CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

With the tension and the adrenalin rush worn off, Mary and I collapsed in fatigue. After I took her to the hospital to be treated is for several small gashes on her breasts- the sad result of Marty’s warped idea of “getting fresh” with a woman- I took her home in time to meet Joe out in back. He stared and stared at DeLucca’s body. He thanked Sam over and over again. He was one glad cop.

“Except I’m kicking myself in the ass for leaving so suddenly last night. I should’ve thought of the possibility he’d sneak out here. Anybody with the balls and cunning to slip back into Lynn and grease Johnny Rizzo would try anything. But it seems to us that it was that psycho kid who did all the wet work. He sure loved to hurt people.”

“Well I’m not going to miss him one bit. He may have been ill, but I don’t feel sorry for what happened to him. I’d hate to think what he would have done to Mary if he’d had the chance. As it happens, she’s probably not even going to have any marks when she heals up. Jeez, I bet Moe has a field day when I describe Marty to him.”

Joe’s men had found Marty wedged up behind my workbench with a hole behind his ear. Then they carted the three of them off in a meat wagon. Good riddance. Joe said he guessed the whole thing was as good as wrapped up.

“Not quite,” I said, leading him into the study and closing the door behind us. I sat him down and told him the name of the person who had hired Carmen DeLucca.

“What? Where did you get that load of shit?”

“From DeLucca himself. His dying words. You’re the only one I’ve told. I didn’t think you’d believe me.”

Joe walked over to the window and looked at the dogwood- petals that littered the lawn. He had his hands thrust deep into his pants pockets, and he rocked back and forth on his heels.

“That’s a big name, Doc. Not as big as the Kennedys or Saltonstalls, but big. The only thing I can’t figure out, assuming he was even involved, is why he’d want the papers.”

“Could you question him?”

He spun around. “Are you kidding? Based on something you overheard? No way.”

“Isn’t there a rule about deathbed confessions?”

“Yes. A dying declaration is admissible evidence since it is assumed to be, as the deceased’s last words, the truth. But dying declarations almost always concern something the dying man himself did or didn’t do, or else the identity of the man’s assailant.”

“So it means nothing?”

“Oh no. It means a lot. A hell of a lot. I just don’t know what yet.”

The door burst open and Brian Hannon entered, shaking his right fist like a crapshooter. The fist emitted a metallic rattle.

“Thanks for knocking, Brian,” said Joe.

“You’re entirely welcome… lieutenant.”

He held his fist up under our noses and opened it. Resting on his wide palm were four ammo rounds as big as lipsticks. They were Sam’s forty-Five-caliber long-Colt cartridges.

“Seen these?” asked Brian. Joe picked one of them up and looked at the nose. He saw the snowflake cuts hacked across the lead.

“Well hush my mouth,” said Joe.

“Great, Brindelli. just great. Know what it looks like to have dumdums used in my jurisdiction? You just wait: the city council’s gonna be on my case like cheddar on Ritz.”

“You gotta admit they do a job,” said Joe.

“Don’t you be a wise-ass. You been hanging around him too long,” said Brian, jerking his thumb at me. He bent over and pointed to the top of his head, which had been shaved and bandaged. “See this? Seven stitches on account of your friend the doctor. Now what do I do about Sam?”

“Nothing. If it weren’t for him my brother-in-law and sister would be dead.”

“That’s what I mean. Take ’em. Lose ’em someplace. Though God knows the medical examiner’s going to ask a lot of questions. jeez, you see those slobs? Look like they were hit by mortars.”

Joe slipped the rounds into his coat pocket and turned to me.

“How’d he do it, Doc? How’d Sam get back here for the ambush?”

“After he took the call and got the money from the safe, he took a couple of minutes to study a road map. Seeing that the drop was on 2A, he thought there was a chance something was happening here. It was a lucky guess. He knew he couldn’t tail us without being noticed. He got a friend of his to drive the Regal to the Mobil station near 128 and Route 2. He followed with the dog and the cycle. They met at the gas station, where Sam took the Regal to make the drop. He wore a hat and a jumpsuit so he could change his appearance fast. He went up 128 to 2A, which is less than a mile, and into the lot. After the drop he hustled back to the station, doffed the clothes, and sped along Route 2 into Concord and over here by the back way. With the bike he could cut right across the orchard, which he did. That’s what Vince heard. It wasn’t shooting, it was Sam’s old Honda backfiring. Hell, he and the dog were staked out in position behind the far wall even before we got back.”

