Vietnam veteran Detective Dean Wallace washed out of his NYPD job. He returned home to work for his father, the chief of police in his home town. When the body of a young man turns up in the woods along with a copy of THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and thousands in cash, Wallace not only investigates the crime but also confronts his and his family's past.
The Chief avoided Dean for the next several days, even when his son arrived at their house on Friday evening to pick up Jenny. His mom appeared briefly on the porch and nudged Jenny out, giving her a kiss on the forehead before turning and closing the door behind her. Dean walked up to the porch, grabbed his daughter’s hand and led her to his car. Whether Jessica shunned her son at her husband’s request or of her own volition, Dean did not know, though he chose to believe the former.
He drove Jenny down to the city on Saturday, dropping her off at Cindy’s Manhattan townhouse. As he drove away, he could not help wondering if these moments he had had with his daughter in 1979 would be the last of their kind. He knew, of course, that he could never have the same experiences, but his daughter was getting older, had city friends, and he, her dad, was far away in a small town near Canada. How could that compete with New York City? How could he compete against a townhouse in Manhattan and friends?
Unable to leave so quickly, he drove by his old precinct and stopped by the cops’ bar just down the street. A string of unknown faces were interrupted by familiar ones. Lance O’Shea, Nathan Deroni, Mike Bullard, all fellow detectives. All had forgiven him long ago for his failures and mistakes. They knew enough of his story—of the many stories like his—to know Dean had been and probably was a man in pain, so they did not talk about the past. They talked as if no time had passed. In some sense, none had. People were still killing people, and they still sought the perps.
They had heard about Tony’s arrest. Mike had heard it from a fellow Albany detective, who had a friend in the Bureau, who had mentioned the nabbing of an FBI lawyer who confronted an American-born Soviet spy in the woods. The chase when Billy ran. A chase Billy would have won had he not stepped into a hole or tripped and twisted his knee.
The story, of course, had gathered color along the way, but its essentials were the same, and Dean did not bother to correct. He preferred this alternate version of his brother than the one he knew. Lost in the story was the plight of a forgotten son seeking recognition and the twisted depths he would go.
Why Tony had pulled the trigger instead of taking Billy in was left to speculation. Dean thought he had done it when Tony realized that instead of helping an investigation along, he may have hampered it, may have undercut it mortally. Dean did not particularly like that theory, but he preferred it over satisfying some familial bloodlust, to make them all killers in war.
Too drunk to drive home, he spent the night on Lance’s couch, departing the next morning. On Monday, he returned to work, to pick up the next case. His dad had shown up as well but stayed behind the closed door of his office. Neither Dean nor Tony had stated that the Chief had been an accessory after the fact. That would remain undocumented. Unreported.
At noon, Dean’s phone rang. “Hello?”
“This is Special Agent Pryce. We have what we need to arrest Guthrie. Do you want to do it? I’ll even let you in on the interrogation, which we can do there.”
An hour and fifteen minutes later, Pryce walked into the Zion police station. He looked at Guthrie, who sat at his desk holding a half-finished pastrami sandwich, and the detective knew the gig was up, even though he knew he would play it out to the bitter end.
Pryce and Dean sat across from Guthrie in the interview room. The FBI agent clicked the record button on a cassette recorder. “Detective Jeremy Guthrie, I am going to record this interview. Okay?”
“I need you to reply in the affirmative or negative.”
“Yes. Yes, that’s okay.”
“Good.” Pryce then exposed the trap he had sprung with the assistance of Dean. When Guthrie learned the weapons were being sent to ballistics, he panicked that he had forgotten to remove the M16 from the items handed over to the FBI. The M16 that tied Sam Darwish to Zorn and to the ambush at the meth lab. The FBI had set up hidden microphones in the Grim Devils clubhouse. He played the crackling tape for Guthrie.
“Yeah, what’s up?” said a voice that sounded like Zorn.
