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Authors: Jack Parker

Tags: #Mystery, #USA

Perfect Crime (4 page)

BOOK: Perfect Crime
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Riffling the drawer, the priest took out a Polaroid. “Lovely, isn’t it,” he said, sarcastically, handing the photo to Tessa. “I refuse to be a part of the old way. And anyways, we really had no place to display it, so I felt justified in giving it to a museum. Maybe it will be appreciated there.”

“Which one?” Tessa asked.

“The Smith Museum of Stained Glass.”

“At Navy Pier,” she said, almost to herself.

The stained glass window wasn’t beautiful, and Tessa was left hoping that the picture just wasn’t doing it justice. At best the design was haphazard but she could see that letters were etched into the glass and suspected it was a Bible verse. She shivered at the coincidence.

“Wait a moment,” Tessa said, recalling something odd in his words, “What do you mean he died ‘here’?”

“In this office.” The article had said nothing of the kind. It was the first time throughout the interview that the priest weighed his words. “However, the police suggested that keeping the death quiet was in the best interest of the church.” Tessa and Father Luke exchanged a look. They both knew the men were probably not police, and if they truly were, they were most likely owned and operated by none other “business” interests.

Then Father Luke whispered something. She leaned forward, letting his breath touch her ear.

“Veleno.”

Tessa mouthed the English equivalent in response, “poison.” Standing, and then taking a half step back, she stared up into the priest’s eyes; the interview was over, there was nothing more that would be said.

She whispered, “Grazie,” and left the office. She walked down the hall and returned to the church but did not pause to pray. Eyes lowered, she scanned the sides of the pews as she walked. In Catholic old world tradition, brass plates marked the wood at the aisle, indicating that certain families sponsored various pews. DeMarco, Lorenzo, Perelli…one by one, the catalogue of victims paraded by on the various markers. It was clear they shared a common parish, even if their restaurants and businesses spanned two counties.

Morgano, Cuzzetto, DeRosa… the markers assuring that though they may be gone… never forgotten, much to the chagrin of some. Her family name did not go unnoticed—something her brother must have done. “The right thing to do,” would be his response.

The choir had adjourned during the interview and the church was now silent as she rested a hand on the heavy handle of the front entrance. That same silence reflected back at her as she emerged into the sunlight with more questions than answers.

Chapter 4

Mathematics

Ding…

The elevator doors opened and Tessa stepped into the large open office. She stretched out a hand in a well practiced move, holding out a folder as her editor walked past. The documents she held passed without a break in either stride.

“Another winner,” Tessa called over her shoulder. Then she twirled on one toe like a graceful ballerina, and began walking backwards, adding, “Don’t get scared when you read ‘double billing the government, a.k.a. the American people’—my sources are good.”

A wave of a hand was the only acknowledgement she got from the editor, who continued to walk towards his office. There wasn’t anything particularly thrilling about the man’s backside to hold her interest, so Tessa turned in the direction of her cubicle, intent on writing the beginnings of another article.

“I shoulda been a cop,” she mumbled to herself, laughing a little at the age-old joke, “I always meet my quota.”

Scott was sitting at his computer. Tessa didn’t pause to look too closely, only noting his studious presence before reaching her own desk and tossing her purse in the bottom drawer.

The thunk of metal on metal as the drawer closed must have alerted her coworker to her arrival. Before she could sit, Scott was hovering in the doorway. His hands were in his pockets and he was bobbing up and down on his toes. The lack of eye contact was so out of character she silently wondered if he was putting on an act.

His next words offered a bit of explanation. “How well do you know the Perelli family—I mean, are they friends or something more?”

“Friends,” Tessa supplied without hesitation, “Maybe more. Why?”

“I have some information, and I’m not entirely sure how to deliver it.”

At first, she thought he was talking about sharing some random fact with the family, but then he looked at her, and she realized this had nothing to do with the writer and his initial story. It was much bigger, and he was referring to delivering the news to her.

“It’s about Darla,” he added, although the words weren’t necessary, Tessa was already doing the math.

Silence lingered for a minute, as desire for ignorance warred with the need to know. “J… Just say it,” she stammered.

