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The Law Fought Me - Ch. 1

Chapter One

Not fear so much as alarm woke me, convinced it was the apartment building’s fire warning system until I located the gold alarm clock my mother mailed me vibrating on the bedside table. I patted it until it shut up and read the black circular face. I’d confused the hands when I set it. It was 6:35 instead of 7:30. I rolled on my back and looked at the light shining through the window blinds. It was a little muggy inside the apartment, but I had managed not to sweat through the night by sleeping in my boxers with only a sheet on me.

I decided to get dressed and eat breakfast in bed: a slice of toast and a cup of coffee with a few splashes of rum–a gift from myself. My boss refused to give me the day off for my birthday, but that didn’t mean I had to be reasonable about it.

I gave my coffee another splash, finished my toast, and dozed off. When I came to, the gold hands were much closer to eight. I downed my mug, laced my shoes, threw my brown jacket over my shoulder, swiped my suitcase, and grabbed the bottle of rum by the neck before heading out the door.

July in New York City was far milder than I was used to in Arizona. I got as far as the bus stop before realizing the bottle of rum was still in my hand, and I hadn’t brought the cork either.

Well? I took another swig. A woman stopped nearby but wandered closer to the bench when she saw me. It may have been my birthday, but I was lacking in the subtlety department. I placed my jacket over my arm with the bottle and a suitcase in my left hand.

Waiting around didn’t bother me, only the consequences of being late. I was more worried about concealing the rum walking through the station. Lieutenant Carbone wasn’t one to humor sudden lapses in professionalism. The guy before me got fired for knocking over the candy machine after it stiffed him out of a Heath bar.

Usually, Carbone didn’t come around until ten-thirty after making his usual rounds of old informants and cop pals for case leads. I walked down the hall to the lieutenant’s office, debating whether I’d encounter another impatient relative of a victim with an ax to grind or looking for someone to grind it on. The only thing to keep them tame were the several questionnaires lining Carbone’s desk that prospective suspects and witnesses could fill out as part of the weeding process. I had never seen him sit in it.

When I came in, Lt. Carbone’s stern face met mine. He stood only feet away as if he’d been staring banefully at the glass until I had the spite to open it.

I took off my fedora and put it on the coat rack. “Sorry. The bus was late.”

His dark eyebrows were set rigidly, the frown fixed. Although he wore a full black suit and had only removed his hat, he was clearly waiting for me to hang up my jacket before saying anything. I set my suitcase on the chair by the wall, meant for those impatient relatives, and, seeing no means of escape, hung up my coat. I planned to leave the rum completely unexplained and take it straight to my desk by the window. When he saw the bottle, he sat on the edge of his desk.

“So you heard.”

“Yeah.” It hit me that playing along came with its own risks. I kept my face blank.

He had an intense stare at some point beyond the office wall and, in a rueful Italian accent, drawled, “Bianchi.” He extended his arm for the bottle and took a steep pull, throwing his head back with the bottle. He planted it on the table and exhaled. He looked at some old questionnaires acquired throughout the week and crumpled them. “We’re not taking on any new cases. Turn everyone away.” He knocked the bottle back, and I got closer, hoping to win it back before he could finish it off.

I tried to look vaguely despondent. “Maybe we should take the whole day off.”

His face snapped to mine. “All our energies have to be directed towards gathering everything we can find on Bianchi.” 

“You mean your detectives will?”

“I plan to spend as much time as any other detective on this one. You too. When an officer dies in the line of duty, even the secretaries work overtime.”

“Right, but I won’t be questioning any eyewitnesses, being a detective assistant.”

“Why not? You have that PI license, don’t you?”

This sounded more and more like overtime. “Yes. Is that legal? I haven’t worked for an agency in a while.” I never had.

Carbone got the bottle away from me. “Sure. It’d be legal even if you weren’t licensed. Nothing in the law prevents a civilian from investigating a crime. As long as you don’t commit a crime doing it.”

“I trust your word, Lieutenant.” I reached for the bottle, adding in a dejected tone, “I hope I’m up to the task.”

“Soon as you finish that rum–good stuff, by the way–I got a stack of girlfriends you can question piled on your desk.”

I started laughing, unable to stop picturing a literal pile of women on my desk. Carbone joined in. “Maybe too good.”

He stood and took his hat from the hanger beside the door. “Feel free to come in and out of the station. Leave everything you learn on my desk. I’ll read it in the morning. Oh, and have a box ready for any paperwork Detectives Schok and O’Grady might bring in.” He took the doorknob. “And thanks for the rum.” He smiled. “I needed it.”

