CHAPTER FIFTEEN

I parked the car a block away from the little gray house and walked up to it from the front. The day was warm and mostly sunny; the birds were singing. A gray squirrel sat on a low limb with a nut in his mouth and scolded me. He flipped his tail and cluck-clucked. Then he cried chaaaaww, chaaaawwwww! and went back to clucking again. I strode up the walk purposefully, opened the side door, and went briskly up the stairs. At the top Johnny’s door was locked solid and had a Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department seal on it. I walked quickly back down and out to the car where I put on an old Levi’s jacket and a long-billed fisherman’s cap that I always keep in back. I was wearing khaki-type slacks which weren’t as good as jeans but would have to do. I grabbed a roll of friction tape and an oversized screwdriver from the glove box and returned to the house. But instead of going in the front, I walked around to the back. The ladder in the garage made it easier to mount the small shed roof. But had it not been there I was prepared to climb up. With the ladder in place I stepped back and gazed at the scene. The back of the small house was invisible from the neighbors’. I returned to the front porch and stood at the downstairs door and rang the front bell twice, stomping around impatiently like a repairman. No answer. Still vacant.

I was up on that little roof in two winks. In another two I had crisscrossed the windowpane with tape. I took a final look around, and holding a thick rag up between the windowpane and my arm, I swung at it with the screwdriver handle. The window broke with a low, grinding crackle. It sounded exactly like pond ice breaking underfoot. With the wind in the trees and the birdsong outside, it was scarcely audible. I poked the remaining glass away, and it fell inside in a jagged stringy mess of tape and shards. The tape had prevented the explosive tinkling sound of glass and had kept the mess together too. Old Joe had taught me a lot.

I stuck my head in and hollered hello three times, waiting awhile between each call. I climbed inside. Nobody home. Except me.

First I made a quick and silent survey of the apartment. It appeared fine- just as we’d left it almost two weeks previously. Next I unfastened the front-door lock and opened the door, thus breaking the seal. I was in triple Dutch if caught, but I wanted a quick way out. I left the latch on, though, just to buy myself some time if anyone tried to come in that way. I returned to the bedroom, went back out onto the low roof, and tipped the ladder over. It fell back onto the grass, which was tall enough to hide it from casual view. Nothing looks more suspicious than a ladder beneath an open window. To hide the broken pane raised the window, then lowered the top sash into the bottom position. With the shade halfway down, a passerby would have to look carefully up at the top pane to see that it was missing. I figured I was safe for the time being. I had maybe an hour to find what everyone was looking for. Whatever that was.

I began my search by closing the hall door and peering out through the peepholes that the killers had constructed in it. I assumed the lighting would have been about the same the day that Johnny and the dogs bought it. Through the peephole I could clearly see the hallway and the front door. I could also see into the living room, and a large portion of it. None of the lights was on, and they wouldn’t have been that day either. But the light was more than adequate. I studied the killer’s view for several minutes because it told me something. It told me that Johnny had been in plain view from the time he entered his apartment. And he had not gone into the john, or his bedroom, or around the corner of the living room. Because if he had, then those rooms would’ve been turned inside out by the killers in their efforts to find the hot item. The rooms would have all been ransacked like my house and Sam’s office. After torturing Andy and murdering him, the killers had certainly returned here, but they had left the apartment alone. Ergo, Johnny was never out of their sight from the time he entered until he drew his last breath. Perhaps a total of thirty seconds- probably no more. Then maybe this errand had been a mistake.

I sagged down in the shoulders and sighed wearily. I ambled down the semidark hallway and into the living room, where I sat on the couch. Way to go Adams. You pull a B and E to discover that he couldn’t have hidden the whatever-it-is in his own house. And sitting there, I was struck by the possible consequences of what I had done. Breaking and entering. What did it carry? Five years in the slammer? If I was caught, would the fact that I was a physician and respectable citizen with a clean I record help me? Maybe not. Would the fact that I had enough money to get the best defense and grease a few palms help me? Immeasurably, without a doubt.

And again my thoughts got on that trolley track which clickety-clacked back to the fish peddler and the shoe trimmer. They certainly hadn’t had much money. In fact, one of the first items of business in the Italian community after the arrest was the establishment of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, headed by a man named Aldino Felicani, to raise funds for the trial. The trolley track kept clicking away…I had been over this same path many, many times in the past two weeks: then why… why was the defense committee even necessary, if indeed the two men had knocked over a shoe factory three weeks previous for fifteen grand?

