. She speaks a dialect at least as well as I do.” This was purely conjecture on my part, but I was sure Andrea was a quick study. “She’s an excellent technician and knows a lot of the history of science and technology.” I was winging the last part, too, and I hadn’t yet asked Andrea if she’d be willing to do the classes. But this seemed like a good way to solve two problems—Peter’s need for speakers and Andrea’s excessive amount of free time.
“Has she ever done this before?”
“I’m sure she has.” Another dubious statement.
“I like to give the students good role models for how to present themselves,” he said.
“And also for professional competence?”
“And you want to teach them that personal qualities like kindness, intelligence, and generosity are not necessarily connected to candidacy for Miss or Mr. America?”
“OK, Gloria. I get it. I’ll give her a try.”
I smiled at my victory. Now all I had to do was convince Andrea. I felt I had some power over her—partly as her senior by at least twenty years—and hoped I wasn’t abusing it.
I needed a treat first, however, so I made an espresso and punched the button for Rose’s number. She’d also left a message, “just wanting to talk.”
“I’m doing better,” she said when I reached her. “I hope I have some friends left when this is over. Did I ever apologize to you?”
“Let’s consider we’ve exchanged a mutual apology. How’s John?”
“Holding up. You may have noticed the
name out of the coverage. We’re all happy about that. Any news on your part?”
The simple answer was “no,” but I hated to disappoint my friend. I gave her details of my encounters with Derek Byrne, Church attorney Frances Worthen, lab supervisor Tony Taruffi, and nuclear inspector Garth Allen. I told her about Yolanda’s newsletter, the controversy over the library expansion, and even the root of the term “moonshine liquor,” as if it all mattered.