IT'S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT LOVE - Sometimes It's About Murder
Mary DeLuca stared at the headlines: Cop Killer ANTONIO DELUCA Gets 65 Years to Life.
“That scumbag got off easy.”
“I can’t help it, Mary. I'll never forgive him for dragging you into that mess.”
“I know … and you’re probably right. But still …”
“Mary, what is it with you? I thought you’d be jumping for joy at the conviction. The cheating bastard is gone and out of your life for the next sixty-five years. You have the perfect grounds for divorce that you’ve been bellyaching about; do it and move on with your life.”
Hilda pushed the newspaper aside, got up from the kitchen table, picked up Mary’s cup, walked to the counter and filled it with coffee, mumbling. “If you had only listened to me…”
“Stop it! You were right … okay. I don’t need to hear that right now.”
“Sorry.” She came back to the table, set Mary’s cup down, then sat across the table from her daughter and stared at her.
“You don’t think he’s guilty … do you?”
Mary stared back, wide-eyed.
“Why do you say that?”
“I’m your mother, remember?”
Mary looked down into her coffee cup and shook her head. “No … I don’t.”
“I’ll never understand you, Mary. How many times did you catch the son of a bitch cheating on you?”
“That’s beside the point.”
“No, it is the point. The fancy cars and clothes … cops don’t make that kind of money and you know it. He was little better than a gangster.”
Hilda signed, “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know … but I have to do something.”
“Well, I don’t agree. You should move on. But when did you ever listen to me?”
Mary laughed and reached across the table for her Mother’s arm, “Never. I know you're disappointed in me…”
“No, I'm not. Never say that again. The problem is, you fell in love with the bastard. How did that happen?”
Mary smiled at the memory. “It was just one of those things. I knew what he was before I met him but he showed me such a good time . . . I couldn't resist. I had no intentions of getting emotionally involved. It just crept up on me. When I realized what had happened . . . it was too late."
“He definitely had a way with women. And that body of his.” Hilda gazed wistfully out the kitchen window.
“What? Oh, don’t worry. But I have to admit, if it weren’t for you, I may have let my guard down just to get my hands on him.”
“Hey! I may be old but I’m not blind. And look what it got you.”
“True, but that ended a long time ago.”
“I don’t know how I could have been such a fool to have fallen for him. Passion, lust … and, as you said . . . that body of his, but it wore off quickly once I realized I was just another of his conquests. An accessory he put aside when he got bored.”
“Then why are you hanging on?”
“Because I know him. In spite of all the bullshit, I know him better than anyone else, and I know he didn’t do it. He couldn't hurt a fly. Taking another man's life . . . he couldn't have . . . I just know it. If I abandon him now, I'll never sleep soundly again. For the first time in his life, he needs me.”
“He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need anyone.”
“He does now, Mom. He does now.”
Hilda stared at her daughter, realizing she never really knew her until this moment. She spoke in a softer tone, “You’re the good one, Mary. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Too late, Mother – I’m already one of the walking wounded.”
“I can hardly believe who you are.”
Mary smiled, “Surprise.”
Hilda finished her coffee. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Smart-ass. I’ve got an idea.”
“I’m all ears, Mother, dear.” Mary relaxed and leaned forward.
“I think you should go see your Uncle Harold.”
“You told me he was dead.”
“Well, I may have exaggerated a little.”
“I wished he was dead after what he did to Emma.”
"What did he do?"
"I miss Aunt Em. She was a lot of fun.”
“For you, maybe. She certainly loved you. Probably more than I did.”
“You didn’t have the time.”
“I should have made the time.”
“Stop beating yourself up – keeping bread on the table was a priority. Why Uncle Harold … why now?”
“Thirty-five years of experience as a detective rotting in that philandering brain of his which might be of help . . . in keeping you out of trouble.”
“Where is he?”
“I’m not sure. Let me make some calls.”
“Mary . . . Come on in.”
“Morning, Uncle Harold." Mary smiled, "It's been ages."
"Far too long." He paused as he looked Mary up and down. "You were just out of pigtails when I saw you last. You've grown into a beautiful woman. You remind me of Emma. She was a knock out also."