“I just heard that all of Sam’s weapons are being tested now by the FBI,” said the second voice. One that Dean recognized as Guthrie’s.
“So. I’ve got the M16. You got that out. That’s the only thing they had on Sam.”
“You have it. Shit. I thought I hadn’t got it in time.”
“You were pretty tanked when you gave it to me. Maybe you shouldn’t drink so much.”
Pryce clicked the stop button on the surveillance. “So we’ve got you talking to Zorn about missing evidence. The M16.”
“You can’t tell that’s me.”
Pryce pulled out a set of four photos and a journal with a time log. He pushed them toward Guthrie. “Here, we’ve got Paul Zorn going into the clubhouse. Here’s the one of you going in. Here’s you coming out. Here’s Zorn leaving. Each is tied to a time, which we’ve listed here. Which, in case you don’t get the drift, is timed to the recording. And we’ve got excellent chain of custody on all this. You’re done, Guthrie. We’ve got you.”
What had been beads of sweat along Guthrie’s forehead turned to rivers. “Look. I don’t think—”
Pryce tapped the photos of Guthrie. “We’ve got you. All you can do now is help yourself.”
Guthrie fell apart faster than most suspects he interviewed. He had been helping Zorn for years. For cash, Guthrie tipped him off on impending raids, helped disappear evidence, and arrested rivals. He was so far in the hole with the Grim Devils, he had no way to claw his way back out. When Zorn learned of Sam’s arrest, he had told Guthrie to grab the M16. It was too valuable to just toss, so the disgraced detective gave it to the club president. But first, distraught and guilty over Reggie’s death, Guthrie had drunk himself into a stupor, forgetting—at least clearly enough—that he had swiped the M16.
“What about Reggie?” asked Dean, who leaned over the table.
Guthrie shook his head. “I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt. I didn’t. I thought they’d clear out before we even got there. I was as surprised as you when the buses were still there untorched. I just warned them and thought they’d clear out, but I found out Zorn didn’t like your meddling. He was hoping to take you out. But I swear I didn’t know about that until after.”
Pryce, with other FBI and DEA agents, arrested a number of the Grim Devils later that day, taking them all and Guthrie down to Plattsburgh. Dean never saw Guthrie again, something he was not too upset about.
The chief seemed unfazed by the arrests and made no mention of them to Dean. He tried to speak to his father, but Laura shook her head. He could see the sadness, the pity in her eyes as she did so.
Dean felt sadness too and then anger. He knew he had done the right thing. He knew it.
* * *
Later that summer, Dean borrowed a tent and backpack from Zach and entered the woods beyond the Pratt farm, walking a series of trails that led through a state and federal forest. He camped by streams, washing his face in the cool, shallow waters. He heated civilian versions of MCI rations. They tasted just as horrible as he remembered, the nastiness cut only by the liberal usage of Tabasco.
At night, he contemplated the sky and listened to the forests. After four nights, he was ready for why he had hiked out away from humanity. In a clearing near a stream at sunset, a fire was burning, the blue-speckled enamel coffee cup of whiskey sat by him. He pulled from his pack the journal he had kept in Vietnam. A small overstuffed thing with torn pages, different inks and pencils, drawings, random sayings, and photos. A journal beat up around the edges and the paper often stiff and fragile from the wet, the dampness that seemed to be the single constant of the bush.
He pulled out photos. And he tossed them into the fire. Slowly, and then more quickly. And then he ripped out pages and held them as the flames licked the corner and grew. He dropped them into the fire.
He said to no one or thing, “I know this. We all die. And it is always too soon. I wish you could have had the lives everyone intended for you. As for me. As for me, I will live on. I will try to live the life intended for me, as screwed up as that is.”
He tossed the journal onto the fire. And he said their names. “Lee. Rider. Paxton. Stitch. The NVA kid just outside the bunker. Nolan Wallace. Dean Wallace.” He stared at the journal as it burned. “Hell. Even Tony.”
