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Authors: Tom Corcoran

Tags: #Mystery & Crime

The Mango Opera (23 page)

BOOK: The Mango Opera
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“So I’ve been told.”

“She tell you the details? About how his butt was doing the up-and-down dance and Ellen had her thumb in his behind?”

“She told me parts of that … and he looked up and said, ‘Oops.’”

“Did she tell you that the bastard finished his downstroke? Right in front of her face. At least he could’ve pulled out. Pardon my explicit frankness.”

I caught myself, for some reason, trying to calculate Annie’s point of view. Had it been a side view like an R-rated movie, or straight up the middle, toes to crotch, like a porn shot? Just as quickly I decided I couldn’t care less.

Carmen went on. “Later that night he fell all over himself to apologize. He blamed it on Ellen. He said she’d seduced him. He tried every scam in the book to get back into Annie’s good graces. They stayed up all night long, drinking wine and talking about their relationship, how she still had feelings for you and that he would make allowances for that. He wanted her full-time and he would never be unfaithful again.”

“Where does the bullshit come in?”

“She loves you. She caught this guy fucking her roommate. And she’s still in a dilemma?”

“That’s what it sounds like.”

“Hello? From a man’s point of view, it’s a dilemma. From a woman’s point of view, take my word, it’s pure bullshit. You’re either in love or not.”

“It’s possible to love more than one person.”

“See? That’s a man’s point of view. Your woman needs a set of values.”

“I think she may have had some before she went to law school.”

“Are you still in love?”

“I don’t know anymore. Maybe I’m just in need.”

“Maybe that’s the whole problem, a man your age.” Then Carmen tacked on another question. “You said you had a lot of girlfriends because it took so long to find Annie. Was she the only one that ever clicked? Has there ever been another woman that made you feel something?”

“Yes. But all she gave me was one lay and a hand job in a hot tub.”

That put a squint in Carmen’s eyes that I’d never seen before. I’m not sure where in my brain it came from, but I realized as I spoke that I’d told the truth.

“You said Annie was the closest to the real thing since you were in the Navy.”

“Yes, and you were giving me a bunch of shit when I said that. I left you out as a matter of spite. Anyway, this is a rank time for me to be out hunting a new girlfriend.”

Carmen stared straight ahead, at nothing. I glanced at her expressionless face and caught myself flashing ahead to the rest of my life, imagining what it might be like to spend it with her. The overall picture was not unpleasant. Then I wondered if Annie might get in touch with Anselmo, might let it be known that Bernier had information about events from “a long time ago.”

Someone had left the Keys section of the
Herald
in the seat-back pouch. I pulled it out and spread it open. Citizens versus the EPA. The EPA versus the citizens. The county versus the state. In the lower left-hand corner, a short two-column piece:

BROTHERS COLLIDE

—UPI, Key Largo

Brothers Luis and Umberto Ruenes, each heading a different direction on U.S. 1, collided one mile south of Layton on Friday afternoon. Umberto Ruenes, 33, of North Key Largo, told the Highway Patrol that a gust of wind pushed his four-ton dump truck into the path of the eighteen-foot U-Haul truck driven by his older brother near Long Key. Luis Ruenes, 35, of Tavernier, suffered a broken collarbone and fractured arm when his leased U-Haul left the road at approximately 50 mph, collided with two concrete utility poles and destroyed a roadside seashell market. Umberto Ruenes regained control of his dump truck and suffered no injuries. There were no injuries reported at the unattended shell stand. The Florida Highway Patrol estimated damage to the U-Haul in excess of $16,000. An investigation is continuing.

A gust of wind?

Who knew that I was traveling U.S. 1?

Annie … Carmen … Sam … Bob Bernier … and Billy Fernandez.

Detective Billy Fernandez.

22

“Above the Key West baggage ramps:
BIENVENIDOS A CAYO HUESO.
” A literal translation: “Welcome to the Island of Bones.” Indeed.

Our plane taxied past bright rows of private aircraft tethered to recessed eyebolts. Everything moved in slow motion, shimmered in the intense heat of high noon. The ground crew waited in the shade of an overhang until the last minute to approach. As the plane halted, Carmen leaned her shoulder against mine, tilted her head my way. Solidarity and support. “Can you drop me at home before you check on Sam?”

“You feel like calling your friend Larry Riley?”

“And?”

