It's All in the Delivery
A Joe Angello Story
by Peter A. Parmantie
is he?" I asked Torelli as soon as I arrived. The alley
was swarming with officialdom, conferring, checking for evidence
or just hanging around. I ignored Lieutenant Kauders,
the city hall straw boss in charge of the investigation. He looked
harried, meaning someone was riding him, hard. An intellectual
lightweight with animal smarts, he at least knew enough to keep
his nose out of my business. We'd bumped heads a few times when
Maud was alive and he wasn't sure what I knew about him, but
since he figured I might have something I could use any time,
he hated me. The feeling was mutual. I could be nasty and make
him talk to me, but what the hell. Besides, it was Torelli, not
Kauders, who had phoned me that Sunday morning.
were red. He gestured at a dumpster. "Manuel was shot. They
say tortured." He raised clenched fists to his face
in a spasm of grief. He gulped once and lowered them. His hands
remained clenched at his side.
......I evaded officials
and garbage and stepped over to the dumpster. What remained of
Manuel lay behind it, shielded from the street. He'd been tortured
and killed there in the alley. Someone squeamish had covered
his face with a fold of dirty newspaper. Torelli told me he'd
found Manuel and phoned the police, then me.
else he'd got from Kauders before he phoned me he stated in a
few words. As far as the medical examiner could determine after
a quick on-site examination, marks on the corpse indicated that
Manuel had been tortured, maybe interrogated. At some point in
the proceedings, the interrogator, if that's what he was, gave
up and inquiry morphed into sadism. Tongue and eyes ended the
work, then the final blessed bullet. There couldn't have been
much blood left in Manuel when he died; it was on the filthy
pavement beneath him.
......We moved down
the alley to keep clear of the policemen swarming around the
scene. Kauders glanced over at us--more in my direction--spouting
orders as he did so. He's the nervous type, doubly so today.
He waved his arms, semaphoring the troops. They pretty much ignored
him. They knew the real power lay at city hall, with whoever
pulled Kauders' strings.
......I said what
seemed logical, seeing that Torelli had phoned me after he called
the police, "You told me you'd turned in that attaché
in that previous Friday morning for breakfast. I sat at
my usual place at the counter, three stools down from the door,
ignoring the other customers but watching them nevertheless.
A man in a store-bought business suit almost as cheap as mine
sat to my right drinking coffee and communing with the morning
cars streaming by. He wore a cap that made him look like a taxi
driver. Once or twice he glanced at his watch. To my left, two
young women were finishing up their meal and swiveled around
to dismount the stools. It wasn't easy in hip-high skirts. They
giggled nonstop to the checkout, every other word like
and you know. Beyond them a gray-haired man with
an athletic build and a starter's jacket curled his lip in scorn.
He shook his head as if to call attention to the inanity of the
younger generation. He poured more syrup on hotcakes already
almost submerged in the stuff.
Manuel, the only name I knew him by at the time, mopped off my
place at the counter. As he set down my coffee, the guy by the
window motioned him over. I nodded for him to go ahead and take
care of the other guy. I could place my own order.
......Down the counter
Torelli looked up from an account ledger and waved at me. I signaled
the usual, three eggs over easy, a double order of bacon, with
hash browns and toast and coffee, plenty of coffee. That's the
breakfast I dreamed about when I didn't have the money to buy
it. Now that I have the cash I eat what I want. I'm a
......As for cholesterol,
at my age, who's measuring? Look at Maud--she was always careful
about her diet.
okay, made out the ticket and snapped his fingers. At the precise
instant his hand reached out, an arm snaked from the kitchen
to snatch the ticket, like a choreographed comedy routine. My
breakfast would be on the way in record time.
to his ledger.
a meeting place for downtown officials of all shades--used-car-salesman
honest, lawyer-honest, and corrupt to the core. It had
just begun to recover from the morning breakfast crowd, which
is why I was there. I hate crowds and city officials. It's Torelli
I like, not his patrons. He extended me credit once or twice.
He attended Maud's funeral.
by with the carafe. I held up my hand and he topped off my cup.
......He had a pleasant
south of the border accent. He indicated Torelli with a toss
of his head. "Sick, the man says." Sick was a generic
term that could mean anything in the restaurant business.
"Hope she's better soon." I like Carol; she doesn't
make the small-talk waitresses think gets them a tip. She takes
my order, brings it, and keeps my coffee cup filled. She never
waits until my mouth is full to ask me how the meal is. She never
asks. A nice tip is her reward.
......While I waited
for my order, I looked around. Torelli's, a former bar, was longer
than it was wide, making it a problem to navigate its length
......In back of the
counter and a bit to my left, the kitchen. Ahead of me, the coffee
urns. To my right, cashier, entrance and a plate glass window
with a menu taped to the glass. Outside, people hustled back
and forth. Cars and buses honked and revved their way down the
avenue jockeying with one another. To my left, two columns of
tables sat along the walls, empty now and cleaned off
for the next wave of customers. Way in the back the toilets,
and beyond them a locked door to the alley.
