Behind Lori Baer, 10

Behind Lori Baer

CHAPTER 10

Disturbing companions rode back with me to High Hills. These hitchhikers were questions, and the concession Lori was more involved in Chuck’s death than I had wanted to admit.

I had expected most of what Margaret and Herb had related, including the part about Lori seducing Chuck while Doreen lingered. Nevertheless, it was upsetting. But nothing they said was as troubling as what should have seemed trifling: Lori’s breach of etiquette.

Maybe it was the result of living more than twenty years with Beth and the Tomassetti clan, the entire bunch of who were sticklers on proper behavior. They read volumes into miscues like Lori’s. There I was navigating through Lake Forest emulating them.

Why hadn’t Lori organized a reception? If she hadn’t been up to it, perfectly understandable as she was the grieving wife, why couldn’t she have summoned friends to handle arrangements? Tried as I might, I couldn’t recall a funeral I’d attended anytime in my life—a considerable span of years I rued and groaned—that hadn’t concluded with a gathering where folks shared memories, exchanged regrets, and wrung themselves clean of grief with the assistance of lasagna, spicy shredded pork, and an assortment of baked goods. Even my grandmother and aunt, no disciples of Emily Post, and with not a tenth the means inherited by Lori, managed a meager punch and donut affair following my parents and brother’s funeral.

Then there were the wake and funeral. Everybody I observed was aged, with the exception of Lori and Marsh. I recognized Gatewood Graphics employees—Turk, Louise, Lou. Others I didn’t know but assumed were Lake Forest friends, similar in type to the acquaintances Beth and I had built up over the years in High Hills. Others vaguely familiar I took to be business associates; they had the outlines of people I’d bumped into at business meetings, when I had a business. The strange thing was they all seemed to be people Chuck knew before Lori, or outside of his relationship with her.

I cautioned myself I was allowing my imagination to run wild. Picking at anything long enough, I admonished, would reveal oddities, illogical patterns. Nothing about life was perfect.

But the manifest absence of shared friendships, Lori’s isolation from Chuck’s life, for that is exactly how it seemed to me, as if she was locked in a room by herself, struck me as extraordinary. It was as if she had not joined with Chuck—purposefully sprung into my mind—to establish a network of new friends. Had I been in Lori’s place, I would have craved friends closer to my own age. And Chuck as I knew him wasn’t the type to deny her this wish if she had expressed it. Additionally, Chuck was an extremely social person himself. It was his nature, as much a definition of who he had been as his thick, wild blond hair and razor sharp blue eyes and lightning wit. It was a trait he had skillfully employed to build Gatewood Graphics and to help me make a success of Trumpet Advertising. And Doreen had shared his herding instinct. Remembering her, them together, envisioning their city dinner parties once again, filled me with a mix of sadness and joy. They had not simply been acquaintances; they were people I had loved.

Then there was my relationship with Chuck and Lori. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before, but in the car trekking home from burying him, I knew our relationship had ended abruptly. It hadn’t tapered off; it had skidded to a screeching halt shortly after he had married Lori. Maybe it had been within days, certainly no more than a few weeks. I wondered if the others who had been at McCarry’s and St. Mary had had the same experience. At my birthday party, when I’d tried to explain why I hadn’t kept up with Chuck, I’d written off our end—end instead of abeyance—to the severing of our business bond. But now I wasn’t sure. I wondered if Chuck and Lori had withdrawn into a cocoon, perhaps spun by Lori for a reason still a mystery to me.

But the idea had more holes than a hunk of Lorraine cheese, which, as the yellow mass flittered through my mind, sounded good to me on rye with roast beef and horseradish mustard. Lori’s funeral faux pas had rendered me famished.

On Village Road back in High Hills, I reached the point of telling myself no man would marry a beautiful young woman only to hide her from his friends. Usually, showing the bride off to the masses was the entire point of the marriage; though I didn’t want to think this true in Chuck’s case. Nor would he prevent her from forming friendships on her own. Wives still were society’s glue, and I suspected no one understood that better than Chuck who’d so marvelously capitalized on the sticky secretion.

For her part, what woman would marry a wealthy, handsome, youthful man and refuse to mix with his friends? After all, it was a large part of the point for the marriage, getting acquainted with the movers and shakers you’d have otherwise never met. Not to mention that keeping a man from friendships he’d cultivated for longer than your life would alienate him and maybe bring your happy circumstances to an untimely demise. And naturally, she’d recruit new friends for her husband and herself; she’d want to put her own brand on the marriage.

