Man in Fedora and Raincoat

“Printed in Blood:A Johnny Stone Mystery” by Dean Goldberg

This week we are publishing Printed in Blood: A Johnny Stone Mystery from the very first page of the novel in progress. We plan to serialize the book with a new chapter every week or ten days. While the author knows who the killer, or killers are, many events will “pretty much unfold in front of me.” says Dean Goldberg. Along the way, we will value your feedback and maybe some guesses when we reach the end.

 

Chapter I: The story begins

 

I wouldn’t say I’d never seen photos like the porno pictures that littered my desk. In fact, I’d seen far too many of these mostly out of focus pictures in the year since I had John Stone, Private Inquiries painted on the other side of the frosted glass door of my Court street office, on the wrong side of Brooklyn Heights.

The name was mine, but the “Private Inquiries,” part was Antonia’s idea. Antonia, Toni for short, who was my sort of ex, thought it would bring in a more high-class clientele.

In most things the lovely Antonia Maria Farentino was the smartest girl I knew—Columbia College smart in fact. But this time Toni got it wrong.

Most, if not all the big agencies had a New York City address. New York had Wall Street, Tiffany’s, Central Park, the New York Yankees and Joe DiMaggio. Brooklyn was stuck with Coney Island, The Rockaways and the Dodgers, whose only talent seemed to be losing to the Bronx Bombers. But I digress.

Toni also missed the part about how people had to walk through to the back of Angie’s Bar and Grill in order to climb the one flight of stairs to find my office. The office had two small rooms. The first included the aforementioned desk, a couple of chairs, a coat and hat rack, and an end table that had no furniture to end with. The second served as my temporary living space—at least it had been for the year since I started the agency. My guess was that it had a lot more temporary space to serve, since my current client list was woefully short.

Angie’s was a quiet place; a few cops from the old days, but mostly just the neighborhood guys. The only real drunk that had a reserved seat at the dark and shiny oak bar was Old Ernie, and everyone seemed to love the guy. Ernie was quiet, really quiet. In fact, the only words anyone ever heard Ernie utter was, “John Jameson, double, on ice please” and that had been about ten years ago.

I had just wrapped up bringing the star of this particular sleazy photographic tale home to daddy and wife number three at their place on the Gold Coast of Long Island. I met the newest Mrs. Dorchester in a foyer that was about as big as the left field at the Polo grounds.

“I hope she wasn’t too much trouble Mr. Stone,” her step mother said unconvincingly.      For a moment I wondered who was older, the very stylish woman in front of me, or the half-dressed teenager. I figured the Mrs. had to be at least, three, maybe even four years older than her step daughter. Then Mr. D appeared. He was wearing what I think was called a ‘smoking jacket’ and some sort of ascot around his neck. I kept a straight face.

“And the negatives?” he stared at me, unblinking.

“Destroyed,” I said.

He kept both eyes open for so long, I think I stopped blinking too.

“Are you sure?”

“Unless our Weegee wants to spend the next thirty years in Sing Sing, yes,” I said.

There was that familiar awkward moment that always lasts just a little to long when Daddy finally cleared his throat, dipped his manicured hand in his pocket and proffered the envelope.

“Well, I guess that’s it,” he said.

I smiled. “I guess so.”

I turned to leave when the Mrs. said, “Josephine, you should thank this man. He saved your life child.”

Josephine smiled at me with those big blue eyes, took one step, then kneed me.

I let out a grunt, straightened up and put my hat on. I looked at her stepmother.

“I think you better train her before you let her out again,” I said a little hoarsely.

 

           A few minutes later I was driving my four-year-old Willys down the long driveway with a check hundred bucks in my pocket and long scratch on my neck where little Josephine had tried to separate my head from my body with her nails. It was still bleeding over my best and only white shirt.

While I had destroyed the negatives in the makeshift darkroom that substituted for the kitchen in the apartment where I rescued the little princess, I’d left the photos in my office.

Now I gathered them up on my desk, took out my scissors, cut them up and threw them in the trashcan. Then I lit the last one and dropped it in. The fire swelled up and in about three minutes became was history. I opened my one window to get the smell of smoke and developer out of the office. Meanwhile I was left with some very hard to forget images, a bloody shirt and fifty bucks. Half the hundred was now in the hands of Angie Danelli, who was also my landlady. So now I only owed her another hundred-fifty.

