.

Full Circle
A Joseph Angello Story

by Peter A. Parmantie


....."Angello, you gonna stare at that beer or drink it?"

....."Stare, asshole."

.....Jake Matansky swabbed a rag over the bar. He leaned his two hundred pounds over it, "That's Mister Asshole to you."

.....I continued to stare into my glass.

.....Bunch of stragglers now. Five other men and a woman sat in The Refuge, each of us alone, each of us on an island staring out across the water.

.....The Refuge was Matansky's bar, a cozy, secret place, all dark wood, red and yellow posters promoting past boxing matches, heavily padded bar stools and a wood floor trodden smooth by armies of the lonely. At three in the morning the lights were dim, the television was off, and bar odors were all I could smell.

....."How much do you fork over to keep this place open past hours?"

....."You'd be surprised how little. I get a few politicians in here. And they got friends. What're you doing here?"

....."Holding a memorial service."

.....I could tell by his expression that Jake had suddenly remembered. "Look, Joe, I--"

....."Drop it."

.....He dropped it.

.....On this date, three years ago, I sat helpless by Maude's bedside watching her die from uterine cancer. I grasped the handle of my mug of beer and slid it left, right, left, right in a few square inches in front of me. Jake still stood there, staring at me, unsure what to say.

....."Why do you keep these hours?" I asked him.

....."If I didn't, where would all you mourners go? Hell, Joe, they're mourning too." He moved down the bar to the lady, who needed a refill of whatever she drank. Behind the bottles ranged on the back bar, the mirror gave me a good view of the door.

.....It opened and George Cullen stepped into the light. He wore an expensive gray leisure suit with a maroon turtleneck shirt. Stylish, befitting his rank in the organization. He worked the books for Matt Spangler, who controlled most of the dope and prostitution traffic in this area.

.....George was in his late forties but looked younger. The bulge in his jacket said revolver. His stance said nervous. He was out of his neighborhood and he knew it.

.....His eyes darted around and came to rest on me. Nobody here was overly concerned with being politically correct. They wouldn't bother calling him Negro or African-American. Around here he was poison.

.....Jake hadn't noticed the jacket bulge. He looked a question at me--toss him out? I snapped my fingers and waggled them in the negative. I pointed to myself.

.....George took the stool beside me.

....."Hello, Joe."

....."Mr. Angello to you, you son of a bitch."

.....I hated George for reasons that had nothing to do with his race, which made me wonder all the more why was he here.

....."Joe," he said.

.....My hands gripped the edge of the bar. He saw the expression on my face. He held his ground.

....."I need help."

....."So did Maude."

.....George was Maude's half-brother. Same black father, different mothers. When Maude's mother, who was white, died, her father married the black nurse who gave birth to George.

.....Maude had too much of her mother's color and not enough of her father's, and then she married me, a short, big-nosed honky with attitude. The family tolerated the first, disowned her for the second. Nobody from her family visited her deathbed. Nobody came to the funeral or even attended the visitation.

....."You hear me, Joe? I'm in trouble."

....."So?"

.....Someone's stalking me."

....."Stick to dark streets. Walk slow. Don't look behind you. Lose the piece."

....."Rosella, she's seen him too, a couple of hours ago."

.....Rosella. I should've remembered George's wife. She was the exception. At Maude's death, Rosella had sent me a letter of condolence folded inside a sympathy card.

....."I hope whoever it is offs you and she finds a better husband."

....."I need your help."

....."Up yours."

.....He tried again, "Mr. Angello--"

.....Later I would realize what a big step it was, what it must have cost him. Just then I was too angry. "Get out of my face."

****

.....A few hours later, Rosella Cullen came to my office. She sat in the sunlight and twisted a handkerchief in her hands. She was a handsome mahogany woman with a long intellectual face. She wore blue eye shadow and light lipstick. She'd clad her fashion model body in a sober brown and green dress of some shimmery stuff, one of those belted things that looks like a sheath, only with more curves. It clung to her like falling water. Well-tended nails, no paste-ons. Rings on her fingers, two to each hand, expensive without being showy. She came from money and had married more.