......That door cost,
Torelli told me. It had no exit sign and shouldn't be locked,
said the building inspector. Torelli retorted that when it was
a bar it had been robbed twice, and each time they got
in through the back door, as the widow of the previous
owner let slip when they were dickering for the place. The last
incursion had made her a widow. Torelli was about to back out
of the deal when the lady, desperate to leave the city, made
him an offer he couldn't refuse. Torelli bought the place and
financed part of the remodeling with the money the widow saved
......He refused to
unlock that back door, and it still had no exit sign and
remained locked with a lock Torelli purchased--a good lock. The
inspector was richer by four hundred dollars, which bought two
years of looking the other way. A bargain, Torelli said. Cheaper
than being robbed, and it cut down on the number of customers
who skipped without paying.
......He had a month
to go on the locked-door lease. Already he had the four hundred
dollars waiting. Anyhow, he said, there was another exit through
the kitchen leading into the alley so he put an exit sign above
that. And a double lock on the door.
......In a few minutes
Manuel set my breakfast down with a flourish and a smile. I nodded
thanks and dug in. I'd seen the papers so I contented myself
with eating. The eggs were fresh and the coffee hot. The hash
browns were dark and flavored with onion and paprika. However
Torelli's cook did it, the bacon tasted greaseless.
on either side of me drank coffee and got in touch with their
inner selves. Since I don't especially want to know my inner
self, I ate.
into my meal, I figured I could use a pit stop courtesy of the
coffee. When you get old, you don't wait for nature to call,
you anticipate her arrival. I was barely ahead of her schedule
as I stood and hurried to the rear. Inside I relieved myself.
......I washed up,
rinsed and dried my hands. I balled up the paper towel and tossed
it toward the basket and missed. "Damn," I muttered.
It landed near the far stall and rolled inside. I pushed opened
the door. The wad had come to rest next to a cheap attaché
case behind the toilet bowl, smack up against the wall.
......From its weight,
it had to be filled with paper. It was locked.
......Honesty is the
best policy when nobody's looking. When someone is, it can go
either way. Torelli's patrons knew where I'd gone, and someone
probably knew how long I'd been here, roughly three minutes.
......I took the case
out front, held it up to any interested patrons. "Torelli,
somebody left this in the crapper. You see anyone come in with
......Lost in figures
for the moment, he stared blankly at me, then at the case.
He came down to earth. "Never saw it before."
you see anyone come in with this?"
......He pointed to
the ledger and shook his head. He signaled Manuel. I held up
the case. Torelli said, "Manuel, you see anyone come in
coffee at a table shook his head no, and moved on to the back,
straightening tables, cleaning up, starting to get ready
take it down the block to the hall. You're going that
way. Give it to the lost and found at reception.
I don't want it here. I don't want any responsibility for it.
Let them deal with it."
......City hall, a
three story art-deco building, housed the entire city bureaucracy.
It was roofed over and its walls plastered with twenties and
fifties, used and numbered out of sequence. Inside, factions
jockeyed for precedence and preference--and cash. The escort
services and streetwalkers performed more honest work--at least
the girls exerted themselves. I shook my head.
even walk by the place."
I can help it. I go there strictly on business and that's
all she wrote." By intention, I have almost no business
and I went back and finished my meal. As I paid and left, I saw
Torelli and Manuel in conference, Torelli gesturing at the case.
The two men on either side of me had left the restaurant and
five women entered, pushing past me, heading for tables. The
......From where the
cops had pushed us back, we couldn't see the body. The dumpster
was half hidden by an Everest of smashed boxes, discarded appliances,
and plastic bags of garbage, some secured with ties, some not.
Dogs, cats, and rats preyed on one another and devoured the garbage.
Torelli's pleas for more frequent pickups were shouts into the
We stood aside for an ambulance that pulled into the alley, smashing
boxes and egg cartons and scaring vermin.
"I swear, Angello, I gave it to Manuel and he took it to
city hall. He said he gave it to a receptionist and told her
where it came from. She had him wait a minute and fill out some
sort of a form. Then she said it was all right and he could go."
just his name and the place where he worked and where he found
took the case. Manuel said she put it down under the desk, by
know if he mentioned my name?"
his head. "I told him not to."
do you think that that," he gestured down the alley,
"had anything to do with the attaché? I swear
I didn't open it and told Manuel not to."
was he gone?"
......The morgue attendants
had loaded what was left of Manuel, no middle initial, no last
name, nothing. They pulled past us. No siren.
"What's Manuel's full name?"
"Wife somewhere. Guatemala, I think. He's legal."
......I nodded. "You
called me," I said.
who did this." A pause, Please?"
it was a matter of honor. He and Gina were childless and he considered
Manuel less an employee than a member of the family. Even the
cooks were adopted into Torelli's clan. "Need a retainer?"
......I snapped my
fingers impatiently and stared down the alley. Kauders' men were
stringing crime scene tape; he was about to wind up the investigation.
me four quarters.
if I can find out something. If I do, I'll charge you then. Just
don't tell Kauders you've hired me."