In the few steps to my desk, I realized I had lost my sense of balance. I held up the last of the rum to the sunlight and set it loudly on the desk. Then I picked up the phone.

The voice on the other end was sleepy. I imagined her lying on her fluffy white bed, which I had never seen, and wearing full makeup and a black nightdress with fur-edged sleeves, though that was unlikely.

“Vane-ess…” I sang.

“Gartner? Why are you calling me? I didn’t forget, did I? What day is it?”

“The boss said he’d let me go early today.”

“Happy Birthdaaaay!”

“Let’s get lunch. That one place you showed me… what is it…”

“Phil’s. But make it one.” She exhaled, sitting up or something. “I’m not even dressed.”

I felt a pang of jealousy and checked myself. It’s only nine. There’s nobody she’s with. “What are you wearing–to lunch?”

Vanessa typically didn’t note any innuendo. “I dunno. What are you wearing?”

I leaned back and put my shoes on the desk. “A brown suit, suspenders. You know what I look like.”

“What else?”

I dragged my tie through my hand. “A black tie with gold diagonal stitching. Dark green socks.”

“Green socks?” I heard hangers scraping. “When did you start wearing green socks?”

“They’re more interesting than white ones. I think I bought them for Marti Gras.”

“Ah-hah! I’ll see you at Phil’s.”

“So will I.” I smiled as I cradled the phone. 

I dragged the list of girlfriends over with my fingers. So this Bianchi plugged a cop. What was I supposed to ask his girlfriends about? Had they caught him, or was he on the run? Some of the names had addresses—very few. The handwriting was a bit hurried, so what should have been a single sheet had ballooned into five, with various notes at diagonal angles. Were we looking for an accomplice, maybe? I flipped over the last page and froze. I put the paper in a patch of sunlight from the window behind me and leaned in close in case I was hallucinating.

Vanessa Baretto. Last known Address: 415 Perry St.

I reached for the last of the rum.

I admit that when I left the station, I had drank way more than I intended to. I moved very slowly and close to the walls to mitigate the chances of stumbling or looking like I might. I even paused at a water jug and said hello to a passing policeman before heading out.

I was still drunk when I turned up at Vanessa Baretto’s last known address. I stood at the foot of the steps staring until I realized I was acting like Carbone and tried to stop laughing so anyone looking out wouldn’t sic the cops on me. I leaned against the bricks beside the step railings instead. I had passed Phil’s on the way over. It was entirely plausible Vaness lived here.

What if she was with Bianchi now?? No, control yourself. It was in the past.

What the hell was she doing with a cop killer anyway?? Relax, relax… Maybe it was her roommate, and the cops confused it… but why did they know that much? Was she a high-level gun moll so even the cops knew where she lived? How’d they come up with this list anyway? I looked at my copy of the list. I’d written only the names with addresses, in case I actually did bother going around and asking questions. My copy was mainly for confronting Vaness in an offhanded way.

The apartment door opened, and I crouched down. I listened to the heels clap the stones until Vaness rounded the railings away from me. I stood up and let her gain distance before tailing her. Her black hair bounced under a thin, wide-brimmed hat at a dramatic angle.

She wouldn’t be seeing me behind that.

I started thinking it might be better to get inside Phil’s first, having invited her. Judging Phil’s to be on the other side, I looked down a narrow alley and ran through. Phil’s had gold letters over the door and across the windows and dark wood pillars between glass panes. I checked the corner before running across the street into the restaurant. I secured a table for two by the window and hung my hat and jacket on my chair. Vaness rang the door chimes not a minute later. She returned my smile and strutted over in a dark green dress with some kind of complicated metal necklace. When she sat, she poked her tongue out of her mouth and placed her black purse on the table.

“In honor of your birthday…” She set out a gift wrapped in paper.

A pair of loud yellow socks in a grid pattern. She must have gone out to buy them immediately after I hung up.


Vaness swayed in her chair. “That’s just your preliminary gift. You’ll have to wait til dinner for the rest.”

I told myself not to say anything but smile, smile…

We ordered lunch, and Vaness wanted to know if I liked mimosas.

“Better stick to juice,” I said.

I placed my hand in my pocket, feeling the folded list of girlfriends. We ate our lunch; I had a BLT, and she had half a sub. I moved the paper to my lap.