My head was wobbly with these permutations as I pulled into my driveway and slid the Jag in the garage. Chuck and Lori were disparate in age and experience. But more accounted for the weirdness of their marriage. And whatever it was, it was the reason they appeared to have become hermits at the conclusion of their nuptials. I felt certain if I could learn what it was, I’d be closer to finding Chuck’s murderer.

I went directly to my office and checked the fax machine. It was empty, but the answering machine blinked at me. I punched play and listened to Gary Cabot say he had sandwiched the agenda and reports for Thursday’s council meeting between the storm and front doors. All trustees received similar packets hand delivered by a police officer a day to two before our weekly meetings. I booted my computer and scanned my e-mails, which were the usual queue of deals and sweepstakes. I shut it down and went to the front of the house, where I retrieved Gary’s package.

I sat on the steps and removed the council agenda, minutes of the last meeting, and reports. I ran my eyes down the agenda and noted that Collucci Junior had been given time to address us trustees. I smiled because the Collucci’s and Ecstasy were relief from the tumult of revelations about Chuck, Lori, and Marsh.

On the way in I stuffed the papers back in the envelope and tossed it on the small table we kept by the door for outgoing and incoming mail and packages, which always struck me as peculiar since Beth and I normally entered and exited through the garage. Force of habit, I guessed, from the days when we actually used the front door in our old city house.

I went to the kitchen and prepared a sandwich—ham and Lorraine on Italian with horseradish mustard, almost as good as my yearned for rye. I ate it quickly.

Upstairs I changed into my daily uniform. I was back in my office within ten minutes, drawn there by the clatter of the fax. I scooped up the message, noted it was from Lion-Harris, and did something I’d neglected for days, since before the night of my party. I selected a Hoyo double corona from the humidor on my desk, cut it, and retreated to the patio to indulge and read the fax.

There were six pages, plus a cover sheet. Lori’s application comprised the first two pages. I read them carefully. She had written she had attended the University of Illinois. She had graduated with a degree in business administration. She hadn’t listed honors or memberships in sororities or clubs. A quiet girl, I thought, and against the grain of her character and performance at Trumpet.

After graduation, she landed a job at a small Champaign ad agency named Faber and Faber. She worked on local store and auto dealer accounts. After a year with the Fabers, she moved to Chicago, where she took an assistant account executive position at Jacobs and Morrison.

I noticed two things immediately about Lori’s application. It was handwritten with astounding neatness. Possessing penmanship just shy of atrocious—it had earned me swollen knuckles on a couple of occasions, compliments of Patroon Manor’s contingent of Sisters of Charity—I found the perfection of her script flabbergasting. It looked as if she’d spent a day copying the application over until it was as perfect as typed script.

And she had completed it in exhausting detail. Many applicants left a question or two blank. Also, generally, people interpreted the requests for dates and locations expansively, supplying whole years, or the city without a street address, that sort of thing. Lori shamed them with a precision that almost seemed obsessive. Every street address was complete, as was every date. There wasn’t an inch of the form not covered in her print. And her answers to questions—like, What skills do you offer Trumpet Advertising?—were mini compositions a college composition instructor would drool over. Once not too long ago, I reminded myself, people actually tried to win a job by impressing you. But this work of Lori’s seemed excessive, as if she was trying to hide in the overwhelming neatness and detail.

I noted her birth date, her grammar school and high school, her favorite subjects—English and math, her lack of extra circular activities—again startling in a woman who had seemed to specialize in charming her clients, her graduation date, and when she entered the University of Illinois.

At the U of I, she claimed a major in business administration with a minor in English literature, an ideal combination for an advertising account person, reflecting as it did an implied ability to communicate clearly in writing and speech in combination with the basics of how a business operated. As with high school, she’d had either no time or no inclination for extracurricular affairs, though her part-time job in the business school seemed to legitimize her lack of outside activities. That she slugged through school while working part-time answered any question about her social skills adequately. Where the application asked for her graduating GPA, she filled in 3.75.

In her application, she portrayed herself as bright and eager, and there was no lie in either. But maybe she was too much of both, too good to be true, and if I had bothered to consult the application before hiring her, I would have noticed and probed her with an insightful question that may have revealed other facets of her character. Then again, I probably would have found a casual glance adequate. Why shatter my notion that she fit a stereotype of I wanted for my agency?

