Authors: Susan Russo Anderson
“Let me know what happens with Tommy Marsh,” she said, tossing her curls. “I don’t trust him and I want to check him out. The scum. Besides, I haven’t been to Brighton Beach in a while.”
I hadn’t returned to the parlor more than two minutes when Maddie and Robert entered. Maddie’s hands were bulging with chocolate fudge.
“I beat Robert good this time.” She made that gloating expression kids do until she looked over at the sofa. In a subdued voice she said, “Hi, Uncle Tommy.”
I felt bad for Maddie—and for Tommy Marsh, too. I’d been in his place many times, ignored, even disliked by kids.
“What brings you here?” Maddie asked. “Aunt Bertha around? Not that we care.”
I watched his face blotch and his jaw work and his eyes follow the girl while she walked over to Lorraine and sat on the chair next to her.
“Do you have a bag for my stash? Just until after dinner. I know you don’t want me to eat sweets beforehand. What are we having, by the way?”
Tommy Marsh cleared his throat. “I’m here because of your mom.”
“She’s not here.”
“I know that.”
“She left. We don’t know where she is. But she’ll be back soon enough. I know because I made a bet with Robert that she would, and I always win.”
Tommy rose. “I’ve got a few connections in the mayor’s office. They might help.”
I had the presence of mind to ask for his cell phone and told him I’d keep in touch, adding him to my people to update. At this point, the list was a long one. It included Trisha Liam, Cookie, Lorraine, Tommy Marsh, Tig Able. And of course, Arthur. Pretty soon it would bulk out with Jane Templeton and her sidekick, Willoughby. I shuddered at the thought.
Whiskey in Chains
Whiskey threw herself at him. “If you hadn’t come along, I don’t know what would have happened. He has a gun. Where are they taking him? Where are you taking me?”
“Don’t worry about him.”
“Believe me, Arthur’s not a threat, just a little crazy sometimes. Who are your friends?”
“I need you to do something for me.”
“Anything. I owe you my life. But tell your friends to let Arthur go. Phone them now. Arthur means well, and he’s got a wife who needs him.”
“They’re taking care of his wife, too. But you’ve got to come with me. Now.”
Whiskey shook her head. “No, I’ve got to get back to my daughter.” Why did she attract all the creeps in Brooklyn?
“It took me a long time to persuade them to let me have you. And believe me, coming with me is better than going with them. As it is, you know too much, so this is the way it has to be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“No more questions. Just come with me.”
“You can’t mean now—it’s almost four in the morning. Maddie will be up in a few hours. Where are you taking me?”
“No more questions.”
“Let go of me. I don’t believe this is happening.”
Denny ran sweaty palms along the sides of his jeans. He never should have answered the call. He’d cringed when he saw the name Robert McDuffy flash across the screen. But face it, his balls were in a vice when it came to his dad. His father’s form flashed before him, disapproving in the morning light.
Denny’s friends called him Robert. Not to his face, of course. Sometimes they exaggerated the R, like rolling a burr in the mouth, as in, “What would Rrrr-Robert say?” Why couldn’t he call him by his first name the way Brian did with his old man? Denny said the first letter aloud, but the room blinked. No, he couldn’t do it. Brian told him to take it one step at a time. “Think of him, not as your old man, but as Robert.” Denny said the first syllable softly, just to dare himself, but it was too much. Even in the trying, he’d known it was wrong. He could hear his father’s voice: “Don’t you ever disrespect me like that.”
Denny knew his dad wouldn’t have called him unless it had been important. Something might have happened to Fina. He hadn’t been able to reach her. Had she let her battery discharge again? And she hadn’t been wearing the additional cell he’d given her for her birthday. An expensive gift, too. It had saved her life once, so she should jump at the chance to use it. But his calls to both her phones slid into voice mail.
Another thing: the old man hadn’t bothered him before this, and he’d been going up to Brian’s cabin since he was sixteen, deep in the Maine woods with no TV, no radio, and—something unspoken between him and his parents and the precinct—no calls. On this trip, though, because Fina’s job was getting dangerous, he’d kept his cell on and fully charged.
So when he’d felt his phone vibrate, he was surprised. Surprised to be getting a signal, surprised anyone would call him. Fina, maybe. Damn, it was the old man. Without thinking, Denny answered. He’d never ignored his father. Never, except for that month after the fight.