......It looked like
Kauders wanted to talk to me. I waved at him and clapped Torelli
on the shoulder, sealing the bargain. I moved down the alley,
away from the crime scene and Kauders.
......I was following
the odor of money, a lot more than Torelli could afford to pay
......She was a pleasant
young woman, head infolady smack in the central hub of city hall.
Other ladies controlled various departments, but she was the
first among equals. To get to anyone, you had to go through her
first. For that reason, she had a bright, impersonal Monday morning
smile for everyone. When I reached the head of the line she smiled.
I waited and she smiled. I looked at her name tag. "Miss
I be of assistance?"
You were on duty here Friday?"
was." She smiled brightly, head to one side.
......I said, "Did
a young man turn in an attaché case to you about ten-thirty
or so? He would have brought it here to you, right?"
......Her face clouded.
dark brown, scratched up, inexpensive. It was locked."
this bit of information. I waited.
......I said, "The
man who turned it in filled out a form. May I see the form he
brightened. Forms she knew. She reached into the bottom tier
of a stack of plastic caddies on her desk and pulled out a pad.
"You must mean this."
want a copy of the form. I would like to see the form this person
filled out and turned in. Do you have a file I could look at?
If they're by date, Last Friday's is all I need." With luck
I would find a time slot properly filled in.
She glanced behind me. A lady joined the line holding a sheet
of paper. A man took his place behind her.
......I hated to do
it, should have done it before. I didn't want my name bandied
about city hall but there was no help for it. For whatever reason
the lady was growing uncertain. "My name is Angello, Joseph
Angello." I pronounced the g hard, as in rogue. "I'm
a private detective and I'm on a job. My client asked one of
his workers to turn in the case. His worker brought it here and
told his boss he turned it in at this very reception desk."
The warmth of her smiled vanished while I was speaking. I followed
her frosty glance. The man standing behind the lady upped the
ante: he had a thick file folder held like a shield in front
of him as though he expected a bullet in the chest.
replaced her professional warmth with the bureaucratic persona,
a glance of howling winds off Antarctic snowfields. In the land
she now inhabited rules replaced reality and responsibility is
always two steps upward and blame three steps down. "I'm
sorry, but such information is confidential." Bureaucrats
are sorry a lot, too.
......I said, "What
information, a name and address?" I smiled an engaging smile
and repeated, "I would like to see the form that the person
filled out when he turned in the case. May I?"
......A decisive shake
of the head. "I'm sorry, but such information is confidential."
She looked in back of me. In a moment she'd be staring through
me and holding out her palm to the next person in line. I would
become an unperson. She tapped impatiently. Chill wind whistled
down the Antarctic slopes.
I moved aside and the lady with the single sheet of paper stepped
up to the desk. The man behind her held the folder at knee height.
Another man, prosperous to gauge by his charcoal suit and matching
accessories, made it three deep in front of Miss Carpentier.
She'd be exercising that smile a lot. The well-dressed man would
earn the widest smile from Miss Carpentier.
......My office was
a hole in the wall when I was mourning the death of Maud. Now
I have moved up a notch, into a better building, a fancier office,
but a single room is still all I need. That and a toilet and
a coffee machine.
......I let myself
in. The phone was blinking. Whether here or at home, I take calls
only after I am certain who is on the other end. My message is
simple and to the point. First, my number. Then, "Leave
your message and a number where you can be reached. I'll contact
you later." No name. I can pick up or not as I prefer.
......Who says technology
......I pressed play.
A mechanical voice announced the time, roughly after Miss Carpentier
dismissed me, 12:15 PM. I waited. Heavy breathing and a whispered
"Angello" and more heavy breathing and a click.
was the g in angel.
......Nice, a dumbass
who didn't mind his voice being recorded. I removed the tape
and put in a fresh one. Kept the old one. For the record.
......I sat at my
desk and adopted my detective posture, feet on desk, swivel chair
back. Deep thought.
Time to call in a favor. A few people owe me, or I own them,
depending on how you look at it. I reached for the phone.
know anything about a briefcase," the thin man sitting across
from me said. Nervously he peered around my new office--new to
him. He was a city hall accountant. He was wondering how a discredited
detective, a pariah with no connections, could have been bankrolled.
More especially, he was wondering who. For all he knew I might
have important connections.
......I broke in on
his thoughts, "If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."
I smiled a politician's smile. "Just think this, Sammy,
it's someone big. One hell of a lot bigger than you. Or me."
That was true. Let Sammy assume it was a Mr. Big at city hall.
"How's the kid?"
the kid is fine." The g came out hard. It wasn't Sammy on
the phone anyhow; his voice is high and nasal. The other was
more cultured, what little I heard.
Nice to know the little family's doing well. But that's
not why I called you."
a nervous glance my way. Blackmail he could understand, being
a city hall gofer. Payoffs he could understand. Numbers he knew.
Sammy could cook books as chefs cooked steak, to taste and to
......What he couldn't
understand and would never understand was Joe Angello. All he
knew about me was what I had on him.
