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Brush Back
  • Текст добавлен: 4 октября 2016, 23:36

Текст книги "Brush Back"

Автор книги: Sara Paretsky

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Текущая страница: 7 (всего у книги 28 страниц)


I followed him around the lake side of the building to the entrance, which opened into a living area that seemed part museum, a gold kimono dominating it from one wall, a scroll of geese taking flight on another, and in between stands holding lacquer or pottery.

The furniture was severely modern, which seemed to suit the art. I recognized an Eames chair, and supposed that the sofa, thin tan leather with chrome tube arms and legs, was also designer work. How had a rabbi’s son come by the money for this?

As if he’d read my thoughts, Rafe said, “Ken’s an artist—you’ll see his work upstairs. I was a curator and a collector and a wannabe—it was hard to admit that my only talent lay in admiring it in others. Anyway, I was working at the Field Museum, they were doing a special exhibit on the history of calligraphy as art, and two of Ken’s pieces were included. And then I had an incredible piece of luck: I recognized a raku pottery cup at a garage sale. Seventeenth-century work, very rare,” he explained, seeing my blank expression. “I bought it for a dollar and sold it for—let’s just say enough to buy this building and start collecting and selling.”

I made the noises we always make when we know nothing about the subject someone else is passionately discussing. Rafe led me up a broad wood staircase, pointing out lacquer in niches along the wall. The top of the stairs opened onto Ken’s studio, where Ken, in jeans and a sweatshirt, was closing the big glass doors to the balcony. Rafe went to help him and then introduced us—Kenji Aroyawa.

Rafe went to an alcove and fussed with a charcoal heater to make tea, leaving Kenji and me watching the lake through the glass window: it was starting to boil up, waves rocking back and forth, spume beginning to form.

“When it’s like this, it’s like Hokusai’s print of The Wave—you’ve seen it? The great wave that looks as though it could swallow the world?”

“Do you try to paint the water?” I asked. “I don’t know how an artist captures the motion.”

“Like this.” Ken turned to an easel set back from the front. He dipped a brush in a pot of ink and after a few short strokes, the water came to life on his sheet of paper.

My enchantment with seeing him work took my mind briefly from the question I’d been chewing on since Rafe’s comment about Mandel and Annie.

“You like it?” Ken said.

“I’m completely blown away,” I said. “I won’t pretend I can make an intelligent response, though—it’s the first time I’ve seen this kind of painting.”

Ken laughed and clapped his hands.

“You brought me a new disciple, Rafe,” he called. “Now sit down—what do we call you? Vic? I think Rafe has finished smelling up the place. Powdered green tea—I hate it, maybe from too many obligatory events as a child—my father was in Japan’s diplomatic service—but green tea is part of Rafe’s attempt to remind me I’m Japanese, or maybe to turn Japanese himself.”

He gave another loud laugh, then said he assumed I wasn’t with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, since Rafe had spent so much time with me.

“She works with another kind of witness,” Rafe said. “You know, law, courts.”

Ken cocked his head at Rafe. “Is someone suing you? Do you need to put all the art in my name?”

Rafe gave a perfunctory smile. “She’s a detective. She cares about a very old case where I was a witness to the torment of one of the lawyers.”

“Joel?” Ken asked.

Rafe turned his teacup round and round without looking at either of us. “I believe the dead past should bury the dead, but Vic wants to dig it up. I thought someone from my father’s old temple had sent her here to paw through old gossip about Joel and me, but she’s after different gossip. What exactly are you hoping to learn?”

“It’s that old trial,” I said. “But now—I can hardly say what I do want. If you’ve seen the news reports, you know that Stella Guzzo is saying she found a diary her daughter kept, implicating my cousin in her murder.”

“Rafe doesn’t watch the news; he thinks it’s vulgar,” said Ken, “but I do, I know what you’re talking about. Your cousin was the hockey star?”

Ken’s English was accentless and idiomatic. Perhaps the result of his childhood in Japanese consulates.

“Right.” I took a sip of the tea and decided I wasn’t crazy about it, either. “Stella Guzzo has a long history with my family and I let her rattle me. I don’t know why she’s trying to prove her innocence now, instead of twenty-five years ago when she was in court, and I got obsessed with finding a copy of the trial transcript, to see if she or Joel had tried to suggest my cousin could have come to the house and—and assaulted Annie while Stella was out playing bingo.”

“Someone must have a record of the trial,” Rafe said impatiently.