His voice was businesslike as he replied, “She’s dead.”

Clenching her teeth to gather herself, Tessa spoke again, “Details?”

The clipped word was a demand for action. Scott returned to his cubicle, then reappeared with a neatly typed article. “I was about to get this approved for the wire.”

“No no no” Tessa repeated, sounding almost panicked. As quickly as she’d lost it, she regained her composure. Reaching for the sheet of paper, her eyes left Scott and turned to stare at the black lettering that peppered the page:

*

The body of Darla Perelli, daughter of Gino and Maria Perelli of Dunning, was found in Manhattan this morning. Ms. Perelli had been listed as missing since March 19 when she failed to return home to her family after work at Gino’s Restaurante. The whereabouts of Ms. Perelli, during the interval between March 19 and present date, are unknown.

The body was recovered in an abandoned apartment building in Spanish Harlem. Positive identification was made from personal effects found at the scene. Cause of death is undetermined at this time. Foul play is suspected.

The family could not be reached for comment. Local police are working with New York law enforcement to determine how the investigation should proceed and if local suspects are involved.

*

With head lowered, thoughts of the pretty girl filled Tessa’s mind. For years they’d carried on like two caring sisters, talking and giggling for hours in a corner table at the restaurant. Those innocent days felt like a lifetime ago.

It was not like her to fold like a deck of cards. Silently, Tessa straightened, chastising herself for being caught in a moment of weakness.

“It could be another Darla Perelli,” Tessa said, “I mean, Perelli is a common Italian name.”

The look on his face clearly showed Scott didn’t believe otherwise, but he let her reach for that last thread of hope. “Maybe,” he sighed, “but my contact would not have sent me this lead if there wasn’t at least a Chicago link. She wouldn’t waste her time.”

Contacts can be wrong, but Tessa sensed that Scott had faith in this one. He seemed open, so she probed. “Did you see the police report?”

Motioning for Tessa to follow, Scott went back to his desk. “I asked for it, but it’s not here yet. This is the fax I got from New York,” he said, passing her printed copies of background material.

Not surprising was the letterhead from the New York Post; it was plausible his source would be a former coworker. However, the opening salutation, ‘Scott darling’, brought a moment of pause and caused her to raise an eyebrow before she continued scanning. Half-way down the page was a physical description of the dead woman found. All characteristics could have belonged to Darla, along with almost every other young Italian-American woman, all except for one detail. Beneath one subheading: tattoos/distinguishing scars—bluebell flower, right lower hip.

Tessa remembered the day Darla had pulled her into the ladies’ room to show off the newly acquired tattoo. Darla had sworn Tessa to secrecy, knowing that her father Gino would have had a fit over the ink mark.

Tessa turned on her heel and took several steps before she paused. Without looking back at Scott, she said a pointed “Thank you,” before walking away.

She didn’t wait for the elevator. On the stairs she heard another set of footsteps behind her. Guessing who was following, she walked faster.

Scott put his long legs to good use and caught up with Tessa in the lobby. “Where are you going?” he asked.

The redhead rolled her eyes and pushed open the glass doors, stepping out into the street. This wasn’t a story any more. She wasn’t a source to be interviewed and pumped for information. “I’m going to see them.”

The weather turned cloudy, as if mirroring her mood. Soon it would be dark. Tessa’s heart pounded harder with every step closer to Gino’s. Somehow, the four-block walk seemed like a long mile.

Scott walked beside her. Only then did Tessa suspect that his earlier compassion might have had an ulterior motive. “Inviting yourself along?”

“Yes.”

“No.” Tessa stopped, digging her heels into the sidewalk even as the unyielding surface refused to budge.

The other reporter walked on. He was nearly to the corner before he turned to see what had become of his companion. “Look,” he said, retracing his steps so that he didn’t have to shout, “Maria asked me to look into things. I don’t want her to think I stirred something up.”

“Did you?”

He blinked, “Did I what?”

“Stir something up?”

“I’ve barely had time to sit, let alone stir.”

A ghost of a smile appeared on her face at his turn of phrase. She started walking again. It didn’t mean that she accepted his presence, or even trusted him, it just meant that she wanted to continue.