......I liked it that
......I leaned forward.
Sammy leaned back. "A man was killed back of Torelli's."
I described the body, dwelling on the details of what I'd been
told, embellishing it a bit. His eyes told me he'd already heard
of the incident.
......Sammy was nervous.
"Tongue cut out, you say." The killing of Manuel was
standard gossip; the torture was making people
......I nodded. "Kauders
is investigating. I want to know what Kauders knows about the
murder, and I don't want him to know I'm getting the information.
Also, I want to arrange a meeting with a Miss Carpentier. She's
the head receptionist at the hall."
a big order."
Sammy." I toyed with a pencil. "Have you been bothered
by me the last few months?"
Reluctant shake of the head.
have its uses.
still ogling my office.
Torelli had another waiter working the tables. Carol was back.
It had been the flu. I gave her my order and motioned Torelli
down the counter.
recognize any of the people sitting around me Friday?"
......He shook his
head. "Sorry, Angello. We were busy before and right after
you left. I remembered the five women."
Also the two girls who left while you were ordering."
of those men sitting at the counter go to the john before I arrived,
or at any time you can recall?"
of them before?"
to your left drops in from time to time. He runs a sports equipment
shop down the next block. Can't say as I've ever seen the other."
went to the toilet."
my lunch and Torelli moved down the counter.
my meal I got up, moved through the patrons to the back. Toilets
down a short corridor and to your right, ladies' first then men's
and beyond them, inset about a foot and a half and two steps
down, the four-hundred-dollar door. You couldn't see it from
the restaurant proper.
I checked the door. Locked with a quality, heavy-duty lock. No
push-bar on the inside. Window a sandwich of glass and heavy
......As I returned
to my meal, a hand tugged at my sleeve.
......I jerked my
arm away. "Like you didn't know."
I have nothing to say to you. If Kauders wants to talk to me
he can damn well go through my answering machine. It has a better
memory than you or your handlers."
Moran was a low-grade detective, promoted, like Kauders, for
his ability to say yes and follow orders. He was a messenger
boy who could repeat a message. Like Kauders, his animal smarts
were well developed, and preservation of Chico Moran was the
first law of his nature. He didn't owe me.
......I finished eating,
my back to Chico in a display of contempt. Things were beginning
to pick up. Chico was used for unimportant contacts. His tugging
at my sleeve was one step up from heavy phone breathing.
......I finished lunch,
paid, and left Torelli's. I paused outside then turned to the
right. I went down two doors, in front of a plus-size women's
dress shop. I waited, back to the displays. In ten minutes by
my watch Chico emerged.
......Just as I figured.
Chico knew I was working and he needed information. That meant
Kauders had an inkling of why I was in the alley. Kauders knew
I'd found the attaché case. Torelli would have told him
that much, since the case would have come out in the process
next to me. He inspected the displays. Having seen too many B-movies
on television during his formative years, he talked out of the
corner of his mouth. He was even chewing on a toothpick.
missing," he said. We both knew he referred to the case.
I said, "know where it is?" He could guess whether
I meant the money or the case.
"Why'd you give that case to the spic?"
......I turned to
him. "The deceased gentleman has a wife in Guatemala. Treat
his memory with respect, scum, or you can go back to your boss
......For the first
time Chico looked at me. It was the quick inspection one gives
to someone whose sanity you doubted. "The gentleman,"
he said with heavy sarcasm, "is dead. Who killed him?"
......Not the original
question, which wasn't good to begin with. Chico is no intellect.
When he interrogates a suspect I'd lay book he writes out the
"Right. Whoever killed him. When you shithead Sherlocks
find out, let me know." I began to walk away.
......Quick as a whip,
"We don't know, and that's the truth."
......If a city hall
pol said it and added a phrase about truth, the next problem
was how much of a lie was involved. "Manuel Cederno was
tortured. Any idea why?" I asked.
it looks like."
......I stepped closer
to him. He was three inches taller than I but he stepped back.
I took another step. "It wasn't to execute him. One clean
shot would have done that. He was tortured for information which
he didn't have. All he did was turn in a case I found in Torelli's
crapper. I gave it to Torelli; he told Cederno to turn it in
to city hall. Why torture him at all? If money is missing from
the case, he couldn't have taken it."
Kauders says he could have been interrogated before he was killed."
more sense than interrogating him after he's dead. And it's the
medical examiner who thinks he was interrogated, not Kauders."
I took a breath. "Why is Kauders so nervous, anyhow?"
......I snapped, "Where's
the attaché case?"
So that was it. I said, "Take a walk, dummy."
......I had what I
wanted. All my hunch needed was confirmation.
when I call. He was seated across my desk, still wondering where
I got the money. "Someone at city hall wants what was taken
from that case."
......He shook his
head, "Not as easy as that. We got contractors and they
pay off, and now we got drug dealers and they make bigger payoffs,
like you wouldn't believe. What with drug payoffs and contractor
payoffs and the druggie faction going for all they can get and
the contractor faction with its group, the place is getting crowded
with payoffs. The buzz is the attaché had drug money.