Twenty minutes later the office door opened with a faint knock and Annabella, Angie’s 17-year-old daughter, came in with a pastrami sandwich and a cold one on a tray. I felt like I’d hit the number that day.

“Mama says you got to eat, Johnny.”

While you could describe Angie as a big bottomed woman with a sweet face and a fierce left hook, Annabella had the glow of an athlete about her and a body that was growing into babe-hood fast. She had big green eyes and shiny jet-black hair. She was sharp, and knew how to handle the customers that got too friendly.

Still, if she was my kid, I would lock her up until she was thirty.

“How’s school?” I asked as she set down my plate.

“Okay, I guess,” She sat on the side of the desk and leaned over, “When are you going to let me work for you, Johnny? School’s such a bore.”

I leaned over and pushed her off the desk. “Oww!” She squealed and rubbed her backside.

“Your mother would love that,” I assured her. “I’d be dead before the day was out,” I said.

“But Johnny…I could work part time, after school.”

“After school is when you do your homework, if I remember correctly.” I lit up a lucky and blew out one of my famous smoke rings. She split it in two with her index finger. “You apply to college yet?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “but I’m not sure I want to go. Another four years for what?”

“Annabel, you could be anything you want. Things are changing. Ever since the war. Did you apply to Columbia yet?”

She sighed, “Yes, Johnny. And Antonia wrote me a really nice recommendation.”

“Good!” I took a pull of the beer and a bite of the sandwich, signaled to the door, “Tell Angie I owe her, now get outta here, I have work to do.”

She did an about face, got to the door, “Oh pish posh,” she said and slammed the door.

My arm froze mid bite “Pish Posh?”

 

 

Chapter II

 

I never thought I’d end up in this place again, same old greasy red-checked enamel table, same nose stinging mix of garlic, cheap wine and Clorox. I’d been there for almost an hour but couldn’t really eat. I looked down at the brown stained check the new waitress finally set down at the table; cheaper this time by half. I swallowed a laugh that turned into a grimace. Tony stood behind the bar cleaning the same glass over and over, trying not to look in my direction. I patted myself down, looking for the Lucky Strikes that I’d left in my old army jacket eighteen months ago; both the sergeant’s stripes and the smokes, a symbol of a life that had finally ended; at least that’s what I thought. I thought about that day, the beginning of a new life for the both of us. We had toasted with two handmade cherry cokes and laughed.

I pulled out one stale and wrinkled Lucky and lit it with the candle on the table; I could still see my way around a cigarette, or a bottle or Jameson for that matter.

The smoke was acrid and hurt my throat. I tried to blow a smoke ring but failed like always.

Suddenly, a shadow fell over my half-eaten spaghetti. Joey froze, mid wipe, and looked in my direction. She pulled out the chair across from me, leaned over and took the Lucky Strike from in between my fingers. She looked at me with those green-grey eyes that still struck me like a switchblade piercing my heart. Every single time. She blew out a perfect smoke ring.

“Hi Johnny. Time to come home.”

I didn’t ask any questions, just stood up and dropped a double sawbuck on the table.

Tony broke into a smile. I tried not to slam the spring loaded, rickety front door on the way out,

but the cracked wood still echoed like the backfire of 38 special.

 

 

Chapter III

 

It was cold outside, real cold. The wind was angry around East Market Street and got

downright mean when we made the left onto Foster Avenue. The street was deserted;

it was dinner time in Brooklyn. She put her arm through mine. My body temperature went up like a shot.

“Don’t get the wrong idea, Johnny. That Army jacket is thin as paper, just trying to keep you alive until we get to your mother’s.” I turned my head to face her, there was just enough street light to see those beautiful eyes looking directly at me. My temperature rose a few more degrees.

“Then what?” I tried to smile, but my lips froze half way and I just looked

dopey.

“She asked me to fetch you. And I did. That’s all I know.”

“Tony.”

She squeezed my arm so tight it hurt.

“Johnny, just walk, don’t talk. Ok?”

I did as she said. We passed Connie’s News Stall; he was closing up.

“Hey Connie, can I get a pack of Lucky’s?”

Connie was busy counting his extra papers and didn’t look up.

