The Money Lender (#7)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Money Lender

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

If you haven’t read the previous issues:

The Money Lender #1

The Money Lender #2

The Money Lender #3

The Money Lender #4

The Money Lender #5

The Money Lender #6

Part 25   Harold

 

Harold and Paul encountered a tornado in Iowa (from a safe distance) and a violent rainstorm in Wyoming that made them decide to park rather than get washed off the road; but otherwise, the trip was pleasant.  They’d call ahead and reserve a couple of rooms since Paul snored so loudly that he required his own room. They would eat a leisurely breakfast and get on the road; and never drive more than 500 miles in one day.  Soon they entered Ely in White Pine County and met Stella at the motel in which she had been waiting.

Paul showed them the house he had in mind.  “It needs work, like I said, but you get 50 acres with it and that includes a half-dozen acres of standing pine.”

Harold asked Stella if she liked it.  Surprisingly, she refused to commit herself to making it her address.  “I don’t think it’s for me,” she said.  “I’m a ramblin’ rose – or something like that.  Actually, I may have other housing plans.” Stella turned away, walked to the door, and said, “You’ve also got a trout stream, if I’m not mistaken.” She looked back at them for a moment and then went out to wait for them in the truck.

Harold did not know how to respond to her comments.  “So,” he said to Paul, “buy it.  I like it.  I like the solitude of the place.”  He walked around the interior.  “Hire people to do the repairs and then hire an interior decorator to make it look rustic… like Bonanza.  I’d like that, if that’s ok with you.  This will technically be our place.”

Paul refused.  “No, I won’t claim any part of it as my own.”

“Then put it in our three names. Stella, yours, and mine.  Joint tenants.  Like a tontine.  Last man standing gets it all.  I insist on this.”

Paul looked around.  “Well… if it’ll make you happy. I’m the oldest so that tontine deal don’t mean much to me.  But I would like to see Stella get her own place.  Maybe seein’ her name on the deed will make her feel more at home.”

“Then be sure to tell the interior decorator to make the nursery extremely nice.”

Harold contacted a real estate agency and asked the agent to handle the paperwork and title transfer to three owners.

The two men checked into the motel in Ely.  Paul called all the contractors who quickly went to work.  If all went as planned, the house would be ready for occupancy in less than a month, minus the furnishings.

When Paul came to make his report, Harold asked, “What’s Stella so reluctant about?  I’d have thought she’d jump at a chance to have her own place.”

“Don’t say anything.  Let her tell you in her own way.  You know that Brant made her prove it was his kid by getting one of those tests. That had to be humiliating for her.  She must really be nuts about him. While Stella was living in that little Airstream Brant owned, he gave her the idea that they had a future together.  It was bullshit.  I know Brant. He’s done it before with Indian women.  He likes to get them pregnant and then make them get an abortion.  He doesn’t want to pay child support.  So he cons them into thinking that they’ll have a nice house and a life together if she only gets rid of the kid.  And then he dumps her. And the truth is that he’s marrying Molly on Saturday the 12th and the reception is gonna be at the Blue Bison.  I hope Stella has enough sense to stay away.

“That’s the day before my First Holy Communion!  Damn!” Harold stopped to think about Stella. “And she gave me all that blood when she was pregnant.”

“Yep.  You needed it and she’s a very special lady, though a little thick-headed if she still hopes he’ll marry her.  Women!”

“I don’t know what to say.  Stella and Brant and Molly?  I was going to have a big breakfast celebration at the Bison after my first Holy Communion.  Shit.  I thought I’d invite him since we cost him a cow needle and a bunch of towels. They’ll be far away on a honeymoon, I hope.”

“Stella’s hopeful she’ll see him this Friday night at the Bison.”

“Tell me something,” Harold asked.  “She wouldn’t get an abortion, would she?”

“A twenty-eight year old gal who’s childless ain’t likely to do that.  But you never know. I’m praying she don’t go down that path.”

*

Friday night came and went.  Brant never came into town.  A bridal shower was being held for Molly.

On Monay, Harold drove out to the house with Paul.

An Indian Harold had never seen before was working on the roof.  He called up to him, “Are you from one of the Amerindian groups around here?”

“Sure am.  Shoshone.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jack Gaston.”

“I’m Harold Weitzman.”  As Jack nodded, Harold said, “Howdy, Jack.”

Jack raised his right hand palm out.  “How,” he replied, and the two men began to laugh.

“Where do you eat lunch, Jack?” Harold asked.

“In town.  At the Blue Bison.”

“Quit at noon?”

“Yeah.  Usually.”

“Ride in with us and I’ll buy ya’ a steak.”

Jack looked at Paul.  “Nah,” he said.  “If you want to ride in with me, fine.  Otherwise, maybe I’ll see you there.”

Part 26   Tim

 

Tim left the Zen Center and drove past Rick’s house several times on Saturday night.  He could see lights on in the house in several rooms.  He parked and walked back to the garage and  looked inside. Rick’s Jaguar was there. He turned the corner and walked back to the rear of the property.  He knew how to gain access to the yard but not the house. He returned to his car and drove around the block again.

Rick’s house had three apricot colored doors that faced the street.   The center door was the front house door, and the two side doors were actually heavy plywood garden gates. He turned the corner and walked the length of the wall went around the property.  There was no break in the wall. It simply connected to the house next door. He returned to the gates. He recognized the kind of latches that were mounted on the gates.  A half-inch diameter rod had been cemented into the cinderblock wall and a C-curved latch on the door would fall over the rod and secure the gate. A narrow chain was attached to the top of the C curve and, to open the gate, it was necessary to pull up the chain.  It was possible to insert a padlock into that circle and prevent the gate from being opened, but there was no padlock there. The latch could be opened on the inside by letting the chain come over the top of the gate so that it could be grabbed and pulled up.  The gate also had a clearly visible spring that forced the opened gate to close.

Once, while parked on the other side of the street,  he had seen Rick walk down the street with his leashed dog and several grocery bags.  He put one bag on the ground and pulled up the chain, lifting the latch. He pushed the gate open and went in, bringing all his bags and the dog with him.  The spring mechanism forced the door to swing shut behind him and, presumably, to re-latch the gate when the C-curve dropped down and closed over it.  The identical device had been installed on the other gate.

The house walls were stucco which had been painted a light tan and the eaves a dark brown.  Rick’s gardening skills were everywhere in evidence. Curves of blooming geranium kept separate from the lawn by glazed bricks and lattices of white trumpet vines that neatly obscured an alcove made for several trash cans. Throughout the garden’s design, there were colorful enameled pots of portulaca and bougainvillea that let their flowers drape gracefully over the rims.  Two palo verde trees lent their peculiar mystique to the lawn, and again Tim marveled at the cosmetics of evil.

On Sunday morning he waited outside Charlene’s church and when she exited he signaled her.  He looked so different in his new Hawaiian persona that no one would have associated him with the man who used to work at FNN CCC’s office.   Charlene signaled back and then she spoke briefly to her mother and while both of her parents walked in one direction, she came alone towards Tim.  “You look like a beachcomber in the desert,” she said laughing.

Tim didn’t dare to stand too close to her. “You look like an angel.  Listen, I’m gonna try to find a way to get myself out of this hole I’m in. I’m not experienced at this sort of thing, so it may just blow up in my face.  If you think that if I fail I’ll cause you any grief, I won’t risk it. Should I go ahead with it and at least try to set things right?”

Charlene said, “Yes, providing you promise me we’ll honeymoon in Hawaii after we get married downtown.”

“Which island?” he said, laughing as he kicked the curb.  Cautiously he began to walk backwards away from her.

“You need to speak to Julian Cardoza, the head CPA.  You won’t get near him unless you use my last name.  So use it!”

All day Sunday Tim Murphy worked at home, cleaning, cooking, and dreaming about playing in the surf with Charlene Cottone Murphy.  Everything depended on so many different “if’s” that he once again fell into a backwards kind of extrication from his labyrinthine mess.

On Monday morning, he began to answer some of the “do or can’t do” questions of the problem. Tim knew how he could enter the yard, but not how to get inside the house. He drove to a locksmith service and supply store and asked the clerk if it were possible for an ordinary person to buy lock picks.  “Sure,” the clerk said, “we’ve got half a dozen different kits.  What kind of lock are you trying to pick?”

“Gee,” Tim said, “I don’t know the name of the lock.  It’s nothing like a dead bolt.  It’s just an ordinary kitchen door lock in a tract house.  My mom is getting up in years and is starting to forget to bring her keys.  She won’t leave one under the mat or in a flower pot.  She’s has boarders from time to time and every time one leaves, she changes the exterior door locks.  She calls me when she locks herself out and half the time she’s forgotten to give me one of the new keys.  I really need a way to pick the lock open.”

“Landlords have that problem, too.  Tenants change the locks and then leave.  Here,” he said, pointing to a kit that cost $29 is all you need.  Let me show you how to use it.” He brought out a sample door lock and showed Tim the fine art of inserting one end of a flat half-swastika shaped tension wrench and then, keeping pressure on the wrench, to insert one of several “raking” pics – the Bogota, Worm, and Diamond were his preferences. “We rock the pick up and down to push the pins up in place.  We don’t drag the rake back and forth the way the name suggests. Also try to count the number of pins you have in there. There will be half a dozen or less.  Here,” he said, handing the tools to Tim, “You try it.”

Tim inserted the tension wrench, pressed it firmly as he rocked the worm pick up and down.  The lock opened.  “I’ll be damned,” Tim said.  “I’ll be able to teach my mom to do this.”

“Yeah, but will she remember to bring the pick kit outside with her?  I mean… if she forgets her keys!”  The two men laughed.

