“So, what’s your social security number?” my accountant asks while he punches in numbers.
I tell him, watching as he continues his punching routine.
“And what’s your favorite color?” He asks without skipping a beat, as he looks back and forth between my tax numbers and his calculator.
Now I don’t know about you, but figuring out how much I owe the federal government doesn’t exactly put me in a chatty mood. Especially when the man sitting across the desk from me essentially has my life in his hands, or at least it seems like that right now.
I’m not a big fan of figuring out taxes, which is why I hired the guy in the first place. Once a simple affair, now it’s a convoluted situation that I don’t even want to think about, seeing as I’m self-employed and all. And since I haven’t exactly been particular about figuring out every last cent I earned, etc., I was a little nervous about what the end result would be. Hence my reluctance to chat about what color of the rainbow was most pleasing to my eye.
I pause. “How are you able to punch in numbers and talk at the same time?” I ask, hoping that would get him to concentrate on the task at hand rather than trying to engage me in small talk.
“Oh, you see, I’m able to use my right brain and my left brain at the same time. For some people, this translates into a useful skill, like being able to play the guitar and be good at math at the same time. For me, it just means that I can chat with you about your favorite color while I figure out your taxes.”
I see. Kind of.
But I still get nervous when someone else is doing the asking. In my line of business, you get used to asking the questions, and you like it to stay that way.
But I don’t get to ponder long about such things, because at that moment Raoul interrupts my thoughts with a beep. I don’t normally like to carry the beeper, but Raoul was setting something up to meet with our next suspect on the list, and I didn’t want to miss anything important.
As it turned out, it’s a good thing I brought the beeper with me. Comments and a raised eyebrow from my accountant aside, I excused myself to use his phone in the next room.
“What’s up?” I ask Raoul when he answers the phone.
“Mitzi, you’re not going to believe it!” he yells.
“Okay, but I’ll have to find out what it is before I decide if I believe it or not,” I reply. Raoul has a way with overdramatizing things, so I tend not to jump when he exclaims such things.
“I just got in, and someone had slipped a note under our door,” he continues.
“And?” Sometimes you need to prompt the kid to get to the point.
“And it’s creepy, man! It’s telling us to come to Rosie’s restaurant tonight. Isn’t that the big place on the river where all those Italian guys hang out?”
“What?! Wait a minute — what does the note say?” Raoul also has a habit of glossing over important details when he gets excited, and I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what was going on. It’s a boss’s prerogative, after all.
‘We hear you’re interested in the quilt.
We’ll expect you at Rosie’s at 8 tonight to discuss it.
Just the two of you.’”
Now I’m not so keen on receiving anonymous notes, particularly when it seems more than one sender is involved. And particularly when they seem to know an awful lot about us, namely that there are two of us and that we’ve been nosing around where we don’t belong, from the sounds of it. Granted, when you’re a detective you become accustomed to the standard threats, anonymous phone calls, etc. — you know, it’s all in a day’s work — but this, this was definitely on a different caliber.
Now I’m not the world’s best writer or anything, but even the wording of the note was a little strange. But then maybe I was getting ahead of myself. On the other hand, you can’t be too careful when you’re the receivee of a strange note.
“Stay right there, I’m coming over right now.”
I return to my accountant’s office, where he’s busy humming to himself while he crunches numbers (hey, maybe if he cut out the chatter, he could access his musical side after all!). He looks up when I walk in.
“Well, I’m afraid I have to get going — is there anything else you need from me?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, there is,” he riffles through the papers in front of him. “What did you say your favorite color is again?”
I should have known better than to ask him if he had any more questions.
“Green, and I’ll be back this weekend to pick up the papers,” sometimes you have to cut the talk short with people like him, who tend to go on and on.
“Green,” he pretends to note it. “Okay, detective lady, I won’t keep you from your case-tracking down some murder suspect today?”
I don’t have the heart to tell him that my object of detection was actually fabric-intensive and had never breathed a breath. Best to let their imaginations go wild with thoughts of me, gun in hand, chasing down a suspect.
Come to think of it, perhaps I should bring along my trusty gun. I’ve never had occasion to actually use it (except one unfortunate incident in which I shot a dog in the paw in a dognapping case I took on back in 85 — Fluffs survived, but his vet bill was taken out of my already measly case charge).
But let me tell you, sometimes waving the thing around does serve to extract a good piece of information now and again. I try not to make it a habit, you understand, but once in a while, let’s just say it comes in handy.
With a promise that I’d come back to pick up my return, I left him with images of me chasing down the bad guys. Which, it turns out, is not so far away from reality.
Raoul and I arrive at Rosie’s that night whispering to each other out of the corners of our mouths as we go up the driveway. Although I had lived in this neighborhood for years, I had never been to Rosie’s — and there’s a good reason for that. Because if a mafia movie were to set itself on a restaurant in the real world, it would have to be Rosie’s. Walk past on a Saturday night and you would see a parking lot filled with cars that you don’t see every day in South Side Williamsburg, if you know what I mean. Beefy guys with walkie talkies patrol the gate outside, and although I was always intensely curious about this place (hey, I’m a detective, remember? Curiosity comes with the territory!), I’d also never exactly expected to be welcomed with open arms if I actually tried to enter.