“Sorry pal, I’m closed,” then he pushed his cap up an inch, “Oh, it’s you Johnny! I wasn’t looking.” He looked at Toni, a lot longer than he looked at me, “Hi T, pretty cold out tonight, ain’t it?”

Tony smiled at Connie,

“Yeah, Connie, pretty cold.”

Connie grabbed the pack of Lucky’s, handed it to me and I tossed him a half dollar. He bent down to make the change.

“Don’t worry about it, Connie.”

“Thanks, Johnny.” Connie looked at the shiny coin. “Hey Johnny, my brudda’s wrestling tomorrow at the Garden, you comin?”

Connie’s brother was known as The Cave Man in the fast-growing professional wrestling world; he wasn’t all that tall, just under six feet, but almost as wide. He was covered with matted hair from neck to his feet. It was a thing to behold. Whenever he went to the beach at Coney Island, he’d have an empty quarter acre all to himself. He was a terror in the ring and would roar at the crowd. The public ate it up. Right now, he was a winner and destined for a chance at the championship. After that, who knew. But now he was riding high, saving his dough and making sure he was around for supper every night with his wife, a smiling pleasant woman, and five children.

“You bet!” I answered as we hustled down the street.

I noticed Toni’s hold on me had now included most of her body. It felt good.

It wasn’t very far from the restaurant to where my parents lived in Cobble Hill. The door opened into the kitchen. My old man sat at the large wooden table reading his Brooklyn Eagle. Emma, my kid sister, was busy trying to show Mama a pattern for a new dress. My cousin Eddie was sitting on the opposite side of the table, staring at Emma and fidgeting. Mama was stirring her Pasta Fuzool and the whole place smelled like heaven with just a touch of furniture polish and a slight hint of fish; my old man worked the docks.

Mama looked up at me and frowned.

“How come Antonia has to get you out of Tony’s place? Whatsa matter? You too good to have supper with your family?”

“I was busy on a case, and thought I’d grab a bite. It’s late, and I wasn’t supposed to come around until tomorrow.”  I countered.

Mama raised her wooden spoon at me, not a good sign.

“Don’t be fresh, Mr. Big Private Detective.” She looked at my cousin Eddie.

My father snorted behind his paper.

“Eddie came with the news”

“What news?”

Emma perked up, “I went to your office a couple of hours ago.”

Pop looked over his paper, “What office? He’s got a store room above a bar!” Then he tucked his head behind the paper.

Mama’s eyes softened.

“Okay, Okay. Johnny’s here now.” She motioned to the table, “Sit down Johnny,

Eddie has something to tell you.

Eddie stretched his neck, “Why me?”

Pop put his paper down.

“Tell Johnny what you heard, Eddie.”

Suddenly the room got very tense. This was not about missing dinner. That part I got.

“It’s Vincent, Johnny. They found him in the print shop this morning.

“What?”

“He was working late at the shop last night, and some guys came in, wrecked some of the machines and, well…”

“What, beat him up? How bad?”

I looked at Toni. “Why didn’t you tell me right away?”

She looked as startled by the news as I was.

“Honestly Johnny, I didn’t know. You mother just called and asked me if I knew where you were and if I could look around for you and bring you home.”

“Okay, Okay. Where is he now?” I asked, “Which hospital? Saint Agnes?” I suddenly

saw that everyone become very silent, “What? Where is he?”

Dad spoke. Very slowly and in a low voice.
“Vincent’s dead, Johnny. He’s down at the morgue.”

I must have turned white, because everyone was staring.

“I’m going there now.” Toni looked stricken.

“I’ll go with you.” Mama looked at me and said,

I leaned over and kissed my mother.

“No, Ma, I gotta go now. I’m gonna find out who did this and I’m gonna make them pay.”

“That’s what mama’s afraid of,” Pop said in a soft voice hidden behind the wall of news.

 

 

Chapter IV

 

When we walked out of City Morgue on the Winthrop Avenue entrance, it had begun to rain; a sporadic, chilly drizzle, the kind of rain that finds your skin however you’re dressed and instantly convinces you how messy and cold life can really be. I hailed a cab, which came sliding in, rather than rolling in, and came to a stop a little too close for my comfort. I opened the door for Toni and bent down.

“I’m going to see Vinnie’s mom. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Be careful.”
“Of the old Lady?”

She reached out and touched my hand.

“Just keep away from the waterfront, Johnny.”