“What was I thinking?” Tim grinned. “But I guess I’m the one now who has to carry the pick kit with me.  I’ll have to get one of those pocket protectors.”

Lock picking was always good to know, so that part of the problem’s solution was certainly not wasted effort.  Getting otherwise useless carbon monoxide would be an exercise in pure faith.

Tim had the list of meat packing supply houses and laboratory chemical supply stores.  He went first to the meat packaging place.  The owner was pleasant.  When Tim asked if he could purchase a canister of CO, the owner simply asked, “It would help if I knew what you wanted to do with it.  They come all sizes and for different purposes.”

“I’ve been invited on a legitimate Elk hunt in Montana – on a Sioux Reservation.  The Indians cut up the meat and then try to package it so that it stays fresh.  But when they take it overland, no matter what the ambient temperature is, the meat turns grey and ugly.  It’s perfectly safe to eat, but it looks unappetizing.  They bring meat to a big kind of pow wow and they want their meat to look first rate.”

The owner nodded and produced several canisters. “You gotchur’ small, medium, and large.  What’ll it be?”

Tim took the medium one.  “It has a good valve on it, doesn’t it?” he asked.

The owner pointed to the nozzle and the valve.  “For short bursts – which is what they want – you just tap the valve’s lever.  If you depress the lever all the way, the gas will just keep flowing out.  You can also use the proper size hose that will fit down into the bag.  They probably won’t have a way to suck the air out of the bag, but the CO will displace the air if you stick the tube all the way down to the bottom of the bag.”

“Gee… I’m glad you explained that.  I’m a greenhorn.  Thanks for educating me.”  He took the extra long rubber hose line.

The next time that Rick left the house, Tim planned to enter it and get “the lay of the land.”  He finished his deliveries early on Monday and parked down the street.  At 7 p.m. the garage door opened and Rick drove his white Jaguar down the drive way and turned onto the street in the direction opposite to Tim.

Tim did not wait. He got out of his car, briskly walked to the gate, pulled the latch up, and pushed the gate open.  A street light gave sufficient illumination for him to see that there was a propane barbecue grill outside.  Fine, he thought,  When they’re in Never Never land, I’ll bring it into the kitchen and light the burners at an improperly low flame.  The CO from the burners will be blamed. He entered Rick’s bedtroom. The phone company had drilled a small hole through the stucco wall and into the room. He inserted one of his new lock picks into the hole and made it larger, then carefully he blew the dust away. He was certain now that a small tube could be inserted into the hole.  The dog?  Well, with its owner dead, why not just take the dog home to his mother.  Maybe it was chipped.  No problem. There were chipping devices and re-chipping devices. They were cheap to buy. He’d get rid of any chip in the dog’s scruff.  First he’d have to talk to the fingerprint man.  He could get to him through the firm’s CPA or lawyer.

He went to Rick’s desk and took a few old cancelled checks.  Copying his signature did not appear to be a problem.

He left the house as he had entered it and went home to practice signing Rick’s name.

On Tuesday morning he went to the Recorder’s office and got the legal block and section number of Rick’s house from the computerized plat books. He also obtained blank Quit Claim Deeds by which title could be transferred.

He then drove to the CPA’s office and asked to speak to the head of the firm, Julian Cardoza. He negotiated a few tiers of receptionists and secretaries, each time gaining access to the one above it by saying that the business concerned a member of the Cottone family.  Finally he gained entrance to the office of Julian Cardoza.

The smartly dressed man looked up from his desk, completely bewildered that such a young impossibly garbed man would dare to use the name of his most important client to gain access to him.

Tim did not wait to be asked to speak. “I’ll be brief, Mr. Cardoza.  I didn’t steal any money from FNN CCC or anybody else.  I can prove it.  I want you to know how the theft occurred – it was cleverly done – and I want you to know who did it… who stole FNN CCC’s money and made a fool out of FNN CCC’s management for being so easily tricked.”

“And precisely how do intend to accomplish this?” Cardoza tilted his head to the side, gesturing that Tim should sit down.

“I can bug Rick Dubrovsky’s cellphone. He’s the guy who acted as Joshua Mays’ accomplice. You’ll be able to hear the entire conversation.  There’s a third cashier… Charlene.  You know her.  We have a personal relationship which I value very much and I wouldn’t involve her without her consent.   She’s willing to call Rick Dubrovsky, one of the two thieves and tell him that some plainclothes cops were nosing around the office and she overheard them say they had a witness who saw Joshua put his Tim wig and glasses on… I’m not sure where he made the change… but he made it, all right.  And she also heard them mention both Joshua’s name and someone named Rick Dubrovsky. She’d also say that she was calling Rick because she couldn’t get through to Joshua.  They don’t allow cellphones in that Zen Center he’s living in.

“After Rick finished talking to her, he’d be quick to contact Josh as some kind of emergency, and you’ll hear them discuss the scam.   You’d get a perfect recording between them.  Of course, Joshua is a coward and if you roughed him up a little you’d get the same response easier.  But this has to happen soon. Before the weekend.”

Cardoza leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment and said, “You don’t know this, but I questioned that thumbprint.  When I compared them all after I had the copies together, I could see that they were identical.  This seemed unnatural.  I mean, on Monday a man might have a little grease on his thumb; and on Tuesday some powdered sugar from his donut. But these were clean and identical… absolutely identical. It bothered me enough so that a few days later I had an expert look at them and in his opinion they were phony prints, maybe made from a kind of 3D imaging device.  They didn’t use the old gelatin and silly putty method but some new thing that was developed in Europe.  But what was the point?  The cashiers all identified you… you the way you used to look.  The money was returned.  So what do you want from me?”

“Put me in touch with your fingerprint man.”

“Ok. It’s not that I don’t trust your spyware, but I’d prefer to hear a perfectly clear unedited recording made between the two of them.  Our guy will know what kind of equipment you need.”

“Dubrovsky has a little dog.”

“Have you nothing that will quiet the mutt?  Valium inside ground beef will do the job.  Do you have tranquilizers at home?”

“Yes… a cabinet full of them.  Left over when my dad died recently of a heart attack.  Overwork from trying to pay off the debt we didn’t owe.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your father.  Yes, I guess that finding out how this theft was accomplished is worth the trouble. But how is Charlene supposed to know how to reach Rick?”

“The moment Rick hears that she’s Charlene Cottone he’ll know she’d have the connections to get the president’s home phone.  But she can just say she got it from Joshua’s old Rolodex. She just has to say she’s calling him so that he can call Joshua and warn him that some suits were nosing around and dropping his and Rick’s names.  She could also add that they mentioned something about the thumbprint and other things she couldn’t quite hear.”

“And suppose we bring the scheme to light.  Who’s gonna pay your bank the 40K?  I sense that this rush of yours to complete the ‘mission’ within the week just might indicate that you plan to put the two of them in harm’s way. Think ahead, my boy.  You were never charged with a crime.  Ah,” he smiled, “I begin to see.  You want to look good for Charlene’s sake… for her family.  But you’ll still owe the bank money. You don’t expect the Cottone family to pay the bank?”

“I have a plan to get $40K worth of his property.”

“What? Force him to sign a phony bill of sale?” he laughed at the naivete. “I see it now.  You’ll phony up a Quit Claim Deed to his property – if his deed is not encumbered. And for all you know he owes more on the house than it’s worth.  But you’ll go ahead and forge his signature and get his I.D. and let someone who owes you a favor stand before a notary to verify the signature.  And then you’ll immediately record it.  So, if the crook should die, so what?  Your claim is good because it will be filed before the grantor’s death. That’s not a very original plan and in any event, I don’t like it.  It involves forgery and perjury.”

“Oh? You liked it enough when Rick and Joshua did it.  You guys fell for their scam.  I’ll make it work, and then I’ll sign it the property over to you… providing you get me and my mom off the hook for the 40K.”

“Of course.  That goes without saying.  But we don’t know that he owns the house or if he’s got a big mortgage left to pay. What I’m trying to tell you is that we don’t know if his equity covers the 40K, and apparently neither do you know.  Go out and wait in the outer office.  I have a few calls to make.”

Tin went into the waiting room.  He asked himself, “How am I going to get access to Rick’s iPhone, and how much is good spyware gonna set me back?”

Cardoza came out of his office.  “Our man… the fingerprint man… will be by your house this evening at 7 p.m. He’ll talk to you more then.”

Tim stopped at the fabric shop to get a few items that his mother needed and returned home to meet the fingerprint man who had just finished parking his car.  They spoke outside.

The fingerprint man wasted no time.  “You’ve got to get access to Rick’s cellphone for at least ten minutes.  I’ve got the software that will install an app and stay active whether he has the phone on or off.  We’ll get all his text messages and voice mails and the actual conversations he has on the phone.  We can also activate the video function if you think there’s something worth seeing in Rick’s house.”

“No… We only need the audio functions.”

“So how do you plan to get access to his phone?”

Tim thought for a long minute.  “Ok.  I’ll drug the dog if he’s outside. I’ll just toss ground meat laced with Valium over the wall.”

“Forget the Valium.  Use this.”  He handed Tim an unlabeled eye-dropper bottle.  “Then what?”

“Then I can get into the yard. I’ve got a ‘Lost Dog’ notice that was taped to my front door.  I can use it again as a reason I’m at Rick’s gate. Then, when I’m inside I can pick a door if its locked; but chances are if he’s left the dog out, the kitchen door, at least, won’t be locked.  But if it is, I can open it.  You will have to knock on the front door and figure out a way to keep him occupied.  Can you dress like an FBI agent?”

