Thursday, January 9, 2014

Al Lamanda


Carol laughed more than any person I’ve ever met. At jokes, comedies, at our daughter when she did something funny the way little girls do. She loved sunsets, snowstorms and chocolate. If she could no longer fit into her favorite jeans, she’d cut out the broccoli instead of the chocolate. She cried at every dog movie, even if the dog lived at the end. We went to Yellowstone Park once before our daughter was born. A black bear the size of a Volkswagen invaded our cooler. I watched as Carol picked up a stick and chased the bear away. She actually used the word shoo. A year after our daughter was born, she called me on a stakeout, terrified because a mouse was in the house. She wouldn’t get off the kitchen table until I came home. She went to church on a regular basis, but could swear like a sailor on leave when provoked. She loved Christmas trees and would keep one up year round if she could.
Carol lived thirty-three years.
We were married for eleven of those years.
It wasn’t nearly long enough.
There’s a hole in my heart where my life used to be.
A man invaded our home one morning after I’d left for work. He was sent to deliver a message. I was to back off the murder investigation I was involved in or else. The man caught Carol in the shower. He got carried away. He raped and strangled her in front of our five-year-old daughter.
My daughter, her name is Regan, hasn’t spoken a word in twelve years. She resides in a medical facility in the country where they care for her every need. She plays with crayons and watches Bugs Bunny a lot. Regan will never go to her prom, wear a graduation gown or have a first kiss.
I used to visit Regan every week.
I don’t anymore.
I drink instead.


My day began the way it has for the past decade or so. I didn’t so much wake up as come to. The night before, I didn’t go to sleep, but pass out. When my eyes opened, there were sixty seconds or so of blurred dizziness before I stumbled to the bathroom and vomited up the remains of a fifth of scotch.
It burned as much coming out as going down. The taste and odor was foul.
When my stomach settled, I washed my face with cold water until my eyes functioned. Then I grabbed a beer from the fridge, stumbled outside, and sat in a lawn chair that faced the ocean.
The tide was rolling in. Waves crashed on the beach. Gulls patrolled for bits of leftovers and anything else they could find edible.
I sipped beer and waited for results.
The sun was warm. I glanced at it and judged the time somewhere between eleven and eleven-thirty. I wasn’t in the Navy. I couldn’t tell time by the sun, the stars or navigate at night. I just knew where the sun should be at certain times of the day. I learned from sitting in a lawn chair and looking at it for a decade.
After Carol died and Regan was in the home, I would sit in our big empty house and cry myself to sleep on the sofa. The department shrink told me that wasn’t healthy. He recommended I sell the house and move to a neighborhood where not everything would remind me of Carol and what I’d lost.
How do you explain to a shrink that what you lost is inside you, that you carry it around like the blood in your veins.
On the card table to my left was a pack of cigarettes, matches and an overflowing ashtray. I lit a cigarette, sipped beer from the bottle and listened to the waves crashing on the beach.
The beer was doing its job, settling things down to a nice even keel.
My vision cleared. The headache lessened.
A hundred yards to my right was my only neighbor on the otherwise deserted stretch of beach. I saw him walking toward me, cigarette between lips, beer in hand. His name was Ozzie, but I called him Oz. He was black, with snow-white hair, a scraggly speckled beard and was somewhere between sixty-eight and seventy years old. I didn’t know for sure and never asked. He was here when I moved in ten years ago.
I smoked the cigarette while Oz walked toward the vacant chair on my right. He brought it over years ago and there it stayed, rain or shine. I guess he had no reason to bring it back.
“Gonna eat today?” Oz said when he arrived and took his chair.
“Thinking about it,” I said.
Oz looked at the rusty grill in front of the card table. “Coals is still good,” he said. “We could grill up some burgers?”
I lit another cigarette.
So did Oz.
We both sipped our beer.
“Your check arrive?” I said.
“This morning.”
“Then so did mine,” I said.
We sipped and smoked.
“You want to go to town or get the coals ready?” I said.
“Already been to town,” Oz said. “To get my check.”
“I’ll go,” I said.
Neither of us moved until the beers were empty. I stood up. “I’ll change clothes and go now,” I said.