The journal burned bright, crisping to a fine ash that a gentle wind crumpled into the heart of the blaze, and it captured some ash and lifted it into the air, where it hung before it floated away.
Dean drove in shock. He kept spinning and tossing and tumbling the possible scenarios for Tony having the gun that killed Billy Nimitz. Did someone buy it using his name? Did Tony buy it and sell it to someone? He had not had a picture in his wallet to show the Kowlowskis. He felt like a bad brother about that and forgot it as his mind raced along with his speed east on Route 11.
Without any transition, Dean wondered why would Tony kill Billy? He was shocked at his ability to leap to that conclusion, to even contemplate his brother was a killer. He shook his head to force the thoughts away, but he could not. He accepted that Tony had bought the pistol that was used to kill Billy Nimitz. And Tony must have pulled the trigger. He did not understand why though? It did not answer for all the cash or The Communist Manifesto. But Dean felt the same way about this answer as he did when he was talking to Sam Darwish or Alex Smith. He knew his brother was a criminal. Knew it in his bones. He pulled over and vomited alongside the road. The sun dipping below the horizon. He rinsed his mouth with Wild Turkey before racing again along Route 11.
Now Dean had to understand why. Tony and Billy did not know each other. No connection between them had popped up during the investigation. As Dean pulled into his parents’ driveway and parked next to his father’s car, his right palm throbbed from having struck the steering wheel repeatedly since Monrovia.
He took a drink of Wild Turkey and lit a cigarette before getting out and walking up to the door. Even there, he hesitated but went in. Jenny ran up to him and hugged him. He told her they would be going soon but he needed to talk to Grandpa first. She made some comment about helping Grandma cook and ran off. Then the smell of onions and green peppers. His stomach quivered.
His dad sat in his recliner tapping down the tobacco in his pipe. “Hey there. Your mom’s making chop suey.” He looked up and paused when he saw Dean’s drawn face. “What’s wrong?”
Dean told his dad about tracing the Kowlowski gun back to Tony, including trying to piece together the connection between the gun, his brother, and the victim. The chief leaned back in his chair, struck a match, and lit his pipe, puffing hard to get it to stay lit. “What’re you going to do?”
“What do you mean?” Dean flopped down onto the sofa. The TV was mute, but Walter Cronkite was on screen. A banner with SALT II with an image of the Soviet and American flags side-by-side.
“Not sure how to be any clearer. What are you going to do with this information?”
“I need to talk to him. Find out what happened to the gun after he bought it.” That was the only explanation he could come up with that cleared his brother. Tony had bought it and then sold it or discarded it. He would take “lost it” as an answer. Dean knew he did not believe it though.
“You mean, like was it stolen or something?”
“Yeah. Something. I mean—” Dean looked over at his father, who struck another match and thrust the flame into the pipe. “You knew, didn’t you?”
“Huh?” Eric looked at him out of the corner of his eye.
“You knew Tony bought the gun already. You knew—.” But Dean could not yet bring himself to those final, fateful words.
Eric scratched his eyebrow. “So what if I did?”
Why would the Chief keep that information to himself except to protect Tony. And his brother would only need protecting if—. “And you’ve kept it to yourself? Tony killed a man, and that’s okay.”
His father leaned back against his chair, the wood frame creaking. He dropped his head and looked at Dean. “You and I have killed, son.”
“That was war.”
“And this isn’t?” The Chief gestured to the TV. The map of Iran was replaced by the flag of the Soviet Union. “You don’t call this a war? Them or us? Our way of life is at stake.”
The Communist Manifesto. The passports in Canada. Billy Nimitz was a spy. Or involved with spies somehow. Dean still could not wrap his mind around the idea a spy would be a young kid in nowhere New York.
Dean shook his head. “Was this approved by the FBI?” He said the words, but he knew the answer already.
Eric stood up. “I’m going to wash up. I think dinner’s close to being ready.” He walked out of the room.
Dean sat there, staring at the TV but not seeing it. Jenny walked in and tugged his arm. “Daddy.”