“I’m not gonna impersonate an FBI agent.  What I could do is look like I am an FBI agent who is impersonating a building inspector of some kind.  I’ll invent an emergency so that he won’t dismiss me.”  He went to his car and from a large suitcase of phony I.D. items, removed a clip-board, a lanyard with official looking Identification inside the plastic, and a pen and wrote Rick’s name and address in the “subject” lines.  “Now,” he said, “what am I investigating?”

“You don’t want him to go back into his house for anything… like if you said there was trouble with his barbecue or a noise complaint…  but you can say that others in the neighborhood have been complaining about some lunatic who has been vandalizing water meters.  You can pick up one of those two-tine water-line openers to make it look legit.  You can get another one of those rods that insert into the cement top of the water meter compartment and just lift it off.”

“Let’s go before the stores close.  You got a good brain.   We gotta do this tonight.  Go get what you need.”

Wide eyed with surprise that the home invasion was going to take place so quickly, Tim stood frozen for a moment.

“Go!” barked the fingerprint man and Tim ran into his house and jumped up the stairs two at a time to get to his desk.  He grabbed the Lost Dog notice and a small roll of scotch tape. He yelled to his mother, “I’ll be back shortly.”

While the fingerprint man went into a hardware store, Tim went into a supermarket and bought a small package of ground meat.

As they drove, Tim made small meatballs into which he squirted the unknown Valium substitute.  When they parked near Rick’s house, the Fingerprint man showed Tim how to program the spyware once he had access to Rick’s cellphone.  At 8 p.m., holding the Lost Dog notice and the tape, and carrying the lock pick kit and the software transferring equipment, Tim approached Rick’s house and listened for the sound of a barking dog.  The moment he neared the gate, the dog came running and barking. Tim tossed the meat balls over the gate and busied himself with taping the Lost Dog notice onto Rick’s mailbox.  The dog stopped barking in order to eat the meat and by the time Tim finished taping the notice, the dog was apparently conscious but calm.  He could hear him finishing the meat.  He wondered if what he had given the animal would kill it.

The fingerprint man, clip-board in hand, leather belt with tools, and a phony I.D. badge hung on the lanyard and an additional pocket I.D. that confirmed that he was indeed a city inspector, knocked on Rick’s front door.

Rick answered.  “Yes… What can I do for you?”

“I’m  sorry to disturb you this late, I’m Greg Moresby with the City Hydrological Inspection unit.   Someone has been tampering with water meters in this area.  We’ve gotten numerous complaints.  I don’t want to open your meter and read it – I mean I have a legal right to do this – but sometimes the little lady of the house sees a strange man poking around… well, you get my drift.  Could you step outside a moment,” he flashed his rod and his pronged valve adjuster, “and we can take care of this in a minute.”  He also had a flashlight hanging from his belt.  “Ever noticed any peculiar increase in your water bill?”

“No,” Rick said.  “For a man who doesn’t have a swimming pool, I do use a lot of water.  For the lanscaping, you see.”

“You’ve don’t a beautiful job Mr.” he checked his clipboard, “Dubrovsky. Prettiest house on the block.”

While the fingerprint man poked and pretended to test the water system, Tim could see that Rick had a clear line of vision to the gate.  He therefore by-passed the gate altogether and went to the end of the wall where he was hidden by a large pyracantha bush.  Then he hoisted himself up and over the cinderblock wall.  The dog was sleeping.  He tried the kitchen door and found it open.  He entered the kitchen and found Rick’s cellphone on the kitchen counter.  He stood there and as calmly as possible, got out his equipment and took the steps he had just learned to install the bugging app into Rick’s phone.  It had taken about eight minutes to finish the installation. He wiped his prints from the phone and retraced his route to the shelter of the pyracantha bush.

*

Using the master cell phone, set on speaker, Julian Cardoza, the fingerprint man, an unusually fat man, and Tim sat in Cardoza’s office and listened to Rick wash dishes and sing off key to the piano recitation of Errol Garner. Satisfied that the equipment had been properly installed, Cardoza picked up a phone.  “I’ll call Ms. Cottone and ask her nicely if she’ll come down here.  If she asks what it’s about, I’ll tell her it’s the theft in the office. I happen to know that she’s home.”

Charlene required no coaxing to cooperate.  “I knew Tim didn’t do it.  But who am I?” she said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Charlene called Rick from her phone in one of Cardoza’s outer offices while the four men sat in Cardoza’s office listening to the call on speaker so that the play back would not be heard.  “Listen, Rick,” she said. “I’m guessing you’re Rick Dubrovksy.”

“I am.  What is it that you want?”

“I’m Charlene Cottone from the FNN CCC office.  I’ve been debating with myself about calling you.  I tried to reach Joshua last night but it’s impossible.  We had a couple of suits in the office yesterday. His name and your name were mentioned.  I like Joshua and I miss the guy.  I hope he’s doing well with the monastery people.  But there’s some kind of trouble going on.  Somebody recognized him going into a bathroom or someplace as Joshua and coming out as Tim.  There’s trouble too with the thumbprint he used.  So can you deliver a message to him to be extra careful. One of the suits mentioned something to do with those Knights.  There’s been too much trouble already and I like to work in a calm environment.”

“Well, Miss Charlene, I’m certain that I speak for Joshua when I thank you for your consideration.  I hope I’m not asking too much when I request that you not discuss this with anyone else.  Things have a way of being exaggerated.  At any rate, I’ll take care of contacting Joshua to keep him apprised of the situation.  I’m sure he’ll find it interesting.”

He immediately called the Zen Center.  “Would you kindly call Fa Hui to the phone? This is an emergency.”

“Oh,” the reception monk said, “we were afraid of this.  This is about Brad?  I’ll go get Fa Hui.  I know how important this is.”

Rick did not know who Brad was or why the reception monk would be so anxious to cooperate.

Joshua took the call and walked away from the reception desk as he answered, “What’s up?”

“Charlene Cottone just called me.  Evidently some law enforcement types have evidence against you.  You were seen going into a men’s room as Joshua and emerging as Tim.  Why couldn’t you have been more careful!  And not only that, but they’ve been scrutinizing the thumb print and suspect that it’s a phony.  If you mention my name in any of this, I swear I’ll kill you in the most unpleasant of ways.”

“Jesus! Rick.  Get a grip! Look, they don’t have the wig, they don’t have the mustache, they don’t have the glasses.  Anybody could have impersonated Tim.  Without DNA on the actual wig or glasses they can’t prove it was me.  And you’re the one who got the thumbprint from Germany.  You said it was foolproof.  I guess it wasn’t. So don’t dump the whole mess on me.”

“She thinks the men are federal or state agents.  I don’t understand this.  No crime was ever reported.  They got their money back… unless you took more than I knew about.”

“Chill out! All I took, you know about.  It’s probably got nothing to do with us. She’s got the hots for Timmy boy and she’s probably trying to play detective to help him.  She’s hoping we’ll make some kind of mistake. So Chill!”

“I’ll stay cool.  Don’t worry about me. Go on as though nothing had happened.  If it is the government, they will act glacially.  It will be another year before they complete the paperwork.  And who the hell is Brad?”

“Some sick friend from Malibu who wants to give me his old surfboard.  He’s got MS or some disease.”

Rick angrily clicked off the phone.

Julian Cardoza placed $5000 in an envelope and handed it to Charlene.  “This,” he said softly, “is a personal gift from me to show respect and appreciation for your assistance.  If you talk to your dear grandfather, tell him I want to play another round of nine with him… any day… any course… I want to get even.”  He smiled broadly and turned to the others.  “What a golfer he is!  Bobby Jones better be practicing.  Some day her grandfather is gonna humble him on that course up there.” He pointed towards the ceiling.

Charlene took the envelope, shrugged, and said simply, “I’ll be sure to let him know.”  As she left the office, Tim stood up.  She brushed the envelope against his chin.  “Call me later,” she said.

Four men – Cardoza, the unidentified fat man, the fingerprint man, and Tim – had listened to the conversation.  The unidentified man spoke to Tim. “And your father… a Marine in Kuwait?  My brother was there too.  You have our sympathy and respect.  You and your mother will be well recompensed for the misfortunes we are partially responsible for.  You have taught us a lesson. You know what Michelangelo said when he was dying?  ‘Ancora imparo.’ This means, ‘I am still learning.’  So are we. But we will be more careful.  Don’t worry no more about the loan.  You got payment coupons?”

“Yes, Sir.  I do.” Tim said quietly.

“You gotta plan to get this guy’s Rick’s property away from him?”

“Yes, Sir.  I do.”

“How you gonna do that?”

“Impersonate him, forge his name to a Quit Claim Deed, and get a witness to have it notarized, and then record it.  Then sign it over to you in exchange for the loan relief.”

“That’s too much trouble.  Too much dishonesty.  And we don’t want him to just write a check to pay off the debt.  That’s too easy.  He needs to be taught a lesson.  We can cut one of his balls off and tell him to sell the house to my sister for ten dollars and other good and valuable consideration.  That’s how they put it.  Ten dollars and other good and valuable consideration.  But you still have to put tax stamps on the real value of the property.”

“I don’t think we need to know all that…  Sir,” Julian Cardoza said, “The conversation is not privileged.”

“Whadya mean?  I’m your client. Frank here is your client.  And if Mr. Murphy ain’t your client what’s he doin’ here?”  The unidentified man shook his head and looked at Cardoza. “You haven’t figured out yet that it’s like making sausage.  Nobody wants to watch and see how its done.  They just want to eat it with a little tomato sauce.”  He looked at Tim.  “If this Rick don’t cooperate, we take his other ball off and threaten his cock.  He’ll cooperate.  What kind of car does he drive?”