"Thanks for seeing me.”
“No problem. I'm always glad to help family.”
“God, this place is a mess.”
“So I’ve been told. Come into the kitchen. We’ll talk there.”
“Is that cannoli?”
“Got it this morning.”
“I love cannoli.”
“I know. Your mother called me. Help yourself.”
“I will; coffee?”
“Is it fresh?” She asked with a suspicious smile.
Mary washed a cup and filled it with coffee, then sat at the table with the cannoli. “So, how much has Mom told you?”
Harold laughed, “Everything.”
“I feel so helpless. What am I going to do?”
“I’ve already made some inquiries and I think you’re right. Tony was framed.”
“Then I’m not wrong.”
“No, Mary – you aren't.”
“How could something like this happen?”
“It can. Trust me … I’ve seen it happen before. A corrupt judge, well-paid prosecutors, and it’s a done deal. Whoever did the killing has connections. You just happened to be too close.”
“That’s it? Is there nothing that can be done?”
“No, that’s not it, but you have to back off about doing anything.”
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with – yet. Getting too close to the truth can get you killed if you're not careful and if you don’t listen to me. I know listening to anyone is not your forte…"
"… but you’ll have to listen this time. Understand?”
“I’m beginning to. So, what can I do?”
“Plenty; depends on how determined you are."
“For one thing, you’ll need a damned good lawyer. And I know just the guy."
"Why am I not surprised?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Mom filled me in on your years as a detective."
"You don't solve crimes by being mister nice guy."
"I'm not criticizing."
Harold laughed. "I wouldn't depend too heavily on what Hilda has to say about me. She blames me for what happened to Emma."
"Is she right?"
"Hell no. I loved Emma more than anything in my life. I just never told her."
Mary whispers, "I'm so sorry."
"Some advice from a stupid old man . . . if you still love Tony, make sure you tell him. He'll need to hear it."
"So, what about this lawyer?"
"His name is Clarence Blackstone, and you’re going to hate him. He's a lecher and all that it implies, but he has the connections you're going to need to free Tony. You'll soon discover he's definitely rancid butter but remember – he's on your side of the bread.”
Mary sighed, “I can hardly wait."
"Not to worry. I've already talked to him – he won't bother you. We don't want the real killer exposed. That could be fatal to you and Tony. Clarence will provide the safety net to prevent that from happening."
"Wow. That's kind of scary."
"Once he has all the information on this case, he'll put the right pieces together to get Tony's case reviewed. And that's where you come in."
“Find all the women Tony chased. Talk to them. Find out everything you can and get back to me. Do nothing on your own. I'll put you in touch with Blackwell when the time is right."
"When the time is right?"
"After you're finished with your investigation. I want you out of the picture before Blackwell makes his moves which will alert the killer and his cohorts that the case may be reopened."
“Okay. I got it.”
“Go back to his college and high school days if you can. Talk to everyone. Make notes of everything no matter how insignificant. Names, phone numbers, addresses where they can be reached if necessary.”
“Sounds like a pretty big order. I'm not sure I can do it.”
“Mary, these women want to talk. They won’t talk to a man but they’ll talk to you … especially you. Most of them have been beaten up by life and left to rot. Think about it. And remember, I’m here for you. Don’t hesitate to lean on me.”
“I’m at a loss for words, Uncle Harold. Thank you.”
“You're welcome. So, what will you do if Tony is vindicated and freed?”
“Probably divorce him and move on.”
"So, this is not a labor of love."
"Not really. I feel sorry for Tony, which would piss him off if he heard me. I'm the only one who's in a position to give him another chance. I would be hard pressed to live with myself if I didn't do this."
"The truth is out there, Mary. All you have to do now is let it in.”
“Easier said than done I suspect.”
“Yeah, but what else do you have to do?” He laughed good-naturedly.
Twenty-two months later, Mary placed her investigation portfolio in front of Harold. He looked up into Mary's grinning face.
"Two hundred and thirty-five interviews including names, addresses, and telephone numbers. And some of them did not go well. The sense of danger I sometimes felt scared the bejesus out of me. The index in the back cross-references all of the interviewees and other information I came across which I thought would be useful."