Brian looked at me. “I think you owe him dinner,” he said. “And Joe, don’t forget to ditch those rounds.”

***

Next day, as I fitted the shiny prongs of my Hu-Friedy forceps over the crown and shank of a deeply impacted third molar, the idea came to me. I was struck by how the metal of the instrument obscured the tooth completely. The metal surrounded the object, hiding it. The metal surrounded the object… hiding it…

“Eureka!” I whispered.

“What?” asked Susan Petri, who stood, white-smocked and plastic-aproned, to my immediate right. “Did you ask for a beaker?”

“No. I said Eureka. That means ‘I found it.’ “

“I know. Found what?”

“The place where the negatives are hidden. I think I’ve found it.”

She stared at me. I couldn’t see her lower face since it was hidden by her surgical mask. The eyebrows went up; the forehead wrinkled in a frown. “Swell, Doctor Adams.”

She dipped her siphon tube into the patient’s open mouth to draw off the blood that was fast collecting there. Fortunately the patient was asleep, having been given a shot of sodium pentothal. Mrs. Habersham couldn’t hear us. I withdrew the bent and buried tooth, which I had twisted up with the cowhorn forceps.

There was a deep, sucking, squishing noise as the molar came out, then we sutured and packed the wound, injected Mrs. Habersham with a hefty slug of penicillin, and watched her carefully while she came to. You must be really careful with a general anesthetic so that your patient doesn’t choke or drown. This is especially true if you’ve worked in the mouth. She woke up without a hitch and we sent her on her way. On foot.

At the earliest opportunity I returned home to the darkroom (which I was painstakingly rebuilding) and got an eight-inch strip of 35mm film. I headed out to the Concord Rod and Gun Club and the outdoor range. I heard those big Magnums blasting off long before I reached it. Then another sound: the thump of iron silhouettes being hit by slugs and slamming against the ground. Silhouette shooting, imported from Europe in the sixties, is all the rage now at gun clubs. It consists of shooting at thick metal plates cut out in the shape of animal profiles, at long range, using big-bore Magnum handguns. No rifles. It’s a silly sport, I guess. But then so is chasing a little white ball around on grass and whacking at it until it falls into a cup.

I was out at the silhouette range because I needed a big-bore revolver to experiment with. I found Chuck Norgaard at one of the stations, poised at the line with a revolver held out in front of him with both hands. There was a blast I felt in my chest, and the gun and his arms went up. He stepped back and flipped out the cylinder, pushed the ejection rod, and dumped out the spent shells.

“Hiya Doc. What brings you here?”

“I want to borrow that thing when you’re finished.”

He nodded, and I saw him drop six more silver rockets into the cylinder. I was sick of looking at big handguns.

“Got any idea what those things do when they hit people instead of steel plate?” I asked.

“I can imagine.”

“No you can’t,” I said, and waited for him over at the bench. I should have brought earmuffs.

Half an hour later I left the club, went home, and got hold of Joe.

“What do you mean, not there?”

“All Johnny Robinson’s personal effects went to Sam, except for the stuff his sister took. It’s all at Dependable, or Sam’s apartment.”

“Okay; I’ll get in touch with Sam. Meet me at Brian’s office at six tonight. I think I know where the hot item is.”

***

“Okay, sport, strut your stuff,” said Brian Hannon, leaning back in his armchair. He glanced over at Joe, who was lighting a Benson 8c Hedges 100 with the new gold-and-blue lighter. A look of confusion crossed Brian’s face.

“Hey, that lighter looks different, Joe. Not as fruity. What happened?”

“This is a new one. Classier.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“I got it, if you must know, from a Mafia chieftain.”

“No, really.”

“Let’s talk about something else. C’mon, Doc, I’m getting starved. Sam’s late, but tell us anyway. Where the hell’s this filmstrip?”

I laid Inspector James Bell’s Smith 8: Wesson on the desk, and next to it a new, unsharpened pencil. I explained that I’d gotten the idea while fitting the barrel of my tooth extractor around an old lady’s molar. They weren’t impressed. I handed Brian the revolver and asked him to check it out. This he did in standard fashion by swinging out the cylinder, which was empty, and looking down the chambers as he spun it on its crane arm. Then, the cylinder still out, he looked down the muzzle of the barrel and handed it to Joe, who repeated the procedure, then stuck his thumbnail under the barrel throat so the light would reflect off it up through the tube.