And the druggies think the contractor crowd got a chunk of it."
"The case got to city hall, I heard."
but about a quarter of it was missing."
......I sat back.
Manuel copped part of the stash before he turned in the case?
......No, not right.
Torelli told him to go there and come right back. He was gone
for twenty minutes, five of those minutes standing in line waiting
on Miss Carpentier. Torelli was positive about the time.
you money was missing?"
Just try pinning down something like that, Angello."
seen the case?"
Belonged to a drug dealer and probably was emptied real quick."
......And no, he didn't
know if the cash was going or coming, just that it was drug money.
happens to it, someone set it outside an office door like a milk
bottle going back to the dairy?"
"Who knows? You stay away from stuff like that or you end
up like Cederno."
......He made a wry
face. "Medical report says he was tortured." He shivered.
"His heart gave out as they worked on him. They shot him
anyway, and dumped him in the alley."
......I closed my
eyes for a second. Manuel set my breakfast in front of me with
a flourish and a smile. Manuel in the alley. I hoped he knew
nothing, that he died innocent. Certainly he'd had no opportunity
to open a locked case, steal part of the cash, lock it back up,
and stand in line. For all I knew, he could have been followed
from Torelli's to make sure the case got to where it was going.
If it did, why kill him? If he'd been followed, someone knew
he'd had no time to open the case, let alone take out money.
saying, that's for sure." He thought for a moment. "Story
is, he got pressure on him."
the murder, naturally."
I figure in this?"
......Maybe so, maybe
not. Sammy didn't get all the scuttlebutt. All he knew about
me was I'd found the case and given it to Torelli, who gave it
to Manuel, who turned it in at city hall. Somewhere along the
line someone took a portion of the payoff, enough to make certain
Someone knew enough about me, enough to phone me--knew I'm barely
on the line of legality and can cross over. Someone stupid. And
Chico wanted to know what I know. Which is nothing. My only contact
with the attaché was to find it and give it to Torelli
in open view of anyone interested. And ask about it at city hall.
Sammy and reached for the phone book.
first name was Yvonne. Sammy convinced her to see me.
......We sat in Hank's
Coffee Shop, three blocks from her apartment building. She was
on time, relieved that I'd followed her from her apartment and
that she hadn't been followed. We were in a booth to the rear.
......I finished detailing
how Manuel died. She was uncomfortable.
......I said, "He
did turn in that attaché case, I assume?"
to recover from my bald description of the murder. She'd heard
a bit about the torture, but not about the eye gouging. She swallowed
and took a sip of coffee. She nodded.
"Yes, and he filled out a form."
on the form?"
address, things like that. Where he can be contacted in case
there's a reward."
a place to put down the time?"
"Can you recall the time he turned it in?"
......She could. Torelli
was right. Twenty minutes.
used that information to kill him. Is that why you wouldn't let
me see the form he filled out?"
......She shook her
head. "No. It was your name." She looked at me speculatively.
She was a brunette with blue eyes.
......I nodded. "So
here you see me, a short, overweight investigator with a big
nose that I stick in everyone's business."
you're a crook."
......Her eyes probed
the depths of her coffee cup. With that single pronoun I had
thrust her back into the bureaucratic pigeonhole where she worked.
I said, "I'm a private detective. I get results for my clients
and sometimes I don't get paid. I do my best to get results for
my clients. I want to find out who killed Manuel Cederno."
......It was too late
to help Manuel. But he had a wife.
......I let her think
about what I said while I sipped decaf.
......She had a faintly
pretty face. "Mr. Angello," she said, "you have
a reputation at city hall."
you find that out?"
ago, when I got this job."
......"Am I the
only one with a reputation?"
......She shook her
head. "No, but you're near the top of the list."
my name begins with A."
name begins with Ab. You're above him. They say you can't be
......How nice to
"I was told not to mention the attaché case."
of what Sammy told me. Someone witnessed me coming out of the
crapper with that case, probably timed me in there too. If I'd
kept it, I'd be in the alley dead. I couldn't call in enough
favors to get out of that one.
on how much money was in the case?"
the amount missing was four hundred thousand, at least that's
what they say."
said, was a young upwardly mobile political hack with a taste
for keeping himself in the background. Yvonne's eyes sparkled
as she spoke of him.
have your eyes on that case the entire time it was at your desk?"
to go on an errand for--" Here she named another politician.
over for you?"
......She named a
friend of hers.
were you gone?"
half an hour."
leave the building?"
case there when you returned?"
were you with other people all that time?"
She understood what I was getting at. "Yes."
else you can tell me?"
......Before she left,
I told her how she could get information to me. She said all
right. We shook hands and she left. I sat for a few minutes waiting
for her to get partway down the block. I tailed her to her door.
She wasn't followed and nobody was following me.
......I walked and
I mused. An attaché case with who knows how much cash,
city hall payoff for a drug deal, or a drug payoff to city hall,
left in a toilet stall and nobody knows how the case got there.
It arrives at city hall with a sizable chunk missing. Manuel
winds up dead. Either Manuel took the money or he did not.