He looked over at his daughter. He shook his head. “Things a young girl like you don’t have to worry about.”
“About what? And dinner’s ready.”
He smiled at his daughter, who was growing up so fast but yet seemed so young and innocent still in spite of how much he had screwed up. “I can’t tell you. But I’m not sure what the right thing to do is.”
“But you do. You always say, ‘You know what the right thing to do is.’”
He grabbed her and hugged her. He and Cindy had always said that. Whenever she had gotten into trouble at school, they had queried her about why she had punched the boy who took her Oreos or had pushed her way onto an occupied swing set. Jenny knew that she had done wrong, and so her parents had encouraged her to listen to that message in her head. Here she was telling him, and it immediately clarified what he needed to do to. He was a policeman, and Billy Nimitz had been murdered. Dean only knew of one right thing to do, even if it was painful.
* * *
An hour later, Dean sat in his car across the street from Tony’s two-story brick and wood siding house halfway between Zion and Plattsburgh. The house was in a small housing addition surrounded by farms. He pulled out his last cigarette and lit it before crushing the packet.
A large bay window in the family room let light from the TV pour out. Dean took a drink and shoved the flask into his coat pocket. He smoked the cigarette down to the filter, got out of the car, flicked the cigarette to the road, and walked up Tony’s driveway.
When he reached the porch, Dean noticed the front door was open. “Tony?” he said in a volume close to shouting. He opened the screen door and knocked on the door jamb. Waited. He peered into the entryway, which led straight into the family room and back to the kitchen and a hallway. A lamp was on next to the tan, leather sofa. The TV, which faced the sofa and backed up against the front window, was tuned to ABC and an Eight Is Enough rerun. On the coffee table, a plate with a half-eaten sandwich and potato chips. “Tony?” Dean took a few steps into the family room, attempting to look down the hallway that began where the family room ended and the kitchen began.
“Hello. Dad called.” Tony’s voice came from the shadows of the kitchen. “And I saw you out there in your car.”
“Yeah? So you know why I’m here.”
“You want to arrest me.”
“Come out from there.” Dean leaned right to see if he could see Tony in the kitchen, but he could not. “Let’s have a drink, a talk.”
Tony stepped into the doorway of the kitchen. “What’s there to talk about?”
“Billy was a spy, wasn’t he?” He paused to let his brother respond, but when he did not, he continued. “I’m not sure what he was spying on. Nothing much up here, but then I’m not much of an expert in that area. But the FBI and the Mounties seem interested in some fake passports of a guy in Montreal who was a communist. Some of the passports had Billy’s name on them. You know this, of course. Knew it before I even told you weeks ago.” He watched his brother’s face. No change. He continued, “Billy was going to flee, take secrets that he had been given. I’m guessing here. You found out. You aren’t a field agent in the FBI, but I know you want to be. Perhaps taking him out—no, bringing him in—would get you that role. Something went wrong. It’s easier if something went wrong”
Tony stood just inside the kitchen, his hands in his pockets.
Dean clenched his jaw. The anger rose up, and he shouted, “Say something.”
His brother shook his head. “What do you want me to say? You want me to confirm or deny your story? Is that going to change what you do to me?”
“Tell me. Give me a reason to do something different.”
“No. I can’t overlook it. But I can except something that is less than murder.” Dean waited for reaction on his brother’s face, but it was blank. He shouted again, “I don’t understand why a gun you bought last year was used to kill a kid a few years out of high school who worked in a car-repair shop. Maybe I could live with that, with not knowing, if the killer wasn’t my brother. But since I found out about the gun, I’ve been trying to understand, trying to figure it out. There’s a reason, right? You sold the gun to someone? Lost it? Dropped the thing and it went off. Something other than you stood there and pulled the goddamn trigger.”
“You’ll never get it. If you get the facts, if you get what happened that night, you won’t really understand. You never will.”
Dean stepped forward.