“Empty,” he said, handing it back. “I don’t have a screwdriver to take off the grips or sideplate. I assume that’s what you’re going to do.”

“No,” I said, taking the pencil and inserting it into the barrel. I pushed it down carefully. The coiled celluloid sprang out of the barrel throat like a jack-in-the-box, and there was the film-strip on the desk.

“Sure looked clean to me,” said Joe.

“That’s because the film was rolled emulsion side out, leaving the inside of the roll shiny-slick. When you roll up the film this way and stick it in the muzzle end, which is nearest the viewer’s eye, he’s got to be looking very closely to see it. In regular room light, like this, it’s just about invisible.”

“Hmmm. And Johnny put Santuccio’s film there? You sure?”

“Just about positive. He was carrying it the day he was killed. From his phone message to me it’s clear he knew he was being tailed. .. and he knew why, too. He didn’t leave it at the office, or in his car. Those places were searched thoroughly by DeLucca and you guys. It wasn’t in his apartment. Not only was the place searched several times, but the killers nailed him as soon as he o walked in. I thought for a while it was tucked away somewhere on his apartment’s porch, or in the stairway hall going up to his place. But I was wrong. All I got out of that expedition was two broken heads: mine and Brian’s.”

“Tell me about it,” the chief growled. “Although I admit this is kinda clever, Doc. Now it’ll be even better if you’re right.”

“Where else can it be? He didn’t put it in his shoe. Joe, your men checked his clothes. He didn’t mail it to himself; we’ve watched his mail. He wanted it ready to deliver. But I’ll tell you something else: this is my second experimental filmstrip. The first one disintegrated. When you put a roll of film inside the business end of a thirty-eight, there’s nothing left of it after you touch the gun off’. It shreds and burns into vapor.”

“When we found Johnny’s body up in Lowell, Mary noticed that the carrying strap of his sidearm was unfastened.”

“Uh-huh. Which meant that if indeed the film was in there, Johnny knew he could both conceal the evidence and destroy it immediately if he had to.”

“Sounds too good to be true,” said Brian as he swiveled in his chair and watched a red Buick Regal swerve into the CPD lot I beneath his window.

Well, it was. Too good to be true, that is. As for the film negatives which should have been tucked neatly, invisibly, into the barrel of Johnny Robinson’s S amp;W model ten, they weren? They weren’t hidden in his little leg pistol either. They also weren’t in any of the clothes and shoes that were in the cardboard carton that Sam hauled into the office with him.

“Well close, but no cigar,” said Brian, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Sorry to have brought you all the way out here, Sam.”

I cussed. Sam folded up his dead partner’s clothes and placed all the belongings neatly back into the carton.

“My guess is Johnny ditched the stuff somewhere on his way home, at some drop, intending to return to the drop later Friday night or Saturday morning when the heat was off and retrieve it. Of course he never got the chance.”

Following this bit of deduction, which seemed plausible, we called the Lucky Seven tavern again, just to make sure nobody there had seen Johnny that day, or whether indeed a letter, package, or message had arrived there with his name on it. The answer was no.

“I’m back to first base,” I said.

“Wrong, Doc. You’re back in the dugout,” said Joe. “Now Brian and I have some paperwork to do for the DeLucca thing. It’s just routine and will take about an hour. Let’s meet afterwards in case there are some last-minute questions.”

“Yeah,” said Brian, “minor things like dumdum bullets and breaking and entering?

“Mary and I are going to buy Sam a big dinner at Yangtze River. Brian, seeing’s how I accidentally banged up your head, I think I owe you one too. Why don’t the three of us wait for you two at our place?”

They said it was the first good news they’d had all day. So Sam and I left. At home Mary set a blood-rare round steak down in front of Sam’s big pooch. Turns out he is not a fussy eater.

“It’s the least we could do for him, Sam,” she said. “And now Charlie, you want to show Sam his present from us, since we’re still alive?”

It was sitting behind the little tool shed with a canvas cover over it. A new Honda CX-500, with full fairing and a special platform for Popeye covered with thick acrylic carpeting in silver-gray, which matched the bike. Sam rubbed his hands over the satin finish of the tank, the brightwork of the cylinder casings, the flat black of the cockpit instrument panel. He was speechless. The big dog at his side sniffed the machine and waggled his fat butt.

