October 20, 1942
After leaving Roger’s that night, I stopped by my good friend, Tony’s place for a drink and some supper. I know you’ve heard me talk me about Tony Spinelli and his luncheonette down on Cherry Street across from that dive we all lived in. For the past 12 years I wouldn’t have my breakfast any where else but off of Tony’s griddle. In the evenings Tony had dinner with his brother Mario and his beast of a sister-in-law, my landlady, Josephine. Mario and Josephine lived on the first floor, I lived on the second and Tony on the third. There were three other floors but they were never worth mentioning and neither were the people who lived on them.
Josephine, who finds her way into all my tales, was a sight to behold. She stood stout at 4’8″ with a sour face like a lemon-sucking fascist. At least a deuce and a half. And always in a pale blue house dress with pink roses splattered across it. It was hard to tell the difference between the roses and the stains of her daily gravy.
She came over from Naples at the age of 14 as the property of her husband, Giuseppe. The only problem was Giuseppe, a real son of a bitch according to his widow, took a walk into the East River three years after coming over here. It didn’t take Josephine long to find her real Prince Charming, Mario Spinelli. Equally short and about 100 pounds thinner, Mario only lived to make his wife happy.
Together they bought a flea-trap tenement on Cherry Street where Mario ran a grocery and Josephine rented rooms to the dregs of the city. But there was no one in this town tougher than her.
Tony came over from the old country with Mario when he was 5. Mario was older and they had to fend for themselves seeing as momma and poppa Spinelli saved only enough money to send their sons off to New York. Tony said the beginning was tough. They sold eggplants and cabbages out of a pushcart and had to live in boarding rooms with 5 or 6 other young kids trying to make their own way. He had a grit his brother didn’t. Mario was still old world. Tony was a street kid from the Lower East Side. He taught himself how to read by pushing newspapers while he was selling eggplants. You couldn’t help but admire his way.
When I was up at his place, I didn’t think it was smart to talk about the case. He had a little bit of a loose jaw. Not in the way that dames do when they’re talking to each other just for the thrill of gossip, but Tony liked to make sure everyone knew what everybody else in the neighborhood was doing. He would start asking questions, then asking people for information and before I knew it, the whole neighborhood would know I was running around the sewers chasing after a murderer. Not the kind of press I needed on a case like this.
So he fixed me a drink and gave me some left-over lasagna from dinner and we talked about the heat and how slow things were.
I didn’t sleep much on account of the heat and my nerves. The more I thought about this Vander Dunk fella and his friendship with pops, the more I wanted to be able to reach out and talk to my old man. I never did any of that as a kid. He was always off working before the war and the time he was home, he never had much to say to me. He drank too much. More than he should have and I think that made him quiet. Like it was doing to me. We probably had more in common then either one of us knew.
And here I was following this spook under ground into who-knows-what. I never liked chasing ghosts seeing as I was the type of guy who liked my enemies with flesh and blood.
After a couple of hours of something that could barely be called sleep. The morning hit and the heat hadn’t let up. The air was still thick and damp like a sweat-soaked fever blanket. That meant rain wasn’t too far behind and that was the only relief we could hope for.
I dragged myself out of a tortured bed, shaved, took to cleaning myself up a bit and had breakfast over at the luncheonette. You could run a gold wrist watch by my morning: two eggs, two strips of bacon and buttered toast with my coffee, heavy on the cream. After I read the paper, I asked Tony for clean check ledger and a pencil so I could jot down some notes for Eva.
When I got to the office, I could tell Eva was in another mood. She was sitting at her desk cradling that mess of blond hair in her hands. “Rough night with a bottle?” I asked her.
“No rough night with my darlings. None of them could sleep. All belly aching about the heat.”
“Get them some ceiling fans.”
“Haha haha, cute. You should hang this detective business out to dry and take up a vaudeville act.”
Well as much I’d love to chat about your brats and my career choices, I have something important to say.” I waited for her to interrupt but she wasn’t up for it. “I’m going out on this case this afternoon and I’ll need you to take care of a few things in the event I don’t come back for awhile.”
“Oh come off it, Finch, you’re not flying to the moon.”
“Sister, I don’t know where I’m going. I might be digging down so far I could end up in China. And when it’s all said and done just remember one thing, I’m taking this case for your ceiling fans.”
“Oh no you don’t. Don’t put this one on me buddy. You’re taking this case for your own wallet. I’ve never known you to pass up a couple of bucks. Something has to pay for your booze.”
“Well it certainly isn’t your charming mouth.” I took that bill from Tony’s out of my pocket. “I wrote down a list of things I need you to look up for me.”
She snatched it out of my hand and changed her attitude, “I love a good project.”
“I know how thorough you can be and this time I need you to be very thorough.”
“Don’t worry your sweet little head Finch, I’ll even type these notes up for you.” She looked proud of herself. Like she had a purpose after so many weeks of just sitting around.
I leaned over her desk and grabbed her by both of her arms. “Now this is important. If you don’t hear any word from me in three days, not a phone call or a note or nothing, it means I’m toast down there. Call up Roger and tell him. Then call Lyle Linder and he’ll take care of the rest.”
“I hate that Swede.”
“He doesn’t like you all that much either. But he knows what to do for my brother should I fall off the face of the planet.”
Eva suddenly looked a little scared. “Finch you’re going to be fine right?”
“Who knows? Everyone I’ve talked to thinks this case is a bad idea. I think this case is a bad idea. I could be walking right into my own funeral.”
She had nothing to say about that and then her face went completely serious. Like the corners of her mouth became so heavy they drooped down taking all the blood out of her face with them. I couldn’t stand to see it so I smirked a little and nudged her shoulder with a bump of my knuckles. “Awe buck up, sister. I’ll try my best to get back to make your life miserable. I promise.”
She lifted her head with that heavy pout. “You better Finch.” Then she smiled a little, “I can’t pay my bills without you.”