It had been about Fina, who else. His old man the meddler didn’t like her, tried to get Denny to find someone else. “A looker and a cooker, that’s what you need, son.” They’d had words, big time. Denny stormed into the hall but took a backward glance, his undoing. Because he saw the old man sitting in his chair in the living room, rubbing his shirt collar between thumb and forefinger, folded into himself like a piece of wallpaper curling away from the molding.
He had to get out of the Maine woods and fast. Something about the light and the mood made him too dreamy. So he started to pack, moving fast so his mind wouldn’t bite him in the behind.
Denny’s first mistake had been answering the call. His second mistake had been listening, but his father was talking to him in that gravelly, hurried way of his, something about the female tenant who was missing. How long? A handful of hours. What was all the fuss? She could have had a hot date and overslept in some guy’s bed, or run to the store for milk in the middle of the night and slipped.
His dad knew better than to bother him about this, and Denny should have said something. At the very least, he should have faked a disconnect. But the guy was his father, after all, he owed him everything. And not for nothing, his father thought he, Denny, walked on water. Pretty amazing, considering his dad. He remembered him that one time talking tough to a bunch of punks on the corner, and in a second they’d scrammed. He had that strong-arm way about him, the kind of cop that vanished in the fifties, but the old guy never got the message about the world changing. Easy when you didn’t step out of Carroll Gardens.
The call was the problem, the fact that he’d answered it, had to answer it, really; the fact that he’d acted on it, intruding into Fina’s investigation. The fact of Fina and what she’d say. Her fury. God, he couldn’t blame her. She’d been through so much. He knew he was a lucky guy to have both parents alive. Take Fina, for instance. No parents, that was the trouble with her, his dad never tired of saying. She didn’t deserve Denny’s fickleness. But he had to, he had to.
He tied up his pack and stormed into the kitchen, splashing cold water over his head. Squeezing his eyes shut, he wiped off his face with the dishrag. He wished he could take back the day. Because answering the call wasn’t the worst mistake he’d made. No, his mortal sin of the morning had been doing what his father commanded: he had reached out to Jane.
You see, his dad had reminded him he’d never asked for much, and he wouldn’t be asking him this time, but Fina needed help. “You know how women are.”
He knew Fina was involved in the hunt for the office manager. His father had said as much in the phone call, but told Denny the story from the old man’s point of view—was there any other—their tenant was missing, the stubborn redhead wasn’t calling it in, and how would it look if he, a retired officer of the law, hadn’t done the right thing? The old man had a point. And not for nothing, he sounded worried. All he asked was that Denny call someone at the precinct, give them a heads-up about the missing woman. “That blonde detective, Templeton, she’d be the one to call,” he’d suggested. Weren’t they friends? He’d heard, the old man had, that the female dick had a soft spot for Denny, always asking for his help. So why shouldn't Denny ask for hers? Then he started talking about the woman’s kid. Denny remembered the girl from a Saturday morning breakfast when he’d stopped by, his regular visit, to stoke up on his mother’s cooking: the girl had been sitting next to his father in Denny’s usual spot. The old man was nuts for her, claimed he didn’t want the kid to get hurt. So he, Denny, had called Jane.
Afterward, he’d stayed in the cabin instead of fishing. Said he wasn’t feeling well. Coughed to prove it. He had to decide. The best thing to do was to call Fina right away and tell her. Leave a message if she didn’t answer this time. He punched in her number and listened to her canned greeting. Maybe she already knew about his call to Jane. Maybe she saw his name flash across her screen and didn’t pick up. So he didn’t leave a message.
Enough. He’d had it with the Maine woods. He left a note, threw his pack in the trunk, and careened out of the drive onto the highway. If he didn’t stop, except for gas, he could make it in seven, eight hours.
Lorraine was busy in the kitchen. I had a few more hours, so I decided to head back to Liam, Trueblood & Wolsey and talk to whoever was there as well as snoop through Whiskey’s things.
The office staff were still buzzing about or had their heads deep into their computer screens—some work going on, but mostly late afternoon activity, Twitter and Facebook and YouTube—but I found Trisha Liam’s door open. She was surrounded by a group of teens and she was shaking her head. Brandy, Trisha’s thirteen-year-old daughter, and her friends. I smelled books and sweat and old socks. A few of them wore Parker Collegiate hoodies.