I managed to talk over my heart which was beating a loud love drumbeat.

“No worries, kid.”

I gave the cabbie the directions and watched the cab disappear down the block. I pulled my collar up and walked to the subway. The cab dropped me off a few blocks away from Vinnie’s house on Cranbury Street in Brooklyn Heights. The streets were pretty empty, not a surprise since the street life in the Heights shut down by 9pm until mid-summer, when the “lesser people” would hang out on their stoops, or even sleep on the fire escape if it got too hot. The Heights had the reputation of being a more “proper” neighborhood than the rest of Brooklyn. Lots of writers, artists, homos and white-haired ladies. But the rents were still cheap and all bets were off when it came to the houses that hugged the waterfront. The Santelli’s clapboard house was as close as anyone wanted to live that wasn’t up to no good. I climbed up the old wooden stairs and rang the doorbell. Mrs. Santelli, a small woman, somewhere in her sixties, looked through the curtains.

“It’s Johnny Stone, Mrs. Santelli.”

I heard the locks turn, one after another. There were three.

“You can never be too careful Johnny,” Vinnie had told me one evening as we were

coming into the house a little late and a little drunk.

“Mom!  Johnny Stone is here, come say hello.” He leaned toward me conspiratorially and said, “Ma can’t hear for shit anymore.”

The gray-haired woman had a faced lined with a history that led all the way back to the little town in Italy where she helped her grandmother in the garden pulling weeds and tending fat red tomatoes until she was six years old taken away to another land at Ellis Island.

She opened the door, her hard bony hands that had cooked a million meals over a lifetime and cleaned as many floors pulled me in. But this night she was dressed in black.

“Johnny,” she fell into my arms, “My boy is dead. My good boy. Why Johnny? Why?”

I kept her in my arms, but I couldn’t come up with an answer that didn’t sound trite.

I looked around, surprised that she was alone.

“I told everyone to leave. I told them I wanted to go to bed.” She said, and pointed to the living room as if just seeing the furniture. “They’ll be back tomorrow.” She pulled away and looked me up and down.

“You want a drink, Johnny? Coffee? Some Anisette?”

“Nah,” I said, “I just wanted to see if you needed anything.” I gestured to the living room, “But I would like to talk to you for a few minutes, if you’re up for it.”

She walked me to the couch. The plastic coverlet made a squeak when she sat down.

“Sure Johnny, sure.”

I sat down next to her and put my hand over hers.

“Vinnie was a good friend and a good person,” I said. “One of the best.”

Her face was wet, she wiped it with her handkerchief.  “Why Johnny? Why was he killed? He was always such a good boy. He never made trouble for anybody.”

“That’s what I’m going to find out Mrs. Santelli,” I said.

I spoke very softly, “Did Johnny have any new friends? Anyone new he brought to the house or was on the phone with a lot?”

She stopped to think.

“No. He had his poker friends over last week, but beside that he was busy at work.”

“Busier than usual?”

“Oh yeah, some nights he didn’t get home until after midnight. He told me he had a new client he was trying to impress by getting the booklet done fast.”

“So besides that, nothing unusual?”

“No, no.” She hesitated.

“What?” I asked.

She shook her head,

“Well one time Vinnie was on the phone, I was in the kitchen cooking my eggplant parmigiana—it was Vinnie’s favorite, and his voice sounded strange. I mean I wasn’t really eavesdropping, but I could tell something was not right, and when I came out of the kitchen to get a hand towel, he turned away from me and said into the phone with a low voice,

‘I’ve got to go, got to go—don’t worry so much, and keep your mouth shut.’”

“Are you sure that’s what he said?”

She pulled her hand from mine and swiped some imaginary crumbs off her dress,

“Vinnie thinks,” she stopped for a second and leaned in a little closer, A crooked half smile found its place on her face.

“Vinnie thought I was hard of hearing. But it wasn’t true. Maybe I thought it wasn’t such a bad idea if he thought I was half deaf.”

I wasn’t surprised. Vinnie’s mom held him pretty tight to her apron strings—and the way she cooked that Eggplant parmigiana, maybe it wasn’t such a bad place to be.

“You know Vinnie was seeing a girl?”

Now, that did surprise me. Vinnie was a very shy guy. He’d had one girlfriend in High School, Catherine Marino, that he was head over heels for. They’d gone steady the until senior year and then all of a sudden, she was gone. Out of school. A couple of weeks after she left, I got up the courage to ask him about it.