“That’s close enough.” Tony’s hand dropped to his back.
“You going to shoot me?” Dean raised his hands in front of his body. “Like you shot Billy?”
Tony took a deep breath. “Do you know what it’s like being the brother who didn’t serve his country? Who found a way to avoid going to war?”
“Lot’s of people did that. It was a war to stay out of.”
“Hmph.” Tony shook his head and sighed. “Jesus, you really think that. The moment Nolan died, I was a pariah to Dad. He hated me for not going. He said I was a coward. But not now. No. Not now. I killed Billy because he was funneling Soviet agents into the country. He was in the woods that night to meet one of them crossing over from Canada. He’d give them money and a drive to Plattsburgh, where they’d take a train with the tickets he gave them to New York City. Poof, they’d disappear into the country. Show up in DC or military bases and take pictures, recruit, infiltrate. This has been going on for years. He’d help them out, too. Pick them up, bring them up here, and ensure they had a safe passage back to Canada, rich with intelligence.
“Middle of last year, they caught one of these agents heading back into Canada, laden with photos of our submarine base in Norfolk. That’s when we had to figure out who was doing it. Billy wasn’t smart. So we found him. The FBI wanted to keep watching him, use him perhaps.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No. I don’t know. I don’t know what got into me. I wanted to move up in the FBI. I wanted redemption in Dad’s eyes. I knew from surveillance reports Billy would be meeting someone crossing the border and where he did it. So I went out day after day, waiting for him to show up. I knew where the FBI surveillance was set up. Knew that they watched Billy go in and wait for him to come out. What they wanted was to catch his contact. I knew if I went out there, I could catch them both. They weren’t going to get them just by sitting in their cars.
“Billy, finally, showed up one night. I met him out there. I mean, I followed and watched him first. I was going to take photos of him meeting the agent coming into our country. Then something made a noise. I don’t know what, but Billy ran. I chased him and confronted him. I announced myself as FBI. I said I was going to arrest him and take him in.”
As Tony paused, Dean had the keen sense of the space between them becoming a heavy weight, a barrier and tension that isolated his brother. “What happened next?”
“Don’t answer that.”
Dean whipped around to find his dad standing in the entryway, his service revolver out and pointing at the floor. Dean turned and stepped back toward the doorway to the garage behind the sofa. He was able to see both his father and brother. “Dad, let me handle this.”
“I’m not letting you take him in. He did this country a service. The FBI would’ve just given him back to the Russkies. Let him live in his communist paradise. He’s better off dead. This country is better off with him dead. Tony’s a patriot.”
Dean looked at Tony. “Is that what you believe? Do you think you did the right thing? I’ve killed before. In war. And I’m still not sure it was the right thing, and it haunts me. This will haunt you. You know he didn’t need to die. You could’ve—”
“Shut up.” Tony pulled a silver automatic revolver from behind him and pointed it at Dean. “Shut up.”
Dean raised his hands.
“Son, easy there.” Eric took a step forward. “That’s your brother.”
“I know, the hero. The vet. The one who followed in your footsteps.”
Dean shook his head, but he did not say anything.
“Look at me,” said Eric. “Look at me, son.”
Tony turned his head but kept the gun pointed at Dean.
“You think I was angry at you. Well, you’re right. I was. I didn’t understand at the time. I just knew your country needed you but, but you didn’t need this country. And when Nolan was killed, I was just so angry. I was angry he died there in a war that we weren’t going to win. Angry that I was mad at you. I couldn’t face it. So I took it out on you. But you didn’t deserve it.”
“But you welcomed me back after I killed Billy.”
Their dad shook his head. “Shit, son, I was just happy to see you after so much time. It didn’t matter what you did.”
Tony let his arm that held the gun drop, but Dean remained where he was. Eric looked back at Dean. “He doesn’t say another word without a lawyer.”