Another block passed. “Why are you being so friendly?” she asked.

“I’m being friendly?” he said, the usual smirk on his face causing the words to emerge with a bit of a New York twang.

“Yes, strangely so.”

“Well, I’ll try not to be so strange in the future. I’m not that bad a person… if you get to know me,” he added, in his own defense.

She half suspected that was true. A sense of self-preservation kept her tone cool as she pressed, “You didn’t answer my question.”

Evasion was futile. “Today is the 19th.”

The connection between the dates, the three women, and a few other events, had already occurred to her. It may have accounted for why she felt more anxious and suspicious; but whatever she was considering, she kept to herself. “What are you saying, Crawford?”

Scott shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m still trying to connect the dots. Any chance the kidnappers let the body be found today and won’t…”

“Take someone else?” Tessa finished the sentence.

“Maybe the Perellis can give us another lead - tell us if the kidnappers ever tried again at making contact.”

“Like a note or something?”

The blond man turned to look at her for a moment. He seemed about to ask another question, but instead he confirmed, “Or something.”

“They’re good people,” Tessa said, her voice low, “This isn’t right…”

Scott nodded.” No one deserves to get news like this.”

The restaurant came into view. A closed sign now hung in the front door. Being that it was dinnertime, and Gino’s never closed before 2 a.m., it was obvious the news had been delivered.

She walked up to the window, half hoping that someone would still be inside; and yet, suddenly reluctant to intrude. The option of backing away was taken from her as the door opened. The crack widened, and G.J. stood in the opening, his dark eyes looking at Tessa and her companion.

“Who’s this guy?” he said without preamble. The jerk of his thumb indicated Scott, and was hardly welcoming.

Unintimidated by the muscle-bound Italian man’s greeting, Scott extended a hand with an introduction, “Scott.”

“We work together,” Tessa said. “Can we come in?”

G.J. stepped back, letting the two enter, and closed the glass door behind them. Without warning, he blurted, “Two detectives came, and took Mom and Dad down to the station. They found Darla—” his sister’s name caught in his throat.

“I know, that’s why I’m here.” Tessa murmured. “It’s already on the wire.” That wasn’t completely true, but a lengthy explanation wasn’t needed.

The strength of emotion from G.J. was almost too much. Tessa immediately stepped into his arms and accepted the hug. The embrace was tighter than she would have preferred, but she didn’t resist.

“You would understand,” he whispered into her hair.

No words of comfort exist for a time like this, so Tessa offered none. Clearing her throat in an effort to hold back tears, she pushed free and glanced at Scott. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” she asked.

“Three sisters; all older than I.” There was a small pause. “All living.”

Tessa was surprised at his level of intuition. “I lost my brother Rhen last year.”

Any response Scott would have made was cut off by a smattering of Italian from G.J. — something about a gun fight and how it broke families apart. Tessa quickly turned and put two of her fingers over his lips to stop the angry flow of words. Her eyes flashed as she refused to listen. “We all make choices,” she said.

G.J. kissed her fingers before she moved them away. He looked humble and contrite as he offered to make some coffee.

“Any clues?” Tessa asked as she watched him walk around the bar and start the espresso machine.

He looked over his shoulder for a moment, then said cryptically, “Just some mail.”

“Today?”

“Yeah, a postcard.” G.J. said, twisting the valve for more steam, raising his voice as he frothed milk.

Scott pulled a seat up to the bar. He winced as the stool made a scraping sound on the Venetian tile. No one bothered to look in his direction.

Tessa pressed, “Do you still have it?”

“Yes. The police ushered Mom and Dad out without looking around,” G.J. said, tossing a wary look at Scott before banging the first cup of cappuccino on the bar and returning to the machine for another cup. “I doubt the cops would see it as a crime to send a postcard of a Ferris wheel, and anyways, what does it matter now?”

“That all depends on what it says,” Tessa commented.

G.J. opened the cash register and took out the postcard, passing it to Tessa. The picture of Navy Pier was different than the last version. This showed day, rather than night, at the popular local attraction.

BOOK: Perfect Crime
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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