A knock on my office door interrupted my staring session at the stack of papers which had piled up in my absence.
“Yes?” I said, pleased to have a distraction from the task at hand.
Raoul peeked his head around my door, smirking as always. “Soooo, how does it feel to live in the big city again?”
He came in and sat down on my green couch that I have for visitors (not that we have many, but it looks good anyway).
He was referring, of course, to my recent move from my beloved neighborhood of Williamsburg smack into the middle of Manhattan. As much as I enjoyed my 10 years in what I affectionately like to call my ‘hood, the recent influx of trendoids from the city making it into what’s now known as the Brooklyn SoHo had really worked my nerves — not to mention, raised my rent considerably!
My formerly “hey, we’re all part of the family” amiable landlord, Vinnie, had turned greedy like the rest of them, and basically wanted all of his tenants out so he could jack up the rents twice as much. You couldn’t blame the guy, though, and I tried not to take it personally, but still, you have to admit it’s kind of depressing to be booted for new blood. That is, unless I was willing to shell out twice as much for the same apartment, which I just couldn’t swallow. So when a friend left her apartment in the city and was looking for someone to take over her lease, I jumped at the chance.
In New York, the only way to bypass all the crapola with broker fees and endless deposits is to just snag an apartment fast when someone leaves it. The ironic thing is that Raoul sees it as moving up in life, but I don’t see how paying the same rent for half the space in a dirty, noisy neighborhood really qualifies as all that. Still, I grudgingly admit that it is pretty convenient to have everything right at hand, and I’m quickly getting used to that feeling of entitlement that someone living in the city gets (“What, you mean this store isn’t open 24 hours?”) I try not to let it show, though.
Ah, but I digress. The reason for the stack of papers on my desk is because after my move I took a little time off. This is not the usual case when you’re in the middle of an investigation, so try not to hold it against me, but the truth is I was a little burned out. What with moving and all, a girl deserves a vacation, you know? I put Raoul in charge of sniffing around, since he had been doing so well thus far, and Ruthie as his second-in-command. They’ve done a stellar job (okay, so I’m biased, but I also speak the truth) in my absence, and I was eager to hear all about their findings.
“Well, it’s definitely different, that’s for sure,” I replied.
I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of admitting that I longed for my old neighborhood-y feel of the South Side, as I affectionately referred to it. He was going to raz me enough as it was, why give him any more fodder, you know?
“Mitzi, I never thought I’d see the day that you left Brooklyn. Whatever happened to your love of the ‘hood?”
“If you haven’t noticed, ‘the ‘hood’ has turned into trendoid town in the past year, so it’s not the old stomping ground I know and love,” I said, hoping that would appeal to his senses and then he could leave me alone about it. Some people!
That appeared to do the trick for a while, although not without some shaking of the head and grinning at me as if I’d “sold out” or something.
I diverted attention away from his teasing by asking what was on the agenda for the next phase of the case. While I’d been unpacking and trying to adjust to my new apartment, Ruthie and Raoul had been digging up some dirt on our next suspect, none other than Olivia Rodriguez.
Apparently, her grandson now owned the new trendy bar on the South Side, which was where Raoul thought we should pay a visit. It pleased me to see the locals taking advantage of the influx of money by setting up shop in new places. Might as well, you know?
So after a day of sifting through my stack of papers and whittling it down to a manageable pile, Raoul and I headed for the new place. As we got closer, I recognized that it was actually in an old abandoned garage that used to spook me when I first moved to the neighborhood. There’s nothing like gutted-out cars to give you the willies.
Actually, it wasn’t the garage itself that spooked me, but the writing on the sidewalk outside of it, which spelled out “Enrico, RIP” as if that’s where he had drawn his last breath on the sidewalk. It served to give me a little start the first time I crossed over this, seeing as I had just collected my keys from the realtor after signing my lease and was walking to check out the apartment before I moved in.
Doesn’t add to a girl’s sense of security to see something like that, although it didn’t take long to realize that this neighborhood was really as safe as they come. There’s something about the neighborhood, turf thing that goes a long way. I felt that if anything happened to me, the boys who always hung out on the corner would help me out because it was happening in their neighborhood — unlike where I live now, which is much more anonymous. Hey, maybe it was a false sense of security all along, who knows. All I know is it worked to help me sleep at night!
We entered the garage-turned-hip hangout and took a seat at the mismatched chairs. The place was dark, candle-lit, with a grand piano in the corner. Not exactly the sawdust-on-the-floor, dogs-roaming-freely kind of place that I usually prefer to frequent, but it would do.
I decided to rise to the occasion, even, by ordering a “grown-up” drink, a Cosmopolitan. There’s something about sipping out of a martini-shaped glass that instantly makes you feel like an adult (even though I’m 35, I don’t always act my age).
“So, what’ll it be?” Raoul gestures toward the bar.
I make my request, and with a raised eyebrow (you can’t get anything past the kid without a raised eyebrow or a smirk!) he saunters over to the bar to make our order.
As he does, I case the joint. It’s not half-bad, I have to admit. But it’s the table that really does it for me — because underneath the glassed top, there is a quilt block! Who knew that it would be so easy? And what luck to actually plop down at the table which has a block-could it actually be part of our mystery quilt?
Of course, by the time Raoul returns with our drinks (mine in the aforementioned fancy glass, his a predictable Heineken), my quilt-nabbing fantasy was shattered. A brief glance at the other tables was enough to realize that all the tables were adorned with blocks. Clearly, we had our work cut out for us.
Raoul notices the block as soon as he got to the table — as much as he can detect with the best of ‘em, sometimes his eyes give him away as they enlarge three times the size when he’s surprised. He looked down at me, boggle-eyed.
I hold up my hand. “I’m one step ahead of you, my friend,” I gesture at the other tables. “Take a look.”
He looks over and shakes his head. “I knew it couldn’t be that easy. I was just trying to chat up the waitress and see what I could find out about the owner, but he’s not around tonight. Do you think these have anything to do with our quilt?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, I’m afraid.”
As they say in the biz, dem’s the breaks sometimes. Try as you might, sometimes you find yourself with dead-ends, leads that go nowhere, or — as this looked — too many pieces to try to fit together.
But then sometimes things work out after all. As I accidentally bumped into our table (I’m not the world’s most coordinated person, you understand), I saw that the glass tops actually moved.
Again, Raoul’s eyes boggle. (I have to tell the kid to cut that out, it doesn’t do wonders for a deadpan look that detectives need. On the other hand, sometimes it reassures me that there are still things I can teach him.)
Clue in the border
As soon as we see the potential, we go into action. Casually bumping the glass tops aside to peek oh-so-unobtrusively underneath a few borders is all it takes.
As I mentioned earlier, in the world of detection, sometimes you have dead ends — and sometimes you get lucky. It was only the second border we peek under which holds the answer, for there is an unmistakable letter “W” written underneath it. We don’t dare be so bold as to find out what other letters were scribbled on it. We have found our border, and that’s enough. We’d just have to piece together what we already had, and hope that it made sense.
For now, our deed is done. Raoul takes the task of scribbling down the border in his little notebook, and we toast — I with my trendy drink, he with his standard.
Personally, I’m glad that I am the one who has uncovered the right border, because I like the kid to know who’s still boss in case he’d forgotten.
So now we’re one border closer to discovering the mystery quilt. What it means, I still have no more inkling than when I first started this whole messy business. But it doesn’t look pretty. For more times than not, there’s a shady situation on the other end.
And sometimes there are people who would rather that you didn’t uncover the truth.
to be continued…