Ten minutes later, I came out of my trailer wearing cleaner, but not clean jeans with a button-down corduroy shirt worn outside. I found the sunglasses I lost a week ago and slipped them on to cover my bloodshot eyes.
“Back in a bit,” I said, walking away.
“John?” Oz called after me.
I turned around. “Yeah?”
“Don’t get no rolls with them little seeds,” Oz said. “They hurt my gut something awful.”
“And maybe get some baked beans,” Oz said. “You know how much I like baked beans.
Three quarters of a mile from my trailer was the center of town, the town of Bayridge. The town wasn’t much, but neither was the bay. Kind of gray and gloomy, with a few shops and stores, a gas station, bank and post office. If you called 911, it generally meant a one hour wait for an ambulance or county sheriff. That kind of town.
I hit the post office first for my disability check. Sixteen years of police work earned me a forty percent pay disability with benefits pension. It wasn’t much, but I didn’t need much. All I ever bought was booze and occasionally some food.
I went from post office to bank to grocery. I bought burgers, a Tupperware of baked beans, some lemon squares, a six-pack of beer and a fifth of scotch. I carried two large sacks back to my trailer where Oz was working the coals.
“Coals ready,” Oz announced when I set the two sacks in my arms on the card table.
“Let’s have a beer first,” I said.
We had a beer.
Ours was a no hurry world.
We hand nothing to hurry for.
While the burgers sizzled over the coals and the baked beans heated in a saucepan on the grill, we sipped a second beer and watched the sun crawl across the sky.
“A game on tonight,” Oz said.
“Yankees at Baltimore,” Oz said. “It’s a network game. They show what they show.”
“I’ll bring out the TV,” I said.
We ate our burgers with baked beans and drank more beer until the beer was gone and we cracked the seal on the scotch. We ate the lemon squares while sipping scotch over ice in plastic cups as the coals cooled down along with the afternoon.
We weren’t drunk, not by a long shot. We were maintenance drinking to keep our heads clear for the game. The drunk would come later. After the sun had gone down and we were alone in the dark to face our demons.
And ourselves.
“What I like with beans is cornbread,” Oz said as he sipped scotch from his plastic cup. “I should have mentioned it before.”
“I would have picked it up,” I said.
“I know,” Oz said. “My mistake. I’ll remember next time.”
We drank more scotch and smoked a few cigarettes.
“Them waves is acting up,” Oz said.
I listened. The waves crashed against the beach and the rocks at the point. They produced a boom as they struck and a crackle when they receded. It was a pleasant enough sound to listen to while drinking scotch from a plastic cup.
My cup was empty. So was Oz’s. I added ice from the bucket to each cup and splashed in some scotch, topping each off with some water. Later on, we would forgo the water, then the ice.
For now, our buzz was minor and we felt no pain.
Years ago, I asked Oz how he wound up living in a trailer on the beach. His bleary, red eyes watered up and he said, “Don’t never ask me that. Don’t never ask me that again.”
I didn’t.
I found out by accident when I stumbled upon an old newspaper clipping in Oz’s trailer several years ago when, after a hard night of drinking, I helped him to bed. The old clipping was taped to a bedside lamp. It was frayed and yellow, but still readable.
Twenty years ago, Oz was an average postal employee waiting for his pension. Home, grown kids, wife, the works. Driving home from a family gathering one afternoon, his youngest daughter in the backseat, a dump truck blindsided Oz’s van, rolling it several times before it came to a stop in a ditch.
Oz’s wife died on impact.
A flattened piece of scrap metal flew off the truck, crashed through the back window of Oz’s van and decapitated his daughter. Her head wound up on his lap.
A reason to crawl inside a bottle?
I never brought it up and Oz has no idea I know.
We’ll keep it that way.
“Game on soon,” Oz said.
“I’ll get the TV in a bit,” I said.
We lit fresh cigarettes.
“You old enough to remember the M and M boys?” Oz said. “The wars between the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers?”
“I was a boy, but I remember,” I said.
“Mays, Mantle or Snyder?”
“No doubt Snyder was a good player, but he lacked the staying power,” I said. “Mays was the greatest of them all, but Mantle was the most dramatic in the clutch. He had a way of getting it done when it counted and he did it with one good leg. People got excited watching him strike out.”
“We’ll never see that likes again,” Oz commented.
