Authors: Art Bourgeau
"Look, dear, I know the way men are. There's no
use fighting it. You just can't trust them. Soon as you turn your
back they're trying to replace you with a younger model. I keep
waiting for Justin to trade me in. Of course, if I ever find out he
has I'll throttle him . .
While Lois was chatting on, trying to make Missy feel
better, Missy took a small packet about the size of a stick of
chewing gum out of her purse and was carefully pouring some white
powder from it onto the mirror of her compact. When she heard the
words "younger model" she felt no special comfort, even
though this Laura could be ten years older than she was. In Carl's
case the older woman seemed an attraction—though a pretty damn
sudden one, considering his obsession with teeny-teens in white
panties . . .
"That's not the way it is at all," Missy
said. "She's just a friend from the paper who's trying to help
out." Which, ironically, happened to be the case.
Lois nodded, not wanting, like some others, to rub it
in, but not convinced either.
Missy, needing relief, not an argument, lowered her
tone and smiled. "Want some?" she said as she took the
cover off a matchbook and began to divide the white powder into lines
on the compact's mirror.
"Maybe just a line," said Lois.
"Like I said, this is what we've both been
working for, and we're both happy as can be. Oh, I'll miss him, sure,
but New York's just a train ride away so we'll see a lot of each
other and I'll get to meet a whole new group of people in New York,"
she said, rolling a twenty dollar bill into a tube and handing it to
Lois, smiling until she felt her face would crack. Crack . . . not
for her, for the peasants . . .
"I must say, Missy, you're taking this a lot
better than I would," Lois said. "When you took Carl Laredo
under your wing he was a hick. Without you, he'd still be a pig's
Even in her anger Missy knew this was not strictly
true. When they met, Carl had just come back from living in France
and knew more about food, art and wine than anyone she'd ever known.
Lois, who had bent down to the powder on the
compact's mirror, looked at the rolled-up twenty and straightened up.
"Don't you have anything larger than this? I
never like to snort with anything as small as a twenty. You can never
tell whose nose it's been up."
Missy threw back her head and laughed a loud, genuine
laugh. "Lois, did anyone ever tell you that you can be a cunt?"
"Only Justin, and that was in the heat of
passion," she said with a demure smile. "And speaking of
passion, or an approximation thereof, I saw Felix at Carl's table.
What do you think of him?"
"He's . . . nice-looking but I didn't pay much
attention . . ."
"Oh, well, I just thought you might have noticed
him. He's an old friend of Justin's from New Orleans. Made a fortune
developing real estate. I believe that's what he's doing here, some
big project or other. Of course there's more to it . . . his ex-wife
lives here and Justin thinks he wants to get back together with her."
Missy had no comment, finished her cocaine and put
her compact back in her purse.
Lois, though, wasn't finished on the subject of Mr.
Felix. "You probably know her . . . Susan Ducroit? She lives in
the Locust Towers on Fifteenth Street and owns the Pine Street
Missy nodded abruptly, picked up her purse, took a
glance in the mirror to be sure her makeup was fresh and no telltale
powder was clinging to her nostrils, and started for the door . . .An
uneasy silence settled over the table, and she knew immediately they
had been talking about her.
Once she was seated Carl leaned toward her. "You
Not looking at Laura, she said, "Of course I'm
okay. Aren't I always, darling?"
Laura was looking at Carl. "It's getting late,
Carl. Don't you think we should go back to your loft to make sure the
caterer is finished? The crowd from the Spectrum should be arriving
any time now."
"What crowd from the Spectrum——?" Missy
could have bitten her tongue. It was the damn cocaine loosening it.
"The rock group Fraternization is playing there
tonight," Carl said uneasily. "They're coming over after
the show for a little get-together . . . Why don't you and Felix here
She and Felix? What a nervy thing to do. Well, she
wasn't someone to be laid off on a stranger . . . even one that
strangely moved her . . . like a three-eyed cousin. Not after all
she'd done for him. Lois was right—he was a hick, all the acquired
French culture notwithstanding.
Truth to tell, below her anger she had never felt
more vulnerable in her whole life than at this moment. Mostly she was
the strong one, in charge, and the one time she needed someone,
humiliation was what she got. Men ....
Felix saved her. They were now the only ones still at
the table. He reached across and put a hand on her arm in a gesture
that was both possessive and protective. It startled her. His hand
felt almost exactly like her father's . . . when she was little he
would do the same thing, put his hand on her arm just that way
whenever she'd get upset, and when he did she'd know everything was
all right. At least until the next time when he got mad at her and
made her scared and miserable all over again . . . Felix's eyes, they
were so like how she remembered her father's . . . she'd noticed it
when they were introduced but it hadn't really registered until now .
"I don't know about you, but I haven't eaten.
Would you stay and have dinner with me, or at least keep me company?"
Looking at Carl he added, "The party will still be going on a
while, won't it?"
Missy didn't bother to hear Carl's answer. He had
made his bed. He was now a nonperson as far as she was concerned.
Except, of course, for the payback.
"Good, we'll join you later," Felix was
saying, and thereby taking matters out of her hands.
Felix was a pleasure, in control, on top of the
situation. A regular Cyrus Wakefield, early edition. As she turned
back and saw Carl and company walking away through the crowd, she
thought, We won't be joining you—not now, not ever.
Tonight she had come to Lagniappe looking for Carl
and some support, even comfort. Instead she had found, it seemed,
something better. Something she had given up looking for . . .
A man to match her father.
LAURA RAMSEY woke up with a start, heart pounding.
Once again she had had the too familiar nightmare . . . She was on
the operating table. Masked faces were looking down at her. She was
conscious but unable to speak or move. One of the faces was saying,
"It has spread; we're going to have to take more," and then
they began to cut off her arms and legs . . .
