Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I went out to my car, started the engine and checked my watch. It was one o'clock and I was starved. I drove home, threw the UPS uniform over a chair and changed into jeans and a light sweater. Then I stopped at Eddie's for a smoked turkey on rye and something to wash it down with and went on to the office.

I was unlocking the door of my place, trying to juggle the sandwich, a purse and a can of Bud when Bernie, my landlord, poked his head out of his realty office next door and gave me a big smile. Bernie only smiles when he's raising the rent or throwing someone out. My rent was two month’s late.

"Maggie. Got a minute?" he asked, stepping out into the hall?

Bernie is short, heavy-set, with a mop of black curly hair turning gray, a moustache, and black-rimmed glasses. He was wearing one of his custom-rumpled suits.

"Ah... actually, I'm pretty busy right now, Bernie," I said quickly.

There's no way I wanted him to see the mess Raccuia made last night.

But Bernie was on a quest.

"Here. Let me help you."

He grabbed my keys from my hand, bent over and unlocked the door for me.

"After you," he said gallantly, standing aside and bowing.

I walked into the reception room and dumped my stuff on a secretary's desk that had never been officially christened. He began to walking toward the door leading to my private office and I jumped in his path holding up my arms.

"I've got a client in there, Bernie!" I said quickly. "And I had to promise total anonymity to get him in here. He's testifying against some truck hijackers. I need this case Bernie and if anyone finds out his identity, he's walking and my case is blown."

I grabbed the keys from his hand and steered him back to the front door.

"So, thanks a lot and I'll stop over your office when I'm done."

"I heard about what happened last night," Bernie said.

"What happened last night?" I stammered.

"You were the talk of the "Heidy-Ho Diner" at breakfast.”

The cops get their coffee there every morning. He nodded toward my office.
"Mind if I take a look? I do own the building."

"Yeah," I said, defeated. "Well then c'mon in."

I picked up my lunch and went inside. Bernie followed me and stared at the blood stain on the rug for several minutes before clucking his tongue. Then he contemplated Raccuia's bullet holes in the wall and made some more sounds. While Bernie did some mental calculations, I tore open the paper bag and held up my sandwich.

"You mind if I eat? I'm starving."

"No. Going to cost a fortune to clean this up."

"I already got the money for it. Plus the rent I owe you," I said, my mouth full.

"Might even have to replace the whole rug. I've got a friend who does carpets. Says that blood is one of worst stains to get out."

"That I don't have enough for," I shouted.

"Then maybe we can work something out," he said, turning toward me and smiling again. "Mind if I have a seat?"

I motioned toward a chair. I popped open the beer and held it up.

"You want any? I got glasses. They're clean."

Bernie shook his head.

"No thanks," he said.

I continued to eat while he talked.

"My grandmother lives over in New Seldon," he began. "Nice old lady. Been there since before World War II. The back of her property borders on Gramcey Park. It's a county park. There's a group of kids that have been hanging out there recently to do their drinking and they've been giving her some shit."

"How come?" I asked.

"A couple of weeks ago they started throwing their beer cans into her backyard. She asked them to stop. Hell, there's a couple of trashcans right there in the woods they could use. But you know kids. They kept right on tossing them over so she called the cops. They came and rousted them. Pissed the kids off and now my grandmother's getting obscene phone calls, they're still throwing the cans and someone even tore up her backyard with a dirt bike... she's an old lady, for Christ's sake!"

"She tried calling the cops again?" I asked.

"Yea, but that's like pissing in the wind."

"So what do you want me to do?"

"I don't know! Whatever you detectives do to keep the scuzzballs away from decent law-abiding citizens. Blackmail them! Shoot them! I don't care."

The old Bernie was resurfacing.

"Just get them to stop bothering my grandmother. And if you help her, I'll take care of your rug."

He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and tossed it on my desk.

"Here's her address." Then he turned and walked out.

I finished my lunch and called Barbara, the girl who's responsible for making me beautiful when the need arises.

"You got an hour and a half for me this afternoon?" I asked.

"Longtime no see, stranger," she said. "What do you need an hour and half
for, girl? You're usually a fifteen minute cut."

"I have to look irresistible tonight. And I need my nails done too."

"Let me about five?"

"That's great. See you then."

"Where you going that you need so much sprucing up?"

"A private party."

"You're moving up girl," Barbara said.

I looked at my watch. A five o'clock appointment with Barbara gave me two hours to check out Bernie's grandmother. I put the answering machine on and locked up the office.