Authors: J. M. Griffin
“Not at all,” Porter said. “I had to ask. You understand that, right?”
“Yes, I understand.” I sighed and ran a hand over my forehead. “Has anyone found Mrs. Jabroni yet? How about the guy she was with?”
“We’re asking the questions here, ma’am,” said the lead detective. “We don’t answer them.”
“Give me a ration of shit and you’ll speak to Lola’s and my attorney,” I said as my Italian attitude slid into place.
Not one word had come from Lola until I got smart-mouthed with the detective.
“Look, I found the man. He’d been stabbed. I panicked and motioned for Vinnie to come to my aid. Then Aaron Grant came up behind us.” Her voice cracked a bit and she took a deep breath. “Vinnie told you all that. It’s the truth, so knock off the bullshit, okay?”
Porter stepped forward and laid a hand on Lola’s shoulder.
“Ambrose, cut the shit. Vinnie and Lola are willing to help us with this investigation, so don’t piss them off.”
My nerves tightened even though Ambrose snorted and backed off a bit. Another detective leaned against the wall near the door. He stared at me before he asked about my association with Jabroni.
“He had hired my friend, Larry, the artist featured here tonight, to do some work at his house a while ago. Larry asked me to help, so I did. Other than that, I have no association with Jabroni.”
So I lied—so what? Life would get way too complicated if I told the truth.
He nodded and asked Lola the same question. She mumbled that she didn’t know Jabroni at all. Again the detective nodded. It was impossible to tell if he believed either of us.
“We’ll wrap it up for tonight, but we might have some questions for you tomorrow . . . both of you. You’ll be available?” Ambrose, the detective asked.
“Yes, we’ll be around,” I said with a nod.
Lola nodded and rose from the chair. Her hands shook as she smoothed her outfit before she turned toward the door. I glanced over her head as the door opened. Guests still remained in the gallery. The cops were in the process of questioning everyone while crime scene people had taken control of the hallway to the restrooms.
Across the gallery, Larry stood alone in front of the floral painting that Jabroni had admired. He wrung his hands while his bald head bobbed around. He looked pretty distraught from here and I knew he was upset. Sadness for him filled my heart. This evening had been special for Larry. I couldn’t help feeling responsible somehow for it being ruined.
How can you blame yourself for ruining this show? You didn’t stab Jabroni.
My little voice ranted as I sighed long and heavy. I gazed about the gallery. The show was obviously over, the night was shot, and I was depressed. Damn, I hate when that happens.
In a matter of seconds, Aaron stood at my side. He draped my coat over my shoulders and advised me to leave immediately. I glanced up into his darker-than-usual, intense eyes. The man had a serious look on his face. For some reason, unknown to me, anger burned in his eyes, and I suddenly became nervous. In silence, I nodded, crossed the room, and extended my sympathies to Larry for the tragic episode. Before leaving, I promised to call him in the morning.
“Do you think Jabroni will make it, Vin?” Larry asked in a soft voice.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. Try not to dwell on the incident. It won’t do you any good,” I answered, my hand on his arm. “If you want to call me later, please do. I’ll be home.”
His nod was followed by a swift peck on my cheek. I smiled and left Larry standing alone and helpless, like a drowning man. Guilt filled my gut over his ruined opening, Jabroni’s stabbing, and the cops’ attitudes toward everyone. Bad luck seemed to follow me wherever I went.
Outside, a frigid wind blew in off the Providence River. The moon glittered across rippled waves that lapped against stone walls. I glanced up and thought again how cold the moon looked suspended in the night sky. A shiver ran over my body as I descended the gallery stairs and hurried to the car. Aaron followed close behind, his hand cupping my elbow.
“Go straight home. No detours, understand?” he ordered in an ominous tone. “There’s a killer on the loose and I want you safe and sound—got it?”
When the motor turned over, Aaron stepped away from the car. He watched as I drove from the lot. When I glanced in the rear-view mirror, I saw him return to the building. It would be a long, arduous night for everyone left behind.
The one-way street curved around to Wickendon Street. I headed into the downtown district of Providence. At the light, I took a left toward the hospital where Jabroni had probably been taken. Rhode Island Hospital’s trauma center is considered one of the best in the Northeast.