Dean’s brother dropped to his knees, letting the gun flop to the floor, and began weeping. Dean quietly removed himself from the house, returning to his car, where he leaned against the hood and opened his flask. He patted his coat for cigarettes and sighed when he remembered he had smoked the last one.
Thirty minutes later, the Chief walked his son out of the house and into his car and drove off toward Zion.
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Acouple of days later, with Jenny staying at her grandma’s, Dean was in the station, the Billy Nimitz file on his desk. The hospital search had turned up nothing, which meant Billy had not stopped for treatment after being beaten by factory workers or the hospital people had not recognized the photo. Either resulted in a dead end.
With the Grim Devils untouchable until the FBI and DEA gave Zion PD the all-clear, which might be months at best, that path of investigation was limited. And so with all the dead ends facing him, Dean flipped open the file and started looking. He pulled out the photos. The gruesome ones and the ones provided by Billy’s parents. He reviewed the coroner’s report and the crime-scene report. Everything he knew about the death of Billy Nimitz summarized and ordered on sheets of paper and tucked into a folder. He pulled up the report on the gun. The Remington M1911A1 found at the scene, buried under some snow.
Purchased by Dennis Kowlowski in 1952. He died the same day JFK was shot in Dallas. And the trail stops. Dean looked at the report. Guthrie had signed his name at the bottom. Dean was already convinced his fellow detective was corrupt, handing information over to the Grim Devils, derailing investigations where he could, even helping in an ambush of police. And now, knowing that, Dean doubted every bit of Guthrie’s part of the investigation. Had Guthrie done the necessary work on confirming the history of the gun?
Dean walked to the Carnegie Zion Library, a two-story brick building, five blocks from the station. Lisa Munadi smiled at him as he walked through the double-glass door entrance. She had graduated two years before Dean and washed out of SUNY-Buffalo while he was heading to Vietnam. During school, she had acted as if she were better than everyone else except for the jocks she threw herself after. Now she worked as a librarian in the town she had said she was going to abandon. Wasn’t that the American reality?
“Hey Dean,” she said. “What can we do for you?”
He smiled at her. “You keep archives of the paper, right?”
“Yeah. We keep it on microfilm.”
“I need to see the Zion Beacon for 1963. November 22nd, 23rd, and 24th. Start with those.”
“Doing research on Kennedy?” She walked from behind the counter toward the stairs leading upward.
“No. But a fellow in a nearby town died the same day. I want to see his obituary.”
“Sure. Sure.” She led him up the stairs to the single microfilm machine, patted him on the shoulder, and said she would return a few minutes later. She did with two square boxes. She turned on the machine and pulled out the tray, lifting the glass covering. She inserted the reel of film on the spindle, unspooled a bit of the film, and slipped it beneath the roller and into the uptake reel, which she rolled a few times. She set the glass down and pushed the tray in, revealing the Zion Beacon’s front page of the November 22, 1963. She adjusted the rotation knob to flip the image upright. “There you go.”
He heard her footsteps fade away and looked at the screen. The headline for that day was, “Kennedy Shot. Johnson Sworn In.” A photo of the dead president and new president alongside the article. Dean fast forwarded to the obituary section. He did not find one for Dennis, so he moved on to November 23rd. More JFK assassination coverage, including a prominent “Marxist Accused of Murder” headline.
On the bottom half of the page, a photo of Zion’s mayor and Eric Wallace. Dean paused and lingered over the image. Despite his dad wearing the dress campaign hat, Dean could see that his father had grayed significantly since then. He had also gained some weight around the middle, but the image reminded him of how vigorous his dad had been. And then he thought how active and strong his dad was yet and hoped that he remained so in his later years.
He moved on to the obituaries and found one for Dennis that day. From there, Dean learned Dennis was survived by a brother and a son: Jacob and Curtis. Dean rewound the microfilm. Handed the boxes back to Lisa and walked back to the station. He had Laura call into the state dispatcher to pull the license information for both Jacob and Curtis Kowlowski.