......I decided to
assume he had not, not having had the time. Inclination? Maybe.
But inclinations don't have to translate into action. Good people
fight bad inclinations all the time.
key to the back door."
"I don't know where it is, Angello. That door hasn't been
opened in years. I don't want it opened."
you get the garbage out to the back?"
takes it out the kitchen door." Xavier was another employee,
African-American, a college kid working for his meals, who spent
part of his lunch hour studying mathematical formulae on flash
cards propped in front of him.
part of his job?"
washing the dishes and cleaning up the place. Sometimes I have
him do food prep."
does he take out the garbage?"
After lunch and before we close. Maybe oftener if we have a busy
lugs it out the kitchen entrance."
is always busy."
it. And the door is locked. Always."
the key to the other door."
in kitchen drawers. He went back to a cluttered store room and
looked around. I followed and helped him look. We even checked
the walk-in refrigerator. No key.
......He handed it
over and I went outside. None of the keys fit the shiny lock.
Inside, I tossed his keys to him. "You ever going to use
I pay those bastards so I don't have to use it."
a thing about that door."
Nobody sneaks up on me, or skips without paying. Front door and
kitchen door is all I need."
you last see the key that opens that door?"
payoff to the city inspector, about two years ago, maybe less.
He wanted to know if the door opened, if I had a key, and I said
yes. I showed him the door worked and I locked it again."
did you put the key?"
his head. "Look, it's been two years, Angello." He
lifted both arms in a what-can-I-do gesture. "I think I
put it in the desk."
......He pointed at
the desk. He went through it again. I went through it.
......No key. I thanked
him and left.
I said under my breath.
......She looked up.
She looked around.
no intention of saying anything to you, anything." She pointed
a finger at me. Her voice was loud and decisive. A few bystanders
turned to us then away.
reception hall was circular, resembling the hub of a half-wheel,
corridors leading off into the labyrinth where the Minotaur lurked
eager to devour you, body and soul. "I need a name,"
I said without moving my lips. I identified the department and
the approximate date.
at me. I made a gesture of disgust. I shook my fist, pounded
it on the desk and turned to the exit. A man was standing there
with a red self-carbon ticket, a duplicate. "Damned dumb
broad," I snarled. "Doesn't know jack shit." I
paused in front of him. "Damn, I'm pissed. You won't get
a thing from her, must be new on the job." I looked back
angrily and made another downward gesture with the flat of my
hand. I made a show of inspecting the ticket. "Traffic fines
down that way," I said, pointing down one of the radiating
corridors. I gestured at another receptionist at a very small
desk and stamped out.
......Within the hour
I would have the name I needed.
exuded political presence. He looked down at me and nodded. He
was seated and I stood, but still he looked down at me. He had
the regal stare of men who dispensed money and had plenty more
where that came from. Tailored charcoal suit and leather trimmed
office yelled money. Contractor money.
......His office was,
I guessed, about midlevel in the city hall hierarchy. He was
not too big not too small. Like the story of the Three Bears,
he must be just right for some jobs.
......And I'd seen
......I'd made an
appointment. I said, "My name is Joseph, Joseph--"
I paused as though I'd forgotten.
"Angello," he said. The g was soft.
......I shook my head,
"I'm no angel."
......He smiled as
one would at a punchline coming up.
you to the crapper, didn't I?"
......Both hands out,
innocent ignorance. He said, "I don't know what you're talking
all right. I do. You were sitting to my right at Torelli's."
Uninvited, I sat,. "Trouble is, you don't want to know.
Knowing could get you in trouble. But no, you're already in trouble."
You wanted to see me on a matter of life and death, you said."
Manuel Cederno's death, and your life." He was left handed,
and I was sitting so that he was obliged to turn to his right
to speak with me. I leaned closer, became confidential. "You
don't know who killed him, do you? No, let me correct that. You
don't want to know."
do you think you are?"
with a hard g. The breather you hired to intimidate me pronounced
it as you did--was that you, by the way? No? Yes? Anyhow, someone
phoned me, thought better of it, and hung up." I leaned
back, watching his eyes and his hands. He didn't look like the
violent type, but you never know how a person will react on his
......I said, "It's
too late to give back the money you skimmed." I held up
a warning hand. "Don't call anyone. This is between us two;
you wouldn't want it to get out, would you?"
......A bit of the
regal air had deserted him. He sat back.
......He was silent.
I watched his hands.
Cederno has a wife in Guatemala."
it you think you know?"
"Stuff that may or may not be true. For instance, you seem
to have come a long way from building inspector." I glanced
around the office. "I'd say that you met Torelli--"
A frown creased his face as if he were trying to remember. "Cut
it out," I snapped. "You inspected his restaurant two
years ago, took a kickback from him for keeping a rear door locked
because he was terrified of being robbed. I believe you stole
the key to the back door and gave it to someone to make cash
transfers easy. You were in Torelli's Friday morning hoping to
pick up that brown attaché case. You tested the waters,
dressing down and checking to see if he recognized you. He didn't
because he hadn't seen you in two years and he was busy with
the morning crowd. Even when the crowd thinned out he still didn't
......I stood. Now
I was taller. "Why were you there? Talk to me or I'll talk.