“No, we won’t. All three.”
I got the TV. It was a 19-inch portable with rabbit ears that I set on the card table and ran with an extension cord. Without cable, all it picked up were the four networks and some local channels.
Neither of us cared.
Nothing on network interested us much except for the occasional movie or sporting event. Reality shows were comedies without being funny.
By the end of the third inning, the Yankees were up four to nothing over Baltimore. The Yankees were a great team. Baltimore was not.
We drank some more scotch, making a dent in the bottle.
“I got some microwave popcorn,” I suggested.
“Believe so.”
By the fifth inning, the Yankees led nine to one and we ate popcorn and drank scotch and really didn’t care who won or lost, just that the game itself was a diversion.
At the seventh inning stretch, the bottle was low, the popcorn bowl empty and we lost track of the score.
Oz fell asleep with one ounce of scotch left in the bottle. I poured that last ounce into my plastic cup and toasted the ballgame for lack of anything else to toast. My vision or lack of it was blurred to the point I could no longer see the score. My tongue was thick and heavy in my mouth. My senses were dull and reflexes gone.
I felt no pain.
That was where I wanted to live. The United States of no pain.
I steadied my hand enough to light a cigarette and sipped the last ounce of scotch.
Somehow, I wound up in bed and when I fell asleep or passed out, I was at peace.
When I opened my eyes next, I was greeted with a large gloved fist.


The upside of passing out drunk is that you don’t dream.
The downside is more often than not, when you come to you’re soaked in your own piss and vomit at the sight of the toilet.
I knew I was coming toward the surface when I heard faint voices in the background of my brain. My dulled senses thought it was the TV left on all night. I began to see light through my closed eyelids.
A gruff voice said, “I think he’s waking up.”
Another voice said, “Don’t let him. Give him the dope soon as he opens his eyes.”
Through the fog and haze, my brain wondered what program that was on the TV.
My eyes opened. There was a moment of blurred fuzz. My vision cleared and I saw the gloved hand coming closer to my face. I saw the rag and smelled the ether. I lacked the strength to do anything about it as the rag covered my mouth and nose.
After a few seconds, I was enveloped in black.
I woke up in my underwear tied with rope to a wooden chair in a white room. I faced an open window. The sun was in my eyes and I had to squint to see. From what little I could determine, I couldn’t see behind me, the room was empty. White walls, white blinding sun and me.
“Hello?” I croaked, weakly.
Even though my greeting was barely above a whisper, I could hear a faint echo. My guess was right; the room was devoid of furniture.
“Hey, c’mon, hello!” I shouted, or did my best to shout.
I waited for a response that didn’t come.
My bladder, full of last night’s beer and scotch started to press hard and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold back the flow much longer.
“Hey, it’s going to get pretty messy in here in about a minute!” I shouted.
I felt my underwear go damp.
“Aw, Jesus,” I said.
The floodgates opened and the urine soaked my underwear and ran down my legs. After a few seconds, a puddle formed under the chair, spread and reached my bare feet. It took at least a full ninety seconds to empty my bladder. The puddle spread out beneath me and crept toward the walls.
The floor was slightly uneven.
“Satisfied?” I yelled.
Apparently not, as my request fell on deaf ears.
I suddenly felt ill. Last night’s beer and scotch leftover’s didn’t want to stay put. I rocked the sideways until I fell over on my left side. I hit the floor hard, turned my face toward it and vomited up a vile liquid mess.
When my stomach was empty, I dry heaved for a few seconds until control returned. I inched the chair away from the mess with my shoulder.
“Hey, I’m not cleaning this!” I shouted.
The door opened and three men walked in. They wore suits and had the look of hired muscle.
“A little too late,” I said.
They walked toward me. I had a good view of their shoes. Highly polished, black wing-tips. The shoe of choice for organized crime soldiers.
One of them kicked me in the chin with his shiny wing-tip. “Nobody said you could fucking talk,” he said.
I woke up naked in a backyard shower stall that was designed to rinse off after coming out of the pool. Three walls made of concrete, a showerhead on the back wall. The pool was shaped like an S, with a deep and shallow end. Lush gardens surrounded the pool. A massive brick barbecue pit sat off to the left. A woman in a bikini sunbathed on a recliner near the pool. If she noticed me, she didn’t care a naked stranger occupied the shower.