“Exact causes of death for each of the four women. And anything he’s held back from the media or the police. I can’t lose the feeling there’s a puzzle piece waiting to come out of the closet, for want of a better expression. No one official has mentioned rape, for instance.”

“It’s not like he and I are
intimate
friends, you understand.”

“The way things work in this town, that’s a plus.”

She looked puzzled. “You mean disease?”

“You two are wise enough to deal with that. I’m talking about truth.” I held back a moment, then said, “Thanks for the lecture on bullshit.”

With the single open door and no power for air-conditioning, the airplane quickly turned into an oven. We were the last two off. I hadn’t showered in Miami. Before we got to the portable stairway, I smelled like I had spent the morning rolling in the hay. Indeed.

Even with sunglasses the brightness hurt.

“A greeting committee,” I said. Monty Aghajanian and Chicken Neck Liska stood behind chain-link at an employees’ gate. Liska in a broad-collared shirt, bell-bottoms, white belt and white shoes. The Fear: they were here to arrest me. Billy Fernandez’s slurred warnings echoed from a corner of my brain. But Liska hated what he called dirty work, and there were no uniformed officers in sight.

“What’s with that guy’s clothing?” said Carmen. “He left everything in storage while he did twenty years in the Navy?”

“He prides himself in being a walking museum. I know for a fact that he practices moonwalking in front of his bathroom mirror.” I recalled the Key West fire chief in the 1970s who wore red polyester clothing and red leather shoes. He also wore rose-colored dark glasses, red silk socks, and a ruby pinkie ring. In any other city in America, these civil-service captains would be laughed out of their jobs. Liska’s abilities might save him. The fire chief changed professions after selling drugs to a federal agent.

“Your taxicab awaits you, ambassador.” In open sunlight Monty still looked crisp and neat. The FBI ought to have been laying roses at his feet. “We’ll run you out to the county jail,” he said. “You can help us make our pitch for Sam’s innocence.”

Again, the Fear: They’d drop me off and split. The joke would be on me.

Monty knew Carmen from the years he’d lived on Dredgers Lane. He introduced her to Liska. As we passed through the gate area, an instrumental version of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” warbled through the music system.

Carmen held me back while the other two walked on. “He moonwalks?”

“I, too, have problems with the truth.”

Their unmarked pale green Taurus occupied a “No Parking” zone. Monty unlocked the passenger-side doors. Chicken Neck went for the front seat. Monty opened the rear door for Carmen, closed it after she had gotten in, then ushered me around to the other side. “Bernier said he’d filled you in,” he muttered under his breath. “Don’t mention Anselmo to Liska.”

The FBI trusts Monty but not his boss?

I opened my door. “Can we drop Carmen at her house?”

On South Roosevelt bike riders, Sunday strollers, and Rollerbladers cruised the County Beach strand, basked in warm breezes. To the southeast a shrimper headed into Stock Island as a yawl departed under motor power. A Bertram, its tuna tower swaying in the roll of inshore waves, overtook the sailboat. Farther down A1A, a yawning young couple climbed from the back of a station wagon, he in a slingshot bathing suit, she in sweatpants and a tie-dyed tank top. Across from the first condos a fellow slept on the sand, a newspaper tent over his head, his bicycle chained to his leg.

Even at full blast, the car’s air-conditioning did not help much. Liska checked a bikini on a ten-speed. “How’s your lady friend doing?”

“Perfect. She needed a vacation. She’s sharing a house with a couple of gay guys, and she’s got the pool to herself all day long.”

“Wish you’d been here last night,” said Liska. “Cootie Ortega was boozed on Spanish brandy, so we had to use that county photographer, that fruit out of Marathon. Put Lester Forsythe up against a tattooed, matty-haired, toothless street-freak dirtbag in Key West, Lester’s the weirder of the two.”

“Where did Mary Alice live?”

Monty half-turned around. “Three doors down from Sam at the far end of Elizabeth. Between United and South near … I don’t know what it’s called now. Used to be Lord’s Motel. Did you know that she and Sam had a thing, too?”

“Nope.” Small world.

“They had a fling after she divorced that guy from Bell South. He said she didn’t like to go out much. Afraid of running into her ex. They wore a path between their houses. It lasted about a year.”

Why hadn’t Sam ever said so? Had Mary Alice Noe mentioned me to Sam?

Sam Wheeler…? I wanted off this train of logic.