“A new white jaguar,” Tim answered.

“My daughter goes to college.  She wants a new car.  She’ll like a white Jag.” He looked around the room. Anything else?  We could use one of those baby grand pianos.  He got one of them?”

“I didn’t see one when I was there.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t own one.”

“What about Joshua?” Cardoza asked.

“Oh, him,” the fat man said.  “I thought he didn’t own anything. He’s the real snake in the Garden. He needs a big lesson.  I think we can trust Timothy here to take care of the job.”  He turned to Cardoza.  “See to it he gets an unshakable alibi whenever he needs one.”  He turned to Tim. “If you should need help, you call.”

Julian Cardoza could not resist asking, “And how does a smart kid like you think he’s gonna get away with… a job like that?”

“I can’t tell you.  If I do you’ll be a party to it.  Just get Rick to sign his property over to you… but let him think that he can live in it and drive the car for another couple weeks or so. Record the documents immediately. That’s all.”

“Consider the title transfers a done deal,” Cardoza said.  “By Thursday or Friday at the latest, the instruments of conveyance will be recorded.”

The unidentified man nodded approval. He looked at Cardoza.  “Take him to a tailor.  If he’s seein’ Charlene he ought to look presentable.  Look at that shirt.  Marone!”

Tim and the fingerprint man (whose name Tim assumed was Frank) went out to the car.

“You did good tonight,” Frank said.

“I’m still too much in shock to know what I did tonight.”

 

Part 27    Rick,Tim, Joshua, Harold

 

It is an understandable fact that innocent people who are placed under suspicion find life far more uncomfortable than people who are guilty.  Joshua had inured himself to the possibility of being discovered. Always, in the back of his mind, he held in check the muscular impulses of shocked indignation that he could easily flex whenever someone accused or implied that he was guilty of something that he had in fact done.  Rick, he believed, would keep him informed of any developments.  Meanwhile, he prepared his denials and relied upon using Rick to support his denial.  He had already taken the trouble to learn Rick’s Social Security number and all his vital statistics. He had even learned Rick’s credit cards and bank account number and even had his pin. If worse came to worst, he’d become Rick Dubrovsky. Why not? How could Rick complain without implicating himself?

His dream of Maui and the salt water spray washed away any sense of reality.  “Wow!” he exclaimed when he heard that he was to be given such a good board…. a  deepwater board.  Brad (by now he was certain he remembered who he was) must have thought he was a terrific surfer. “A Donald Takayama.  That’s a fantastic surfboard,” Joshua squealed to the receptionist.  “If Brad calls again, tell him sure, I’d love to have it.  Can’t pay him anything except my promise to take really good care of it.”  He learned also that Brad had “other stuff” to give him.  A bonus!

Joshua was supposed to study the Lankavatara Sutra, but all he could think about was surfing in Maui. He had to keep Rick in line.  He might need him as an alibi or for some money. Borrowing was definitely preferable to stealing even though it accomplished the same thing, there being no intention to repay the loan.  But Rick was furious with him and spoke to him in very unpleasant ways and the days at the Zen Center had suddenly become unbearable.  “Please let this nightmare end!” he begged the heavens. “Please get me that board and make Rick feel generous towards me.”  He could hide in the middle of the Pacific… he could live eternally in a wave’s curl.

A few times each day he’d stop at the reception desk and ask if Brad had called.  He hadn’t.

*

Harold Weitzman called Paul aside.  “I’ve been wonderin’. How come Jack Gaston won’t ride with you?”

“Squaw trouble.  Guilt by association.  He knows I’ve done business with Brant and he’s seen him with me and Stella. Ain’t no secret how I feel about her.  And it ain’t no secret that I’ve never got to bat much less to strike out. I was always too old for her, but that didn’t stop me from wishin’ things were different.  So I don’t know what he think’s I have to do with their romance. But he isn’t taking any chances.”

“Why didn’t Brant marry her? We could have given her a house in town for her third of our ranch house.”

“Probably because he’s been engaged to Molly at the Blue Bison and is marrying her next Saturday.”

“I know it’s none of my business, but I can’t help caring. Is Jack Gaston in love with Stella or something?”

“No.  He’s her half-brother.  She’s been pretty much ostracized from the tribe, but he still tries to look out for her.   She hasn’t given anybody any trouble around here… except for Brant. So Jack’s just lookin’ out for her, I guess.”

“Ask him if he’ll talk to me about it.  I want to get along with everybody.  I’m sick to hell about shiksas and goys and orthodox and reformed and rich and poor and living in one room while owning a big house just for show.  I’m tired of dishonesty and disloyalty and people telling me what they want me to do for them. I’ve been through hell this past year.  I want peace now… ‘the peace that passeth understanding.’ I’m celebrating my First Holy Communion in another week and I’m damned if I want all this conflict in my life.”

Paul stopped by Chastain’s in-town office. There was to be a Saturday reception at the Blue Bison on the afternoon of the wedding.  It disturbed Paul that Stella was still continuing to live in the motel room that was being charged to the Chastain account.

Paul opened the office door, ringing automatically the overhead bell.  Brant had been sitting in his overstuffed desk chair and swiveled around to see who had come in. “What’s the problem, Paul?” he asked.

“It’s about calling a truce.”

“I’m telling you right now not to give me any shit about Stella.”

“It’s not about me or Stella.  It’s the new kid in town… Harold Weitzman.  He found out about Jack Gaston takin’ sides against me, and all the hard feelings, and he asks that when you have a moment to talk, if you’ll discuss some kind of truce with him.  He’s a nice kid and he don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with the locals.”

Brant did not appreciate his personal business being made the topic of discussion. “All right.  I’ll talk to him.  But right now I’m busy.”

A half hour later, as Harold was studying his Catechism, Brant stopped by the motel.  “I’ve got another girl in town, a girl I’m fixin’ to marry.  She’s young… younger than Stella who says she’s twenty-eight.  If Stella wants to make an issue of that baby, I have my own ways of making her see the light.  Christ knows, it wouldn’t be the first kid she’s dumped.”

“Ah,” Harold said, “But wouldn’t it be the first kid of yours that you want her to dump?”

“You keep talkin’ like that when you ain’t got the whole story and people are gonna forget you’re packed in plaster.”

“Touché,” Harold nodded.  “I’ve got to start minding my own business.  I’m willing to look after Stella, but I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea,  She saved my life out in the desert.  I owe her. And I’d like a clean slate, that’s all.”

“As far as I’m concerned, she’s all yours and Paul’s – if she wants him.  But out of consideration for my bride-to-be, just don’t start any trouble about Stella.  The issue is closed as far as I’m concerned.  She opens it at her own peril.”

Harold walked Brant to the door and saw Paul talking to a sheriff’s department deputy who was parked inside a patrol car.  Paul signaled Harold.  “This one’s for you.”

As Harold hobbled over to the car, Paul introduced Deputy Mike Larkinson.

The deputy got out of the car and helped Harold to walk back to his room. He waved to Brant who looked back as he walked away from the motel.  “Well, Aaron or Harold Weitzman, I’ve got a message from the Sheriff.”

Harold shrugged.  “What’s the message?”

“You can call your folks back in Philadelphia.  Not an hour passes but we get a call from a lawyer or an in-law or a broker or Rabbi or some damned person who wants to talk to you.  The post office is also starting to accumulate mail for you at General Delivery.  You might want to look into that as well.”

Harold-Aaron Weitzman agreed to take care of all the problems as quickly as possibly.  “They’re deliberately harassing the sheriff’s office to try to get to me,” he explained.  “Relatives.  What can you do?”

“If you decide to shoot ’em, just don’t do it in my jurisdiction.”  The deputy waved goodbye and left.

*

On Wednesday night three men came to Rick’s front door.  One carried a medical bag; one carried a attaché case; and the third, a muscular gentleman, carried nothing but the willingness to carry out orders.

It was the third gentleman who knocked on Rick’s door.  Loudly.  Rick answered trying to affect an Oscar Wilde cynical nonchalance to people who had never heard of Oscar Wilde.

“To what do I owe this visit?” Rick asked.

The large man pushed him back into the house and the other two followed.

The man with the attaché case said simply, “We have some papers for you to sign.  I think you’ll find that everything is in order.”

Rick saw that he was selling his property for “ten dollars and other good and valuable consideration” to Maria DiBona, a single woman.  “You can’t be serious!” Rick said, tossing the paper at the man with the attaché case. He recognized the fingerprint man.  “You! You’re just a city inspector! Get out of my house!”

The man picked up the paper and said, “You did wrong and you know you did wrong and you’re payin’ for that wrong you did.  We’re being fair.  We’ll give you one more chance to sign the papers peacefully, or you’ll be signing them… painfully.  But you will sign them.”  He pushed Rick down into a chair and put the paper in his lap.  “Sign!” he said.

Rick sneered at the three men.  “Who the hell do you think you are barging in like this, and demanding my property?”

The man with the attaché case nodded to the large man.

Instantly, Rick was tossed down on the floor with his hands behind him in handcuffs.  A ball gag was placed in his mouth.  Rick kicked and squirmed.  He was dragged to a table, his pants were cut off, and his feet tied to two of the table’s legs.

The man with the doctor’s bag opened it, sprayed something that became ice cold on Rick’s scrotum, and proceeded to remove one of Rick’s testicles and to sew up the wound he had made.  He sprayed the area again and Rick’s legs were untied and a towel placed between his legs.  “If you weren’t such a prick,” Frank said, “we would have settled the account more to your advantage.  As it is, this is a cheap lesson for you to learn.”