Which makes this occasion especially interesting — and not a little nerve-wracking. Because besides curiosity coming with a detective’s territory, so do stellar instincts. And right now my instincts were beating up against my chest, making it not such ideal breathing circumstances, and telling me that we’d inadvertently messed with the wrong crowd somehow.
Without even a word, the beefy guy let us by as if he already knew who we were (I suppose an Irish girl and a Puerto Rican guy pretty much isn’t the normal clientele).
And once again, my instincts prove correct. For inside, there is what looked like it was straight out of the Godfather. Men in expensive old suits with cigars sitting around tables, playing cards. I have to close my mouth so I don’t gawk. Raoul for his part, being the bug-eyed boy he is, can’t hold his feelings in, either-his eyes enlarge to a record size as he takes it all in.
An overweight man saunters over to us, cigar in mouth as he took my hand in both of his to shake it.
“Ms. McDruben, thank you for following our instructions,” he says, cigar dangling. Now between you and I, I’m not so thrilled with his choice of words, because then it sounded more like I had been doing a “job” for him, you understand. But I let it pass (no need to rile the guy up!).
“And this would be.”
“Raoul, my right-hand man,” I nod to Raoul, who seems equally fascinated as I was that he could talk while his cigar kept dangling.
“Right, Raoul, Raoul,” he nods and does the whole shaking routine with him. “So,” he claps his hands together. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?” He looks over to the bartender. “Nick, will you get me the usual, and whatever my guests are having?”
Now I don’t exactly want to lose any of my senses around this guy, so my first instinct is to tell Nick to hold the drink altogether, but then I don’t want to offend the guy either, so I order what I hope sounds like an agreeable whisky-sour. Raoul did the same, probably thinking along the same lines I had. Either that or his mind is too muddled to form any opinions of his own.
“Okay then,” he says, pointing to a nearby booth. “Let’s have a seat.”
After Nick put down two healthy-looking whisky-sours which look skimpy on the sour (note to self: Do not drink this!), our host breaks the ice.
“I’m afraid I haven’t properly introduced myself,” he finally takes his cigar out of his mouth and ashes it slowly. “My name is Bob Bombardini,” he glances at us as he sticks the cigar back in his mouth. “These here.” he gestures around at the men sitting at the next table, playing cards (all, I noticed, with cigars hanging out of their mouths, and with glasses of what looked like whisky, hold the ice), “these here are what you call my personal investigators. And we’ve come across a problem that I thought you might be able to help us with. You see, my men here tell me that you’ve been nosing around the quilt.”
I don’t know if you do this, but when confronted with a sticky situation, I tend to giggle uncontrollably. I’m not much of a giggler myself overall, that’s the thing — it’s only when I come across stress that I start sounding like a schoolgirl. And I’d say this situation would classify as having a smidge of stress — not to mention, how ridiculous it sounds to have a man of his nature talk about a quilt!
The combination was threatening to send me into a laughing fit, so I started focusing on his cigar which was bobbing up and down as he talked.
“And that’s where we have our problem, you see. Sometimes, let’s just say that some things are better left alone, you understand what I’m saying here?”
I glance over at the men playing cards, wondering if I’d recognize any of them-after all, one of them must have been tailing us this whole time — but no one looks up from their cards, it’s as if they were oblivious to what was going on. It was enough to get my heart racing, because I did know that they in fact were listening to every word. And then, before really giving us a chance to respond (although the way Raoul’s eyes are bugging out, I’m not sure he was in a state of mind to form a full sentence), we are led out the front door like cats with our tails between our legs.
It isn’t until we’re 10 blocks away — out of earshot, I’d normally say, although with these characters who knew what earshot was? — that we are able to say anything.
Or, rather, we were able to emit somewhat recognizable sounds. When your life has just come straight out of a movie scene, no words seem appropriate.
What’s the secret?
And that, as they say, was the end of our case. That’s not to say that we stopped thinking about it, or didn’t try to figure out what happened (hey, I AM a detective by trade after all, you know!). And after literally piecing together the clues we had so far, plus with our boggled brains working overtime to fill in the missing links, we were able to figure out what it said on the back of the quilt:
“We know who stole the quilt.
Meet me under the Williamsburg Bridge at 10:00 p.m.
Now I can’t say that I’d ever seen what looked like a threat written on a back of a quilt, but then again, there are plenty of things you see in the biz that you would never imagine. In my last quilt-related case, for example, one of my suspects actually held a gun to the quilt in question!
Whether Bob and his chums had anything to do with this threat was more likely than not. And whether they had anything to do with what we discovered next is also a probability—after looking through some old newspaper clippings on microfilm, we found what I think we’d been afraid of. Sure enough, there was an account of a woman who jumped to her death from the Williamsburg Bridge at the time. Of course, there were no witnesses to the event, just her decomposed body floating in the East River. Her body was identified as Rosie Garcia, 35 years old, and the founder of the Williamsburg Sewing Circle.
Surely, that must account for the fact that the members have all kept a quilt block so no one would ever know the truth about what happened. My first thought was, why not throw the quilt away altogether, but then again, sometimes even when murder is involved, quilt-lovers sure do treasure their threads. It seems safe to assume, then, that someone had stolen a quilt from Bob et al., and it was most likely none other than the ill-fated Rosie.
Some parts are still shady, of course — such as, did all the members really know the whole story? Or did we?
But as a wise man once said to me (in the form and shape of Bob Bombardini), sometimes things are best left unsolved.