The Legacy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: March 23, 2019

Reads: 83

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Submitted: March 23, 2019

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May, 1978

Montclair, NJ

It was supposed to be easy. A routine house call.

Agents of the still-fledging Drug Enforcement Agency were on the trail of a drug ring in the greater metropolitan New York City area. At the time, most of the police departments and federal enforcement agencies within a 40-mile radius of Broadway were on the trail of some sort of drug operation, because the cartels that ran them were brutal, ruthless and as far as anyone could tell, totally devoid of principles. Analysts for the DEA came across the name of one Theodore “Teddy” Wiseman of Montclair, NJ, with some positively identified, though not-actionable connections to a cartel out of Colombia. One of Wiseman's mules had been picked up in the Bronx, carrying major product. The kid was already on parole for his last bust, and he was looking at some serious time unless, of course, he agreed to cooperate with authorities.

He cooperated with authorities, but only after they had promised to extradite him to another planet. He considered his potential prison life as the man who’d ratted on Wiseman. Unacceptable. In cooperation with the DEA, the NYPD got him transferred to Connecticut facilities, under an assumed name; a sort of in-prison, perpetrator-protection program.

They started watching Wiseman more closely. Loose surveillance, some confidential informant material. Too early for phone taps, but they kept digging. He was predictably nobody's fool. The man was careful, working, for the most part, out of his estate in Montclair, NJ. A legitimate waste management businessman, who happened to employ a lot of thugs, with rap sheets that were eating up even computer storage space at an alarming rate. For which, of course, they could not be re-arrested. Further actions required procedure and solid evidence, which Mr. Wiseman was smart enough to dodge, usually with that grin of the real fast kid playing dodge ball in the schoolyard; the one you could never hit, no matter how big the ball.

Jason Hewitt, head of Newark's DEA field office came up with the idea at a joint task force meeting, as the group of 12 opened discussions on what to do about the guy.

"Take the fight right to him," he told everybody at the conference table. "Don't waste a lot of surveillance time or money on trying to catch him doing something, 'cause he's smarter than that.

"Let's take what we got and go pay him a visit. Shake him up a little. Let him know we got our eye on him and see if it makes him nervous enough to make a mistake.

He shrugged, and added, "Routine house call."

As the black Ford Fairlane pulled into the graveled driveway of the Montclair estate on that cloudless Wednesday morning in May, Agent David Grafton, at the wheel, was thinking about his wife Amanda's birthday. The plan was to pick her and their two-year-old daughter Kathleen up at their home and drive to the Montclair Inn for dinner, and a surprise party. He was sure she had no idea. Agent Kelly Morris, in the passenger seat, looked out over the sculpted landscape toward the main house, and whistled.

"Man," said Grafton, echoing the whistle, "this guy's got some dough. Are you shittin' me?"

Grafton looked out and over at Morris, who suddenly stiffened, and stole a glance out of the Fairlane's rear window. Morris turned back, facing front, and reached inside his overcoat to touch the 9mm automatic, nestled in its' leather holster, tucked under his left arm. The move surprised Grafton.

"What's up?" he asked. "You see something?"

"Damn right, I see something,” said Morris. “A whole shitload of money. People have that kind of money don't usually mess around when it comes to protecting what's theirs."

Grafton, a fresh-out-of-college analyst, was thin, almost to the point of concern, with some muscle on the bones, and blond hair that flirted with department regulations, because the length of his hair was not something that Grafton spent a lot of time thinking about. He brought with him, on the house call, a financial report that he would use to alert Wiseman that they had some information about him. The threat of an audit on Wiseman's business was implicit, though it was little more than window dressing to the central theme of "We're watching you."

Morris was an ex-cop. A little overweight, almost to the point of concern, he'd been wearing the same, mid-calf length overcoat since he'd officially retired as a detective with the NYPD four years ago. A bullet had sidelined him into early retirement, and the DEA picked him up for light-duty assignments. They didn't want to send Morris into a gunfight, but he had strong enough instincts to see one coming, and on more than one occasion, had proved to be a useful and fortunately deadly asset. You never knew when one of these drug whackos would just go off on you, and Morris had little patience with the type.