I explained that most trials didn’t have complete transcripts unless someone paid for them. “I hoped Joel’s old firm had kept one, but they don’t exist anymore. You talked to him while the trial was going on. Do you remember what he said—besides whining, I mean.”

Rafe grimaced at my repetition of his word. “It was a long time ago and I wasn’t paying attention. I kept asking Joel why he’d gone into law when he didn’t like it, but he didn’t have a métier of his own and it was too easy to do what Ira and Eunice wanted.”

He steepled his hands, put his chin on his fingertips. “He was scared. Not of what his parents thought or wanted. Someone had frightened him. I didn’t want to know about it at the time, because I thought– He and I had sex together when we were teenagers, sixteen, seventeen. It didn’t last, but I thought someone was threatening to expose him, and that it could land on me. It’s hard to remember now, but twenty-five years ago, public outing could kill a career. Mine, I mean. That’s why I stopped listening to him. I told you I was a coward.”

“No,” I said, “when you’re struggling to survive, no one gets to label you a coward, not even you yourself in your private thoughts.”

Ken clapped my shoulder. “I like this Jehovah’s Witness.”

I smiled absently but spoke to Rafe. “You were afraid of exposure, so if Joel said anything that showed he feared something else, you didn’t register it at the time. Think back now. What did he say, why did you realize he was afraid?”

Rafe thought for a long moment, but shook his head. “Sorry. I can’t remember nuances or words from back then. Just the feeling.”

“And the possibility that Annie was sleeping with Mr. Mandel? Stella says Annie told her terrible things and that’s why she beat her to death. It—I—” I shook my head, trying to clear it.

“Annie was one of my mother’s pupils, she was ambitious, but young and inexperienced. Maybe Joel was right, maybe Mandel was preying on her—it’s a commonplace, older man in a position of power, vulnerable young woman. But what if it was the other way around? What if Stella was right about this one thing?”

“That justifies her killing her own child?” Ken was scornful.

“Of course not,” I said impatiently. “Nothing justifies that, not even Stella’s claim that Annie attacked her. I can’t explain it—it’s twisted up in my childhood, my memories of my mother, my cousin—”

I broke off, unable to put it into words, and even a bit embarrassed at blurting it out in front of these two strangers.

“I want to see the diary Stella claims she found,” I finally said. “It seems too pat that it showed up right after I went to see her. If she knew about it during the trial, why didn’t Joel use it in her defense?”

“Yes, Vic, but what if Annie wrote about Joel in it?” Ken suggested shrewdly. “He wouldn’t want his bosses or the judge and so on to read it.”

“You’re right. He enters it into evidence and it’s a public record, everyone in Chicago gets to know that he—what? Is harassing Annie? That she’s making fun of him? If it painted him in any kind of unflattering light, he was so morbidly sensitive he couldn’t bear the humiliation of it being made public. Maybe that’s what he was afraid of—does that ring a bell with you, Rafe?”

Zukos flung up his hands, annoyed. “You mean, did anything he said back then make me think he knew about a diary? I can’t possibly remember. But was he so sensitive he wouldn’t use a document that betrayed his private feelings? Yes, I can believe that.”

So if Stella had found the diary before the trial, Joel might have persuaded her to keep it quiet on the grounds that laundering Guzzo family business in public would harm her. It made a certain sense.

“Also, I can’t picture the way my cousin is being painted in this lurid picture. He was reckless and attractive and a lot of women went for him, but I can’t see him threatening a woman the way Stella’s claiming is in Annie’s diary.”

“You think it’s a fraud?” Ken asked.

“Yes, even though your argument makes good sense. However, I don’t understand one thing about the trial, about Mandel & McClelland involving Joel, about Stella doing her time and now trying to get exonerated. Maybe Rafe’s right: I’ve been like Ahab chasing a great white whale of paper, and it’s time to let it go.”

When I got up to leave, Ken went back to his easel. He added a few more strokes, which made it look as though a leaflet was in the waves, the pages blowing so that you could imagine they formed the wide-open mouth of a whale.

I laughed, but I knew that in the morning I would be going back to Jeffery Avenue to talk to Joel Previn again. Early, before he fell into the Pot of Gold.


As it turned out, Joel was able to get quite a long lead on his vodka the next day. After leaving Rafe and Ken, I drove to my office, where I learned that the media obsession with Boom-Boom’s alleged involvement with Annie Guzzo hadn’t abated. A car was parked in my space in the lot by my building, meaning I had to pay to use a meter on the street. When I walked over to confront the driver, he jumped out with a handheld mike and a video cam. Another crew emerged from the coffee bar across the street.