I put the fax aside and puffed my cigar. I concentrated on its taste—heavy and sharp, biting the back of my throat and stinging my nose in the most agreeable way. I blew smoke in tightly woven blue-gray clouds and watched the breeze stirring the yellow trees untwine the wisps, then nothing. And for a delicious minute, for the first time since I’d discovered Chuck, my mind was blank, except for the intense pleasure of the cigar.

I smoked for a half-hour happy to have an empty head. Then I grabbed the fax and returned to the office.

I found another fax waiting for me. It was from the University of Illinois Records office. It was a short letter, not the transcript I’d expected. In staccato bureaucratize, it informed me the University had no record of a Lori Baer attending. They regretted they weren’t able to help me.

I almost dropped the fax before reading the brief postscript. It suggested the possibility Ms. Baer had been associated with the University in another capacity and recommended a call to their human resources department.

Employee was not student and the news was like a sledgehammer dropping on me. The plain fact was, she lied to me.

I lowered myself tentatively onto my desk chair, like I feared it was wired with a bomb and my weight would trigger the thing. But really, the device had already detonated.

I rested my cigar in the ashtray. I rustled the fax. I smoothed it. I reread thinking though divine intervention it had changed and made an honest woman of Lori. Of course, it hadn’t changed. It delivered the same message, and the message was I had been duped royally.

Suddenly, I was over the line, firmly ensconced in the family’s camp. She lied about school. She doubtlessly lied about other aspects of her life. She probably lied about her role in Chuck’s murder. Lori’s own apparent duplicity convinced me she’d had a hand in murder.

I sat and stared at the fax for as long as it took my cigar to turn into a cold ash before conceding to myself that I might have overreacted. Though by no means did I jump back to her side.

I again read the Records postscript, after which I checked the letterhead for the University’s general telephone number. I dialed it, waited through the prerecorded androgynous voice’s rendition of the school’s directory, and when it finally revealed the digits, I punched the corresponding buttons connecting me to the Human Resources department.

I recycled my earlier ploy about considering Lori Bear for a job at Lion-Harris. I cited the years she had claimed as a student as years of employment, but necessarily was vague about her position. The woman put me on hold, where I remained suspended and entertained by the University’s radio station for a song and a lame routine featuring the humorous aspects of human excretory functions.

When the woman retrieved me, she reported that Lori Baer had been employed for two years as an administrative assistant to the faculty in the University’s business school. I asked if there had been a reason for her departure. I received the common response of a society cowering in the shadow of litigious terror:  no comment.

I hung up on that empty note and sidled my to-do list from the corner to the center of the desk, squarely in front of me. I regarded it thoughtfully before striking out the first three items. I penned in a fourth and fifth. The list looked like this when I was done:

  1. Check office files.
  2. Call Skip Holler at Lion-Harris.
  3. Call the University of Illinois Records Office in Champaign.
  4. Ask Bertie about the embezzlement and prenup
  5. Go to Decatur.

The city transfixed me. Lori had claimed it as her hometown on her application. I shuffled out the right fax and glided a finger across her street address. She’d lied about attending the University. She very well may have lied about where she had lived as a girl. But her prevarication about the University had proved only half false. It made me hope there was at least half-truth in her application.

If I was going to Decatur, I had leave today. Our weekly High Hills council meeting was tomorrow, Thursday, at 7 p.m. Decatur was five hours south by car, four under the best of circumstances. Leaving in the morning wouldn’t allow me sufficient time to nose around, especially if I was fortunate and turned up, what, more lies? Or a secret that would make sensible what she had done to Chuck. I wanted to discover what Marsh had on her. I was more certain than ever he figured into the situation as a blackmailer. I surmised Lori had lied about something in her life, a big and significant something she needed kept buried. And to ensure whatever it was remained six feet under, she was willing to sacrifice her husband’s business, and eventually her husband.

I owed Tommy a call. But before I phoned him and told him about the lie and my trip to Decatur, I dialed Bertie. I knew Bertie through my dealings with Gatewood Graphics and from socializing with him and his wife, Lizbetha, at Doreen and Chuck’s parties. Bertie was cherubic and cheerful, not dulled an iota by his years devising contracts and performing other numbing legal services rooted behind a desk with acreage sufficient for three lawyers of average girth. He was by nature garrulous and conducted himself somewhat like an Americanized Edwardian, which is to say he was slightly but endearingly stiff. As for his relationship with Chuck, it went beyond legal counseling; Bertie embraced Chuck as a brother and was especially protective of Chuck’s interests. They had been together since the long gone days when Bertie was a thin and freshly minted lawyer. His loyalty to Chuck was deep and unquestionable and he held to confidentiality as if it was an inviolate tabernacle. So while I knew there was much Bertie couldn’t tell me, I was certain he’d share what he felt he could.