I have contacts with the dealers in this town. I could call them
off." That was a bald lie, but I wanted the money. I didn't
know how much was in the briefcase, but a missing four hundred
thousand dollars would anger any dealer. Besides, whether it
was drugs or contract money, ethics was the thing. Be honest
with the payoff money, or be dead. And Kauders was nervous. Sending
Chico Moran to contact me hinted at desperation. All he knew
about me was I found the case and gave it to Torelli. Still,
he assumed I was a player--or that I knew something.
......All very confusing,
but that's city hall, our tax dollars at work.
wind of a deal, when someone not in your circle wanted the key
to that back door. Am I right?"
So, a bit frightened, too, and not of me. After a minute of silence,
"We used Torelli's as a drop for contractor payoffs."
times in the last two years?"
five." He added, "It's easy to be seen going in."
Probably the pols had their drops all over town, their gofers
shuttling among them like pack rats, here picking up, there depositing.
Safety in numbers. The problem at the Torelli drop would be for
the courier to slip into the restaurant unseen and make it the
few feet to the men's room. Very chancy.
the key when you took the first payoff because your bosses wanted
the time the city was going through a spasm of reform."
He spoke contemptuously of reform, as would any politician. "We
were changing our drop locations."
......I nodded. "Was
Torelli in on it?"
figured he'd never miss the key since he wanted to keep that
door locked anyhow."
the drop someone entered by the back way; the door can't be seen
when you're walking down the hallway from the restaurant. It
was an easy matter to leave the case somewhere in the crapper,
as there was no one in the alley."
on purpose, no doubt?"
rigid time schedule shaved down to the minute?" With my
luck and my bladder I found the case and could have ended up
in the alley except for my own survival instinct, which counseled
......I resumed the
tale. "One of the scum here was taking drug money--or paying
off a dealer, your choice. He needed a new location for one reason
or another and asked you to recommend a drop--for a fee, of course."
......I waited for
agreement. It came: Vincent's eyes searched the desk, rested
for the briefest possible moment on the drawer to his right.
......A clock on his
desk said eleven-fifty.
......I rose and stretched
elaborately. I positioned myself and continued, "You got
greedy. You found out where the drop would be, and even the day
and approximate time, though you couldn't be sure that your informant
wasn't stringing you along, setting you up for something.
it was a contractor payoff. So you went to Torelli's Friday,
near the time of the transfer, to see if he recognized you dressed
down. When he didn't--after all, it had been almost two years--you
sat and drank coffee and wondered if you were brave enough to
take the stash, wondered if it were even there, wondered if you
were on a fool's errand." His eyes were fixed on the drawer.
I said softly, "Wondering if someone would kill you."
buzzed, a female voice said, "Lunch break, Mr. Vincent.
Do you need anything?"
......He looked at
me. I shook my head and made a cutting motion across my throat.
"No, Maxine, I'll go to lunch later."
......In a bit, the
outer door closed.
......We were alone.
"Now," I said, "tell me the odyssey of that case.
You took the four hundred thousand, of course."
......The regal look
metamorphosed into a ferret-glare as he nodded. He glanced down
and to his right, a flick of the eyes. I continued, "One
thing your informant left out--maybe on purpose, not too many
people you can trust around here--he didn't say whose was the
money or which way it was going, in or out. And you didn't know
it was drug money." I smiled, "So that morning at Torelli's
you were working up your courage--you would have been out the
door in a second if you knew it was drug money, those boys are
vicious--but then I had to pee in a hurry and beat you to the
crapper." I took a breath. "Let me guess. The courier
was late for some reason, and you thought you could identify
him in plenty of time, but he didn't show and you were getting
nervous. When I went to the can and came out with the case, you
......The ferret turned
......I rose on the
balls of my feet.
Richard Vincent, in more trouble than I knew or wanted to know,
swiveled to the right hand drawer. He was left-handed and pulled
the drawer open with his right hand. He reached in with his left,
but I was waiting for it. I reached over the top of the desk
and grabbed the edge of the drawer and slammed it shut on his
gun hand. He let out a muted howl of pain. He rose, clutching
his hand to his stomach. I pushed him back down.
man keeps a gun in his right-hand drawer? Amateurs....
my prize. A thirty-eight. Suddenly I'm with Sam
Spade in The Maltese Falcon. I hate guns. They make me nervous,
but this one I decided to keep. I opened the drawer and took
out a box of shells.
a war, are we?" I held the thirty-eight by the trigger guard.
It was a short, snub-nosed revolver. Ugly. About three hundred
dollars' worth of ugly.
......His glare was
poisonous. And afraid.
arranged for that case got it?"
the money you skimmed?"
......He shook his
head in a quick negative, "I never--"
How did you get to the case?"
nursing his hand. I put the pistol under his nose and up came
his head. "Tell me."