The guy in my parking space shoved his mike into my nose. “Les Fioro with Global, Vic. How do you feel about these accusations?”

I backed away. “Sorry, what accusations?”

Another mike appeared—the people from the coffee bar were piggybacking onto Les’s interview.

“Your cousin, wasn’t he?” the second mike said.

“My cousin? What cousin?”

“Haven’t you seen the news? Stella Guzzo is claiming your cousin killed her daughter,” Les said.

I shook my head. “My cousin has been dead for a good decade now. I doubt he’s come back as a zombie to murder anyone.”

Les was getting exasperated. “This happened before he died.”

“Ah, that would explain it,” I said.

“So how do you feel about it?” the second mike demanded.

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I went to the front door to type in the code, but Les wasn’t so easily put off. He came up behind me, telling me about Annie’s murder, and Stella’s claims. I dropped my briefcase and when I stood up with it, knocked the mike out of his hands.

“I’m sorry,” I said, smiling. “I didn’t realize you were standing so close to me. I hope it still works.”

The second mike retreated to the street: I was too unstable to waste more time with. I retyped the code and went inside while Les was chasing the mike, which had rolled to the curb.

I stood with the door open a few inches. “Mr. Fioro, my first phone call is going to be to a towing service: you are in a space that is clearly marked as reserved for tenants. Unless you want to pay towing fees, move your car.”

Once in my office, I scrubbed the avocado off my jacket as best I could, but the lapel of the wheat-colored linen now had a green cast to it. It can always get worse, I reminded myself, so don’t curse what’s already gone wrong. At least the tostada had been light and crisp, the vegetables fresh, the beans homemade.

I opened my file on Stella and tried to type in what I’d learned today. Not much of anything. I couldn’t see a trial transcript, no one knew if she’d been going to blame Boom-Boom in court when he was still alive and could sue for slander, no one knew why Sol Mandel made the hapless Joel defend her.

I’d told young Bernadine that I was going to get information but so far, the score was Stella ten, V.I. nothing. Or maybe one: I did have one new fact: Mr. Mandel’s first name had been Sol. And I knew, or at least was pretty sure of, another: that the diary hadn’t been in the Guzzo house twenty-five years ago.

I wanted to see it myself, so badly I began imagining ways to break into Stella’s and look at it. Really poor idea, V.I., let it go.

I still wanted to shoot Stella, but it was time to move on. However, when I logged onto my server, the media inquiries were sprinkled with fretful messages from clients. Had my cousin been involved in murder? Was I covering it up? That seemed to be the common theme, although some had an avid curiosity covered by a thin veneer of concern, what could they do to help, and what had Boom-Boom done, really? I could trust them.

I put on a big grin and started returning calls—yes, I’m an upbeat, problem-solving professional and your affairs are safe in my hands. No murderers anywhere.

When I’d taken care of the most urgent calls, I went into Lexis-Nexis for some background on Nina Quarles, current owner of the Mandel & McClelland firm. Quarles had apparently seen the firm as an investment opportunity, despite the violent neighborhood and the nearly nonexistent income of the client base. The firm mostly handled wills and real estate matters for people like Melba and Harold Minsky, petitioned for orders of protection against people like me. No, just joking—mostly against violent domestic partners. They also handled criminal defense for people with enough money for a private lawyer.

I couldn’t believe that kind of business generated enough income to support a woman like Nina Quarles in her travel and shopping habits, but when I looked up her personal profile, I saw she had other resources. She’d grown up on the East Side, only child of Felicia Burzle and Norman Quarles, a guy who’d had a successful business manufacturing brakes for freight cars.

Both her parents were dead and her trust fund would keep her in Givenchy and Armani for another two or three hundred years, even if she bought a new outfit every day. This didn’t explain why she’d bought the firm, but maybe McClelland had put her trust together and she’d felt sentimental about it. I shrugged and shut down my system.

I was turning out the lights when a call came in from Natalie Clements in the Cubs media department. Her young voice was vibrating with cheer. “Ms. Warshawski? I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you, but we do have a few photographs of Boom-Boom Warshawski at Wrigley Field. Mr. Drechen says you can come up to see them when it’s convenient for you, as long as it isn’t a game day.”

I’d forgotten about going to the Cubs in an effort to double-check Frank’s story about the tryouts. Now I wondered if it was really worth it, but the publicity crew at Wrigley seemed to be the only people willing to help me. It would be churlish to say I’d lost interest: I told her I’d stop by first thing in the morning.

