Whiskey’s Gone (A Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn Mystery Book 3) (22 page)

BOOK: Whiskey’s Gone (A Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn Mystery Book 3)
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“Yup.” I couldn’t help myself, I was gloating. I looked over at Denny, who was shaking his head.

“Still, we’ve got next to nothing. I’ve got my team looking all over Brighton Beach and Coney Island for this jerk Arthur. And as for the charred body, we need proper identification before we notify next of kin. It could be anyone.”

“What about Maddie?”

“Her child?” Jane was thinking. I could tell Maddie had done a number on her. “I’ve called ACS, but it’s premature, isn’t it? I mean, we don’t know it’s Whiskey they’ve found.”

“You’ve met her kid?”

“You bet I have, and believe me, believe me, it’s way too early to give her news like that. We just don’t know if it’s her mom.”

I called Lorraine and told her everything—what Star Newcomb saw, the news from the FBI, including the body found near Bensonhurst and the what and where of Whiskey’s bank debits. Without being there, I could tell Lorraine’s hand was over her heart.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she whispered.

“Denny and I are on our way over. Should we say anything to Maddie?”

I could hear Lorraine breathing, but she didn’t hesitate. “We can’t withhold from her; it would be a violation of her rights. And anyway, she’s too bright, she’ll know something’s wrong. I won’t say anything until you’re here, but hurry up.”

Denny and I piled into his jeep. On the way over I called Trisha Liam and told her the news. There was a big blank space on the network for a few seconds, but her lawyerly mind was a steel trap and soon snapped into gear. She dismissed the implications of finding Whiskey’s phone near the charred remains. “Until the body’s identified as hers, Whiskey Parnell is missing, nothing more. She could walk through the door any minute.”

I made no reply.

She thanked me again for involving Brandy. “I drove those kids around Cobble Hill, but Brandy’s the one who spotted Malcolm the painter’s van. She knows she’s going to save Whiskey. I don’t want to let her down.”

I thought about how much Trisha Liam had changed in the last three or four months. She’d gone from barely acknowledging her daughter to building a nurturing relationship, and now in the face of devastating news about Whiskey, Trisha Liam was talking about her sweet Brandy and how brilliant she is and how she has the day off tomorrow, something about a teacher’s conference.

I hung up as Denny slowed for traffic on Court Street, shifting gears and wondering out loud what his mom had made for dinner, hoping there’d be leftovers, saying he hadn’t eaten much since stopping to see Clancy to kill time while we were fighting. That gave me an idea, so I called Cookie. After I told her Tig’s news, there was silence on her end.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” I asked, the wheels of my mind going in a direction I wasn’t sure I liked. But Arthur wasn’t sitting right in my head, and the more I thought about him, the spookier he made me feel. I told Cookie I needed her to help me canvass the area around Neptune Avenue, maybe do some schlepping around Coney Island, asking some of the workers if they knew Whiskey’s thug. I was certain he was the key to finding her.

“I could use a team,” Cookie said.

“No problem, I have one in mind.” I put Cookie on hold, pressed Trisha Liam’s number and arranged to pick up Brandy and her friends in the morning. “And Denny can go with us.”

“Clancy’s day off, he can come with, too, and he’s got a van.”

“I thought you weren’t sure about him,” I said, all innocent.

I could almost see Cookie’s blush. We’re so close, I know what she’s thinking. Matter of fact, her words are clearer when they’re not spoken.

“I guess I just can’t believe good news when he knocks on my door.”

Lorraine was standing on the stoop as we drove up. I can see her now, holding the front door ajar, one hand on her throat, the porch light slanting over her as the last of the summer’s bugs swarmed around the bulb.

Denny kissed his mom, and we all sat in the parlor. When Robert and Maddie entered, I felt the blood rush to my face.

“What’s wrong with you?” Maddie asked me.

Before I could answer, she swiveled around and looked at Lorraine.

“Something’s up. You found my mom.”

I swallowed. “Not exactly.”

“It’s bad news, isn’t it?”

I had her sit on the sofa close to Lorraine and recited what I’d heard from the FBI. I said it as cleanly as I could, that they’d found her mom’s cell phone lying next to a body that had been badly burned, the face unrecognizable.

Maddie stared at her hands firmly folded in her lap. I watched her shoulders hunch and her eyes squeeze shut. She looked up at Robert.