.....I sat back in my chair and looked at her. She stared at her hands. "George came to see me earlier this morning." I leaned forward, tapped the desk. "He doesn't usually drink at The Refuge, does he, at three a.m.?"

.....That reminded her of the anniversary. She shook her head. "Maude," she said softly. She looked up. "I am sorry, Joseph. I told him you might be there. He's afraid, Joseph. He doesn't know who might be after him. He wants this handled discreetly, as do I."

.....She pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

....."Not in the office."

.....Her hands twitched putting them away.

.....I thought back to George's manner, his tone of voice when he said someone was stalking him.

....."George said you both saw the stalker. Did you see him well enough to describe him?"

.....Rosella blinked. "He was black."

.....I'd caught her hesitation just after my question. She knew more than she was ready to tell. I'd have to work her up to it.

....."Where did you see him?"

....."Outside our apartment." She described their apartment and their old, exclusive neighborhood. Their building was a rehabbed three-story with the areaways and side passages preserved. A streetlight was in direct view from their window.

....."You were at home, looking down?"

..... "Yes."

....."You remember the time?"

....."Ten, ten-thirty."

.....I waited a moment. "I can't help you."

....."I beg your pardon?"

....."I can't help you. If I don't have a better description of the stalker, how can I spot him?"

.....She looked up and smiled. She looked down at her hands as if riffling through the pages of her memory.

....."He was young. Medium height, chunky build. Smiled a lot."

....."Did he act strangely at all?"

....."He just stood there, in an areaway across the street."

....."He didn't step into the streetlight?"

....."No."

.....I had her then, and she knew it. Rather than pounce, I waited her out.

....."His name's Buster."

....."How long have you known him?"

.....She thought a moment. "About a year."

....."Why is he outside your building now?"

.....She began to tremble. "I think he wants George to see him."

....."You let George believe Buster was after him. You even suggested he come to me."

.....She wrung her hands, looked at the ceiling. She nodded and reached into her purse before remembering my warning.

.....Then I saw it. Her movements and twitches weren't just nervous habits. I put my elbows on the desk and leaned forward. "What're you on, Rosella? "

....."Joseph, I'm not--"

.....I slammed my palm on the desk. She jumped. "God damn it to hell, Rosella, either you level with me or you're out of here. You've lied to George and you've lied to me. Now tell it straight. You're on something"-then I guessed-"Buster supplies it."

....."Yes," she said. Her polite world was shaken, but not shattered. "It's just for my nerves. I am most anxious. I managed a brave front"

.....Maude did too, for a while, until she couldn't ignore or hide the pain. "But your nerves got worse."

....."Yes. I went to a doctor at first and got tranquilizers. Then I needed more. My doctor refused to write me stronger prescriptions. He said I should seek psychiatric care, but then George would know."

....."So you went to Buster. Now you've involved George and he's involved me."

....."He would've come to you anyway if he knew of my-problem. His, uh, firm has a strict anti-drug policy for employees and their immediate families."

.....His "firm." I almost laughed. The one thing Spangler couldn't abide in his employees was drugs. Something about his family, siblings overdosing when he was younger. The men around him were either clean or dead. Rosella was the great threat George wasn't aware of.

....."In general, George believes it's bad luck to call attention to himself. He says honesty is invisibility."

.....Sure.

....."Rosella, was last night the first time you saw Buster behind you?"

.....She swallowed, getting ready to tell me. I waited.

....."I'm running out of money I can use without George's knowledge."

....."How much does Buster want?"

.....She was too polite, or maybe too embarrassed, to give a figure. "Enough to expand his territory, he says. He's not bright, Joseph."

....."Rosella, how much?"

.....She told me.

.....Buster, poster boy for greed. Either that, or he was a user himself and his price had soared through the roof.

....."You can either pay him, or pay me to discourage him--that about it?"

.....She nodded

....."How much do you have with you, in cash?"

..... She dug in her purse. "Four hundred."

.....She handed me the money, a wad of rubber-banded bills. Used, non-sequential. I snapped the rubber band around it and tossed it into a drawer.

....."I'm on it." Now I could be a softie. "Anything else you want to tell me?"