Though it was true that he'd been shot in the line of duty, it was also true that he'd been in the midst of an on-site interrogation of a suspect and put two bullets in the man's knees, five minutes apart. It was a fact which the suspect's defense attorney wanted to put to good use in an upcoming trial. The suspect had caught Morris off-guard, wrestled his weapon away and tried to shoot the detective's balls off. Damn near succeeded, too. Proof of 'enhanced interrogation' didn't save the client, but it caught a judge's eye.

The squad lieutenant would feel guilty for years, when he learned that Morris' injuries were career-ending, because he was relieved; tried not to grin from ear to ear when he heard the news. It avoided litigation over the man's excessive use of force, which would have embarrassed Morris, but embarrassed the NYPD more. They got in touch with the DEA, gave him his party and gold watch and let him go.

The winter of 1977/78 was one of the coldest on record nationwide and while spring was relentless, traces of that long winter hung in the early morning air.

Morris was talking up a storm.

"Now, look, when we get up there," he said," try not to get in between me and whoever answers the door, all right?"

Grafton took a quick look at him and laughed.

"You think somebody's going to answer the door and just start shooting?"

"I don't know," he answered, "but if they do, I don't want to have to shoot through you to shoot back."

'Great,' thought Grafton, returning his attention to the road.

"Right," he said, "I'll see if I can't stay out of your way."

As Grafton turned into the arched entrance to Wiseman's property, he saw that Wiseman had company already. Parked up close to the brick home at the end of the driveway were two luxury sedans, and something of a beat-up red Toyota. Grafton pulled to the right, behind the Toyota, and wordlessly, he and Morris stepped out and headed for the front door.

Grafton was focused on the door. Morris was twisting and turning his head and body in a variety of directions. Checking for signs of trouble.

They walked up a short flight of concrete steps, crossed an open front porch with white, cast iron furniture, and knocked on the door. When nothing happened, they knocked again. They weren't in "Open up! It's the police" mode, so they waited. Morris spotted a doorbell, leaned in and pressed it.

It was opened by a 20-something kid, wearing jeans, a stained wife-beater undershirt, and a scowl. His eyes narrowed as he took in the casual attire of Grafton and the obvious cop getup on Morris. Grafton raised his ID, already in his hand, and started to speak.

"We're with the DEA," he started to say, just before all hell broke loose.

The kid screamed "FUCK!!" and turned away to run. Someone inside the front room  must have turned at the sound, and as instinctively as Morris was doing outside the door, reached for his weapon.

"They're fucking Feds!!" the kid screamed.

When the first bullets hit the front door, they ricocheted off in Grafton's general direction and he froze. Morris, just behind and to one side of him, his Glock 9 out of his shoulder holster, was reducing his vertical target space, while Grafton stood there, dumbfounded. Morris came flying across the space, as low to the ground as he could stay while still on his feet and nudged Grafton off to the left of the door. He stayed to the right and cast a quick glance behind him.

Returning his attention forward, he looked over at Grafton, who was looking a little green around the edges.

"Hey," said Morris. "Wake up. Get your weapon out."

More gunshots, bullets zinging off the door, interspersed with some panicked conversation and the clear sounds of a lot of lock and loading.

"Shoot up," Morris said, demonstrating to Grafton. "Now."

Grafton caught on, raised himself to his full height, turned partially into the doorway, and started putting the first bullets into the house. Morris ducked under them and vaulted inside, moving left, but turning to his right, his arm extended.

More gunfire, as Grafton, on some sort of auto-pilot he wasn't even aware he'd engaged, followed Morris in, moving right and surveying the scene in front of him. Morris was doing damage. Two men went down as they fought to acquire him as a target. A third was still on his feet and firing when Grafton hit him with a single bullet between his eyes.