"You won't kill me."
have to. Others will as soon as they figure out what you did."
I smiled. "I believe you have a day or two. Let me suggest
Hate vanished. Fear held center stage.
won't tell anyone, for a price. Four hundred thousand dollars.
I keep half. The other half goes to the widow of Manuel Cederno,
the man who died in your place." He winced. "Take a
long vacation. Change your name."
flicked to one side, to the wall.
I said, "now."
......He did. And
......When I left,
I had the thirty-eight, the shells and the cash. I reminded him
that if the gun was legal and he owned it, he'd better hope I
didn't need to use it. He understood.
was a drop. Did you know?"
I were sitting in back, he at his desk, I in an uncomfortable
I swear I didn't know." He looked at the stacks of bills,
twenties and fifties, mostly the latter. I told him what I suspected,
that Vincent had either been set up by someone at city hall who
wanted him out of the way, or he was the receiver of bad information.
He didn't know, he told me before I left, that it was drug money.
......So much for
informants. That's why I keep Sammy at arm's length and cross-check
......It was Vincent
himself who phoned me, and not for purposes of intimidation.
It seems my name floats in certain circles as an outsider, way
outside. After he saw me come out of the john with the case and
turn it over to Torelli, he had thoughts of asking me to help
him before his ferret-sense got the better of him and he rang
......He waited outside
the restaurant that morning and the case came out the front door,
with Manuel in charge. Vincent followed him to city hall and
got in line. As Fortune tossed the dice, he was able to appropriate
the case when Yvonne left her desk to go on an errand. The reception
desk was deserted for a minute. Showing more courage than he
ever had before in his life or ever would again, Vincent hustled
the case back to his office, took out a sizable sum, and returned
the case to another receptionist filling in for Yvonne, sliding
it under the desk while she was away from the desk busy with
......He wasn't observed.
......Key? He had
one, to a case he himself owned. But it was a cheap case-he probably
could have used a penknife or even a paperclip.
......It was all a
like that never repeat themselves in a thousand years. The odds
of that case being unguarded under a desk at city hall for that
long were more than the odds against Fleming's discovering penicillin.
......And no witnesses.
Luckily for Yvonne and the girl who spelled her off, the eyes
of whoever manipulated the killer were on Manuel, and neither
girl had left the building.
And lucky for Vincent.
I finished up for Torelli, "the case was unguarded and then
your old building inspector had drug cash he was afraid to do
anything with. He found out it was drug money only after he'd
skimmed it. But by now the case had been delivered, the cash
missing, and someone wasout looking for it."
Manuel died for that."
......I nodded. Whoever
had the key to that back door slipped in, stashed the case, and
took off the way he'd come, locking the door. We'd never know
who had made the drop or who was supposed to pick it up, or who
thought Manuel had skimmed the cash. Whoever ordered the killing
resided high in the bureaucratic hierarchy, unaware of the time
factor. Manuel had had no time to appropriate a slice. Or maybe
the kingpin didn't care. Money was missing and somebody had
to talk or die.
who was supposed to pick up the case," I said. Not that
it mattered to us.
I pulled a small packet of bills off the top. "Here's my
fee," I told Torelli. "You know where this money goes?"
......He nodded. "I'll
see she gets it."
He paused. "Angello, who killed Manuel?"
Torelli. Whoever it was, he's just a gofer, a man who
likes his work." I guessed that he wanted information from
Manuel, accosted him outside the restaurant--it must have been
late--and inquired about the missing money. All Manuel knew was
that he turned in a case to city hall.
They were looking for the missing cash. Manuel honestly didn't
know. So whoever was asking the questions tortured him somewhere,
and finished the job in the alley. Probably as a warning. The
killer was a low-level sadist. Find him, and you've found air.
Whoever is in charge of him separates himself by at least four
layers of bureaucracy. Someone ordered him to find the missing
money was. Manuel didn't know, and he died."
......I was about
to leave when Torelli, who was looking for a box to contain the
money said, "I wonder who was supposed to pick up the case?"
He turned up a few days later, shot and left in a dumpster across
town. Like Manuel, his tongue had been cut out.
ate at Torelli's. He seemed nervous at the crime scene.
......Or maybe it
was Chico Moran. He's disappeared, too.
......Vincent is vacationing
in Europe, the last anyone heard.
wake up at night when I dream of Manuel lying in the alley, that
newspaper over his face. Sometimes he rises up and presents me
my breakfast, trying his best to smile and I wake up, my heart
thundering against my ribs.
......I still have
Vincent's thirty-eight. Possession of it gives me a certain sense
of security. And a case of nerves.
Copyright (c) 2000 Peter A. Parmantie
Peter A. Parmantie
is a retired teacher who has decided to write. He is a compulsive
reader, starting almost from birth. He cut his teeth on thrillers
as an adolescent, kicking his regular studies overboard and educating
himself by reading what adults then considered trash. They were
wrong. Now he wants to try his hand at the genre. His first Joe Angello story appeared
here in the pages of our July 1999 issue,
and he promises more for the future...
And head here for more
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