“She’s quiet as a graveyard, Sam; I took her for a little spin yesterday. With this you won’t give away your position to the enemy.”

He and the dog walked in silence around the bike. Something looked different about the dog. I couldn’t figure out what it was. We had drinks on the terrace. Sam couldn’t seem to take his eyes off the bike. We let our doggies out of their runs and watched tensely as they approached the big bull mastiff, who was reclining sedately on the flagstones, digesting twenty ounces of steak. Danny, the yellow Lab, approached growling with a lot of braggadocio. Popeye looked at him through slit eyes over a wide mouth, bored. What was different about Popeye?

After fifteen minutes of bluffing and retreating, charging and dodging, the four dogs reached a truce and began to play.

“I know what’s different about our friend,” I said at last. “He’s got a new harness on.”

“Oh yeah,” said Sam, taking the set of keys Mary handed him. “He got that last week; I threw the old one out. Doc, I’ve had a drink, but you think it’s all right if I take it down the end of the drive and back?”

“Sure. But watch it- you’ve got about twice the power of your old bike, and a shaft drive too. It’ll feel different.”

Sam started the bike, eased it off its stand, and purred down the gravel drive slowly. He scarcely made a sound. He came back grinning from ear to ear.

“Doc, Mary,” he said, “I just don’t feel right about taking it without paying you. It’s so nice and I just feel-“

“Cut it, Sam,” snapped Mary. “It’s really quite simple: if you hadn’t been here, risking your own life, we’d be in the ground now. So let’s not hear any more about it.” She went inside to freshen up our drinks, and I patted the huge dog and scratched his ears. Popeye was used to all of us by now. The new harness he wore was about the scale of those used on Budweiser draft horses.

“This doesn’t look new,” I said. “It looks bigger and better than his old collar, but it’s not new.”

“Naw. It was Tommy’s. It’s heavyy-duty and cost Johnny a bundle to have it made, as I remember. So instead of throwing it out like I did Susie’s, I kep’ it. Makes him easier to control; he’s got plenty a power.”

“And Johnny had it custom-made?”

“Um-hmmm. Can’t buy those.”

“Take it off a minute. I may want to get some made for our dogs.”

Mary brought the drinks and said she wondered what was taking Joe and Brian so long. She and Sam sipped and talked and played with the dogs. I turned the big harness over and over in my hands. The strap that held the lead ring was three inches wide and very heavy, with a lot of coarse stitching done in heavy welting twine. Strong enough even for a dog who could smash through doors.

A car door slammed out front and we heard low chuckles and guffaws coming to us on the cool evening air.

“Out here you guys!” yelled Mary, and the footsteps approached. I was fiddling with a rivet snap on the underside of the big leather strap. The men came around the corner, smoking. They oooh’d and ah’d the new Honda, and ordered drinks. Mary went, and came back with a mineral water for Brian and a Campari for Joe. We all toasted Sam. Then Popeye. We settled back in the redwood lawn furniture.

“Well,” groaned Brian tiredly, “so what else is new?”

“This,” I said, leaning forward with the leather harness in my hands. I had unsnapped the rivet fastener, which held the folded-back leather upper in place on the underside of the wide top strap. Unfolding this flap revealed another one, done in thin, fine leather, underneath. Snaking my index finger down inside, I realized it concealed a slip wider than a matchbook that ran the length of the big strap. It was like a money-belt slip, only bigger. I felt something in there. I pulled at it, and it slid. Soon we were all staring at the yellowish glow of manila paper. A thin envelope, whose flap I peeled back. Another envelope inside. Glassine. The old heart was thumping away now like a pile driver. I could feel my pulse in my neck. I slid out the gray glassine envelope and looked in. Inside was the slick, smoky-gray sheen of photo film.

“It appears we’ve just found the hot item,” I said.

“Hot damn!” said Sam.

Carefully, I pulled out the filmstrip. Four frames. One of them was a picture photo. The other three appeared to be documents of some kind. I slid the strip back into its casing and stood up.

“I could perhaps make a silly joke and suggest that this could wait till after dinner, but I know where that would get me. Besides, two good men were killed because of this little strip of celluloid. Shall we?” I walked toward the kitchen door, and the little ragtag procession followed close at my heels.

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