Someone beyond a doorway, off to the left, joined the fight and caught Morris in the back of the neck before he could even react, let alone turn and fire back. Grafton turned, his trigger finger on the move before he'd actually even caught sight of the guy and fired. The man dropped, as a movement off to his right, caught his attention about a second too late. A bullet travelling downward from a flight of stairs tore through his right shoulder and spun him around so completely, that he was staring up the stairs at the gunman before his ass hit the tile floor. He fired, instinctively, and the man on the stairs fell backward; the jolt to his spine when he hit the stair's edge so severe, it almost bounced him back on to his feet. Not quite, though. He had a metal briefcase in his left hand, as he pitched forward down the stairs and the case went into a modified pinwheel motion. The latch on the case in the left hand caught the edge of a stair, and the lid opened, spilling what Grafton knew almost instantly to be money; bundles and bundles of it were airborne, and then slapping the floor when they landed, like distant echoes of the gunfire.

Grafton heard car doors slamming and the roar of engines, as he lay there, pain coursing through him, a knife blade of agony not allowing him access to any idea other than what the hell he was going to do next.

He was on his back, propped up on his left elbow, and had to remind himself to lower the weapon in the other hand. When he did, his body slipped backwards, and with only one elbow down there to hold it up, he went over sideways, his ears still ringing, his vision getting a little fuzzy, and trying to catch up on his breathing.

And then. . . it got quiet for a spell.

 

May, 20013

Holliston, MA

 

Kathleen Halloran stood silently at her mother's bedside at the Dell Grove Hospice, clutching the elder woman's hand. She'd been sitting in a comfortably cushioned wooden chair, part of the deliberately tranquil setting that the facility provided. Recessed lighting, reflecting off somber colors, cast shadows into odd corners of the room. There was little or no odor, unlike the hospital room from which her mother had been moved just over four days ago. Monitoring equipment and the tubes delivering air and a slow drip of morphine were deliberately absent, as well, hidden behind wooden cabinets, lending the room an air of casual occupancy; the irresistible force of illusion, meeting the immovable force of reality.

Having been there for nearly eight straight hours, Kathleen fell asleep in the chair. Her mother stirred on the partially inclined bed, and Kathleen snapped awake, standing, as the elder woman blinked to bring the room into focus.

Amanda Grafton's eyes were open. She turned her head to look up at her daughter, and she could see it in her eyes, rediscovered where she was. Kathleen leaned over and brushed a strand of grey, wispy hair off her mother's brow and just smiled. Amanda flicked the left corner of her mouth in response, and then, gripped her daughter's hand tightly.

"David. . ." Amanda said, her eyes drifting in different directions.

It was her father's name, one that Kathleen had not heard her mother say aloud for a number of years. Amanda, conveying surprising strength through her hands, her eyes and voice, took a couple of labored breaths, and then, with her left hand, tried to signal her daughter to lean in closer. The attempt amounted to a flutter from the opposite side of the bed, and Kathleen leaned in.

"Talk to Arthur alone," said Amanda.

"Who?" Kathleen asked, genuinely puzzled. She didn't know an Arthur, at least not one that her mother was likely to be talking about, as she lay dying.

"When you talk to Arthur," Amanda repeated, tightening her grip on Kathleen's hand, "be sure you're alone."

"Sure," Kathleen said, nodding and reassuring her mother with a firm, double-handed grip. "I will."

Amanda responded with as much of a smile as she could muster. The tension in her hand subsided, as mother and daughter remained in their positions, until Amanda's eyes closed again. After a moment or two, Kathleen laid her mother's hand back onto the bed and moved to sit on the leather couch, turning sideways to bring her feet up onto the cushions.

Amanda died as Kathleen lay asleep on the couch. A nurse woke her up and told her gently of her mother's passing.

"Thank you," said Kathleen, standing to approach the bed.