“We’re in a hurry.  Could you please execute these documents?” the man with the attache case said as he freed Rick’s hands while placing his own hands on Rick’s shoulders.

Rick was shaking so badly he could barely hold the pen.  “Take your time,” he was instructed.  “We got a notary here.  Your signature is known.  Don’t try to play any tricks.  And make sure you sign all these here instruments of conveyance. No omissions or failures to initial. Life without a penis can be a real problem.”

Rick signed the documents.   “Now the car,” the man said.  “Where is the title?”

With the ball gag still in his mouth, Rick could only nod towards his desk.  The heavy man went to the desk,  “You tell me when I’m getting warm.”

He tried the drawers on one side.  They were evidently cold.  On the other side, the closer he got to the bottom drawer, the more exaggeratedly Rick nodded his head.  He opened the bottom drawer and removed an envelope that contained the title.  He carried it to the nan with the attache case.  Rick signed the title.

“You can stay in Miss DiBona’s house and drive her car for a few more weeks.  We appreciate that it takes time to get readjusted to new situations,” the heavy man said, patting Rick’s shoulder.

The doctor gave Rick a shot of penicillin, told him to keep the area clean, and then the heavy man unbuckled the ball gag, and the three men left.

Rick placed a call to the Zen Center and asked for Fa Hui.  The Reception monk thought that Rick sounded angry.  “I’ll deliver the message,” he said.  “But he cannot be called to the phone just now.”

Joshua did not know why Rick had sounded so distraught when he made the call.  Cool Rick.  What had happened to Mr. Cool?  Well, Rick could wait. If he kept Rick waiting awhile it might make it easier to hit him up for some money.   A loan.  He’d say it was a loan.  He had less than eight hundred dollars to his name. That would get him to Maui and he could get a job quickly. There was no crime at the check cashing office.  No police were looking for him… anywhere.  Rick needed to cool down. But he, Joshua, still needed more money.  And he still needed to hear from Brad.

*

On Thursday the new grant deed was duly recorded and the new car title was duly registered after an irate Miss DiBona sat in the crowded Department of Motor Vehicles from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. waiting for her number to be called to a service desk. On Thursday night Tim received an anonymous call that said the business had been concluded regarding the transfer of assets and that shortly he would be notified by the bank that the note had been paid in full.

On Friday, just as Tim was delivering an order of yoga outfits, his cellphone rang.  The bank’s vice-president was calling him to congratulate him for such a prompt repayment.  “But you know,” he said in his business-smarmy voice, “we can’t make money when loans get paid off so quickly.  So I’d like you to keep us in mind when you expand your business interests.”

Tim said that he surely would do that.

*

Harold Weitzman went to the sheriff’s office and personally apologized for the intrusions his family and former in-laws were making.  “Would it help,” he asked, “if I told you to tell them that I said you were not my private secretary and then just hung up on them?”

“No. It wouldn’t.  They have a congressman and we have a congressman and the two of them have apparently been talking.  Harold, this is one mess you’re going to have to straighten out yourself… and as soon as possible.”

Harold collected the messages.  “Good Grief,” he said.  “These people are going to make me take an hour in the confessional.” He looked at the deputy. “I’m gettin’ ready to take my First Holy Communion.”  He looked at the messages.  “Well, I’ll deal with them one at a time.  And truly, Sheriff, I am sorry for putting your and your office through all these… ” he quickly counted, “eighteen messages.”

The following morning Harold and Paul went to the Post Office. The General Delivery Office clerk was glad to see him.  His mail from Philadelphia was bound with rubber bands.  Legal-sized documents… requests from Rabbis…  personal pleas from an assortment of relatives. And one hand written, perfumed letter from Caroline Wechsler who had not added any married name.  Harold put her letter in his breast pocket and went back to the motel to try to sort everything.

Since he was not alone, he opened his mother’s mail first. She thanked him for the gift of $250,000 and assured him that she had not told anyone that he had given it to her.  She wanted him to give her a clue about his future plans. He wrote back in a kind of code.  “Mom, I’m so sorry I couldn’t give you and dad any money.  But I do need it to start a new life here in the west.  I’ll pay Rebecca’s funeral expenses today.”

His mother had added in a postscript that she had consulted an attorney who advised Aaron to pay the debts but to write on the back of the check that acceptance of it constituted the full payment of any money due and a guarantee that there would be no further monetary claims or harassment.

“Let’s separate this stuff into the “Rebecca” condolence mail and the receipts that have to be reimbursed.  Now that we have money we can pay them.” He began to make piles of photocopies of airplane tickets, hotel bills, miscellaneous expenses, time lost from work.  “Add a few thousand extra to the disclaimer that you write on the back of the check. Maybe it will get them to stop,” Harold said.

“Ok.” Paul said simply and began to record the expenditures.

The Blumenthals were a more difficult problem.  Paul said, “Do you want to pay them off?”

Harold did not hesitate.  “No.  I’m not going to reward a vicious liar.”   Paul had a copy of the air freight bill for shipping Rebecca’s casket back to Philadelphia and also for the funeral services.  “We can pay them separately and directly whenever possible – just be sure to write on the check what the payment is for,” Harold said.  “You can also ask Mr. Bluemthal to put us in touch with a stone mason to carve her headstone. They’ve got some temporary marker now. We’ll pay the mason directly, too. But I want to approve the carving’s message.”

“Fine.”  Paul said simply.

When all the unpleasant mail was attended to, Paul wanted to go out for dinner.  “You go,” Harold said, “And bring me back a steak dinner to go… and a six pack of coke.”

As soon as he was alone, he took the perfumed letter from his shirt pocket and read Caroline’s letter.

“My darling Harold… for that is what I understand that your name is now.  But you are still the same man I have always loved.  

“I cannot tell you how great my error was in letting you go.  What a fool I was.  I traded a jewel for a bunch of rags.  Rags… yes that is what my life has been like without you.

“Oh, I don’t mean that I’m poor.  No, my husband has granted me generous alimony.  I am poor in spirit.  I am a beggar in the streets of Romance.  My heart was broken when I learned that you were marrying Rebecca Blumenthal.  The rumor was that she was pregnant and this hurt me so much because more than anything in this world I would want to have your child.

“Please do not turn me away.  Please try to forgive my terrible mistake.  I will come to you and if you do not want to see me, just turn away.  I will not clamor for your attention.  I will just leave quietly.  But I must see you in person.  I need to receive your forgiveness and maybe… just maybe… you will find a tiny little place in your heart that remembers me and all the good times we had together.”

Au revoir, mon cher Harold.

Your Caroline.”      

When Paul returned with his boxed dinner, Harold showed him the letter.  “Do you remember me telling you about Caroline? Read this and tell me what you think.”

Paul nodded and read the letter. “I think she found out that you have money and a beautiful diamond ring and she wants both the money and the ring.  She doesn’t say when she’ll be here.”

“I don’t know what to think.  I used to be a man who was above spying.  No more.  Get ready for her.  Bug her room – wherever that room is.  Just find out with proof what she’s after. I want to believe that it’s me.  But I’ve passed the supersaturation point for bullshit.  I can’t handle any more.”

Paul asked, “Is this letter the reason you didn’t want to go to the Blue Bison?”

“Yeah… I wanted to read it alone.”

“You had me worried.  I thought you didn’t want to see Molly and that didn’t look good for the future.”

“Brant can do whatever he wants with Molly.  That’s none of my business.  I feel bad about Stella’s baby.  I don’t want it to grow up without a dad around… always poor… never fitting in… not one place and not another. Let’s talk Stella into moving in with us… if that’s ok with you.” He paused a moment. “By the way, have you seen Stella lately?”

“I saw her walking to the shopping center.  She’s getting some new maternity clothes. I guess she’s serving notice to Brant that she ain’t dumping this kid.  So having her stay with us is fine with me. I already ordered baby furniture for her.  I admire the lady and wish I was 50 years younger.  I never had any kids of my own and before I die I wouldn’t mind being a grandpop.”

“I don’t want her groveling in some courtroom trying to squeeze child-support money from him.  Set up a trust for her and the baby.  Give her whatever you think is equitable.”

They decided to go to the Blue Bison to have a beer, but as they passed the motel entrance,

Paul said, “The town is startin’ to fill up with wedding guests and tradespeople for the reception.  I know the desk clerk and I want him to let me know if and when Caroline checks in.”

“Good Idea,” Harold said.

As they sat at a table in the Blue Bison, Paul’s phone rang.   It was the desk clerk.  “I just checked in that lady you asked about.  She’s in Room 111.”  Paul thanked him.  He turned to Harold.  “Caroline’s here in Room 111.  I’ll go get that baby monitor gizmo.  You get her out of the room.  Wait ten minutes then call her and have her meet you here.  That’ll give me time to get the thing set up.  I won’t have any trouble being let into her room.”

He then left to go to a florist to buy a ceramic vase filled with roses that also contained a baby monitor.  He put batteries into both the monitor and its mate and returned to the motel.

Caroline had just gone out to meet Harold.

Paul got the manager to open the room so that he could put the flowers inside.  The manager waited until he had found the perfect place to put the flowers and then they left and the room was locked again.  He returned to his room and turned on the monitor’s mate.  No sounds came from the room.  He left his cell-phone on “recording” and put it beside the receiving monitor.

When he heard Caroline return to the room with Harold, he discreetly turned off the recording and went to the desk clerk’s office to gab awhile. He stayed until it seemed as though he might have some special interest in the desk clerk.  Then he abruptly said he’d see him later and retreated to his own room, leaving both the monitor and the phone recording turned off.

