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Excerpt

Excerpt

A Well-known Secret

Chapter 1

Her name was Dorotea Salgado. Our housekeeper called her a
friend.

She was sitting in a two-seat booth with her long, crinkled hands
folded on the tabletop, and as I approached her she looked blankly
at me, then returned to staring into the distance, toward the
dappled sunlight and budding trees in Union Square Park. Her
hollow, angular face was scored with wrinkles and dark lines, and
her skin sagged slightly from the jaw. She wore a modest dress,
burgundy with a paisley print, over her thin frame. Strands of
gray, standing in contrast to her black hair, rested above her
ears. At her side near the window sat a square pocketbook that
wasn't new. It matched her brown belt and sensible shoes.

The old, '40s-style clock above the entrance to the kitchen read
Diamonds, but if that was the name of the place, no one used it:
The red-neon sign out front said coffee shop and nothing
more.

At 11 on a Monday morning, black stools waited for customers at the
Formica counter, and the small dining room to my right was empty
except for a man working a laptop, nursing a mug of coffee.

I was in here once on a Sunday morning at about eight and was the
only one who hadn't been out all night.

"Mrs. Salgado?"

She looked at me and blinked her sad eyes and said, "Yes."

I told her I was Terry Orr. She slid out of the booth and stood.
She was of average height and that made her much shorter than
me.

She had a faint accent. Mrs. Maoli had said she was Cuban.

"Please," she said as she gestured to the booth.

I waited for her to sit. When she did, I squeezed in across from
her, leaving my legs in the aisle.

"Thank you for coming," she said.

I nodded.

When the waitress appeared, I ordered coffee black.

"An espresso, Mrs. Salgado?" I asked.

"Yes, please."

In here, espresso was as close as we'd get to café Cubano,
which had the viscosity of Brent crude and enough caffeine to
jump-start a slug.

I waited for her to doctor her drink with sugar. Her teaspoon
clinked the sides of the tiny cup.

She wore her gold wedding band on her right hand.

"You're looking for your daughter," I began.

"Yes," she said, "Sonia."

"Where did you last see her?"

"In Bedford Hills."

"You haven't seen her since her release?"

She shook her head.

"Do you know where she went?"

Again, no.

"I see." I went gently. "You're not close..."

She looked down into the cup. "It is difficult. Mistakes were made,
and, no, she didn't want me to come see her."

"'Mistakes?'"

"I-I was very angry," she said, "and then maybe it was too late."
She hesitated. "In time, I visited, but she preferred not. Maybe so
I would not see my daughter grow old in prison."

Our housekeeper Mrs. Maoli told me Sonia Salgado had been in
Bedford Hills, a maximum-security facility up in Westchester, but
between her wobbly English and my poor Italian she hadn't been able
to give me much more. Her friend Mrs. Salgado was "a good woman,
not young now-she must not work at this age. She has many problems.
Her grandson is not well." Urging her to tell me more, I learned
the that Italian word for a woman who murdered is
assassina.

Mrs. Maoli mimicked downward strokes with a knife.

"Even after thirty years, she is my daughter," the old Cuban woman
said.

"Did she have any plans? A job?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I have no information."

I sipped the bland coffee. "Is it possible she wanted to
disappear?"

"Possible, yes."

"Is there a reason you need to find her?"

She frowned quizzically. "Did Natalia tell— Do you know about
Enrique?"

"Is he the grandson?"

"He's very sick. She should see him."

"Mrs. Maoli said the boy has never seen his grandmother. Is
that— "

"No. We would not take him to prison."

"How old is the boy?"

"He is three."

I found myself sketching invisible flow charts with my finger on
the tabletop, avoiding the coffee-cup rings. "I'm trying to
understand: You haven't seen her since-"

"Not in five years. This Christmas, five years. For a few minutes
only."

"Does she know she has a grandson?"

"I wrote to her, yes."

I leaned forward. "There's no easy way to say this— "

"I understand, Mr. Orr, that Sonia does not want to see me and she
does not want to see Enrique. I understand. But the situation has
changed."

"Perhaps not for Sonia, Mrs. Salgado."

She stopped, then she shook her head. "I cannot explain. She is my
daughter. I am seventy years old. And Enrique is sick."

"Sure," I nodded, "and you want to make things right."

"I think it is too late to make things right. But she was my little
girl," she said without a trace of sentiment, without anger. "Then
she was lost to me. I cannot explain. The newspapers said she was a
monster. No."

Thirty years in Bedford Hills made it Murder One for Sonia Salgado.
There was no sense asking her mother why she'd done it. A
premeditated killing meant money or revenge.

"Perhaps she's hiding, Mrs. Salgado. That may be why she can't be
found."

"I have thought of this and this is why I ask you and I do not ask
the police. You can find her and you can give me the information.
No one will know."