Eddy Street is quiet at night. At least until the bars close, then all hell breaks loose. I swung into the emergency department parking lot and locked the car before heading into the trauma center. The place was packed with people waiting for their loved ones, or others, to leave the treatment section.
I made my way through the crowd to the front desk and came upon a windowed cubicle. The heavyset woman behind the thick glass glanced up at me with a resigned look on her face.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Mr. Jabroni was brought in with a stab wound to the chest. I wondered if he is still alive?”
“Are you related, ma’am?”
“Um, well, yes, I’m his daughter. My mother is on her way in now.” I tried to stammer a bit to appear nervous and worried about my . . . father. Watching her face, I was uncertain as to whether it was working or not.
The resigned look didn’t change. The woman lifted a phone and murmured into it. She replaced the phone in the cradle and said, “Security will escort you into the trauma room where Mr. Jabroni has been seen. Please take a seat.”
She hadn’t said he was dead or alive. That’s when anxiety took hold.
It seemed like hours before the security guard showed up, but really, only a matter of minutes had passed. I just wanted to know if the man was dead or alive—not be taken in to see him, for God’s sake. Just tell me what I want to know. My snarky mood shifted into a dangerously snarky mood. If I got caught here by Aaron, Marcus, or the police, I would be in more trouble than even I thought possible.
The overweight security guard ambled toward me as I glanced up. His girth hung over the belt of his pants, swaying as he trudged along. Thin gray hair and floppy jowls caused me to believe he was around sixty-something in years. I stood up and waited for him. When our eyes locked, he stopped short and crooked a finger for me to follow him. Yes indeed, he was not only portly and old, but rude as well. Who could ask for more, I wondered?
Within seconds, I caught up to the man. He mumbled something about the corridor to the left. I walked alongside him until we turned the corner. Two brutes stood outside the door of a room halfway down the hall.
“Are these men cops?” I questioned the security officer. All I got was a shrug and a head shake for an answer. My anxiety heightened with every step.
The first man stared at me with dark eyes in an expressionless face. I figured he never had an expression because it takes brains to have an expression and those who involve themselves with the mob certainly fall short in the brains department. He stepped forward as I came closer. His beefy hand came up, and I stopped short.
“This here is Mr. Jabroni’s daughter,” the security man said. “She has permission to see her father.”
Flat brown eyes stared at me for a minute. He surely knew Jabroni wasn’t my father and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could say anything at all, a call for a crash cart and trauma team to respond to Jabroni’s room number came over the intercom. Suddenly, the hallway filled with running people who swept us all aside to enter Tony’s room.
I slipped away from the security guard and sneaked into the room before the bodyguards stepped to the open doorway to watch the team in action. I heard the doctor murmur that Jabroni was gone and pronounced the time of death. In shock, I stared at the dead body on the bed. He was dead. Really dead—cold moon dead.
Medical people milled around, nurses cleaned up debris from used supplies, and then the room emptied. The doctor approached me and offered his condolences. I nodded as though this was for real before I went to Jabroni’s bedside.
The man’s skin was pale. He appeared to be asleep, except that his chest didn’t rise and fall. It just lay still and silent. I shivered and turned to stare at the two guards.
One of them asked. “Whatcha doin’ here?”
“I was concerned about Tony and wanted to make sure he was all right,” I lied. I had been nosy and simply wanted to know if the man had kicked the bucket. Now I knew.
“You better get the hell outta here. The cops will be all over this place in minutes.”
“Right. Thanks for not telling the security guard that I wasn’t his daughter.”
All he said was, “Get moving.”
Within minutes, I was in the car. I had just started the motor when I saw a woman resembling Mrs. Jabroni leave the hospital. Her furtive movements caught my attention. I watched her round the corner at the end of the trauma entrance and disappear. It piqued my interest to think this person, who resembled the mobster’s wife, had been in the hospital when her husband’s life had ended. Why hadn’t she come forward?