Brandy was smiling, her feet rocking to the sides of her shoes. It was the first I’d seen her since her ordeal a couple of months ago. She’d changed, but not by much. Cleaner for one thing, and her wounds had healed, but she wore that same lime green hoodie I remembered from the last time. She had that same elfin grin and eye sparkle. A slew of words streamed from her. Not surprising. I heard snatches of the conversation and watched Trisha Liam, hunched a little in the shoulders and shaking her head. “We don’t know where she is.”
“Aren’t you going to call Fina?”
“She’s already on it.”
“Can’t we help?” Brandy asked.
“Nothing you can do, I’m afraid.”
Brandy turned to me when I entered and hugged me with her eyes. She was way too cool to cling to an old lady like me when she was with her friends.
“How do you know Whiskey?” I asked.
Brandy shrugged. “We know Maddie. She’s cool, and her mom is, too. I like her.”
“We all do,” a girl said, her voice soft in contrast to Brandy’s. I’d recognize her anywhere. I said hello to Heather, Brandy’s best friend, whom I’d met on the last case, and watched the window light turn her silky black hair into shades of blue and red.
“Yeah, Whiskey used to live close to us in Cobble Hill,” a lanky girl said. She had caramel eyes and a wide smile. “And she used to read to kids on Saturday mornings at the BookCourt. She was real good, not like some of the other readers.” She looked at Heather, who crossed her arms and nodded.
One of Brandy’s other friends, a boy with fine stubble around his upper lip, grinned down at me and shifted his feet. His backpack bulged, like it held every book he owned, and he held a small laptop in one hand. “Don’t you guys ring doorbells, stuff like that? We could do that.”
Trisha Liam stood, yanking up her slacks above her nonexistent waist. “I don’t want any of you getting involved. Leave the investigation to Fina.” Her straw blonde hair stuck up in the back and wafted a little for emphasis.
The room was silent as Brandy and her friends got closer to one another. They rocked a little bit, their eyes talking.
Another girl, shorter than the others and thin and with those braid thingys all over her head, whispered something in Brandy’s ear.
I figured it was a conspiracy and they were going to do what they were going to do, so I had to step in. Besides, I was desperate to find Arthur and here were some willing eyes. Without involving them in any heavy-duty confrontation, a little neighborhood surveillance wouldn’t hurt if they were discreet.
I held out my phone with Arthur’s image on the screen. The air seemed to disappear as they closed ranks around me. While they passed it around, I said, “I’m looking for this man. He claims to be a friend of Whiskey, but we don’t think he’s a friend. We think she’s trying to dump him. If you see him in the neighborhood, I want to know right away.”
Trisha Liam shot me a frown. I read it and gave them boundaries, telling them to stick to Court Street for the most part, and not to venture beyond Third Place in Carroll Gardens where we’d last seen Arthur.
They wanted to hear more about him, and I told them how he’d appeared in Whiskey’s apartment while we were searching it for clues. I shouldn’t have used that word because I felt the room go electric. I described him in detail, his build, height, his manner, what he was wearing, the color of his eyes and hair. “He very well might be dangerous.” They were solemn when I told them to stay together and to keep their distance from him.
“If he comes up to you and acts threatening, don’t hesitate, call 9-1-1, then call me, but above all, stay together. And if you see anything, anything at all that’s strange, let me know. And if you’re not sure, call me.” I texted Brandy my number and messaged her Arthur’s image, wondering what I’d started.
I could feel Trisha Liam’s eyes boring into me. “Brandy, don’t you dare send that picture to anyone, hear me?”
Brandy rolled her eyes. “We know all about 9-1-1,” she said, like I’d just time traveled from the nineteenth century. “Mom got me the safety app. I just press it and 9-1-1 has all my information. And don’t worry, Mom, I’m not as dumb as you think I am.”
I looked at Brandy, feeling Trisha Liam’s grief and fear. “Like your mom says, stay cool. Don’t get involved. We don’t know what happened to Whiskey, but if she was abducted, whoever took her is dangerous.” As I said those words, my heart flew to my mouth. What if someone did nab her and that someone returns for Maddie or harms these kids?