While she did that, Dean smoked a cigarette and pulled up the day’s memo on any changes to the laws and guidelines. He stuffed them into a manila folder and shoved that into a desk drawer. He walked back over to Laura, who put her hand over the mouthpiece. “I don’t have the information yet.”
He nodded. “My question was, ‘Where’s Guthrie?’”
She shrugged so he walked outside, smoked another cigarette, and walked back in. She gave him a slip of note paper. Jacob did not have a license on file. The last one issued was in 1968. Curtis’s address was in Monrovia, a smaller town than Zion and to the west on Route 11 toward Chateaugay. He looked at his watch. Too early to go. Curtis was probably at work already, and Dean did not want to waste the day in Monrovia. He looked back at the reports awaiting his attention and knew he would not be able to focus on them. His mind was too hungry for an answer. So he told Laura he would be back later and drove to his mom’s house and absconded with Jenny. He drove her to Montreal, where they bought tickets for the Expos-Phillies game. While downing a hot dog bathed in mustard, they watched Gary Carter hit a two-run homer in the second from their left field seats. Dean bought Jenny a hat and mitt. Carter’s home run was the only score of the game. After watching the Expos, Dean thought they, perhaps, had a winning team that season. He dropped his daughter off with his mom before heading over to Monrovia. The day Jenny’s dad played hooky from work and took her to a baseball game—to a foreign country even—would long remain precious and special to her.
The short drive to Monrovia along a tree-lined and farm field highway passed by with few other cars. He pulled to a stop on the street outside the home listed as Curtis’s address, a split-level minimal Tudor cottage style house with olive wood siding and black shutters in need of painting. Dean walked up the driveway and the sidewalk, which was framed in a flower bed of begonias and marigolds. Standing beneath the small covered porch, he rang the bell. He started to ring again, when he noticed movement behind the lace curtain covering the front door’s window.
A finger moved the lace curtain, exposing a bald head. The finger disappeared and the curtain fell back in place. A dead bolt clicked and the door swung open.
A thin, frail man stood at the entrance. An oxygen tube hung from his nostrils to a small silver tank with a red valve he had on wheels behind him. Even though he was a couple of inches shorter than Dean, the man’s frailness made him seem much smaller, diminutive. Silver stubble dusted his face and he had no eyebrows above his blue-green eyes. “Hello?” he asked.
Dean flipped open his badge. “Detective Dean Wallace from Zion PD. I’m looking for Curtis Kowlowski.”
“Well, you found him.” He turned and slowly walked down the hallway. “Close the door behind you, please.”
Dean stepped into the house and closed the door. He caught up with Curtis as he was turning into a dining room with a dark, brilliant table surrounded by six chairs. An ivory, lace table runner a foot wide cut across the length of the table, and two crystal candle holders with virgin white candles sat in the center. He started to pull out one of the end chairs with armrests and a floral cushion pattern. Dean grabbed the chair and pulled it out. Curtis sat down and breathed deeply. “Thank you.”
Dean pulled out a chair next to him and sat down. Across from him stood a large china cabinet in a darker wood but also much older than the table. However, the cabinet seemed to hold only a few mugs and not much else.
“I’d get you something,” said Curtis, “but….” He gestured to the tank and held up the tube.
“That’s okay. I don’t think it’ll take much time.”
“Mm. Francis, my wife, should be back soon.”
“She’s been good to me since. Well—”
“Can I get you something?”
“No.” Curtis shook his head. “So how can I help?”
“I’m here about a gun your father purchased. It was used in a homicide in Zion. The records indicate he bought it, but nothing after that.”
“My dad had several. Which gun?”
“It was a pistol. A Remington M1911A1.”
A car pulled into the driveway.
“Dad had a number of rifles, but he had only one pistol. I don’t like guns. Ah.” The garage door was opened. “Francis is home now.”
They waited in silence as the car was pulled in, the garage door closed, and the door to the house from the garage was opened. “Curt, I’m home.” Keys landing on a counter.