“That’s not my mom, I know it isn’t. Someone stole her phone. I made a bet with Robert she’d come home in one piece and she’d never leave again, and I never, ever lose my bets, do I, Robert?”

He said nothing.

“Do I?” she asked again, this time more softly.

He shook his head.

No one said anything for a minute until I began talking about needing her mom’s dental records. Lorraine sat up, startled, I suppose, that I’d mention the method of body identification to a child. Robert glared at me.

“How dumb do you think I am?” Maddie asked.

“Who is your mom’s dentist?”

“Dr. Nichols, but Mom has perfect teeth, and don't ask me to find his office. Oh, wait, it’s close to my favorite ice cream store. Robert knows where it is, don’t you, Robert?”

Robert’s face, normally florid, was the color of lumpy flour, but he nodded.

“What’s your problem—afraid of losing another bet?” Maddie asked him.

“He’s on Court Street,” Robert said. I could tell by the look on his face that he feared the worst. So did I.

A Cold Goddess

The moon is a cold goddess who makes her home outside our bedroom window. I should know, I’ve stared up at her often enough. Snagged in amongst the electric wires and shining on branches losing their leaves, the heartless bitch beams her rays down on Denny and me. Sometimes I think she’s already decided my fate—ever on the verge, never willing to embrace love. But she knows the fickleness of relationships.

As I lay next to Denny, his body breathing the slow rhythm of sleep, a shard of my father’s image smashed through my brain. I ticked off the years he’d been gone, well over ten. Mom burned the photos of him; Gran stomped on the frames. So when I try to imagine him, I can’t. I can’t even tell you if he was short or tall. Is he still living? I don’t care. I never think of him except for sometimes in the wee hours of the night, I remember one time he held me when I had a nightmare. All I really recall of him with any sort of vividness is the look of disgust he gave me through his Ray-Bans the day he left, a backward snarl that goes ever on. In his eyes, I never made the grade.

I snuggled into the warmth of Denny’s body, trying in vain for sleep, but my mind pushed its way onto Whiskey Parnell, and I wondered where she’d gone and what I was missing, for I had no doubt I’d missed some kernel of truth, had forgotten to ask the one question of whomever to reveal her whereabouts. Could she still be alive or were the charred remains the FBI found on some remote spit of land all that was left of her? And if so, had she suffered? Oh yes, I thought, because I was unable to find her. Or was she somewhere within reach, hidden, my eyes too blind to see?

That evening when we got home, Denny sat me down. True to form, Mr. Baggins was there, winding his way around my legs. Denny took my hands in his and apologized, telling me about the sliver of self-knowledge he’d gleaned over the past few days, admitting that he was too afraid of his father. I nodded as if I understood. He asked me to help him get over his obsession to please Robert, and my soul teared up, not really comprehending the words spilling from my mouth when I said I needed to get over my father, too.

Day 2

On the Way

Last night when I told Denny about Brandy’s friends helping us in the search for Arthur McGirdle, I could tell he didn’t like the idea, but he smiled. I explained that as yet we didn’t have Arthur’s current address, that NYPD had been looking for a while without success, so our best bet was to find someone who knew him. To do that, we needed to comb the streets around Brighton Beach and Coney Island. “The more the merrier for that kind of canvass.”

Clancy picked us up in his van early the next day. Denny sat next to him, Cookie and I in the seats behind the driver, Brandy and her friends in the back. We didn’t say much on the way out. Having six teenagers in the car made us all a little tongue-tied, and I felt the weight of silence between generations.

“Are you really a cop?” the one called Johnny asked.

Without turning around, Clancy and Denny both nodded. Clancy kept driving. By now we were on the BQE headed for the southern tip of Brooklyn, and Whiskey’s journals were burning a hole in my pocket.

A Saturday in March

The Boardwalk

I saw Arthur today. He had a twinkle in his eyes and bourbon on his breath. I’d gone to Brighton Beach to refresh my roots, and turned around when I heard a familiar whistle in back of me on the boardwalk. He’d been following me for how long, I don’t know. Arthur, the same Arthur with the deft fingers and that way about him with skirts.

“Come back to the house with me,” he said, staring at me. I choked on his boozy smell.