I suggested that we drop Carmen in front of Cobo Pharmacy. An official vehicle in Dredgers Lane might interfere with Bernier’s surveillance. After a moment’s thought I expressed concern for her safety.

“Somebody jumps me,” she said, “I yell and my daddy blows his head off.”

We kept an eye on her until she had turned up the lane. Monty eased up Fleming and turned south on Frances.

Liska tilted his head toward the south side of the island. “Stock Island will wait. We’ve got to run to Elizabeth Street.”

Mary Alice’s house? “My cameras are in my house.”

“You’re not on the clock today. You’re donating your time to an ongoing investigation. This is civic duty.”

“We had some unusual problems this morning, Alex,” said Monty. “The representatives of the Monroe County Violent Crimes Task Force were a little whacked out. Naturally, we don’t appreciate having county detectives screwing around with city cases in the first place. This whole Task Force deal that the state dreamed up has a crowding effect. But they showed up and Avery Hatch was walking around like a loadie on Quaaludes. ‘Disoriented’ would be accurate. Billy Fernandez was charged up like a drill sergeant. Showered and shaved, fresh shirt, shined shoes, trimmed mustache. A million things at once, all very proper, all very organized. Not at all like Billy.”

The last time I’d seen him, late Saturday afternoon, Fernandez had looked like a wino walking on ball bearings.

Liska became adamant. “They were just plain fucked up. At seven-fifteen
A.M.
They looked around the murder scene for what … four minutes, maybe five?”

Monty nodded.

I sensed that Liska had told this before. “They went outside, had a chat, checked the address against something on a clipboard, then walked down to Wheeler’s house and rang his doorbell. Woke him up. Got Sam out in the middle of the street in a pair of Levi’s with no shirt, no shoes. Then they drove away. No goddamned explanation. They left Sam standing there and drove away.”

Monty glanced over to prompt further details.

Liska obliged. “It was so strange that I broke down and called my ex-wife. My ex-wife who is now married to the ugly son of a bitch. She tells me he’s been wacky for almost a week, stumbling around the house like a cuckoo bubba, and now she’s sorry she left me. I didn’t need that kind of bullshit an hour and half after sunrise, I tell you.”

“An hour later,” said Monty, “they arrested Sam at his dock. We sent the city attorney out to the county jail. No word yet.”

“Bernier told me another tidbit,” I said. “Pepper Neice was detained.”

“You’ll love this.” Chicken Neck and Monty got on a short laughing jag and Liska continued, “He checked into a motel up in Boynton Beach. I guess he needed a piece of ass but he was too broke to buy a whore. He goes out to the pool and pulls down his pants and sticks his dick in the suction hole for the water recirculation system. Gets it stuck in there. These motel pools have high-rate pumps, to clean out all the kiddie pee. So his pork’s in the suction hole, and he starts yelling for help. You got to picture this. Somebody tells the desk clerk, the desk clerk calls 911, and right away they got fifty motel guests, a crowd from the lounge next door, and two TV stations with video crews.”

Liska’s stopped to catch his breath. His laughing was contagious. “The next morning on the news clips they got bystanders yelling, ‘Send him home to his goat!’ and ‘Throw a bucket of water on him!’ Shit like that. Some lucky fireman had to get down there and squirt KY all over the man’s unit. The anchor lady speculated on whether or not the motel would have to drain the pool to reduce the risk of AIDS. Meanwhile a city cop runs the name that Neice had registered under, and finds out it’s a fake. Didn’t take long to find out who he was. The poor bastard.”

“Poor bastard?” I was still laughing. “Think how the pool felt.”

“That’s not what he meant,” said Monty. “Neice didn’t know his daughter was dead.”

We stopped in front of a three-bay shotgun house on Elizabeth, a few doors south of United. A dour, overweight Key West police officer sat on a weathered pine porch swing in the shadows of a gumbo limbo tree. Bright yellow
DO NOT CROSS
tape encircled the building and yard. The broken window behind the officer had been knocked from the inside outward. Birds chittered on the utility lines.

Over on South Street, traffic, especially high-pitched mopeds and pickups with bad mufflers, raced in both directions. The world went on around us as we approached another room where time had stopped for someone else.

“Freeman, we’re going in for a few minutes,” Liska said to the uniformed cop. “If anyone shows up, ask ’em to wait.”

BOOK: The Mango Opera
7.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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