They were there for three straight hours.  Paul did not know what to think.  Suddenly, Harold knocked on his door.  Paul quickly opened the door and Harold stood there hand in hand with the beautiful Caroline.

“Come on with us,” Harold said.  “I want you to get to know my long-lost girl.”

“Sure,” Paul said, and walked with them to the Blue Bison that was, by then, filling up with the dinner crowd.

Molly and Brant were being feted as the rustic room was being decorated with garish crepe paper signs and mylar balloons.  A few dozen people were line dancing as the band played.

Paul, Harold and Caroline sat in the corner, apparently oblivious to the festivities.  Paul smiled.  “Well, Harold, she’s as pretty as you said she was,” he said.

“Caroline, Honey, this is the guy who saved my life.  Paul Oteiza.”

“I think Mr. Oteiza saved my life, too.  I’ve learned the hard way that without you in it, I have no life.”

They sat and talked about Brant and Molly and then Caroline excused herself to go to the powder room.

“Isn’t she wonderful?” Harold said.  “She explained everything.  Her parents had forced her to go with them to Europe.  She never wanted to break up with me.  We have history.  A long and beautiful history. I just can’t get over this.  Seeing her here.  Making love to her was like being in Heaven.” He sighed.  “Caroline’s Jewish.  She wants me to consider returning to Judaism.”

Paul smiled and said nothing.

After twenty minutes, Paul excused himself and said he’d see them both back at the motel.  For another hour Harold and Caroline celebrated at the Blue Bison.

Paul lay on his bed in his own room and watched television. He called Harold’s room and got no answer.  Just as he was falling asleep, Harold knocked on the door.  “Where’s Caroline?” Paul asked.

“I just dropped her off so that she can get showered and maybe take a nap or something.  I’ll be seeing her later.”

Paul quickly turned on the monitor and recorder. “Sit down a minute and listen.”

“She’ll be in the shower,” Harold said.  He was ready to leave, but Caroline’s voice was heard again.  “Am I good or am I good?” She laughed.  Harold quizzically looked at Paul, turned off the TV, and sat on the edge of the bed.  Caroline continued.  The monitor was so sensitive that they often could hear the other side of her conversation.

“He told me he invested in a house and 50 acres of land.  He plans to live in it with that old guy who helped him when Rebecca was killed… and with that Indian woman he got pregnant!”

The voice on the phone seemed to ask if the property could easily be sold.

“I have no idea.  I came right out and asked him how much money he had left, and he said that after his mother’s insurance ran out he had to pay all his own hospital bills, which included a couple of weeks in physical therapy.  He had the house refurbished and he’s hired an interior decorator to furnish it in a rustic style.”

The male voice said something that they could not understand.

“I told you that you needed to act right away… right after Rebecca was killed.  Months have passed.  I think he’s still got your rings and I’m certain that I can get them back…but they’re in a bank safe deposit box and he can’t get them until Monday.  As to his bank account balance?  That I don’t know.”

“Does he own the property outright?” the male voice said.

“For what I can understand, three were supposed to be owners… joint tenancy.  Aaron, the pregnant Indian woman and that old guy Paul Oteiza.  She wants some other guy to marry her… maybe it’s an Indian thing. I can tell you this much, Aaron’s not in love with her… not the way he’s still in love with me. But you know Aaron.  He has this idiot sense of ethics.” There was a pause.  “He’s planning to officially become a Catholic on Sunday. With luck, I’ll get him to marry me in Vegas on Saturday.  So I don’t have much time.  Just don’t tell me anything I don’t need to know.  I don’t care if she’s dead or alive or living in the floor above me.  ok.  Gotta go.  Say Hi to Mrs. B. for me.”

They listened for a moment more while Caroline took a shower.

“What am I going to do?” Harold’s chin quivered and a tear ran down his face.  Again, he asked, “What am I gonna do?”

“Grow up.  You’re not a teenager any more.  ” Paul saw the misery on his face and softened.  “Look, how many times do you have to have the same trick played on you before you get it?  Caroline’s here to fleece you. She partnered-up with Rebecca’s father. If they were crazy before, they’re really desperate now. They’re going to do whatever it takes to prove that your marriage vows were fraudulently made and therefore all the gifts you received should be returned.. They’re worried that if you marry Stella in Nevada, the courts will be sympathetic.  And since you can prove that the baby’s not yours, you’re gonna look legit to the court.  People around here are conservative.  They admire people who keep kids and raise them.  If you had only become a Catholic, the Blumenthals would’ve only been able to claim that you were mentally unbalanced when you married Rebecca. But your conversion followed Rebecca’s death.  If they raise the issue here, they’ll have the whole Catholic Church down on them.  But Stella is a serious problem. She’s holding out for Brant.  What do you want to do?”

“Call Stella.  Make sure she’s ok.”  Harold said.  “Then shoot them all – except Stella… but not in this jurisdiction.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.  Do you want me to talk to Caroline and ask her to leave?”

“No. Let’s string her along and find out exactly what she’s up to.  Tell her that I have decisions to make with the renovation contractor but that I’ll call her later.”

*

On Friday morning Abbot Jy Shao called Chuan Yi and Joshua into his office.  “I have bad news,” he said. “Monseigneur Garcia has just informed me that one of his principal contributors, Professor Reynard, is very sick… he happens to be the scholar our dear Fa Hui has been assisting.  So we will postpone the dinner; but as to the Saturday pickup, I’m afraid,” he said sadly as he looked directly at Joshua, “that you will have to drive yourself to your mentor’s home. I’m sure you’ll want to be there to comfort him through his illness.

Joshua bowed. “I can accomplish two things:  help my sick teacher and give my Toyota a little exercise.”

“Maybe,” the abbot said, “you should go out there now to be sure that it runs.”

“Excellent idea,” Joshua said.  “But Chuan Yi has my car keys.”

“What are you doing with his car keys?” the abbot asked Chuan Yi.  “Is this a prison we’re running?  Get them for Brother Fa Hui immediately.”

The Toyota ran fine.  Joshua saw that it needed more fuel, but other than that, he could foresee no other problems.”I have a few things here I have to finish first,” he said, praying that he’d hear from Brad. Seeing Rick was of secondary importance.

“When you finish your chores,” Jy Shao said, “would you be kind enough to stop by my office.  I’d like to have a few words in private with you.

Joshua walked to the Abbot’s office thinking that it was fortunate indeed that he had not purchased the air conditioner he had promised to install in the Abbot’s room. He needed all the money he could get. He had decided that as soon as he received Brad’s surfboard, he’d just announce that he was returning to Catholicism, leave the Center, and as quickly as possible, get on a plane to Maui.

There was no point in hanging around.  As he saw it, the FNN CCC thugs could not be interested in him since he owned nothing they could confiscate.  Rick would louse things up for him.  He was calling the Center as though he were a lunatic.  He must have found out about that extra Two Grand he got from Dave Lonigan.  No doubt he wanted his share.  Too bad.

“I’m not without resources,” he told himself. Brad had contacts in all the great surfing locations.  One contact would give him another and he just might meet some Surf Bunny with enough money to take him in tow through an endless summer of his own.  He would perform a legitimate purpose by keeping everyone up to date on Brad’s condition.   Yes, he’d function as a “go between” for the ailing surfer and his buddies.

He knocked gently on the Abbot’s door and was told to come in and sit down.

Joshua sat and affected a look that said, “How can I be of help to you?”

Jy Shao was different.  His eyes did not have that rheumy redness.  His nostrils were the same color as the rest of his face.  He smiled at Joshua.  “I wanted to thank you again.  I haven’t felt so perky or spiffy or whatever you want to call it in years. Cedar chips! What a brilliant idea.”

“It was my pleasure.”

“I know that Chuan Yi asked you to write about Ultimate Reality for our little contest. It’s too bad that it could not formally have been presented.  I would have known that though he offered it as his own work, it would have come from you.  I also must confess that I heard about your recitation of Nagarjuna’s verses.  I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall when you told Chuan Yi you had deliberately reversed several verses.  Ah, I don’t have to tell you that he has much to learn.

“But that’s not why I asked you here.  I know you’re still… let’s say… not fully convinced about Zen. I hope you choose to stay with us.  After your ordination, I’d like to make you an apprentice, so to speak, for the post of Dharma Master. Eventually, of course. The post is not filled now; there’s been no one with the depth of understanding and the generosity of spirit needed to fill it.”

“Master!” Joshua exclaimed, genuinely surprised.  “I’m too new here and I am unworthy.  You seem to be so much stronger now.  Why don’t you start to give regular Dharma talks?”

“Ah, too many years of performing like a coughing seal have ruined my reputation.  No one respects me. I carry my old infirmities around like an albatross necklace. Unless a student has respect for his teacher, he cannot learn. But I can give you a few lessons… here, in private.  I’d be so honored to do that.” He tapped his fingers together as if he were ready to proceed.  “How much of the mystical path do you understand?”

“Well, I know that Nirvana encompasses all, but to enter it we must pass through the transcendental tattvas.”

“Yes, the Eighth Step of the Path is the Transcendental Step.  Meditation means “to dwell” and we dwell in Nirvana when we inhabit that state.”

“What I don’t understand is why,” Joshua asked, “Nirvana is so controversial.”

“Definitions and methods. The fullness or emptiness of the mind. Some people believe that when the mind is empty of thought, they have entered Nirvana. They haven’t. They’ve mastered self-hypnosis, that’s all.  Meditation is an altered state of awareness. The peace and wonderment of it radically changes a person.”

Joshua suddenly stood up.  “Master, I’m expecting a very important call.  The reception monk doesn’t know that I’m in here to let me know if it comes in.”

