Denial: A Lew Fonesca Mystery (Lew Fonesca Novels)

BOOK: Denial: A Lew Fonesca Mystery (Lew Fonesca Novels)
2.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
To the memory of my cousin
Mark Kaminsky
with love
A single word. No period. No exclamation mark needed. I wrote the word on the back of a yellow three-folded sheet with a black fine-point Sharpie pen.
The sheet had come to me in the mail, an invitation in a flood of typefaces, an invitation to take the Scotch tape off the attached key, hurry down to the Toyota dealer on Bee Ridge Road and drive home a new Tacoma if the key worked.
I took the Scotch tape off, dropped the key into the partly filled wastebasket next to my desk and slipped the sheet with that single word under the door of my office onto the sunlit landing outside.
Someone knocked. I didn’t answer. My
answered any questions he or she might ask.
I turned, barefoot, looked around my office. Desk. A thick black-covered notebook the size of an old
magazine on top of it. Two chairs. Walls empty now except for the book-cover size dark painting of a thick patch of Amazon jungle swirled in mist, with shadow,
black mountain in the background with a single tiny dab of color, of a bird in flight above the trees.
I shuffled into the small room behind my office, the space in which I did what others referred to as living. Cot with blankets, a couple of pillows. Closet with few clothes neatly folded. Chair, wooden, with arms. Sitting on the chair was my slightly soiled Cubs baseball cap. At the foot of my cot were a dented portable dorm-size refrigerator piled not too high with things that could be eaten—protein bars, cereal, something made of tofu guaranteed to last a century without spoiling and promising no taste. Inside the refrigerator were three gallons of tap water in recycled plastic milk cartons. Next to the refrigerator, on a table with a tender leg, sat my television and VCR. My stacks of VHS tapes were piled neatly on the floor.
Thus was all my space taken.
Another knock. The visitor on my doorstep had taken his or her time to absorb the single word I had written. Or maybe he or she had been puzzling over the missing automobile key?
There was no mirror in the room, but if the blinds were open, which they were not, and the light was right, I could look at what I appeared to be, a slightly-less-than-average-size, thin, balding man with a two-day growth of beard. I was wearing an extra-large wrinkled gray T-shirt with the word VENICE in black written across the front. The left side of the bottom of the
was almost peeled off. I didn’t feel like pulling it all the way. Let it hang.
I didn’t know which Venice the shirt referred to, the one in Italy, where the sea will soon swoon over gondolas and turn the city into an Atlantis of the mind, a city less than a thousand miles from where my grandparents had been born; or maybe it was the Venice in California, where the curious tourists and teens and
twenties and thirties go to look at the muscle builders, the transvestite roller skaters, the frantic badminton players, the fortune-tellers, the tattoo artists, the leftover flower children, no longer children, promising to tell their futures or pasts with cards, stones, leaves, bumps on the head. It was more likely the Venice less than twenty-five miles south of where I stood in my second-floor refuge in Sarasota, Florida.
I didn’t really know. I had never been to any of the Venices, had only read about them. I had bought the shirt in the Women’s Exchange Thrift Shop a few blocks away.
Let it rain. Let it pour. I didn’t care anymore. I had those deep river blues. Doc Watson sang that. Catherine and I had an old album recorded at a bluegrass night at the University of Chicago. I had told my cousin Frank Cimaglia, who wore cowboy hats and boots and played the mandolin, to take all the albums.
Another knock at the door. No harder. There was persistence in the caller. He or she had my
and chose to ignore it.
I was wearing my blue sweatpants, frayed at the bottom. They weren’t purchased at the Women’s Exchange. I’d had them before I left Chicago more than four years ago. They had been among the clothes I had thrown together and into two suitcases, suitcases I dropped into the trunk of my car, which I then got into and drove heading south, moving away as far as highways would take me from the death of my wife in a hit-and-run accident.
She had been thirty-five. She had been a prosecuting attorney in the Cook County District Attorney’s Office. I had been an investigator. Her name was Catherine. Until a year ago I couldn’t speak her name aloud. I had driven till my car gave out in the driveway
of a Dairy Queen on 301 Washington Street, in Sarasota. I had been vaguely on my way to Key West.
There had been a FOR RENT sign on the cracked-concrete two-story office building at the back of the parking lot. The metal outdoor railing of the building was rusting. The offices, dingy white doors in need of paint, faced onto the narrow landing.
I rented the two-room office, moved into it with my two suitcases, sold the car for two hundred dollars, and never got to Key West, at least not yet, probably never.
When the money began to run out, I drew on whatever remaining willpower I had and with references in hand got a process server’s license and called on some law firms within walking distance.
I made enough to live on, to buy videotapes, eat at the DQ or Gwen’s diner on the corner or the Crisp Dollar Bill, a bar across the street where it was always dark and the music was unpredictable.
If nirvana came up and held out its hand, I’d shake it and say I had been waiting for him or it or her. Until then I wanted to husband my grief, savor my depression. I had a right to it. Misery is not reserved for the righteous alone.
Another knock at the door. I sat on my cot and touched my scratchy face. Catherine liked to make Sunday-morning love when I hadn’t shaved the night before.
It shouldn’t be so bright and sunny and seventy degrees today. It was winter. On this day, I wanted, craved, gloom, cold or rain and solitude and was besieged by sun and visitors.
Another knock.
I had unplugged my phone.
“Lewis,” came a voice from the other room, beyond the closed outer door.
Others had come. I hadn’t bothered with the
. I had sat silently in darkness and dusty sunlight through the closed blinds. I had come to Sarasota to escape from intimacy, friendship and connection. But they had found me.
People had slowly come into my life.