.....She began to cry quietly. Her hands gripped the purse. I found a box of tissues and tossed it to her. It fell to the floor. She didn't move. I remembered the letter of condolence. I stepped around the desk, picked up the box and handed it to her.

.....Finally, she was more or less under control.

....."What're you on?" Her doctor had prescribed downers, all legal two-time refills. No hard stuff.

....."Halcyon."

....."Why, Rosella?"

.....She shook her head. "I knew George worked for shady people when I married him, but I believed his promises to leave town, to move, make a fresh start. He has a fine mind, Joseph. Some legal training, good at figures. An executive type, knows how to manage people. It's been five years. He hasn't left yet. He persists in putting me off."

.....Rosella's sweat began to bead.

....."Got something with you?" I asked.

....."Yes."

....."Need water with it?"

....."If you please, Joseph."

.....I brought her some in a paper cup. She swallowed something she took out of a brown envelope, downed the water in a single gulp.

....."Thank you."

.....She noticed the look I was giving her.

....."I intend to overcome this."

....."Yeah, sure. But first you need Buster off your back. Let me stick my big nose here and there. Can you last a week?"

....."Barely."

****

.....Matt Spangler sat at his table in The Lazy River, one of the saloons he owned. It was too early for a crowd. A couple of dark-clad business types sat one at a nearby table, the other at the bar near the door, just out of the sunlight. From their position they could shoot me before anyone else looked up.

.....Spangler himself was just over six feet, his head shaved to an ebony shine. The look was all the rage that year, and he had money and power to go with it, making all the friends he needed.

..... I kept my hands on the table.

....."Angello, you've got balls I could bowl with coming here. You're lucky I know you."

.....He sat back, took a sip of something expensive. We watched each other as he swallowed. I was feeling pretty worn, and it must have shown.

.....Spangler's features softened. "Today's the day Maude-" he began. "You two kept to yourselves. Sorry." He paused awkwardly. "She was a fine woman."

.....I nodded thanks.

.....He looked me up and down. "She never tried to pass, did she?"

....."Never."

....."She could have, but she didn't." He sipped again. "So what do you want?"

....."You know a man named Buster?"

....."Not one of mine. He a brother?"

.....I nodded.

....."What's he doing?"

....."Hassling my client. I want him to lay off."

....."He's not one of mine."

.....I shrugged. "Just wanted to be sure of that."

.....He straightened slowly, as if he were thinking along the way. "I don't know anyone called Buster. Take that to the bank, Angello."

....."Sure." I stood. "By the way, say hello to George for me."

.....Spangler blinked. I'd planted the seed, but his voice stayed casual. "Still got it in for my main man, huh?"

....."Just saying hi."

.....I wanted George involved. If he were as honest as Rosella said, he'd come out cleaner than clean, a good soldier in Spangler's personal war on drugs. The rest would depend on Rosella getting clean and George's keeping quiet until she was.

.....Spangler had half-risen. The shooter at the table watched me as I left. I nodded to him and the one at the bar. The one at the bar nodded back.

.....Spangler anticipates problems. It's how he got where he is. I hoped my visit would earn me my own shadow.

****

.....I made my shadow about nine that night, three blocks from my apartment. He was a white man. Spangler wasn't in the habit of hiring outside his race, so I bet this guy was good.

.....I turned my back on my apartment and walked and walked and thought. Maude and I had started as friends and ended up married lovers. In that order. She almost got me interested in religion, but that died when she did.

.....Eleven o'clock. Up one avenue, down another until my legs ached. I headed home. I hadn't seen my stalker for over an hour. He was damned good.

****

....."Angello, what're you doing to me?"

.....The late afternoon sun laid bars across George's blue suit. The shirt was a shade or two lighter blue, and the tie was the blue of Caribbean water. No clothing motif could hide the circles under his eyes.

....."Unload," I said. After two days of training my stalker to grow accustomed to my habits, my legs were aching. It was time for me to meet Buster.

....."Someone's following me."

....."Is he the same man who's been following you, or is this someone new?"

.....He shook his head and started to stand, but thought better of it. "Spangler said you went to see him, said you wanted to say hello."