“A big case broke this morning. It’s so big my boss let me in on it.” I leaned forward and murmured. “This guy Bianchi, he killed a cop.”

Vaness’ eyebrows remained knotted. “So? And?”

“Lieutenant gave me a list of his girlfriends.”

“ A list of girl friends? Hah, hah, hah!” She drank some cranberry juice. “How many?”

I put the note on the table. “Lots, lots. I don’t know where they found their addresses.”

She leaned over the table. “Well? Lemme see!”

I pushed it to her and sank back in my chair, watching her face.

She eagerly traced the list. She chuckled. “What kinda name is that?” Her finger froze, and she pulled the paper to her face. “What!” She looked over it at me with her red lipstick parted. Then, the shock broke into a smile. “Oh… good one, Gartner.”

Eventually, the smile vanished. “Why aren’t you laughing?”

I folded my hands. “Bianchi. Maybe you know him.”

Vaness’ head jerked forward, her face totally blank. Suddenly, her eyebrows jumped, and she clamped her hand to her mouth with a gasp. “Ooooh, Bi-an-chi.” She sat back and crossed her arms. “I always called him Rocco. I only dated him for a month. He’d even take me home to his mother all the time cuz he thought I was Italian. When I corrected him, it was all over. Outta embarrassment, I guess. Thought my last name sounded like an Italian gun or something.” She picked up her glass.

“How long ago was this?”

“Long, long time ago. It was between one of me and Johnny’s breakups. Oh, he basically begged me back after that one.”

“Between breakups?”

“I meant during.” She pouted. “What, you think I’m a cheater?”

“No! No.”

“Cuz I never cheated. I never cheated with you. Johnny, he’s crazy. He’d kill me if he saw me and you. I would talk to guys once or twice to get his attention, to make him jealous, but I never dated anybody unless we weren’t together.” She put her fingers in her hair. “Oh, I gotta move. He still knows where I live; the cops know. Who coulda told them?”

“Johnny’s in Georgia. There’s no reason for him to come around now.”

Vaness’ eyes were fixed on a random point on the tiles. She was upset now, but I couldn’t tell what exactly put her there.

The waitress came around, and Vaness straightened in her chair like somebody snapped her awake from a nap. She tried to convince me to let her pay.

“Pleeeeease? You only turn twenty-six once. C’mon, you can pay for dinner.”

I relented, and Vaness snapped open her purse.

When the waiter left, I placed my chin on my hand. “Unfortunately, I have to–somebody might come around asking you questions, so it’s better if you let me say I spoke to you.”

Vaness hesitated, returning her excess money to her purse. “What? Why would they want me?”

“I don’t know, but they’re going after all the girlfriends they know of. If I go around to all these other addresses and ask some basic questions, they won’t pay any special attention to you.”

“Gartner, is your boss making you work on your birthday?” She drew her purse to her shoulder, getting out of the chair. “Swell! It’ll be an ad-ven-ture.”

Adventure was a dangerous word to me and conjured many tainted events. None too pretty. But an excuse to spend the day with Vaness instead of filing paperwork and answering to stuffy cops.

Vaness picked the first name she found funny, “Emerald Norval.”

As we walked, trying to stay in the shade of buildings and trees, I asked her if she’d heard anything about the case.

“I haven’t spoken to Rocco since, like, two years. Like, I knew he was sort of a ‘baaad’ guy, like, I dunno, there’d always be some kinda deal going on, stuff in and out of his back door when his parents were away, but he never struck me as a guy going around shooting people… indiscriminately.”

I felt myself detach from her words. “Indiscriminately” encapsulated a lot more meaning than she thought it did.

She folded her hands behind her back and started humming. She lifted her head and went ahead to a newspaper stand. She asked the seller about a cop murder but he said, “I read the papuh forward to back, but I ain’t seen nothin. Tomorrah, sure.”

“Radios. We need to try radios…”

Emerald Norval’s building was an upscale place with a clean lobby and real potted plants. I buzzed her number. “Maybe you should wait down here,” I said. I flipped open my wallet. “I’m the one with the PI license.”

“I thought that was fake.”

“Only my references.”


The mature female voice asked for a name, and I identified myself as a private investigator.

She hung up. The doors unlocked.

“She didn’t seem surprised.”

I knocked and heard a female voice call in a mock starlet impression, “The door’s open!”

When I entered, she was positioned on a long green chaise in an incredibly long black dress with her stockings fashionably crossed. The air was thick with smoke. The source was the end of her long gold and black cigarette holder. “Another domestic case, I presume?”