“She dumped me, what can I say, Johnny?”

“But I thought you guys were about to get engaged?”

Vinnie turned red-faced. I wasn’t sure if it was anger or embarrassment. Probably a bit of both.

“Me too, Johnny. Me too.”

A little while later the rumor was that Catherine had gotten pregnant, and apparently not with Vinnie.  But that was years ago and up until his mother’s newsflash he was pretty much flying solo. Toni and I tried to set him up at least a half dozen times, but he would just shrug and say he “didn’t have the time,” or something about taking care of his mom. Only once, when he’d had a little too much Anisette he confided,

“I just couldn’t stand the hurt again, Johnny.”

I stashed the memory and asked, “Who was she? How long had he been seeing her?”

The old lady shook her head.

“I met her about three months ago. I don’t know how long Vinnie kept it a secret.” Her face was wet again and she wiped her tears.

“She was a nice girl, Johnny. She had a good job in some publishing house.”

She looked at me, “and she liked my Vinnie, I could tell.”

The idea of Vinnie finally finding a girl and then ending up in the morgue took the breath out of me. “What is her name? Does she know Vinnie’s dead?”

“Yes, I called her right away. She came over. Just left a half hour ago. She wanted to stay with me but I told her to go home. She’s a local girl, from Canarsie. Her name is Rachel Feldman.”
Another surprise. “A Jewish girl?”

She was holding her hands together now, in a grip so tight her knuckles were turning white. “Yeah, a Jewish girl,” she smiled at me for the first time, “You think I care? My boy found a girl who adored him. My Vinnie!” She unclasped and waved one hand dismissively, “this was a nice girl, Johnny. A nice girl for my Vinnie.”

The old woman collapsed into herself; deflated, defeated, grief-stricken.

“You go home now Johnny. I’m gonna rest.”

I stood up. “Okay, Mrs. Santelli, but if you need anything, anything, you call me, okay?

She nodded, “You got my number?” I asked.

“Sure Johnny. Remember you wrote it down for me and taped it to the desk by the phone.”

“Yeah. I remember,”

I picked up my hat. She got up and walked me to the door.  “If you remember anything else, you call me, okay?” I said.

“Sure Johnny,” I opened the door. She suddenly put her hand up, “Wait a second               I just remembered something.”

She walked over to the desk and picked up a torn piece of paper.

“I found this yesterday on the floor in Vinnie’s room and brought it down to the phone.     Just in case he was looking for it. I meant to show it to you. I showed it to Rachel tonight,            but she said she didn’t recognize the phone number or the initials.

She handed me the paper. I read the phone number out loud OR 9 6241and then the initials, DM. I didn’t recognize the number but I recognized those initials, and a coldness made the hair stand up in back of my neck.

“Good night, Mrs. Santelli,” I said and closed the door. I heard the three locks click into place and then I practically fell down the stairs to the sidewalk.

I stopped to light a Lucky Strike. First one all night. I took a long drag and tried to calm myself. It was then that I saw the black Cadillac sedan parked across the street. The driver’s window rolled down. I stepped to the curb.

“That you Johnny?” asked the driver. He wore a hat and overcoat that obscured his face.

“Yeah,” I said, “Who’s asking?”

The driver threw his cigarette butt into the street.

“You visiting the old lady?”

I didn’t answer.

“Well, that’s real good of you, Johnny. But now that visits done, you’re done, right?”

“Done with what?” I was getting riled by this thug, but self-preservation, easily reduced my anger.

“Just stay out of it, Johnny. We wouldn’t want you to end up in some kind of

difficult situation, that you might not be able to get out of…without some broken bones    or something.”

“Are you threatening me?”

The driver put the car into first gear, with a loud clank, “Just given out some free advice Johnny. Just some free advice.”

Then he stepped on the gas. As the car passed a streetlamp, I could see there was someone in the back seat. He rolled his window down an inch and tapped an ash from his cigar. I knew a few of the waterfront “boys” that smoked cigars—and each one of them was worse than the other. The rain had stopped and the temperature had gone up a few degrees, enough to spread a layer of fog through the Brooklyn streets. But my road was crystal clear and knew I was walking straight into trouble.

Dead body in the river kind of trouble.