"We'll call the home for you," said the nurse, exiting without another word.

Two days later, still in the midst of arrangements, Kathleen answered her home phone, expecting it to be another in a long list of relatives calling with condolences.

"Hello," she said, trying, unsuccessfully, to keep the weariness out of her voice.

"Kathleen?"

"Yes?"

"My name is Arthur McConnell. I'm sorry for your loss."

The name caught her attention, instantly - Talk to Arthur alone.

"Yes, Mr. McConnell," she said. "My mother mentioned you just before she died, or at least someone named Arthur. I assume it was you she was talking about."

"I was retained by your mother many years ago to be executor of her will," he said.

"Yes, I wondered about that," she said, turning to look at her husband, Mitch, standing at a kitchen counter, spreading mayonnaise on a slice of bread. "She had said something, but I just haven't had a chance to go through her papers yet."

"No," said McConnell, "she. . . might not have mentioned it. She was very adamant that you know nothing about it, until after she passed."

"But why?" said Kathleen, allowing a little annoyance that McConnell most likely did not deserve to leak into her tone.

"I think it would be best if we discussed this in person," he said. "I have offices here in town. Perhaps if you would tell me of an opportune time, I could set up an appointment."

Kathleen raised the back of her hand to her forehead, brushing back a loose strand or two of hair, and looked over, again, at her husband, now munching on the ham, lettuce and tomato sandwich he had constructed. His eyes asked what was going on.

"Sure," said Kathleen. "We'll be burying her on Friday. Will you be there? Maybe we could we talk then?"

"No, Mrs. Halloran, I'm afraid not," he said. "I will be there, but one of the stipulations your mother insisted upon in regards to the disposition of the funds, is that you be alone when you learn of its provisions."

She almost said, "but why?" again, but successfully refrained. The re-emphasis of her mother's odd wish gave her pause.

"I'll have to check with my husband," she said, finally. "Would sometime next week be all right. I have to check to see when our schedules might line up for something like that."

"I'm afraid that won't be possible, Mrs. Halloran. You will have to come alone, or I will be unable to discuss it with you."

"But surely, my husband. . " she said, before McConnell cut her off.

"Your mother did not stipulate just alone," he said. "She emphasized that you must be absolutely alone."

"C'mon, Mr. McConnell," she said. "That's a little melodramatic, isn't it? I'll be telling my husband everything I learn, immediately afterwards anyway, why can't he just be there?"

McConnell laughed at that, which annoyed Kathleen, until he answered her.

"When your mother made these arrangements, you were about two years old, I think," he said. "She told me, even way back then, that you'd likely give me a hard time about the 'alone' provision."

"You may explain what you wish to your husband at the conclusion of our meeting," he added. "There are no provisions to that effect that would be enforceable, but if you are not alone when we meet, I am afraid that I'm bound, legally, to not reveal the particulars of the fund."

Kathleen emitted a burst of frustrated sigh.

"Fine," she said. "If we could speak shortly after my mother's services, just about an appointment, I'd be happy to make the arrangements."

"Thank you, Mrs. Halloran," he said. "I understand why this might be confusing, and I appreciate your cooperation. I will see you on Friday, and again, I'm sorry for your loss."

Kathleen returned the mobile phone to its cradle and stepped toward the kitchen.

"What was that all about?" her husband asked.

"My mother's will," she said. "I guess I'm coming into some sort of inheritance."

"Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?" he said.

She shook her head, as she reached past her husband to grab bread and fixings for a sandwich of her own. She struggled for a moment to identify the nature of her own thoughts about the phone call before she attempted to explain.

"Yeah, I guess," she said finally, in constant motion, with the rest of her making a sandwich. "She struggled to raise us when Dad left, so I can't imagine that it'll be all that much money, it's just that. . ."

"What?"

"There's some provision in this thing that says when I'm made aware of the details, I have to be absolutely alone."

"Absolutely?" said her husband with a chuckle. "He used that word?"