"You expose her and you may put her-and yourself-in danger."

"Mr. Orr, I just want to see my little girl. I want her to see
Enrique. I want to see what is possible now."

"I understand, but— "

"And you help children, Mr. Orr. We know this."

On the north side of Union Square Park, they were cleaning away the
debris from the Farmers' Market: Rotted fruit that had escaped the
homeless lay in a pile near the curb. A city dump-truck moaned and
wheezed as it backed toward 17th Street.

"Sure, Mrs. Salgado. Why not?"

She smiled, not in triumph but as if to signal that a burden had
been lifted, a milepost passed.

"Give me a call in a day or two," I added.

"Thank you."

"No thanks yet," I said. "Let's wait until something gets
done."

She reached for her handbag, but I dug out a five before she could
get her money to the table.

"No, Mr. Orr, I insist." She pulled out a small brown wallet and
dropped two folded singles between our cups.

That wasn't enough to cover my coffee, but I said nothing. I
shouldn't have asked the proud old woman to meet me at this place,
whose high prices paid for a hip cachet rather than customer
satisfaction.

But since Mrs. Maoli said she knew Dorotea Salgado from the
Farmers' Market, I thought it might be convenient for her.

What kind of people charge $3 for coffee?

I told her I was going to have another cup. She thanked me again,
and I waited until she was halfway to Lex before I asked for the
check. I left her two singles as a tip.

The New York County District Attorney's office is about a two-mile
walk from Union Square. The best way to get there on a mild April
morning is to cut through the park and stay on Fourth until the
Bowery meets up with Park Row; or just take Lafayette through
Little Italy toward the construction near Paine Park. Either way
was faster than a cab, especially today: Somebody'd been given a
big enough bag of cash to let Tim Robbins take over Spring near
Balthazar for his latest flick, and traffic on Broadway had slowed
to a dribble. Or so said WNYC before I left the house.

I went toward Fourth, stopping briefly by the melted candles,
weathered fliers and inexhaustible well of sadness at the makeshift
tribute to the victims of the World Trade Center attacks that stood
sentry to Brown's statue of Washington on horseback. As I walked
along the wide avenue, passing a Salvation Army thrift store, a
year-round costume shop dubbed the Masters of Masquerade and the
elaborate and decidedly English architecture of the Grace Church
School, I called Sharon Knight, the best known and perhaps the best
of Morgenthau's army of assistant district attorneys. A secretary
with a Jamaican accent told me she was in court, so I asked for
Julie Giada and got her voice mail. The clock in the musical
quarter note on Carl Fischer's building told me a lunch recess
wasn't too far off, so I kept going and arrived at Hogan Place just
short of 45 minutes later: If Julie got my message, she'd
help.

If Sharon was the star in the D.A.'s office, Julie was its angel.
Julie, Sharon once said, had "a big, big heart," and added that
"it's too bad she's doesn't check with her head now and then."
Julie was plenty smart, but I knew what her boss meant: She liked
to dig through the system to find lost causes— a bag lady who
didn't want to move off a grate in Sutton Place, a wizened old man
set up to take a fall by his pinstriped nephew and trophy wife, a
wide-eyed yet insolent kid caught playing lookout for the
neighborhood drug dealer. Julie had interned in the Brooklyn
D.A.'s, then joined full-time after graduation from Penn Law. She
spent a year in private practice, but jumped at the chance to come
into Sharon's small group. "She really should've joined the Legal
Aid, ACLU, something," Sharon laughed. "If I didn't trust her with
my soul, I'd think she was working us from the inside." Maybe
Julie's compassion would extend to the mother and grandson of a
murderer.

I breezed through the first metal detector, then another, and I
took the elevator upstairs. The receptionist was a cop who long ago
had been taken off the streets and given a job that kept him warm
and relatively safe: He still carried a service revolver. His
family name was Casey, and whenever I came up here, perhaps 50
times in the past four years, he reacted as if he'd never seen me
before.

"Officer Casey," I said with a nod.

He pushed aside his copy of the Post. "What'll it be?" he asked
blankly. The thin black man had pale blue eyes and a long
chin.

"Julie Giada, please," I said.

"Are you somebody by the name of Terry Orr?"

"Terry Orr," I replied, surprised.

"You have some ID?"

I dug out my wallet and showed him my P.I. license.

He handed me a white envelope that bore the New York County crest.
"Julie's still out."

I nodded.

"You can call later if you want."

"OK."

I tore open the envelope and slid out a single sheet of
paper.

Sonia Salgado's address. St. Mark's Garden in the East
Village.

Excerpted from A WELL-KNOWN SECRET © Copyright 2002 by Jim
Fusilli. Reprinted with permission by Putnam. All rights
reserved.

 

A Well-known Secret
(The Spellman Series #1)
by by Jim Fusilli

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399149317
  • ISBN-13: 9780399149313