As we stood on his stoop, he said, “I want you to meet the wife.”

You could have scraped me off the walk, but there was no graceful way to get out of it, his key was in the lock. So I tried the clumsy way and ran. But Arthur followed me, telling me how he didn’t want me to get a fancy impression of him and Flossie, how they’d been sweethearts since grade school.

“You mean all the time your hand was up my drawers you were married?”

He swayed a little and I had to help him sit down. Not too many public places to sit in Brighton Beach, but we found a bench at the end of a dilapidated block.

Soon my heart stopped its stammering.

Arthur looked over at me and leaned in. “Want a whirl on the Wonder Wheel?” And he kissed me hard right then and there, and I could feel his desire growing.

“I’ve missed you so much, Whiskey,” he whispered.

And I was a goner.

What is it about me? I’m a sucker for my own demise. But why? I puzzle over this a lot. Instead of telling lots of friends, I shun them and keep stuff inside my head. That’s a bad thing, my brother tells me. He knows me, Tommy does.

A Rainy Tuesday in April

It’s Arthur I’ll always remember.

I hadn’t seen him in five, six years when all of a sudden I get a call from someone muffling his mouth and asking for two dogs and a cream. I’d recognize the voice anywhere, throaty and mysterious, like a feather tickling my spine. That was Arthur.

We decided to meet at a small café I knew on the corner of Court Street and Warren. I recognized him more by sound than sight. I did a double-take, I tell you. First off, he looked like a pregnant butcher. Except it was the same Arthur, all right, I could tell by looking at his eyes, probing and hungry.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” he said.

Which was true.

“It’s been a long time, and I’ve missed you. Let’s take the subway to Coney Island tomorrow, no, tonight, right now.”

I’ll tell you, in my youth, I’d have gone anywhere with that man. But now I realized Arthur had changed, and not for the better. I felt it in my deepest bones and also read Flossie’s letter.

The biggest change was not in his belly, but occurred somewhere in his face. And when I saw Arthur guzzle the beer he’d ordered us and take a sip of mine while he waited for a refill, that’s when I knew.

“We can go to the pictures,” Arthur said. “What do you want to see, something classic or one of the new ones?”

I shook my head. I was sick of his craziness. Still, there was something about him that drew me. Arthur was so exciting, so mysterious, so full of energy. On the way to the show, he talked to me, his mouth going a mile a minute about this, that. Schemes, really. Arthur always had a scheme.

By the third beer, the foam drooling down his chin, he was talking in paragraphs. He told me about a deal he had for selling paint to the city, him and a guy he called Berringer. He wanted to show me the warehouse, someplace underneath the two bridges.

“Berringer’s a real friend. Known him for years. Went AWOL together. He knows some guys, roped me in. In a month’s time, we’ll be rich; they need so much paint, the city. Did you know that bridges are being painted all the time? Me neither. Come to think on it, walking across them, you know, on the walkways, you see these guys?”

I slipped in a nod.

“On those ropey paths, you always bump into guys with brushes hanging over the sides. Berringer told me he’d just bought a bakery on Court Street.”

“Don’t you ever sleep?” I asked.

He didn’t answer. At least I don’t remember it. Arthur’s words were wearing me out, so I gave him a peck on the cheek and told him how sorry I was but I just remembered I had a meeting. I backed away, watching him stare at me, in a few minutes stumbling away, muttering.

Wedged into one of Whiskey’s journals was a folded piece of notepaper. It smelled like Yardley soap. As I flattened out the creases with my fingers, I noticed the signature, “Yours ever, Flossie.” It was dated two years ago, addressed to Whiskey, and read in part:

I shoulda listened to my sister. Instead, I got knocked up by a Brighton Beach blowhard, Arthur, that beer-guzzling lout who couldn’t keep his pants zipped. Not for nothing, sis warned me, I’ll give her that. “Don’t trust the sweet talkers,” she said with her dying breath. The day after the wedding, I realized she was right. Two punches to my face and a swollen lip convinced me. A week later, I lost the seed Arthur planted.

I was going to leave, I swear, because he hadn’t yet beaten all the stuff out of me. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t go. “No Backbone Flossie,” that’s what they’ll carve on my headstone, and it couldn’t come soon enough.

BOOK: Whiskey’s Gone (A Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn Mystery Book 3)
10.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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