“Gabe,” he said, after florid pleasantries, “I wanted to say hello at the funeral, but …”

I said it had also been my intention to speak with him, but time had slipped away. He knew I’d discovered Chuck and extended his sympathy. I told him that I was looking into Chuck’s murder with the help of an experienced cop. Immediately, he wanted to know if I doubted the diligence and efficacy of the police investigation. I replied no. I felt a special obligation to bring Chuck the justice he deserved. Then I moved on to substantial matters, beginning with the embezzlement.

His perturbation came through as he talked. “I didn’t know Chuck had this problem until I received a call from Lieutenant Vider of the Chicago Police Department. Believe me, Gabe, I was shocked. Not about the embezzling, per se. I have clients plagued by thievery. And Chuck has experienced problems in the past. Perhaps not peculation, but certainly pilferage, employment imbroglios, and similar offenses to the commonweal. They were nothing very serious, but you can’t be in business these days without a lawyer at your elbow. I’m sure you understand.”

My reflexive nod was invisible to him, but I sensed he could feel my affirmative rocking of the receiver.

“What shocked me was he didn’t come to me.” He paused and breathed deeply. “He told you about this?”

I held back my answers as long as reasonable. Finally, I eked out, “Yes.” I was reticent because I imagined the words were like a shive in his side.

He sighed audibly.

I attempted assuaging him. “He said it was just a suspicion. He didn’t want to damage anyone’s reputation unnecessarily.”

It was like a band-aid on a stab wound; not much help, but better than another stick.

Why Bertie was silent was clear to me; it had to have been very disturbing to him who classed himself as Chuck’s brother.

Finally, he volunteered, “A schism began developing in our relationship a few months ago.”

First the University and then Bertie. My math skills got a real workout. Subtracting the few months Bertie mentioned landed me back about the time Chuck hired Marsh.

“In what way?” I asked.

“He called less often. When he did, I’d learn about decisions he’d made without consulting me. These were the types of affairs he’d always discussed with me beforehand.”

“Like laundry contracts?” I injected.

“Precisely,” he said with a hint of surprise, as if he might have been thinking Chuck was discussing his business with everybody but his lawyer. “Overnight, it appeared, my advice had lost its importance.” Acerbically, he added, “Others apparently had gained his confidence.”

He might have been classifying me with the encompassing “others” but I ignored it. I knew the culprit in this. It was Marsh, and he was making the decisions like a Chicago pol, and with about as much finesse. What I couldn’t fathom was why Chuck had allowed Marsh to take over, as he seemed to have done. Hiring Marsh as a sop to Lori was one thing; actually entrusting the crook with running the company was something altogether different.

I pondered the thought for a few futile seconds, then asked Bertie if he had drafted a prenuptial for Chuck and Lori.

“No,” he replied. “When Chuck announced to me he was marrying Lori, I strenuously advised an agreement. I argued it was in his best interest, as well as his sister’s and Gatewood Graphics’. Regrettably, he disregarded my advice.”

“Did he change his will after marrying Lori?”

I was able to relight my cigar in the time it took Bertie to answer. I figured he was debating how much he could tell me.

Finally, after I’d stoked the cigar to where the plumes of smoke were spewing forth in near deadly volume, he said, “Not immediately. We had modified it after Doreen’s death. In that revision, everything went to his sister, Margaret. Then, about six months ago, he revised it again.” Another bout of elementary math easily revealed it was about the time he’d brought on Marsh.

Deliberately, he continued. “You understand, Gabe, the will is privileged. We’re not reading it until next week, on Monday. It’s possible Margaret will contest it.”

“Sure,” I said. I scrutinized the remainder of my cigar, exploring it in minute detail as if it might harbor what I sought, a way to wheedle the contents of the document out of him. He read my mind.

“I can only divulge that he wrote Lori in for cash. Considerable cash. But only cash.” I detected satisfaction in his tone.

“Who gets the business?”

“Gabe, what kind of a detective are you? I have to elaborate?”

I responded with a curt laugh, not so much at the comment as at the idea I was a shamus of any repute. And, no, he didn’t have to spell out his meaning for me. I knew it was Margaret; though I didn’t think it’d have her jigging around like a lottery winner. Happiness for her was living in Freeport with Herb and helping him run the bank and knowing everybody by first name.