The three wing-tips faced me from just outside the shower stall. One of them held a garden hose with a high-velocity nozzle.
“Say cheese,” Nozzle Holder said and turned on the water.
The blast of ice-cold water hit me in the chest like a kick and knocked me against the cement wall.
“Ain’t got no soap,” Nozzle sneered. “So sorry.”
I covered my gentiles from the spray and sank to my knees. Nozzle Holder took pleasure in his work as he aimed for my face to try to get me to uncover my gentiles. I turned and gave him my back. The water stung, but not like a high-powered blast to the balls.
“That’s enough, he’s clean,” Another wing-tip said.
The water stopped. I slowly turned around. Past the three wing-tips, the woman in the recliner hadn’t moved a muscle.
A wing-tip tossed me a white terrycloth, pool robe. “Put it on,” he said.
I put the robe on and tied the belt. “Now what?” I said.
“We go see the man,” another wing-tip said.
The three wing-tips escorted me past the pool, where the reclining woman had yet to move, and into the house through sliding glass doors. I said house, I meant mansion. We walked through a long hallway of polished oak floors to a door. One of the wing-tips opened the door and shoved me through it.
It was the room I had occupied earlier.
Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to clean it up and done a thorough job. Not a spot remained on the gleaming oak floor. A chair rested in the center of the room.
“Sit,” a wing-tip, commanded.
I went to the chair and sat. “Now what?”
“Hands behind your back,” the wing-tip said.
I placed my hands behind my back and the wing-tip cuffed my left wrist to the slat in the chair. He used two more sets of cuffs to lock each of my legs to a chair leg.
“This isn’t because you’re afraid of me?” I said.
The wing-tips ignored me.
No sense of humor.
We waited.
“Sorry about the mess earlier,” I said. “But I warned you guys ahead of time.”
We waited some more. Obviously, my wing-tipped hosts weren’t big on small talk, or any talk at all for that matter.
They stood like statues, ignored me and kept a close watch on the door.
After a while, I couldn’t say how long as I had no watch and couldn’t see the sun, the door opened. Two additional wing-tips walked in. That wasn’t any surprise.
From behind the two new wing-tips came the sound of a motorized wheelchair and that was somewhat of a surprise.
The two new wing-tips parted and stopped. From behind them the wheelchair rolled closer to me, and its occupant was none other than Eddie Crist.
That was a surprise. A major league fastball of the Nolan Ryan type surprise.
Even more surprising than coming face to face with one of the most powerful mobsters in organized crime history was the fact that he was dying. He wasn’t more than sixty-eight years old, but some form of cancer and chemo treatments had taken a major toll on his once large and powerful body.
I looked at Eddie Crist.
Eddie Crist looked at me.
He didn’t speak.
I did.
“I can’t wait for you to be fucking dead,” I said.
The wing-tips closest to me raised his hand as if to backhand me.
“No,” Crist said.
The wing-tips lowered his hand.
“I didn’t kill your wife,” Crist said.
“You had her killed,” I said. “You turned my little girl into a fucking vegetable, you fucking piece of shit motherfucker. I hope…no, I pray that whatever cancer is eating you alive is slow and painful, the kind where you linger for months on end, rotting from the inside out, you putrid son of a bitch.”
“Are you through?” Crist said.
“I’m just getting warmed up,” I said.
“I didn’t kill your wife,” Crist said.
“You sent that goon to kill her,” I said. “Explain to me the difference.”
“I sent nobody.”
“What do you got, stomach cancer?”
“Good. That’s nice and slow and painful. There is a God after all, but you’ll never meet him, you rancid piece of meat.”
“I don’t doubt that for a moment,” Crist said. “But, that’s neither here nor there. I had nothing to do with what happened to your wife or child.”
“And I should believe a piece of shit low-life gangster motherfucker like you, why? Because you’re sick and dying of cancer. Fuck you, scumbag.”
Crist sighed. His two hundred pound body now weighed a buck twenty, if that. I could see his bones inside the red silk robe he wore. He braced his hands on the arms of the wheelchair and slowly got to his feet.