"Yeah. . Arthur McConnell. Said even you couldn't be there; that if you were, he wouldn't be able to tell me anything."

"Well, that sounds a little weird. I heard you tell him you were going to tell me about it afterwards. What did he say?"

Kathleen shrugged.

"No problem," she said, layering mayonnaise onto a slice of bread. "Just that I had to hear about it alone, first."

"Jesus! That sounds a little flaky to me. How do we know this guy's not some kind of scam artist, trying to get you to sign some document that'll take our house or something?"

That question caught Kathleen up short, a slice of ham stopping midway on its journey to the sandwich, as she considered its implications. The ham finished its trip, just after she remembered her mother on the night she died.

"I don't think so," she said. "My Mom said something about it before she died. Mentioned this guy Arthur and asked me to be sure I was alone when I talked to him."

"What do you think this is all about?"

"I don't know," said Kathleen, "but you know, when my Mom woke up, just before she started talking about it, she mentioned my father's name. She hadn't mentioned him in years, a lot of years."

"You think this might have something to do with him?"

Kathleen continued to build the sandwich, while under siege by a chaotic train of thoughts. Still struggling to absorb her mother's death, while grappling with what amounted to a message from the grave.

Make sure you're alone.

"She was never very comfortable talking about any of that," she said. "All those years, and I never did get anything even close to a full explanation of what happened."

"You told me you'd looked into it once."

"Yeah," she said. "I mean, I was young when it happened, and by the time I got to high school, my 'need to know' had grown a lot, too . . . What was that guy's name? . .

She grappled with it, remembering headlines, pictures, and then, clenched her fist, mayonnaise flinging off the knife in her hand.

"Wiseman," she said. "He was the guy that my Dad and this . . other agent were after in New Jersey. They went to his house, and there was some kind of a gunfight thing. That's how my Dad died."

"You know," she added, "I didn't think so at the time, but when I first started to really understand what everybody was telling me, I think my mother was making a concerted effort not to have me connect Wiseman's name with my Dad.

"So," said Mitch, starting to assist with a quick clean-up of the kitchen counter space, as Kathleen continued to take bites out of her sandwich. "You see this McConnell guy next week, play his little 'alone' game and find out what's in the will. Simple as that, right?"

"Yeah," she said. "Simple as that."

They were interrupted by the energetic entrance of their three-year-old daughter, Cassie, who came at full speed out of her room down a hallway; all legs, arms, and an excited cry as she gripped a plastic building toy.

"Look," she said. "Look how big it is."

Kathleen made appropriate noises at the size of the toy; stacked plastic, creating a tall tower on a plastic base structure in multiple colors.

"Wow!" said Kathleen, putting her sandwich onto the counter and scooping the child into her arms, toy and all. "That is really big. Did you use all the pieces?"

Cassie gave that a thought, still learning her ability to envision things not in her immediate vicinity.

"No," she said, finally. "There's more."

"Well," said her mother, putting her back down. "Why don't you go see if you can get a few more on there, and then, it'll be really big. I'll come in and help you in a minute, OK? "

Cassie took off, and as usual, Kathleen's heart skipped a beat, watching her child racing at the very limits of her ability, unconcerned about potential disasters like tripping, the sharp edges of doors or the hard reality of a wooden floor. Kathleen knew she could never protect the child from everything, though deep within her, she knew that she'd never give up trying.

"Gotta go," said her husband, leaning in to peck her on the cheek. "Shouldn't be too late. I'll call to let you know."

Kathleen looked up at him with a smile, waved, and he left.

They arranged for a baby sitter to care for Cassie during the first night at the funeral home and greeted somewhere in the vicinity of about 50 people who'd come to pay their respects. Some Kathleen knew; old friends and acquaintances of her mother, from work, from life in the community, and an array of relatives, some seriously distant, and some, like Kathleen's Aunt Tessie, and Uncle Todd, whom she knew well, but hadn't seen for years. They'd come from New York City and Virginia, respectively, and arranged for lodgings near the funeral home in Holliston, MA, about 30 miles southwest of Boston.