That exhausted my fount of questions. I thanked him and he made me promise to inform him if I discovered who killed Chuck.

I called Tommy at his office without a remote expectation of catching him. He picked up on the first ring and breathed hello heavily into the phone.

“Running up and down the stairs again?” I asked. His office was in a walk up. He was on the third floor. And he was known to quickstep up and down the stairs to keep big lungs, as he liked to call aerobic fitness.

“Funny, Gabe.” He paused and worked on modulating his breathing. “I was racing in here to catch your phone call. And I’ve been chasing down shoplifters all afternoon. Seemed to be an epidemic today.” When his breathing was normal, he said, “Cherish your youth while you have it, Gabe.”

My age, for once, was the last thing on my mind. I asked if he’d contacted Vider and where the investigation stood.

“He’s leaning in the direction of Mrs. Gatewood and Marsh being responsible for Mr. Gatewood’s murder,” he said. “The thinking is they arranged for it to look like a b&e gone bad. But I don’t buy it, not for a minute.”

“You don’t think they had Chuck murdered?”

“Oh, I have no doubt the two of them were involved in some way. I mean the b&e idea is pure fantasy. I wonder if Vider really believes it himself or was just tossing us a red herring to get us out of his hair.”

“I’m more inclined to believe Beth and you after my conversation with Chuck’s lawyer.” I told him about Lori’s lie, couching it for the half-truth I realized it was after the shock had worn off. I conveyed the sense and sensibility of what Bertie had said, including his affronted feelings at Chuck’s secrecy. I concluded by saying, “I think I know where the answer is.”

“Where?”

“The past, Tommy.”

When he didn’t respond, I said, “She’s from around Decatur. I’m leaving for there as soon as Beth gets home. I plan to be back tomorrow before my council meeting.”

“You’re not going alone. I’m coming with. I can skip the Kmart job tomorrow. I’ve earned it.”

“You don’t have to, Tommy.”

“Sure I do,” he said. “You need me.”

“It’s just overnight. I’m a big boy now. An old boy.”

He ignored me. “What are you taking?”

“A change of clothes. Why? What does what I’m packing have to do with whether you come or not?”

“Anything else?”

“My toothbrush.”

“Pack your three-eighty.”

“Tommy, I don’t plan on shooting anybody. I just want to find some people who knew her at home and the U of I.”

“This is a murder investigation, Gabe,” he said. “That means the trip’s dangerous. We’re investigating the prime suspect. Even you admit it now. We strongly suspect she played a part -– maybe a big part—in Mr. Gatewood’s murder. If she thought we’d find her out in Decatur …” It didn’t take much for me to envision him throwing up his hands to indicate the obvious.

I blamed my testy retort to his didacticism on it having been a long day that was not close to half over. “How will she know I’m going, unless I tell her, which I’m not? Besides, I didn’t hear you say Vider was shaking in his shoes.”

“He carries a nine millimeter with him wherever he goes.”

Tommy was impervious to insult and arguing with him was as productive as with Beth. I agreed to pick him up at his office at three and promised to appear armed against any eventuality.

The significance of traveling armed didn’t fully hit me until I’d hung up with Tommy and stubbed by cigar to death. But there we were, engaged in a potentially dangerous enterprise. We were hunting a killer. Normal people, and by that I meant me, didn’t stalk murders.

Then an even more ominous thought occurred to me. I may have been—probably had been –- crossing paths with a killer since Saturday. It should have scared the hell out of me. But I wasn’t frightened; I was excited, charged up in a pleasurable way and perceiving a black hole in my leisurely and fleeting post-work life:  I missed the sensation. I hadn’t felt edginess of anticipation for a long time, not since I’d sold my business. Not the small battles I fought on the village council, nor the bigger one I was fighting against the Colluccis, which involved a man who, though never proven, was by knowledgeable consensus indelibly tainted by brutal murders, none of it gave me the thrill I was experiencing.

I pushed away from my desk and went upstairs to the bedroom with determination and purpose. I went into the bedroom and fished the walnut case from among the sweaters and hats that crowded the top shelf of our closet. I placed it on the bed. I opened it and I stared at my Dan Wesson. I saw myself reflected in the polished stainless steel of the weapon, a cubist puzzle of broken angles. I removed it and studied the three barrels snuggled in protective foam. I had my choice of a two-and-a-half, four-, or six inch barrel. I’d shot with them all, but I preferred the four-inch for weight, balance, and accuracy. I selected it and attached it to the body of the .357. I laid the assembled revolver on the bed and returned the case to the top of the closet.