“Go and tell him,” Jy Shao said.  “And then come right back. Before you leave to attend to your mentor,  I want you to understand a few things that may help you to make a more informed decision about us.”

Joshua, unconcerned with his apparent rudeness, hurried down to the reception desk and informed the monk that if he received any calls, he could be reached in the Abbot’s office.  “Ah, Brad…” the monk said.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll not keep the poor guy waiting while I look for you.”  Joshua returned to the abbot’s office.

“After true meditation comes orgasmic ecstasy,” Jy Shao continued, “which some people call Samadhi.  When it is experienced, not a single muscle is moved.  We barely breathe.  We sit there and the thrill divine envelops us in an exquisite, full body orgasm.. Have you experienced this yet?  I hope I’m not shocking you.”

“The orgasm, yes… but not quite that way. I’m delighted that you care enough to be so candid.”

“Then, a year or more later, if we are lucky, we may encounter the Buddhist Trinity: first is Satori when our Lord Amitabha enlightens us.”

Joshua glanced at his watch and was thinking about Brad.  He had not heard Jy Shao’s comment.  “But why should there be so much contention about Nirvana?”

Jy Shao smiled at the non-sequitur.  “After satori and samadhi they can move on to the visual encounter with the Bodhisattvas… an erotic experience, a living adventure that is devoid of physical movement but yet is all encompassing.  It’s a Divine Marriage entered into in the sex opposite to the meditator’s own gender.”

“What? Like homosexuality?” Joshua wondered if this state explained Rick’s odd sexual choices.

“No. Only when a person is in the meditative state does this transsexuality occur.   The experiences all occur in the mind.  And what great experiences they are.  There is no physical touching. Yes, they may be in the presence of another human being… for example Shams and Rumi.  But the sexuality exists strictly inside the individual’s head.”

“Ah, I see,” Joshua said, seeing nothing but that Rick was automatically excluded from any spiritual sexuality.  Again he glanced at the face of his watch.  “Just the mind… Hmmm.”

“And then the third and final corner of the Trinity comes with the conception and delivery of the Divine Son. Some religions believe that the spiritual child can break the material barrier and actually become human.  Christianity and Daoism and some forms of Buddhism believe this.  Other religions, Islam, Judaism, and Zen Buddhism say that it is possible but that it hasn’t happened yet… hence the Future Mahdi, the Future Messiah; and the Future Buddha.”

“This is all very interesting,” Joshua said, nodding his head as if he understood.  “And Chuan Yi doesn’t understand this?”

“Chuan Yi is a lost cause.  But you are clay as yet unformed by ignorant hands.  You have a good heart and a generous nature. You have that rare quality that makes a Bodhisattva.  So I ask you to think about the Dharma talks.  We learn so much when we have to teach it.  I’m counting on you to lead others into the light… to be that lamp unto their feet.  And I just wanted to say thank you for what you have done and what you are destined to do.”

Joshua pressed his palms together in a pious gesture. “You’ve honored me more than I deserve.”  he said, wondering whether this approbation would make it harder or easier to get to Maui.  Would they try to keep him there?  The thought of bossing Chuan Yi around did appeal to him; and so did moving into his nice bedroom. And just suppose things didn’t work out for him in Maui – for all he knew Brad had enemies there who would make his life hell – then he’d need a place to come back to.  He couldn’t ask Rick for help.  Rick’s solution got him in this expensive hell-hole. Yes, Rick was a useful fool.  As everyone knew, they were the worst kind.    He looked up at Jy Shao, “Master, please forgive me if I seem a bit distracted.  But I am worried about Professor Reynard.”

“A good student always worries about the health of his mentor,” Jy Shao said sympathetically.  “And if the professor needs care that he can’t afford, please let me know.  Possibly we can help.”

“Excellent!” Joshua said with a tad too much enthusiasm.  He tried to soften the remark.  “It’s so good to know we have friends when we’re in need.”  Well, he thought, let’s pay the obligatory call on Rick.  With a little luck he might be able to con him or the Zen master into giving him some money.

As Joshua drove away from the Zen Center, Abbot Jy Shao walked into the reception area and seeing Chuan Yi, whom he did not particularly like, he began to rhapsodize about the spiritual potential of Fa Hui.  “For years I prayed that I’d be sent someone with such talent, someone to whom I could pass on my insights into the Great Mahayana Prajnaparapmitra Canon.  How fortunate we all are to have him come to us so serendipitously.” He paused to consider the most appreciative audience he could find for his good news.  “Get Monseigneur Garcia on the phone for me,” he instructed the receptionist monk.

*

Monseigneur Jaime Garcia had thought Jy Shao had sounded stronger when he spoke to him earlier, but they had not had the time to discuss the specifics of his health.

“Jimmy, I cannot put into words our Fa Hui’s concern for me and his willingness to spend his own money on solving my problem.  I haven’t coughed in days.  I’ve actually gained weight.  I was going to model my new robe at the dinner, but then Reynard got sick.  Maybe I’ll need an even larger size when we do have our dinner.  You realize that I owe my recovery to you for sending him to me. And he’s so spiritually precocious!  I intend to instruct him personally in the intricacies of the Dharma. What a blessing!  Knowledge and the Healing Touch.”

Later, Monseigneur Garcia congratulated Father Joseph Pulaski for whatever his input was in the ZCS’s  acquisition of spiritual phenom Fa Hui, a.k.a. Joshua Mays.  “He apparently has the Spiritual gift of Healing. The Abbot is a new man. Wants to mentor him into what would normally be an adept’s role.  He never could find a replacement because, for some reason, the monks out there don’t ever seem to be playing with a full deck.  But this Joshua has given the place something that it didn’t have before: hope.” He patted Father Joe’s shoulder. “Really, when I think of all the good he might have done for our poor brethren, I’m sorry we didn’t snatch him when we had the chance.  Let’s hope he does Professor Reynard some good.”

The Monseigneur went back into his office and Father Joe immediately called Rick to tell him the wonderful news about the spiritual prodigy they had helped on his path greatness.

“Is he on his way here?” Rick asked.

“Yes.  Everyone’s hoping that he can find a way to make you feel better.”

“I’m sure he will,” Rick hissed.

 

Part 28  Joshua, Rick, Tim, Stella

 

Even before Joshua Mays pulled into Rick’s driveway, Rick had typed out various instruments of indebtedness. He greeted Joshua in a manner that was less than friendly.  “Do you know what I’ve been put through because of your greed and stupidity?  Don’t answer that! You have no idea. I lost one of my balls because of you.”

Joshua did not imagine that Rick meant anything but the kind of balls a person could bounce.  “What the hell do I have to do with balls?”

Rick proceeded to outline the events of Wednesday night and the subsequent loss of assets he had sustained.  He placed several promissory notes in front of Joshua.  “Sign these.  You owe me for the loss of this house, for the loss of my car, and most of all, for the pain and suffering I have endured because of your negligence. And I am willing to overlook the damage done to my little friend Bruno.”

“And here I was hoping to borrow some money from you,” Joshua said flippantly.  “I guess that’s out.”   He looked through the papers and tossed them back at Rick. “The plan was yours.  I carried it out precisely.  You received ten percent for your services. That makes you an accomplice.  Suck it up.  You were well serviced for your services. I’m not going to sit here and be verbally abused by you.  And don’t call me stupid.  Abbot Jy Shao considers me a brilliant commentator on the Prajnaparamitra Canon.  He wants to train me personally. You are not nearly so intelligent as you imagine.” He got up and walked out the front door and went to the movies.

*

Tim Murphy should have been elated with the outcome of the events that followed his meeting at Julian Cardoza’s office.  He was free of debt. He didn’t have to look for a job, but if he had wanted one, word would get out that he had been wronged and was completely trustworthy.  Charlene welcomed a relationship with him.  His mother’s little business was growing nicely, but if he were to entertain a serious relationship with Charlene he needed to think about more challenging work.  He couldn’t support a wife on what he would earn making pickups and deliveries for exercise clothing.

And yes, it was a grusome punishment for Rick, but one that was surely deserved.  Tim imagined that crimes committed so insouciantly by sinners were rather like roaches.  For every crime they were caught committing, there were dozens hidden from view in dark places that would never see the justice of daylight. Rick still had his brains and money in the bank.  He could start over someplace.  It was even possible that the trauma of such a retribution would cause him to think about consequences – it could not, of course, grow him another conscience.  No, a conscience was not like a salamander’s tail. There was no limb regeneration.  A man can’t lose it and then simply grow another.  A conscience was rather like an optic or olfactory nerve.  Lose it and things will never be the same.

He had not, however, reckoned on the effect that the events would have on his religious feelings. The more he thought about the perfidy and duplicity of Rick and Joshua, of the Knights and of the Zen people who would give scum like Joshua refuge – with or without remuneration – and of the attitude of his own priest towards his parents’ predicament, the more he felt disappointed with organized religion.   Everyone in the parish knew that his father was washing windows.  And certainly the priest knew that his father’s heart was damaged.  The priest delivered sandwiches and cartons of milk and cookies to bums who lived under bridges. Why didn’t the priest ask one of them to help his dad wash windows or collect cans?  Why not deliver sandwiches and milk to his house?  He went to confession.  He told the truth to the priest.  But instead of help and condolence, all the priest did was worry about being cheated out of the funeral income.  And, of course, to warn him not to seek revenge. The priest thought God’s edict was inviolable: “Vengeance is Mine.”   No, there were many exceptions. An honorable man who was wronged by an evil man and who could get no legal relief, then that man could claim the right to seek revenge… providing he didn’t get caught and also that he didn’t let anyone else get blamed.  Not an easy thing to do.