Sally Porovsky, the social worker whose heart broke daily for the children she tried to help and the system too often failed; Flo Zink, the foul-mouthed recovering alcoholic with a pile of money left to her by her departed Gus; Flo, who had taken in Adele, the teenaged mother with an unerring ability to find but not sift troubled sands; Ames McKinney, the laconic lanky seventy-year-old motor-scooter-riding fugitive from a Wild West that had probably never existed; Dave, who owned the DQ franchise and spent as many hours as he could on his boat in the Gulf of Mexico welcoming the sun that turned him a mahogany nut wrinkled brown. They had all come to my door in the last few days. They had all given up when I didn’t answer.
But the knocker this morning had been at it for almost fifteen minutes.
The first knock had awakened me from a sleep that had started in darkness. I thought it had come from the television set, which was quiet but running on AMC. Edward Everett Horton was looking at me with startled eyes. Or was he looking at Helen Broderick? Horton wasn’t knocking on a door.
I had stumbled from bed, found the yellow sheet, pulled the Sharpie pen from my muddled desk drawer and made my only communication with the outside world in the last seventy-two hours.
I needed another few years of sleep. I needed to watch Mark Stevens and Lucille Ball in
The Dark Corner
again. I needed to see anything before 1967 with Joan Crawford in it.
“Lewis, open the door.”
It was Ann Horowitz, my therapist. I had stumbled onto her a few years ago while serving papers. She had been called to testify about a patient who had tried, with less than half a heart, to kill himself. For some reason, Ann had thought me an interesting case and had taken me on for ten dollars a session. Ann and her husband had officially retired to Sarasota from New York a decade earlier, but at the age of eighty, Ann, a small, solid, always neatly dressed woman, was full of energy, curiosity, a love of history and an unending enthusiasm. She was my opposite. We were made for each other. She had a small office off Main Street across from Sarasota Bay.
Ann had gotten me to admit that
I didn’t want to give up my depression, that giving up my depression
meant giving up my grief, my grief over Catherine. I guarded my grief. I had paid a high price for it. I wasn’t ready to give it up, but I was willing to address it. Ann had gotten me to finally speak Catherine’s name, to admit to small links to people in the present, links I resented but couldn’t deny. I didn’t want to invest in someone else who might be taken from me by age or accident or intent.
“Lewis,” Ann said outside the door. “I’ve got coffee, biscotti, an open day till a late lunch with my visiting but not welcome cousin Rachel.”
I didn’t answer.
“I read your note,” she said. “No does not always mean no. And sometimes, but not often, when you put that plastic key in the ignition, the car actually starts. Somewhere we are tickled with the fancy that the car might start this time.”
Not me, I thought. Putting the key in the ignition meant you thought there existed a glimmer of hope.
Putting the key in the trash basket meant you weren’t going to be drawn into the game.
I paddled back into the office and opened the door. Sunlight and cool air closed my eyes. When I squinted at her, Ann held out a large paper cup with a plastic top. I took it and stepped back so she could come in.
When she was inside, I closed the door and she handed me a small white paper bag. I carried the coffee and the bag to my desk and sat. Ann sat across from me. She opened the lid of her coffee.
“You have a joke for me?” she asked, taking a sip of her coffee.
I owed her a joke, my assignment from our last session. I was collecting them, telling them to her, part of my therapy. I had not yet found any of the jokes funny.
I drank some coffee. It was warm. I pulled an almond biscotti out of the bag. It was crisp and firm. I shrugged.
“No joke? All right. I’ll tell one. How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?” she asked.
I shrugged again and considered dipping my biscotti. I had a vision of my grandfather doing this with biscotti made by my grandmother. I imagined crumbs wet from coffee dropping onto my grandparents’ mottled Formica kitchen table.
“Just one,” answered Ann, “but the lightbulb really has to be ready,” she said. “Your turn.”
“A new patient comes into the psychologist’s office,” I said. “The psychologist says, ‘Tell me your problem, start at the beginning.’ And the patient says, ‘In the beginning, I created the heavens and the earth.’”
“It’s hazelnut,” Ann said. “The coffee.”
I nodded and drank.
“You think we create our own heaven and earth?” she asked.
“It’s a joke,” I said.
“A joke is never just a joke,” she said, pointing her biscotti at me.
“Freud,” I said.
“Truth,” she answered.
“Three people are dead.”
I drank coffee, hesitated and dunked the biscotti. I knew I looked like my grandfather at that Formica table, beard and all.
“Can you be more specific or do you wish to talk about mortality in general and, if so, why focus on so small a number?”
“I don’t want to talk,” I said, working on my soggy biscotti.
“You let me in,” she said.
“I let you in,” I confirmed.
“Progress,” she said with a smile of satisfaction.
“Look at me,” I said.
She did.
“What do you see?”
“A man concerned with how he appears to someone else,” she said. “Progress.”
“Setback,” I said. “Withdrawal.”
I finished my biscotti, wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my Venice shirt and swirled the coffee, creamy brown, sugared.
“How long will it take?” she asked.
“To tell me about the three dead people.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It depends on where I start.”
“In the beginning you created the heavens and the earth,” she said.
She reached into her canvas purse, pulled out her cell phone and punched in some numbers.
“Rachel,” she said. “Can’t make lunch unless you can hold out till three … . You will not be starving. You will probably not even be hungry. Find something in the fridge to tide you over. I’ll call back when I’m ready.”
She flipped the phone closed and returned it to her purse.
“You have my attention and a bonus,” she said, removing another, smaller white paper bag and handing it to me.
BOOK: Denial: A Lew Fonesca Mystery (Lew Fonesca Novels)
2.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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