“You got cancer bad, huh,” I said. “Good, because if God has…”
Crist slapped me across the face with the bony side of his right hand. It stung like hell and spun my head around.
When my bell stopped ringing, Crist lowered himself back into the wheelchair. “You used to be a good cop,” he said. “One of the best. The only one who ever got close to me. Now you’re nothing but a drunken good for nothing bum.”
“Have your goons free my hand and legs and I’ll save God the trouble of slow cooking your rotten ass,” I said.
“We’ll talk later,” Crist said. “After.”
Crist pushed a button on the arm of his wheelchair and started to roll away from me. “After what?” I said.
Crist rolled to the door and out of the room.
“After what?” I yelled after him.
Crist turned a corner and I lost sight of him.
“Was it something I said?” I yelled at the empty, open door.
Three wing-tips surrounded me.
“What do you goons want?” I said.
They bent at the knees and picked me up by the seat of the chair.
“We go for a ride now,” a wing-tips said.


The wing-tips handcuffed my left wrist to the brass headboard of a queen-size bed in an otherwise empty bedroom. The bedroom was located somewhere on the second floor of the Crist mansion.
They took the robe, leaving me naked.
They left three bedpans.
They set a small lamp on the floor beside the door and turned it on.
They left without saying a word.
I heard a key lock the door.
I sat up as best I could against the brass headboard. The mattress was void of sheets. The pillows were bare, but then so was I. On the floor within reaching distance was a green wool blanket of the type used by the military.
Would I need it? The room was comfortable enough at the moment. The open window allowed for fresh air and a slight breeze. Outside was about seventy-five degrees. After dark, that number would be around sixty.
I tried stretching to reach the blanket with my right hand, grabbed it and flipped it onto the mattress beside the bedpans.
Three bedpans. One to urinate in, another to defecate in, the third for vomiting.
A handcuffed wrist, a locked door and pretty soon I would require all three.
For the moment, there wasn’t a hell of a lot to do, so I made myself comfortable and stared at the white ceiling until my eyes closed.
Thirteen years ago, I was part of a federal task force investigating organized crime. I was a detective with the rank of sergeant in the Special Crimes Division. My partner Walter Grimes and I were the only non-FBI in the task force. We were selected because we knew the Crist crime family, had busted several members over the years and didn’t have a problem taking our orders from the feds.
You’d be surprised how many do.
The task force focused on the war raging inside organized crime. It happens every fifteen years or so, when a Gotti type rolls in with fire in his balls. A year of my time was spent on that task force. We had charts like those you see in the movies of bosses with diagrams to their soldiers. We had video tapes, phone taps, informants, the works.
We just didn’t have anything with which to charge Eddie Crist.
Walt got sick. He took his son fishing one weekend in the spring. He was bitten by a mosquito. He came down with a mysterious, but toxic staph infection. He recovered, but it took six weeks, three of which were spent hospitalized.
While Walt was recovering, I stumbled upon the first real break in the case against the Crist crime family.
Dead bosses were popping up like toast all around town and the coast. The word was Crist had enough and wanted peace. The way to make peace in a mob war is to kill off anybody who is against your peace proposal.
Crist was smart. He knew the FBI had a jacket on each and every member of his family and organization. He imported talent from the old country. Stone cold killers in wing-tips and silk suits.
Besides smart, Crist was careful.
He used his son Michael to make all arrangements. Driving his own car, Michael drove to the airport where he would meet with the imported talent at various coffee shops inside the terminal. Crist knew that even if Michael was followed, there was little to nothing the feds could do about a public meeting inside an airport.
Walt was still in the hospital one morning while I was staking out the Crist mansion from my car atop the hill that overlooks his grounds. With binoculars, I watched Michael drive off the grounds in his little blue sports car.
I decided to tag along.
The ride led to the airport. I parked and followed him inside where he sat at a terminal coffee shop and met with an imported button man. I watched their conversation from the safety of the terminal until they parted ways.
They didn’t make me on their way out.
I tagged the button man to his rental car and ran his plates. After that, things fell into place quickly. He had a ninety-day visa and was staying in a rented house in the suburbs. He made frequent trips to the airport to meet Michael. I took the information to the task force in the FBI.
We set up a sting.