Usually when she had this nightmare the sight of her
cozy bedroom with its white walls and blue woodwork was enough to
quiet her, to remind her that she was safe in the little house she
loved so well. But not today. It took her a moment to realize why,
and then she understood. It was the sound of the sirens. She took a
ragged deep breath and pushed back the bedclothes. Tugging at the
bottom of the white T-shirt she slept in, she crossed the room and
opened the window.
Her bedroom faced onto narrow, tree-lined Emily
Street. By leaning out her. window she could see nearby Front Street,
the concrete pilings of the overhead section of I-95 and almost to
the Delaware River beyond. From the way the police cars were racing
down Front to Snyder under 1-95, and up Water Street on the other
side, it looked like something big was developing. Laura pulled on a
pair of corduroys, a bulky sweater, and stepped into a scuffed pair
of Tony Lama cowboy boots. She stopped in the bathroom just long
enough to run a comb through her hair, brush her teeth and put on a
little lipstick and eyeliner. Downstairs she grabbed her tape
recorder and purse and was out the door.
Neighbors were emptying from their houses and making
their way toward Water Street and the screaming police cars. Rushing
along with them, Laura once again felt the strong sense of
neighborhood that had first attracted her to this section of South
Philadelphia near the docks—a sense of belonging, even some mutual
concern not possible for an apartment dweller.
She followed the crowd until they came to the
normally deserted train depot between Water Street and Delaware
Avenue, which now, ringed as it was by at least a dozen police cars,
was far from deserted. Uniformed officers were busy trying to keep
back a small but growing crowd.
Stopping at the rear of the crowd near a
silver-and-white coffee truck already doing a brisk business, Laura
found herself next to a long-haired young woman holding a baby in one
hand and a cigarette in the other. On the back of the hand holding
the cigarette she noticed a small flower tattoo.
"What's going on?" Laura said, out of
breath and standing tiptoe to get a look over the crowd.
"Beats me. I just heard the sirens and come
over. Probably found a body in there. Nothing else'd bring this many
cops. The Mafia, somebody probably got smart with them and got killed
for their trouble . . ."
"Who you kidding?" said a young woman in a
tank top. "It ain't the Mafia, the Mafia don't work like that.
They just shoot 'em and leave 'em on the street like the rest of the
garbage that don't get picked up in this neighborhood. It's those
missing kids. Their bodies are in there. Every last one of them. Mark
my words . . ."
Laura pushed on into the crowd until she got to a
uniformed cop. Behind him she could see unmarked Plymouth sedans and
a blue-and-white van labeled "Crime Lab" scattered near a
cul-de-sac with a freight ramp. Fishing in her purse she found her
press credentials and flashed them at a young officer. He had a grim
look on his face.
"Officer, what's happening?" she asked,
hoping that the woman was wrong, that it wasn't a building full of
bodies. He glanced at her credentials and stonewalled. "I don't
know, ma'am. You'll have to ask the lieutenant about that——"
"Where is he?"
All right, he was at least ten years younger than she
was but she wished he would stop calling her "ma'am." It
also was sort of corny, like an old TV show. Well, she wasn't here as
"Can I see him?"
"Soon as he comes out I'll tell him you're here
. . ."
She turned away from the next "ma'am" and
moved down the line. As she did she noted the tight, grim faces. From
her experience it took a lot to affect a cop. Something really
terrible must have gone down in that old depot.
She saw detectives come out of the building, all with
handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths. As she stood there she
felt a rough hand on her arm and turned to face a woman in her
forties with short hair and hard eyes.
"You're that reporter, the one that lives over
on Emily Street, right?"
There was an angry look on the woman's face, too, but
unlike the police hers was not a controlled anger—it was the look
of someone who was ready to blow and looking for a place to do it.
For a moment Laura was intimidated by her ominous presence, but she
pushed it to the back of her mind.
"That's right . . ."
"I thought so. Me and my husband, we saw you at
Walt's having crabs. You were by yourself. The waitress told us who
you were. You're going to write about this, aren't you? Somebody's
got to do something about it."
"I don't know. What's going on?"
"They found a body in there, we think it's Terri
DiFranco. You know, the latest missing girl. It's a sin. They ought
to shoot the sonofabitch that did it."
Laura knew, all right. She had a collection of
handbills from the neighborhood, all with pictures of missing teenage
girls and reward offers. This Terri DiFranco was the latest. For
months she had tried to interest her paper in doing a story on them
but had gotten nowhere. Without bodies they were just runaways, she'd
been told. They weren't news. No one was interested. Including the
Another paper, though, had done a piece on the
missing girls as a fill-in on a slow newsday. That was last week,
Saturday—the day she and Carl and the others had been talking about
it at Lagniappe.
"How do you know what they found?"
Another woman, of similar stocky build and haircut
but wearing glasses, chimed in, "Because Lennie Carnelli and his
pal Mike knew her. They were laying outa school, playing hooky, and
gonna spend the day in there. When they broke in they found her——"
A tall blonde in her late twenties interrupted. "I
don't know if you know, but there's nine cops that live in the one
and two hundred block of Mifflin. When they found her they ran up
Mifflin looking for my Jim, both of them sick as dogs. But Jim's on
days so I sent them across the street to Walt Kramer. He's the only
one in the block on nights right now. And he went down to have a
look. Sadie, that's his wife, called me later and told me that when
he come back to call it in she'd never seen him look worse. She asked
him what happened and he wouldn't say anything about it. But she did
hear him call Louise Pipari, she's the DiFranco's neighbor, and tell
her to stay close because they might need her. When Sadie asked him
again what happened all he'd say was if he got his hands on whoever
did it he'd kill him himself."