But still… losing his Catholic faith.  The enormity of the loss… the repercussions of the loss…  this he was not prepared to experience.  He might have overlooked the entire subject of revenge if only those who “wore the cloth” had acted with more Christian or Buddhist charity.

On another serious matter, he wondered whether Joshua was still living at the Zen Center.  He drove past the entrance and noticed that Joshua’s car was not there.

Using his burner phone, at 6 p.m. Tim called the Zen Center and asked for Fa Hui. He disguised his voice slightly in case Joshua was there.

“Ah, no,” the receptionist monk answered, “Brad?”

“Yes.”

“You sound strange.”

“Oh, just a little bout of weakness.  How are things with you there at the Center?”

“Fine.  But Fa Hui ought to be jumping for joy right now.  Abbot Master is so pleased with him.  He sees someone who is truly spiritually gifted in Fa Hui.  He asked him to be his ‘protege’ or   personal student so that he can ease him into the position of Dharma Master. And that, let me tell you, is no small potatoes.  He’d be second in command.”

“Really?  It’s great to hear that his surfing soul is as spiritual as people say it is.”

“Yes, living here has brought out spiritual qualities that a great master like Jy Shao can detect.  It’s called the ‘Buddha Eye’ of seeing into someone’s soul, seeing that he’s got what it takes to become a bodhisattva.  Fa Hui is the real McCoy.”

“Imagine that.  Not yet a novice and he’s being hand picked to become a Zen teacher!  Well, tell him I called.  I’ll try to call again tomorrow.  I think a bed is ready for me at the hospital I’m to go to for extended tests.”

*

Rabbi Emmanuel Cohen followed the directions to the not-quite-finished house.  “Am I welcome here?” he called as he parked his car.

“Sure,” Harold said. “Paul and I were only talking about the weather.  Stella just made coffee.  Come on in.”

The three men sat at the kitchen table of the unfinished house.  Stella served coffee and cinnamon buns that she had just baked.

“Sit down with us,” Harold insisted.

Stella reluctantly approached the table.  She was not entirely uninterested in the house since she did ride out frequently with Paul to make coffee and cinnamon buns for the workmen, but she was uncomfortable sitting with them and giving the impression that she was “the lady of the house.”  Paul pushed a chair out with his foot, and as she sat down and rested her hands on the table, a peculiar red string bracelet was clearly seen. Neither Paul nor Harold had ever questioned her about it – they had assumed it was an “Indian thing,” but the Rabbi recognized it.  “Do I detect a Kabballah follower?”

“I’m a beginner,” she said.  “But it seems to have made a difference in my life.”

“You know,” said Rabbi Cohen, “this setting would be a perfect place to create a small Kabballah center.  Have you ever thought about gathering a group?”

“I’ve got enough on my plate. My baby is due in December,” she answered. “But I do often go out into the mountains to meditate.”

“It’s something to think about,” Rabbi Cohen said.  “If you’re in favor of attracting young people into mystical religion, this is the perfect place for it.  Beautiful.  Scenic.  And just close enough to a city for good transportation.”

“What kind of mysticism?” Paul asked. “Judaism? I’ve heard that in many ways it’s like the old Shoshone religion,” he said.

Rabbi Cohen was interested in pursuing the congregational aspect.  “Every religion has a mystical school. I know a peripatetic Kabballah teacher.  He makes the rounds.  Mystical Judaism is becoming very popular.  It’s replacing yoga, I’m told.”

“Do me a favor, then,” Harold said, “and find out about bringing the man here for a lecture series or whatever you call it.  I’d like to do something constructive with my life, and running a center for mystical teachings of many religions is something I could do.  One night for Yoga, one for Sufi, one for Shoshone, one for Kabballah, one for Zen.  Have I exhausted the week?” he asked laughing. “We could build ‘The Mystic Motel.'”

“You left out your own religion,” Rabbi Cohen said. “Mystical Christianity.”

Harold laughed. “Please don’t let that get around!”  He sighed. “You know… I’m not complaining,” he said, “but I’m right handed, and I still can’t walk properly on my right foot much less hold a pen with my right hand.  My future in the job market is not bright. But I fantasize about becoming an official Catholic Lay Teacher.  I could run a kind of mystical retreat… a place where people could learn spiritual techniques while also getting away from life’s complications for a week or two.  Incidentally, will you be here Sunday for the Communion ceremony and party after?”

“I have an appointment at home tomorrow afternoon, but I could come up again Sunday.  I probably won’t go into the Church to witness it, but afterwards if you have cake and ice cream, count me in. Maybe I’ll bring the wife.”

“Have you heard from the Blumenthals lately?”

“I think I’m supposed to answer, ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’   Yes, I hear from them or from other Rabbis every week. When the phone rings my wife and I have a bet about who is calling.  Nobody else seems interested in me anymore.  I’m thinking about accepting a position with a Philadelphia synagogue to save my fellow Rabbis a fortune in telephone bills.”  He smiled.  “Just kidding!”

“Did they tell you about getting my old girlfriend to make a pitch for me?” Harold asked.

“Yes. That’s one of the reasons I drove up here.  I sort of gathered from a few of the conversations I’ve been having lately that an old flame of yours was going to try to rekindle your once torrid relationship – and that she’ll be well compensated for it.  The Wechslers owe the Blumenthals a lot of money. Debts will be cancelled.”

“They came right out and told you that?” Harold asked.

“No, what they said was that if a certain party thought that marrying you was going to get all that money away from you and not be given to its rightful owners, the parents of the girl would pay dearly. In other calls I learned that the girl in question was Caroline Wechsler.

Paul laughed.  “So they set Caroline in motion and now they’re afraid if she gets you to marry her, she’ll stiff the Blumenthals. Ah, money.”

The rabbi suggested the route that was being followed. “Mr. Blumenthal insists that since you were committed to Stella and were having a child with her as well as being her secret drug addict buddy, your marriage to Rebecca was fraudulent and the circumstances of her death were, as he put it, too convenient to be anything but deliberate murder. I’ve sent him copies of every document I could get that disproved his theory in its entirety. I even had the Medical Examiner do me a favor and call him and personally relate the blood transfusion incident.  But Blumenthal is adamant.  He wants to take things back to the status quo ante.  An annulment.  A voiding of the marriage contract.  He knows that if the marriage was declared to be fraudulent, then he’d get his money back.  He’s disguising greed as a moral imperative.  I told him that it embarrassed me to call him a Jew.  Ive never said that to anyone else before in my life.  I felt that my good conscience demanded that I warn you.”

“I managed to learn that for myself.  But Caroline doesn’t know that I’m aware of the plot.” He sighed.  “Let’s not sully this beautiful place with talk about those people.  We can change the subject and talk about something that does interest me: starting a meditation center with a nice garden and, I’m serious, a few bedrooms for overnight guests.  I’d like you to be one of the series of teachers,” Harold said.

“I’d like to study the Kabballah formally,” Stella said.

Paul laughed.  “Your first customer and she’s not even Jewish.”

They sat and talked and decided not to return to Ely that night.  First Paul went to bed.  And then Harold retired for the night.  Rabbi Cohen discussed the principles of Kabballah with Stella until dawn caused the others to awaken.  “It’s that coffee she makes,” the Rabbi explained.  “I’ll have to get her to teach my wife. I’ve got her phone number and address here and she’s got mine.  When you pick a place for your little center, I’ll let my wife work on the project with Stella.  There’s no point in you and me getting involved.  The Blumenthal reach is long.”

Rabbi Cohen returned to Las Vegas.  The rest headed back to Ely for breakfast.

*

Stella had said she wanted to go to her room to freshen up, but she did not return to have breakfast.  Paul knocked on her door and got no answer.  He went to the front desk to ask if there were any messages from her.  “No,” the desk clerk said, “but there was a strange guy around here, Paul, a few days ago.  He looked like one of those plainclothes cops.  He was asking me questions about Stella.”

“Oh?  What kind of questions?”

“Was she planning a wedding?  I said, ‘Not that I know of.’  Was she pregnant?  I said, ‘ditto.’  I don’t give out information but I did see him hang around and talk to one of the chambermaids.  It wasn’t my place to question her about their conversation.”

Paul Oteiza returned to Harold’s room.  “Stella’s got some kind of tail on her.  I don’t like it.  Some detective-type was asking questions about her.   Was she getting married?  Was she pregnant?”

“And then she disappears?”

“Maybe she got paid off to have an abortion.” Paul shrugged.  “She’s been under a lot of stress.”

“I’m getting ready to celebrate my First Holy Communion on Sunday…  walking last in line with a bunch of little kids…  and thanking God I didn’t have to wear a white jacket and short pants…  and then all this happens.  What else?  Tell me!  What else?”

“Let’s go get a beer,” Paul said, “before the lunch crowd arrives.”

“No.  First we have to find out where Stella is now.  My God!  Am I responsible for getting another innocent woman killed?”

“You’re an unknown commodity around here.  Let me go to the sheriff’s office and lay this out for them.  We’ve got to stay within the law.”  He picked up his iPhone.  “I’ll play this recording for them and report what the desk clerk had said about the visitor.”

“I’ll go with you. I want to stay out of Caroline’s way. Let’s leave word at the desk that I had to attend to business.”

The sheriff was interested.  “This town is flooded with outsiders because of Brant’s wedding.  The last thing I need is a kidnapping or worse. ”  He listened intently to the recording.  “That girl is up to no good. She says that if nobody tells her specifically what’s being done to Stella, she’s off the hook.  Somebody needs to explain conspiracy theory to her. You did right bringing this to me.  But it would have to be on the busiest weekend of the bloody year.”

Go to Issue #8