Bernie was still asleep when I left the next day. She’d announced when she came home last night that she’d found a job at a Bucktown coffee bar. I hoped she hadn’t been hired for the early shift.

No one bothered me when I cautiously looked out my front door. The media vultures, who’d still been hovering last night outside my building, had finally gotten bored.

When I got to Wrigley Field, crews were hard at work getting ready for an upcoming home stand. They were doing everything from bringing in supplies to testing the PA system. Food vendors were lined up along Clark, unloading through the big doors. Behind them was a fleet of beer trucks. I’m not much of a beer drinker at the best of times; the sight of so much of it, so early in the morning, made me queasy.

Bagby Haulage, the outfit Frank Guzzo drove for, had a truck there, too, parked along Addison. I’d thought they were local to the far South Side, but they clearly were bigger than I’d imagined if they had a contract with someone who served the Cubs. It would be a cruel punishment for Frank, if he had to ferry peanuts or Cracker Jacks to the ballpark where he’d hoped to play. I craned my neck to see who was in the cab, but the truck was empty.

Natalie Clements had left a pass for me with the security staff at the main gate. As I hiked up the ramps to the floor with the press offices, I passed the crews moving their loads of food and souvenirs into the storage caves behind the vending booths.

The belly of Wrigley wasn’t pretty. Work lamps were hooked under low-sloping ceilings. There were small cracks in the concrete, and the massive cables that fed the stadium’s power were attached to the outside of the weight-bearing columns, snaking along floors and walls—it would have cost too much to break into the concrete and install them out of sight.

Before going into Natalie Clements’s office, I went to the doorway leading to the stands. A team was hosing down the seats, collecting trash they’d missed after the last home game. The grounds crew would have been out already at first light, but they were finicking around the pitcher’s mound, getting the slope the way tomorrow’s starter liked it.

The grass was greener than it had been a week ago. The thick vines along the outfield wall were starting to turn green. I was facing the bleachers, where Boom-Boom and I used to climb the back wall and scramble into the seats—after sneaking onto the L by shinnying up the girders. We didn’t have any pocket money, but I guess that’s no excuse for a life of crime. I was still committing cons and crimes, I suppose, since I was letting Natalie Clements think I was writing my cousin’s biography.

I followed the ramps to the section where the press offices lay. They were cubbyholes, really, since every cubic inch in a ballpark needs to generate revenue. Natalie Clements introduced me to her boss, Will Drechen, who told me he hadn’t thought at first that they’d kept any of the pictures from that particular day.

“I happened to mention your project to my old boss when I went to see him last night. He’s been retired a long time, but he was a big fan of your cousin,” Drechen added. “He’d found these when he was going through old files.”

Drechen had the photos laid out on a tabletop. One showed Boom-Boom on the field, clowning around with Mitch Williams, who’d been a wild man on the mound, equally terrifying to fans and opponents. Boom-Boom’s face was alive with the excitement I’d seen a thousand times, whenever he was doing something high-risk. It was such a vivid photo I thought if I turned around my cousin might be standing behind me.

Natalie said, “Mr. Villard, he’s the gentleman who had the photos, he used to handle community relations, he said when Boom-Boom couldn’t come close to hitting Mitch Williams, Boom-Boom said it was because he was used to being in the penalty box for having his stick up that high.”

“Sounds like him,” I agreed.

I busied myself with the rest of the array to hide an unexpected spasm of grief. Seeing Boom-Boom’s face so filled with vitality, hearing my cousin’s words, the loss suddenly felt recent, not a decade old.

The pictures included three shots from inside the dugout. Frank was seated halfway down the bench, his face just visible behind Andre Dawson: the great right-fielder was leaning over to talk to my cousin, who was sitting at the end farthest from the field. Poor Frank. No wonder he felt bitter. No wonder he’d whiffed the curve.

I said, “It must have been hard on the guys who came to try out to have Boom-Boom in the spotlight there. Do you know if any of them actually got picked up by the franchise?”

Drechen bent over a group photo. All the men were in the uniforms of the amateur teams they played for. I could see the “Ba” from Bagby on the front of Frank’s warm-up jacket. Frank’s head was up, shoulders back, but his expression was fierce—a man holding back tears. The picture must have been taken after the guys had their chance.