“In here, Francis. We’ve a visitor.”
“I wondered about the car in the driveway.” She walked into the kitchen, the sounds of her shoes hitting the floor changing as she walked from carpet to linoleum. “Hello,” she said when she saw Dean.
Dean stood up. “Hello ma’am. Sorry to disturb you. I’m Detective Dean Wallace with the Zion police.”
Her smile faded. She wore a brown business suit with a large, silk tan scarf. Gold hoop earrings dangled along her neck. “I’ll make some coffee.”
“That’s not necessary,” said Dean.
“Maybe not for you, but after the day I’ve had, I need it.” She pulled open a cabinet.
“Do you remember Dad’s guns?” asked Curtis.
“Oh yes. I hated those.”
“Me too. This detective’s here about the pistol. What we’d do with that?”
As she measured Folger’s into a paper filter, she tapped her right foot. “Let’s see. We sold a couple of the rifles to Stephen—Stephen what’s his name—Mc or something.”
“McHugh. Stephen McHugh. Has the kid, Joey, who’s a heck of a winger. Used to be at least, years ago.”
“Right. Yep, that’s him.” She filled the carafe and started pouring it into the coffee maker.
“The pistol. Oh that’s right. We sold it to that fella from the FBI. Remember?”
“FBI?” Dean could not hide the perplexity from his question.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“When was this?” asked Dean.
“So Dad died in sixty-three.” Curtis looked at Dean. “Same day as Kennedy. And we took all of it. Except the guns and a few things, which my uncle took. He used them on his farm and he went turkey hunting every fall. And then he passed. Oh, last year some time. Lived to be ninety-two. Imagine that. I won’t get there.”
“Don’t think that way,” said Francis, out of Dean’s sight now but in the kitchen.
Curtis mouthed “cancer” to Dean. “Yeah, yeah. Anyways, we got the stuff and we knew some people that still farm around here and asked if they wanted the guns. A few did and took them. But I knew a young man, worked down at the Webster’s restaurant downtown. Good fried chicken if you’re interested. He said—Taylor Parker is his name—he knew someone who was interested in the pistol. I said, ‘Have him give me a call.’ A couple of days later, he did. He drove out here. He’s not from Monrovia. From out in your parts or more east, I think. He bought it. Gave us a hundred cash. I have no idea if it was worth that or not, but I got more out of the cash than I would’ve out of the gun.”
The coffee maker started to drip. “That’s right,” said Francis, who appeared in the dining room and took a seat across from Dean. She patted Curtis’s hand and smiled at him.
“Do you know his name? The one who bought the pistol,” asked Dean.
Francis wagged her finger. “You know what? Since I didn’t know him, I wrote his name down.” She stood up and walked to the cabinet behind Dean. She pulled open a drawer, from which she pulled out a small box, the kind of which his mother stored recipes on index cards. Francis said she forgot her glasses, disappeared, and returned a few minutes later with them sitting low on her nose. She asked if he wanted sugar or cream, and he said no. He was anxious to find out who this FBI agent was that had purchased the gun, but he could not bring himself to be rude to Curtis and Francis. She pulled some mugs down.
Curtis leaned over. “She loves to have any company. So she’s excited to be able to serve coffee,” he whispered.
A few minutes later, each had a coffee adjusted to their liking. Francis, who splashed a bit of cream into hers, opened the box on the table and started flipping through pieces of paper.
Curtis started into a lengthy foray into his chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer. The prognosis did not look good, but Francis told him to be positive, that that was as important as the chemo. They responded to each other’s cues, which Dean could not see but knew were there nonetheless. His parents had them. He and Cindy had had them.
“Ah, here it is.” She pulled out a piece of paper. “That’s right. He was a handsome fellow.”
“Hey, now,” said Curtis.
“You’ve nothing to be jealous of.” She smiled at Curtis. To Dean, she said, “His name was Anthony Wallace.”
“Is that any relation?” asked Curtis.
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