On the second night at the home, Kathleen left early to pick Cassie up and bring her for the last half hour or so of the viewing process. Cassie approached the open coffin, her hand gripping her mother's as strongly as Kathleen had ever felt. Still unaware of just exactly what death was, the atmosphere it had created in her home, as well as the tangible solemnity of the funeral home was frightening Cassie. Kathleen leaned over as they got closer to the coffin and helped Cassie stand on a stool designed for kneeling, but now, in use as a means to allow Cassie to look at her grandmother.

"Say goodbye to Gramma," said Kathleen.

Cassie looked up and back into her mother's face, filled with questions she didn't know how to ask.

"Is she asleep, Mommy?"

"No, Cassie," said Kathleen, gently. "She's died and she's going to go to heaven now."

"Is she going to go in that box?" the little girl asked, turning back to take in its length and breadth and the array of flowers scattered around its perimeter, "and take all the flowers?"

"No," said Kathleen. "The box and flowers are going to stay nearby, so we can go and see them and remember Gramma."

Cassie looked back into the coffin, stretching her toes to get a better look.

"Bye, Gramma," she said, turning back, climbing down off the stool and reaching up to hold her mother's hand. "Are you going to say goodbye?"

Kathleen, still gripping Cassie's hand leaned in, as she planted a kiss onto her fingertips and touching her mother's forehead with it.

"Goodbye, Mom," she said.

 

It rained on the day of the funeral; one of those northeast squalls that deny the promise of a Massachusetts May day, and the group stood under and around the pop-up tent surrounding the gravesite, as a local clergyman reminded everyone of the impermanence of life, and the promise of life everlasting in the hands of a God he truly believed in. At the end of the ceremony, as Kathleen stood to one side of the coffin, watching those in attendance drop individual flowers onto it, an elderly man stepped forward to greet her.

"Kathleen," said the grey-haired, rather distinguished-looking gentleman. "I'm Arthur McConnell. I'm sorry again for your loss. She was a remarkable woman."

The comment brought Mitch Halloran's head up, and he moved slightly to greet the man.

"I'm Mitch Halloran," he told the man. "Kathleen's husband. I understand you have some mysterious business to conduct with my wife."

Kathleen shot him a look, puzzled by what she detected as an edge to her husband's voice.

"Oh, don't mind him," Kathleen said to McConnell. "He just doesn't like being left out of things. Pardon me, but haven't we met?"

McConnell smiled, briefly, and reached for Kathleen's elbow.

"Might we speak privately?" he asked.

Kathleen looked quickly at her husband, begging him silently not to choose this time and place to object, as she stepped slightly off to one side to converse with McConnell.

McConnell moved a few feet away and turned to face her.

"You and I have met before," he said. "We have seen each other at the market downtown. You were telling me about your mother."

The recognition light flicked on, and she remembered.

"Yes, of course," she said, pausing to take in the coincidence now of meeting the man at her mother's funeral and the reason he was there. "But you knew. . ."

"I have known your mother for many years," he said, reaching into his overcoat, extracting a white business card, and holding it out for her to take. "I have an office on the second floor, above the market. Could we meet on Monday?"

Kathleen continued to look at the card, and then, started to think ahead to Monday.

"No," she said. "I can't do Monday. I have a meeting to attend late that morning that might tie me up for the afternoon."

"Tuesday then?" he asked.

She thought about it and nodded.

"Yes," she said. "Tuesday would be fine. Early morning, if that's all right? I do have some things to attend to that afternoon, so I'll be dropping Cassie off at daycare early."

"Eight o'clock?" he asked.

"Eight would be fine," she said.

"I'll see you then," he said, stepping forward, indicating that she move ahead of him.

They stepped back in her husband's direction, and McConnell reached his hand out to him as they arrived.