I removed another, smaller case, and set it beside the Wesson. I opened it and considered the ammunition. At Al’s, Beth and I fired target rounds. But I also kept and frequently shot Triton Quik-Shok ammo. It was Tommy’s recommendation. This was truly deadly stuff, fragmentary bullets designed to burst in three directions upon impact, transforming even a poorly placed shot into a certain death sentence. I opened the box and loaded five chambers of the Wesson. I left the hammer chamber empty for the sake of safety. I dropped five additional rounds in my pants pocket. I returned the small case to the closet and grabbed my belt holster. I slipped the Wesson in it and studied the compact package, simultaneously frightened I might have to use it and that I couldn’t use it, but nonetheless succored by its power.

I set the holstered Wesson on the night table and pulled an overnight bag from the floor of the closet. I tossed in toiletries and a change of underwear and socks. I placed the Wesson on the bag and carried the lot downstairs and placed it on the kitchen table.

I went into my office and took a quick look at the fax and the computer. The fax machine tray was empty. I checked for email before closing down the computer. I took my portable cigar case from my center desk drawer. I filled it with three Hoyos and fitted my cutter into the carry pocket on the case. On long drives, I liked to smoke. It kept me alert. Tommy despised smoking and would complain about the sink incessantly. That also would help keep my eyes open.

By the time I finished, it was four o’clock and Beth was in the kitchen nosily putting her keys on the rack and dropping her bags on the floor.

She stuck her head in the office. “What’s your gun doing holstered on your overnight bag?”

“Tommy and I are taking a trip to Decatur.”

Where? Why? And what’s the gun for?”

“Decatur, because Lori Gatewood grew up around there and I’m beginning to agree with you and Tommy. She was involved in Chuck’s murder, although I don’t know how.”

She was wearing a black dress decorated with postage-size drama masks in a blizzard of colors. The dress was pinched tight around her waist and the skirt flared like a partially opened umbrella. I could have watched her walk over to the desk for hours.

She came around and half perched on the desk facing me. She said she wanted to know everything, especially what had changed my mind about Lori. I talked quickly, giving her a guided tour through the funeral, my graveside encounter with the Baxters, and my conversation with Bertie.

She glanced toward the kitchen. “You think she’s dangerous?”

“Tommy insisted.”

She nodded.

“The three-eighty’s in the nightstand.”

“Comforting,” she said. “Is it loaded?”

“Always is.”

“I mean your Wesson.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You two except trouble?”

“Be prepared,” I said lightly.

“You can’t take the scout out of the boy.”

“Guess not.”

“Well, Mr. Trustee, I hope we don’t read about you in the Herald.” She meant I was about to break the law. Transporting a loaded weapon was illegal in Illinois.

I patted my back pocket. “I’ve got my firearms I.D.”

I stood and took her in my arms. I whispered in her ear, “I like that you’re worried.”

She pulled back, held my gaze with her black eyes, penetrating deep into me. She brushed my lips with her. She looked at me again. Then she kissed me again, pushing hard against me so I could feel every part of her. In that moment, I knew she probably feared I’d discover something more terrifying than the death of Chuck Gatewood in Decatur.

She rested her head on my shoulder. “Watch out for Dad. Kmart shoppers and killers aren’t the same. And he isn’t as young as he likes to think he is.”

I ran the Jag by Dominick’s. I stocked up on fortifying fare:  a cold six-pack of Diet Coke and a package of oversize corn muffins, a favorite of Tommy and me.

I pulled into the small lot behind the building in which he kept his office not much before five. He was waiting for me in his black Chevy Suburban. It had darkened windows and a shaded windshield and sprouted a pig’s tail cell antenna on the rear roof and a tied-down CB whip antenna on the front fender. He emerged from the Suburban and greeted me in the lot. I showed him the corn muffins and Coke and he smiled.

“We can live in the Suburban,” he said. I prayed he was joking, but with Tommy it was sometimes hard to tell.

He told me to park the Jag in his driveway and I tailed him the couple of blocks to his house. In his driveway, I transferred my bag to the Suburban. He saw the holstered Wesson.

“Why’d you bring the cannon?”

“Beth’s more comfortable with the three-eighty,” I said.

In the Suburban, he directed me to put the rig in a black plastic box he kept behind the center console. I opened it and placed it next to his holstered thirty-eight.

We were on the Kennedy by 5:30, in time to creep through the city. We whiled the time munching corn muffins.

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