With the cooperation of the airport, every coffee shop, bar and restaurant inside the terminal was staffed with a minimum of two agents as waiters. It took a week and three meetings between Michael and the button man to get the goods on them.
They met at the coffee shop in the west wing of the airport. A high-ranking under boss was the target. The man refused to back down on his takeover of the Hispanic drug market in the city. Crist made him an offer, but he turned a deaf ear.
The contract was written.
We staked out the under boss. He liked to play the ponies. The hit was to take place at the racetrack during the featured race when the crowd was in a frenzy and no one would see a thing. The under boss had his people with him, but that posed no problem for a pro. It wasn’t hard to worm your way through the bodies and shoot the under boss in the back of the head, then disappear in the scattering masses.
We pinched the button man minutes before he completed his task. We pegged him for seven hits and threatened him with life without parole, if he lived past his first month in federal prison.
The feds offered him a deal.
Cough up Michael Crist and fly home on the next plane out of the country.
See, if you got Michael, you got Eddie.
Three weeks later, while the button man sat in a safe house and spilled his guts to federal prosecutors, a bomb went off in the kitchen and blew everybody to kingdom come.
I wasn’t there.
I was visiting my partner on his last day in the hospital. While I brought Walt up to speed on the investigation, a man sent by Crist broke into my house to give Carol a warning meant for me. Back off, he was to say.
He raped and murdered her instead.
He turned my five-year-old daughter into a living, breathing house plant.
When the smoke cleared, I crawled inside a bottle of scotch and called it home ever since.
My eyes slowly opened.
My throat was as dry as an emery board. The sweats had begun. A thirst was building in my throat that nothing but alcohol would quench. My hands shook a little.
A while later, they shook a lot.
A little while after that, the bed was soaked in my stale sweat. I urinated into one bedpan and defecated into another. I vomited into the third, then diarrhea set in, followed by dehydration.
By nightfall, I was in full-blown cold turkey detox. I could barely stand the smell of myself and tried to keep my nose buried in the pillow. I pissed on the bed rather than move. There is something very humbling about urinating in your own diarrhea.
A little more time passed.
I had the shakes so bad, my eyeballs rattled. I was cold and sweating at the same time and covered my body up to my neck with the wool blanket. After a time, I had to remove it because it soaked up so much sweat, I couldn’t stand the weight on my body.
I wanted to scream, to shake, rattle and roll. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t utter a word. I didn’t want to give Crist the satisfaction of hearing me beg for booze.
I tried to focus, but of course that’s impossible when every pore in your body is craving a drink so badly, you’d sell your soul for just one shot.
Or two.
A little while after the shakes kicked in, I fell asleep or passed out. I’m not sure which, but it didn’t matter. I went in and out for a while, saw or heard a man hovering over me and heard him speak.
Then I felt a needle go into my right arm just below the forearm. I opened my eyes and saw the IV bag above my head.
The man was giving me fluids. A mixture of water-based electrolytes like in the hospital. For dehydration. And cramps.
My eyes closed again and when they opened, the man and his IV were gone.
Sunlight was filtering in through the window, low against the wall when I came around. It was early morning, somewhere around seven or so. The worst of it was over. I had nothing left in me to sweat out. My hands still shook, though not as pronounced and my nerves were still wired.
The door opened again and the man from the night before walked in, accompanied by three wing-tips. The man wore a suit and carried another IV bag. He stopped at the bed, while the wing-tips stayed in the background.
“Well,” he said. “You’ve come through the worst of it in one piece. I’m going to give you an IV and after that, some soup and crackers. I’ll have a small table brought in so you can sit and eat while the bedding is changed.”
“And if I take this IV and shove it up your nose, then what?” I said.
“My three associates here will take measures to correct your behavior and that won’t be pleasant,” the man said.
“Then I guess I’ll eat soup,” I said.
My body absorbed eight ounces of IV fluids. I asked for a cigarette and the man nodded to the wing-tips. One of them stepped forward, gave me a cigarette and lit it with a gold Zippo.
“So what’s your stake in this?” I asked the man.
“My name is Doctor Steven Richards. I am Mr. Crist’s personal physician. I have been for twenty-three years. He’s requested I look after you.”
“I don’t ask why, Mr. Bekker,” Richards said. “I do what is asked and what is necessary.”