"Nice to have met you, Mr. Halloran," he said. "I know this must all seem a little strange to you, but I'm sure once your wife and I conclude our business, some of your questions will be answered."

Halloran took the hand, and listened to the words, warily, looking over at Kathleen for some kind of sign. Kathleen just smiled lightly.

"Thank you," Mitch said, finally. "I appreciate that. I don't know what it's all about yet, but thank you, I guess, for whatever it is."

McConnell smiled, turned and nodded his head once at Kathleen and walked away.

 

Montclair, NJ

Same day

 

Carl Wiseman sat in his comfortably appointed entertainment room, watching the funeral, some 250 miles away, on a 72" Digi-Tech flat screen monitor, which was doing nothing for the images. The button mini-camera that was recording the event was predictably jumpy, the image rarely settling still for longer than a couple of seconds, and even then, given to abstract motion. Carl squinted from time to time, forgetting that the problem with the image wasn't about his eyes.

'Damn rain,' he thought, and 'cheap, lousy camera. '

He scanned the faces that paraded, unknowingly, in front of it. Watched as the camera shifted focus to scan another grouping. He forgot, as well, that turning his head or stepping back or in closer would not change the camera image. It was like watching a pool game with a fixed camera. No matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get a different angle on a shot that the camera was seeing.

He knew none of these people. Didn't know the dead woman, or her daughter.

 

May 1978

Carl stepped off the bus at the corner of Wedgewood and Amber Sts. in Montclair and saw the lights flashing in front of his home. With his books in hand, he ran down the street, trying to dodge the police cars, blocking the driveway. A uniformed policeman stopped him, and though he identified himself and tried, again, to get past the cop and into his own home, they wouldn't let him pass. The cop, one arm still holding on to Carl, used a handheld radio and spoke to someone in the house. Minutes later, Carl saw his Uncle Jack emerge from the house, and make his way down the driveway to where Carl stood, next to the cop.

Jack Wiseman stepped under the crime scene tape stretched across the driveway entrance and walked up to Carl, who made an attempt to dodge by him and get up to the house. Jack held the boy's arm in a strong grip.

"Hey," he said, "you don't want to go in there. . "

"What are you talking about??!!?" Carl said, trying to wriggle free, panic and determination welling up inside his head, about ready to explode. "What happened??"

"C'mon, c'mon," his uncle said. "Let's take a walk."

Carl tried to escape again. Jack Wiseman tightened his grip and planted his feet.

"The cops are in there right now," he said. "They won't even let me in, Carl. C'mon, let's walk."

He relented, reluctantly, shrugging at his uncle's grip. Jack let him get away with it and motioned away from the cars, and flashing lights.

"My car's on the street over there," he said. "We can talk."

Jack maintained his grip on the boys' arm and held it as he unlocked the passenger door on a silver Mercedes. He motioned Carl to climb in, and waited while the boy hesitated and then, complied. Jack walked around the front of the car, and got behind the wheel. They sat in silence for a minute, watching the colored lights. Thinking different things.

"Some cops came up to the house to talk to your Dad," said Jack. "We don't how it started yet, but somebody started shooting, and just. . .kept on shooting."

Carl turned in his seat to look at Jack directly.

"My Dad?"

"I don't know," Jack told him. "For sure. But he was hurt pretty bad."

"I have to get in there," said Carl, reaching for the door. Jack put out a hand.

"I'm tellin' you, kid, you can't," he said. "Cops'll stop you before you make it to the door. No sense even tryin' at this point. They know you're here."

"Does my Mom know?"

"No," Jack told him, "we haven't been able to find her. She took off this morning and. . ."

"She was meeting her friend, Helene, in the city," Carl told him.

Jack snapped to attention.

"You know who this woman is?"

"Helene? Sure. She went to school with my Mom or something."

"You have any idea how to reach this woman?"

Carl shrugged as he gave it some thought.

"Mom's got a little address book in the drawer under the phone," he said. "Her number might be there."