....."And he didn't tell you what else I said."

.....George leaned forward. Carefully, he said, "Mr. Angello, I have done nothing wrong. For some reason, S. wants to inspect my books."

....."And he won't find a thing, of course."

....."No." Said with complete confidence.

....."George, ask yourself, does he want to find something wrong? If he does, he will. You could be a CPA Mother Theresa, and if he wanted to nail your hide to the wall he would."

....."What did you tell him?"

....."Nothing, just to say hello."

.....He glared at me.

.....I said, "How's Rosella?"

....."Why do you ask?"

....."She was the only one of that goddamned family of yours to acknowledge Maude's death. She sent me a card. And a letter."

.....He was about to offer an excuse or something. I said, "Forget it."

.....He said, "She told me about that. Rosella's got a big memory and a lot of kindness waiting. She hates strife, wants to smooth everything over, make everyone happy."

.....I remembered how Rosella had listed George's virtues.

....."So how is she?" I asked.

....."Nervous. Me being followed and all."

....."What can I do?"

....."Watch my back."

.....I rubbed my fingers together in the time-honored symbol.

.....He smiled and reached into a pocket. He tossed a wad on the desk. "Two thousand."

.....Used and non-sequential. I tossed it in the drawer.

....."You're sure it isn't it another one of Spangler's men?"

....."He said if someone's stalking me, it's not one of his."

....."Okay," I said, "you take to the streets, carry your piece, go for long walks."

.....I told him about habits and what I wanted, and the route.

....."And take Rosella with you."

..... "I don't want to bring her into this."

....."If Rosella isn't with you, the stalker might suspect something's up. This has to look as normal as possible. Tell her to dress conservatively, nothing flashy or loud."

.....He gave it some thought and slowly nodded.

****

.....The evening was warm, almost peaceful. A mournful breeze rose and died. I checked my watch. No need to check my shadow. Time to begin.

.....I'd laid out a rectangular route with lots of lonely areas. All we needed was luck.

.....I began a leisurely walk to the east. Spangler's white shadow would have me by now. He'd stay way back.

.....I picked up the pace a bit.

.....The streets were quieting. The old shops along the route were preparing to close as deep blue dusk shaded into night.

.....I walked through a brightly-lit factory district coming awake. A truck line was loading its eighteen-wheelers. Soon it would be time to trundle the interstate.

.....I crossed railroad tracks garnished with weeds and debris--old tires and lumber, shredded paper and shattered plasterboard. Further, past fast-food joints on the verge of closing up. With few cars in the lots they looked sleepy. No patrons inside.

....."Man, you got the time?" A man in a greasy overcoat and a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes crossed the street. He looked ratty. He needed a shower.

.....I put my hand in my pocket and showed him what I carried, how it rested neatly in the palm of my hand, how limber it was. He muttered and retreated to the other side of the avenue walking faster. I watched him for a minute.

.....Past public housing, one side of the rectangle completed, the long side. Turn south.

.....Down the short side. Neat apartment complexes behind chain link fences. No junk in the yards. I heard a woman yell, "Don't let your daddy get home before you get your butts inside!"

.....The residential area shaded imperceptibly from low-income to middle-class apartments. Far down the avenue I saw George and Rosella. They walked hand in hand as though out for a late-evening stroll, just a little faster than a normal stroll, if anyone was measuring the gait. Someone probably was.

.....George wore the leisure suit. Rosella wore an orange pantsuit.

.....Damn.

.....I slowed a bit; they sped up. We passed on the opposite sides of the street without acknowledging one another.

.....Soon.

.....I crossed over.

****

.....Buster was walking toward me down a two-block length of commercial establishments with apartments above. Few cars, no pedestrians. Here and there garbage bags rested on the curb. He saw me coming and stopped. There was an alcove to his right.

.....He was an inch or two taller than I, and in better physical condition. He wore a nose stud, an earring, and a confident attitude. He leveled a knowing smile at me, his teeth very white.

.....I said, "Hey, Buster. Matt Spangler says hello."

.....His hand wandered to the inner pocket of his leather jacket in the movie gesture of the well-armed thug.