And then my thinking went back to the biggest question in my mind, which revolved around the characters and personalities of the defendants. Why and how would two working stiffs like Nick Sacco and Bart Vanzetti- anarchists and idealists, yes, but guys who had earned their meager livings for over a decade without any brush with the lawget involved with four or five other guys, two big cars, armed robbery and murder, and then… and then go back into their drab working class life, with no car, no big house, no bankroll…

No. It didn’t fit. Unless they had drunk some magic Jekyll-and-Hyde tonic the evening of April 14, pulled the job the next afternoon, then returned to normal,. it didn’t fit.

And that was the reason I had entered illegally. Since it now seemed certain that at least one of them- Sacco- was guilty, I had to find out what horrendous aberration in the human personality had occurred to make it so. And I wanted to see the implication, the proof, in black and white.

A bluejay cawed outside. Through the front windows I could see the elms and maples Hopping and swopping around in the late spring breeze. A robin sang. I got up and walked over to one of Johnny’s light posters. I was staring at it when I heard a car whisper by on the street, and I jumped a bit. I looked down to see a tan sedan turn toward town. I walked through the rooms once more, hoping to get a spark, a faint beam of light…

In the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, I thought of it. The thugs had searched the office and Johnny’s car and his person. It was not in the pouch. Therefore he’d ditched it between the car and the hallway. I went to the door and opened it cautiously. I crept down the stairs, then stared out the tiny curtained window at the bottom which looked out to the street. As I watched, at black-and-white police cruiser oozed by in a crawl. I nearly fainted.

But they didn’t stop, just drifted by ghostlike and went off down the street. Thank God for the white lace curtains. They acted like a one-way mirror and I wasn’t seen. When I was sure they were far away I went out and looked at the door. My eyes followed every shingle, every inch of door-frame molding. I looked up. I reached up as far as I could and ran my hand along the joints and crevices. Johnny was shorter than I, so I knew by stretching up I was overlooking no place he could reach.

The door revealed nothing, so I walked toward the street and stood on the sidewalk. I walked slowly to the doorway. Now what if Johnny had a warning, a premonition something wasn’t right? Perhaps a flutter of motion in an upstairs window? Maybe the dogs began their low growling as they came up the walk? I went over and looked down at the porch steps and floor. There was no hiding place I could see or feel. There was not even a crack in the boards through which a photo negative could be dropped or slipped.

Returning to the enclosed side stairway, I opened the bottom door and went back inside. Behind me the street was empty and the birds chirped; the leaves hissed and whispered in the breeze. The sun came out. I closed the door softly and stared up the dark stairway.

I crept up, step by step, searching the walls and wood every inch of the way. I took out my penlight and swept it everywhere. I grabbed the stair tread boards by their lips and tried to raise them. I kicked at the risers to see if they were loose. No dice. The stairwell walls were painted a flat yellow. No cracks. Lightswitch plate was firm, ceiling fixture too high to reach. Up at the top I examined the outside door frame with eyes, light, and fingers. Nothing there. The door was left ajar; I pushed it open and re-entered, standing near the living-room door. I examined the walls, the chair rails, the small table under which the lethal bomb had been placed, the rug runner, everything. No dice.

I reached my hand up and swept it all around the walls. Same result.

‘Johnny, damn you,” I whispered aloud in exasperation, “what the hell did you do with it?”

I trudged back to the living room and stared out the windows. The faint happy noises of springtime wafted through to me. I was a fool to suppose that I could uncover the object if the determined efforts of the professionals, whose handiwork I had seen firsthand in my own house, had not. I decided I had overstayed my luck; it was time to depart. But first I went into the john a final time to take a leak. Had he flushed it down the toilet? I asked myself. No; the thugs had him in their sight the entire time. I decided to ask Joe to let me look at Johnny’s clothes. Though they had been gone over by the killers and the cops with a fine-tooth comb, they seemed the one possibility remaining out of reach of the competition.

I washed my hands. The water seemed to be making a rather strange noise: a faint thumping and grating. I thought the pipes needed fixing; they had water hammer. Put dead-end air-capped pipe on the feeder line to soak up that water shock and- I looked at myself in the mirror. I didn’t like the look on the face that stared back; it was afraid. I turned the water off. The grating and thumping were still there. They were coming from beneath me. When I got out to the hall I was sure what the noise was.

Somebody was coming up the stairs.

Cops or crooks- either way, Adams was cooked. Luckily, like any decent burglar, I had an alternate exit route chosen. I was going to leave via the back window. And quickly.

But it was no go; when I got there and reached down to pull up the intact pane I saw a rough-looking character standing in the small back yard. He wasn’t looking up at me; he was glancing sideways, back and forth. He had seen the fallen ladder too. He was no cop. I went back into the hallway; I heard the double scrape of feet- faint yet clear, which told me the stairs had been climbed. My visitor had reached the top landing.

As I ducked into the john again I looked back. The door was open a crack; a gloved hand crept around it and pushed. The door swung open.

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