"You know her last name?"

Carl gave that some thought, too, and shrugged again.

"No," he said. "I don't, really. She always just called her Helene."

"Might be enough," said Jack, excited, before slowing himself down long enough to engage his nephew. "I'm going to go tell someone to look for that book, OK? I want you to stay right here. Can you do that?"

Carl's dark eyes flashed with wanting to get into his house. . .to see. . . but he didn't want to see. Not really. Scared to. Just as scared not to. Stuck.

"Carl," said his uncle. "Listen to me now. . . things are going to happen in a certain order here that we can't change. I need you to get that and sit tight for a little while."

Carl sat numb, as his uncle opened the driver door, and stepped out. He leaned back in.

"Let's just see if we can't find your Mom, and then take the next step, all right?'

Carl nodded.

 

Present day

 

As Carl continued to watch the black and white video of Amanda Grafton's funeral, he reflected on the fact that Uncle Jack, leaving him in that car, at that moment in time, may have been the start of it all. He didn't learn about the money until 10 years later, and all that did was add fuel to an already blazing fire. He didn't care then, and he didn't care now, why his father had been shot. All he knew as he sat there in his uncle's Mercedes Benz, pondering the life ahead of him, was that cops had killed his Dad, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. All the confusion, all the anger, all the emerging hormonal rage of his adolescence steeped in that car. He would find out who did this and make them pay. He was sure of it.

Then he discovered that the man responsible was dead, and there was nowhere in his head to go with that. He brooded, took it out on anybody who crossed him. By the time he'd graduated from high school in 1984, he'd been arrested twice on assault charges. Beat the living crap out of a man twice his size, who gave him some shit at a mall. Witnesses agreed that the elder man had started it, which gave family lawyers the ammunition they needed to keep him out of juvenile court. The second time, on school grounds, was a little tougher to explain away. Nobody in that school yard would say a word against him, but the freshman he beat up for God only knows what reason identified him. He refused, however, to press charges and though the lawyers couldn't prevent an appearance in court, the record of it was sealed. Carl Wiseman had dodged another bullet.

Uncle Jack, in the meantime, was running the family business, only a portion of which was dedicated to the safe and environmentally-sound removal of trash from the streets of New Jersey. Carl was a bright, if somewhat pushy adolescent and figured out what was going on quickly. His uncle, who ran most of the operations from a trailer business office in Ramapo, on the border with New York, tried to keep him out of it, but eventually relented when he got the youngster to agree that he would not avail himself of any opportunities to sample the products the company was selling.

By the time he was 21, Carl had his own little operation of street vendors and a strong client list that kept his uncle happy and exposed him to the rudimentary dynamics of supply and demand. The money was good, the income steady and Carl kept himself busy and entertained in a manner to which he had rapidly become accustomed.

Four years later, without really intending to, his uncle told him about the money. It was poker night at Jack's and while Carl didn't always get over there on the traditional Tuesday evenings, he was uncommitted this one night, and Jack just invited him. At around 2 a.m., with the gang of four players gone, Carl and Uncle Jack were sitting on the elder man's leather sectional couch, each nursing a single malt scotch.

"You know," Carl said, "you never have told me the whole story."

"Not much more to tell," said Jack, who sat sipping the Scotch, his eyes drifting away. "Never did find the money."

"What money?" Carl asked, snapping to attention, and placing the crystal glass with its measure of Scotch down on the table in front of him.

"The deal," said Jack, hesitating. "The guys who came out to the house from the city that day, came with a lot of cash. Nobody knows what the hell happened to it."

"Wait a second," said Carl, years of questions without answers suddenly opening up in front of him. "What guys?"

"There were a few," said Jack. "Different parts of the city. They came out to the house with cash. Nobody ever found it. The guys who brought it, every one of them, said they’d paid your Dad and the cops didn’t even know the money was there. Shit just vanished.” 


© Copyright 2019 SkipM624. All rights reserved.

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