.....I was faster. I pulled out the sap and laid it across his gun hand. While he was still wondering how many fingers I'd broken, I grabbed his other arm and twisted him into the alcove, which proved to be an areaway between buildings -- about the width of the aisle on a commuter train.

.....I had the element of surprise. "Make a sound and I knock your teeth down your throat."

.....His eyes were tortured; he cradled his right hand in his left. He knew the neighborhood. See no evil, hear no evil, report no evil. Yells? Screams? Pull down the shades. Move away from the windows. Don't be a target.

.....I cocked my arm. "Spangler says hello, Dead Man."

.....His uninjured hand came up and I ducked and tapped his kneecap. Breath hissed through his teeth. With difficulty, I kept him on his feet and pushed him to the entrance of the areaway, relieving him of a thick wad of bills in the process.

.....I shoved him out onto the sidewalk. He stumbled. The lamppost shed a cone of light on part of the street. Buster grabbed at the post and managed to remain upright.

.....As I watched from the areaway, he stiffened. He recognized someone.

.....As Buster drew his piece, a shot clanged the lamppost.

.....Buster got off three quick shots, firing blindly. They were answered by a man's scream.

.....A fusillade answered Buster--two shooters. Buster jerked back, fell. The shooting stopped.

.....Cautiously I stepped out. One of the shooters was George. The other was my white shadow.

.....They were staring at Rosella. She lay on the sidewalk as if sleeping, the pantsuit almost glowing in a convenience store's overnight lights. There was a dark, widening stain at her chest.

.....George was crying. He searched the deserted street, then jogged toward me.

.....He emptied his pistol into Buster's face. "Rosella! Rosella!" Over and over. The other man was expressionless. His pistol was out as he scanned the upper windows and the neighborhood. He saw me; he ignored me.

.....He put his piece away and took out a cell phone.

.....George kept kicking what was left of Buster, sobbing dry racking coughs. I pulled him away from the faceless thing and led him back to Rosella. He sank to his knees.

.....I looked around. Nobody else watching; nobody cared.

.....My hand was on George's shoulder as he wept. Then a long black sedan pulled up, and one of Spangler's men helped us with the body of Rosella.

.....One shot. One wild, panicked shot.

.....I watched the car, now a funeral wagon, move down the avenue.

****

.....Eight patrons sat in the Refuge in the late afternoon. Some were talking together. One laughed at something on the television above the bar. I couldn't see what.

.....Sunlight lay pale as desert sand on the tables near the door.

.....George entered. We were both wearing black. Matansky polished something down near the end of the bar.

.....George said, "Thanks for coming to the visitation."

.....I waved a forget-it.

....."She wanted me to quit."

....."She told me," I hesitated a moment, "George."

.....I motioned Matansky over. George ordered a double scotch. I pointed to my change on the bar and gestured. Jake nodded. George looked in the mirror.

....."Maude was a good woman," he said.

....."The best."

....."It was a freak accident."

.....I said, "Rosella shouldn't have run into the light. Buster thought you were my backup."

....."She shouldn't have worn that orange thing. I tried to tell her. She's as stubborn as me."

.....I should have told her how to dress, not have George tell her.

....."I'm sorry about Maude," he said. I know you loved her."

....."Yeah."

.....We had nothing more to say. After a time he left.

Copyright (c) 2003 by Peter A. Parmantie.



Peter Parmantie was born in Chicago, Illinois and left thanks to the Korean War. Before the war he read. He read during the war and after it. Not knowing what else one could do with a reading background, he decided to become a teacher of English. He began in 1955 and ended in 1997. Still casting around for something to do in his retirement, he began writing the stories that intrigued him most as a kid, crime and mystery. Joseph Angello Angello is Parmantie's dark side.

Like what you've read? Head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!


Please direct further comments and inquiries about submissions to the fiction editor, or check out this page.
...... ."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."

| Table of Contents | Detectives A-L M-Z | Film | Radio | Television | Comics | FAQs |
|
Trivia | Authors | Hall of Fame | Mystery Links | Bibliography | Glossary | Search |
|
What's New: On The Site | On the Street | Non-Fiction
| Fiction | Staff | The P.I. Poll |