I sucked on the cigarette. The smoke was hot in my throat and lungs. It wasn’t my brand, but it got the job done. My hand steadied a little. What more could you ask from a smoke?
“Crist wanted me sober?” I said. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Richards said. “But, sober you are and ready for some nourishment.” He looked at a wing-tips. “Bring Mr. Bekker a robe.”
“What kind of soup?” I said.
“I requested beef broth with potatoes from Mr. Crist’s chef,” Richards said.
“Sounds yummy,” I said.
Richards turned and nodded to the wing-tips, then opened the door and walked out. A little while later, I ate tasteless, salt-less beef broth with potatoes and drank weak iced tea at a folding table with chair while a housekeeper changed the sheets on the bed. I was free of handcuffs, but the three wing-tips stood close by and watched my every move like a hungry cat on an injured mouse.
I was the mouse.
By the time I finished the soup, crackers and tea, the bed was changed and made and the housekeeper left without saying a word.
“The doc says for you to take a shower,” A wing-tips said. “And put on pajamas.”
“How long am I going to be here?” I said.
“You don’t talk,” the wing-tips said.
“Can I have some cigarettes and something to read?”
“On the bed, give me your wrist,” the wing-tips commanded.
A little while later, the housekeeper returned with pajamas, a fresh pack of cigarettes of my brand with matches and a hard cover copy of the latest Leonard novel. She was accompanied by three wing-tips who oversaw the dressing of the robe ceremony. She wasn’t impressed enough with me to try and sneak a peek.
I couldn’t exactly blame her.
I settled in to read the book and smoke a few cigarettes. I tried to concentrate on the intricate plot lines, complex characters and snappy dialogue of Leonard’s writing, while ignoring the growing thirst in my belly.
Not easy to do when your belly is used to a quart or more of hard booze on a daily basis. I read fifty pages, smoked a few cigarettes, then set the book aside and tried to sleep for a while.
Of course, that was impossible.
I was in the home of the mobster responsible for the rape and death of my wife and the ruination of my daughter’s life. He kidnapped me, forced me off the booze and held me prisoner for reasons unknown. I wasn’t treated badly, in fact just the opposite.
Crist knew that given the slightest opportunity, I would choke him to death and piss on his corpse, yet he was cordial to me, even if it was against my will.
He had an angle.
Everybody does.
So what was his?
I rolled some thoughts around in my mind. After a decade or more after the fact, what did Crist want with me now? He could have had me killed anytime he wanted and my body would never have been found. Killing me was out of the question? Why clean me up just to put me down?
Crist had cancer and that was a good thing.
Crist would be dead soon and that was an even better thing.
What did that have to do with me?
Especially now.
I fell asleep, woke up a while later and read some more. I was on page ninety-seven when the door opened and the housekeeper, along with two wing-tips, walked in. Housekeeper had a tray with grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and iced tea on a serving tray, the kind used for breakfast in bed.
Housekeeper spoke. “I’ll be back in one hour for the tray.”
I ate and read. Housekeeper returned after one hour, this time with just one wing-tip. She spoke again.
“The doctor said you can eat more solid food for dinner,” Housekeeper said. “What would you like?”
“Steak, medium, baked potato, corn and pie with ice cream,” I said. “Skip the iced tea. Make it a tall Coke with ice. And some rum.”
Housekeeper glared at me. Maybe she was the cat’s meow at keeping house, but I couldn’t speak much to her sense of humor.
“Just Coke with ice,” I said.
Housekeeper nodded and she and wing-tips went away.
I’d gone from three bodyguards to two and finally just one. I had gained trust or wasn’t seen as much of a threat. My money was on not much of a threat.
I slept, read, smoked and slept some more.
Doctor Richards, one wing-tips and Housekeeper returned with the steak just as I awoke. I sat up ready to eat.
“Let’s have a look at you first,” Richards said.
The wing-tips removed the cuffs and I removed the pajama top. Richards listened to my heart and lungs, took my blood pressure and pulse and seemed satisfied I wouldn’t expire while under his care.
“How long am I going to be kept here?” I asked Richards.
“I can’t say,” Richards said.
“What can you say?” I said.
“I can say enjoy the steak,” Richards said.
I did. Immensely.
Thirty-six hours later, I got my answer.

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