Drechen said, “This guy back here”—he tapped the face of a man in the second row—“he played a season for us in Nashville, but he couldn’t adjust to the pros. We sent him to a development squad the next year, but he quit before the season was over. The rest of them, sadly, no. Open tryouts are like that. Every now and then you find that diamond in the rough, but we chiefly hold them because it’s good community relations. Fans give their heart and soul to this franchise and we want it to be a welcoming place for them.”

“Ever get any women at your open tryouts?” I asked.

“Every now and then,” Drechen said. “You want a shot?”

“If my cousin couldn’t hit major league pitching when he was at his peak, no way do I have a fantasy about doing it myself. Although a chance to stand on that turf—let me know the next time you’re holding them.”

Drechen laughed, said he understood I was writing a biography of Boom-Boom; they’d be glad to get me permission to use the pictures.

“The one of Boom-Boom with Mitch Williams, I’d like a copy of that for myself if it’s possible. The rest, I’ll let you know when I get that far.”

I left, offering a shower of thanks, before Drechen or Natalie could ask me for the name of a publisher or a publication date. On my way out, I stopped to study the pictures along the walls. Great moments in Cubs history covered everything from the time they brought elephants onto the field to Wrigley’s “League of Their Own” team in the 1940s.

I slowly followed the ramp back down to the ground, sidling past a forklift hoisting a crew up to do something with an overhead pipe, almost getting run over by a motorized cart hauling beer kegs. When I got outside, it was a relief to be in the open air, away from the dank pipes and the smell of beer.

I was at the corner of Clark and Addison when I heard my name called; it was Natalie Clements from the press office, breathless from running down the stairs.

She held out a folder to me. “I was hoping I’d catch you—I made a print of your cousin for you. And Will wanted to give you a pass to next week’s game against New York.”

She darted back inside on my thanks, running in high heels without tripping, which ought to be an Olympic event. I walked along, bent over my cousin’s face, and ran into someone.

“Sorry!” I looked up, smiling my apologies.

The man I’d bumped scowled and growled at me in a thick Slavic accent. “Watch where you put your feet.”

It wasn’t his hard-lined, cold-eyed face that wiped the smile from my mouth, but his companion: a short wide man who bore an amazing resemblance to Danny DeVito.

“Uncle Jerry,” I exclaimed.

“Who told you my name?” Uncle Jerry glanced involuntarily at the hard-faced man.

“No one. That’s what the woman you were with called you when I saw you in the church.”

“I wasn’t in church.” He looked again at the other man, whose eyes seemed even colder.

I don’t like to see people in fear, even rude angry men. “I must be confusing you with someone else,” I agreed.

“What church Jerry was in?” the hard-faced man asked. His syntax was Slavic but his accent was gravel in any language.

“I said I mistook him for someone else,” I said. “Let’s all just get on with our day, okay?”

“What woman he was talking to?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know you, I don’t know him, I don’t need this interrogation for the simple misdemeanor of not looking where I was going.”

“You know his name is Jerry. Where are you meeting him?”

“Tell you what,” I suggested. “You give me your name and tell me why you want to know, and I’ll answer the question.”

“When I ask question, I expect answer, no smart broads making funny. Got that?”

He bent over me, breathing garlic down my shirt. Beads of sweat stood out on Uncle Jerry’s forehead and my own throat felt tight, as if I were being strangled. I started to cross Clark, but the man grabbed my shoulder in a steel grip. I kicked hard against his exposed shin and twisted away, running into Clark Street.

Cars honked and swerved around me. Mr. Gravel-voice was trying to get at me but the street was lively with cabs; one stopped when I pounded on the door.

“Drive around the ballpark,” I said. “I want to see which way those two creeps are going.”

“He going to shoot me?” the cabbie asked, watching Gravel stick a hand inside his jacket.

“He’s going to realize he’s in the middle of a busy street with a thousand cops around him.”

The cabbie accelerated and turned left across the northbound traffic. As we turned, I saw a cop blowing a furious whistle at Gravel, forcing him back to the sidewalk. Hands on his hips, Gravel swiveled to keep an eye on the cab I was in.

I lost sight of him when we turned up Sheffield. The cabbie made the next left onto Waveland. I stopped him at the corner, handed him a ten for the three-dollar fare, stopped a cab from a different company and got him to drive me back down to the corner I’d just left. We were in time to see Gravel and Uncle Jerry climb into the Bagby truck. I took pictures as best I could from the moving taxi, but photos couldn’t begin to convey the menace in Gravel’s face or the fear in Uncle Jerry’s.

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