The engine idled. I shifted into drive. The car slowly rolled from the parking spot. I turned down the street, in the direction of the woman. I made the corner in time to see her climb into the passenger side of a car. The street was too dark to see the make or color of the vehicle that waited under a tree near the sidewalk. I slowed to a mere crawl. Mrs. Jabroni’s car sped away and turned down a side street. It disappeared before I could catch up.
Instead of searching the neighborhood for her, I turned toward home, driving through the back streets of Providence. It seemed a good idea to avoid an encounter with the FBI or police cruisers, whose sirens could be heard in the distance. I was certain they would want to see for themselves that Jabroni was finished.
What had happened to Mrs. Jabroni during the evening? Where had she disappeared to? Jabroni’s illegitimate son, Duarte, had been absent from the opening . . . that also seemed odd. The questions would go unanswered for now, as exhaustion settled over me like a heavy mantle. The clock on the dashboard read eleven o’clock.
Within minutes, I had reached the village and parked in the empty driveway. Aaron hadn’t arrived yet. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least he wasn’t waiting on the doorstep to interrogate me about why it had taken so long to reach home and where I had been in the meantime.
After I entered my apartment, I tossed my coat onto a nearby chair and slipped the high-heeled shoes off my feet. I poured a splash of wine into a goblet and turned up the flames in the gas fireplace. All the while my mind traveled over the evening’s events like the replaying of a movie reel.
Mrs. Jabroni had been accompanied to the gallery by a man I had never seen before. He was a man known to Tony Jabroni since there wasn’t any obvious friction over the fact that his wife had an escort. It seemed strange that Mrs. Jabroni was with a stranger most of the time, instead of being with her husband. But then again, Gilda and Jabroni only had eyes for each other. Surely Mrs. Jabroni hadn’t missed that?
I shook my head and tried to stay on track, placing everyone where I had last seen them before Lola entered the restroom corridor. In truth, I hadn’t really been watching everyone all the time. If I had, maybe Jabroni wouldn’t be dead.
Don’t blame yourself. It isn’t your fault that the mob boss got iced.
The voice inside my head was at it again. For once, I listened.
Just because you were there doesn’t mean it was your responsibility to cover everybody’s movements. That’s why the FBI was in attendance, was it not?
“Okay, okay,” I mumbled out loud. “I get the point.”
The outer door slammed. Pounding commenced on the apartment door. I strode into the kitchen and asked who was there.
“Aaron. Open up.”
His voice sounded ominous, his mood cranky, and I was sure that he’d come to tell me that Jabroni was dead.
I unlocked the door and ushered Aaron inside. A rush of cold air followed him. The hallway had no heat and the temperature had dropped since I’d arrived home. I shivered, but wasn’t sure if it was from the chill—or fear.
“Why are you still up?” he demanded.
“Because I’m a big girl now who can decide for herself when to go to bed,” I answered with a snide attitude. “Why are you so cranky?” As if I didn’t know.
“Let’s see,” he said as he tapped his lips with the fingers on his right hand, “there was a murder tonight, you and Lola are suspects, and you didn’t return home straightaway as I requested. Shall I continue?” he asked with raised brows and a dangerous gleam in his eyes.
“That would tend to put a person out of sorts.” I waved my glass of wine toward him and he nodded.
“Sure, I’ll have a glass. Whiskey would be better, but wine will do if that’s all you have.” He leaned against the wall, watching as I hunted through the lower cabinet in search of the only bottle of whiskey I owned. Jack Daniels sloshed into the heavy glass and I handed it to him. He followed me into the living room and settled near the fireplace, swirling the amber liquid in the tumbler.
“Damn this fire feels good. By the way, Porter took Lola home,” Aaron said, sipping the rich liquid. He slouched farther down into the soft chair cushions. “Why didn’t you do as I asked?”
I hesitated over his question. Finally I said, “I wanted to see if Jabroni had croaked.” Now was not the time to lie if Aaron’s lousy mood was any indicator of his aggravation.
“Did you see his wife while you were there?” His serious gaze was steady as he stared at me over the rim of the glass.
“It’s strange you should ask––”
His choked cough interrupted me. “Don’t tell me, you had another adventure at the hospital, right?”
“Kind of, but not really. It was more of a mystery.”