"I thought you had given up. Mary, this is amazing."
"I know Tony better now than I ever thought possible. Many of those I spoke with have gangland connections which they spoke freely about with my guarantee they would never be implicated if Tony's case came to life again. Without exception, they all agreed he was innocent and implied who might be responsible for the death of the police officer in question." Mary sighed and sat across from Harold. She smiled and looked lovingly at her uncle.
"What?" He began to grin.
"More than once I got the feeling I was being followed. Did you have anything to do with that?"
"I spotted some of them. At other times I just sensed they were there . . . watching." Mary laughed. "And don't give me that innocent look. I know you were behind this – now give."
"Okay. But I did it out of fear of what your mother would do to me if anything happened to you."
"Who were they?"
"Old acquaintances who owed me."
"But why? And why didn't you tell me?"
"To make sure you were safe. You'll have to admit you encountered some pretty questionable characters."
"Nothing I couldn't handle."
"So you say. I disagree."
"I had your phone tapped."
"Oh, my God. Does Mother know?"
"No, and don't you dare tell her either."
"Are you kidding? She'll have a fit if she ever finds out."
"I called Clarence after you called and said you were on your way over. He should be here [KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK], that must be him now."
Two hours later, Clarence closed Mary's portfolio and fixed his gaze on her face flushed with anticipation. "Mary, I could use someone like you. Would you like a job?"
She looked at Harold who could not help but smile, then she turned to Clarence. "I hardly know what to say. What about Tony? Is there enough there to help you get him released?"
"I'm impressed, but I need to read it in detail. I don't want to get your hopes up until then. Give me a few days."
"Yes, of course."
The meeting lasted another hour and then Clarence was gone with Mary's portfolio.
"Uncle Harold . . . what do you think?"
"I have complete confidence in Clarence. If there's a way, he'll find it. I hope you made a copy of your findings?"
"You bet I did and placed it in a bank safe box."
"Good girl. And your mother?"
"She read and re-read everything as I completed it. I'm pretty sure her opinion of Tony has changed considerably."
"Well, that will be a miracle in itself." They both laughed.
Ten days later the phone rang. Hilda picked up. "Harold. What? Yes." She yelled for Mary to pick up. When she heard Mary on the extension, she hung up the phone and waited. When she heard Mary yell her name, she met her at the kitchen door.
"He's being released on his own recognizance pending a new trial."
"Oh, my God. It worked. When?"
"Tomorrow. Uncle Harold didn't know what time."
"Does Tony know?"
"Harold doesn't think so."
At 10:45 a.m. the next day, Mary heard the clang of a gate being unlocked and opened. She heard an unfamiliar voice, "Good luck," and then she saw Tony walk into the reception area. He slowed his pace and stopped at the sight of his wife. "Mary, what's going on?"
"I'll explain everything on the way home."
"Home? I can’t believe you’re here. I thought I'd never see you again."
"Well, you were wrong."
"Yeah. Guess I've been wrong about a lot of things." Tears begin running down his cheeks.
She puts her arm through his. “Come on, let’s go. It's a beautiful day.”
“But home? With me?”
“Yes, with you. You’re still my husband and someone has to watch over you . . . to keep you out of trouble. And besides . . . Mom misses you."
Tony stops dead in his tracks, "Your mother? She hates me."
"Well, maybe she's changed her mind. I know I have."
"I'll explain everything on the way. Besides, I'm going to need you.”
“For what? After everything I've put you through, I can’t imagine you needing me for anything.”
Tony stops again. “What? With who?”
“With you, who else?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I found out about the bank.
“The sperm bank you made donations to for money when you were . . . young and foolish.”
“Oh, my God … I forgot about that. You mean to tell me…”
“Yes, I did. I hired a lawyer. She helped break their confidentiality agreement."
“Why for God’s sake?”
She pulled him closer. “To give you another chance . . . to give us another chance. I love you, Tony. Come on, let's get out of here."
Rays from the mid-morning Sun engulfed them as they pushed their way through the doors into the open air.