I held my jacket and notebook in my hands. “Not exactly.”

“Alright. We can settle this one of two ways.” Casually raising one hand. “One, you can name your client, and I can ask your price so you can sweep it under the rug. Two.” She paused to smoke, then laid back and pulled her dress aside so her left leg was exposed to her hip, and then flicked her eyes to me. “If you don’t tell, neither will I.”

“Aren’t those basically the same thing?”

She grunted and looked at the end of her cigarette a bit too long until it stopped looking like a cigarette. “I’ve got to stop smoking these reefers.” She placed her head comfortably on her pillow and threw one arm over her head. “So, what is it you want to ask me?”

I looked around and pulled up a nearby cushioned gold chair, but not too close. “Rocco Bianchi. You still see him when you’re not caught up in ‘domestics’ cases?”

“Not for a long while, socially even.” She sucked on the holder and let the smoke blow in slow motion toward the ceiling. “Not since he started seeing that do-goody-goody.”

“Who’s she?”

Emerald turned her head and waved her extended finger in slow, lopsided motions. Finally, she said, “I’m no fink, detective whosis-whatsis.” She giggled until she was able once more to speak. “You look so serious.” She placed a hand at her collarbones. “I’m Emerald.” She raised her arm. “As you can see, I have a penchant for green. Seductive, isn’t it?” She giggled some more and took another drag. “And you, you must be Fudge Brown. Hee hee hee hee!” Her giggling was getting the better of me, especially after jumping keys.

“I take it you haven’t heard from him in a while.”

She shook her head with her eyes closed, revealing sparkly green eyeshadow. “No…” She angled her wrist with the holder between her fingers and said, “But if I do, I sure wouldn’t rat on him like a fink!” At the last word, she withdrew her hand to her chest with a defiant stare that made her look deranged.

“It’s certainly been a pleasure.” I went to the door. “Did Bianchi ever talk to you about killing a cop?”

“Oh, sure, but we all do that. God! But he would never do it.” She sat upright. “Do you know what kind of heat that would bring down on you? You know, even, even real criminals.” She pursed her face in disgust. “The smart ones stay away from something that stupid.” She stood. “What did Rocco get himself into? He’d never shoot a cop. He’s too smart for that.”

I went into the hall.

Emerald almost tripped and held her dress as she shuffled after me. “Is Rocco alright? Where is he?”

I shrugged. “I only know what they tell me. I’m only gathering background information.”

Emerald waved me near with her fingers. “Please, come in. I’ll tell you everything that can help his case. He loves his family so much. He’s really a nice guy.” She coaxed me to the chair and started to pace. “Rocco… He provides for his family. His father doesn’t like it, and his mother’s a snoop.” She crossed her arms. “She tried coming to my place once to scare me off.” She tossed her head and looked at me by the side of her eyes. “That loaf. Tried to buy me off with soup.” She walked to the window and then looked over her shoulder. “Well, what can I say? It worked.” She drew the curtains shut. “Must have a guilt complex.”

You’re not Catholic, are you? I thought.

“What time is it, by the way? Seems a bit early to draw the blinds.”

“Oh, it’s never too early.” I tracked her voice somewhere to the left.

“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll–”

I flinched as she flicked on the light, standing over me from behind. In her left hand was a pistol.

“Who do you work for?”

I raised my arms. “Hammerstrom Agency.” A place that I had, in fact, considered applying to.

“Yeah, but why? I don’t have anything to do with anything you’re accusing Rocco of.”

“What? Sure. I’m looking for information to exonerate him.” I kept my head turned. It was too long in that position, and my eyes were going black. “Relatives of the accused usually hire PIs.” I gave my eyes a break by staring at my knees. “I can’t say who hired me, but I’m seeking information for his defense.” I looked over my shoulder. “Do you always pull this on domestic cases?”

Emerald held the pistol loosely with one finger, a smirk on her lips. “I stopped pointing this at you a minute ago.”

She took a drag as she glided to the door. “If I think of any exonerating information, I’ll gladly pass it to you.” She tilted her head, holding one elbow. Her upright hand twirled the holder, the pistol loose in a finger of the other. “Where can I reach you, by the way?”

I got up, and she rolled over in front of the door. “If I need more information,” I said, “I’ll come to you.”

“Oh? Will you.” She turned and popped the door open for me. I smiled insincerely and walked as fast as possible down the stairs.

I crossed the lobby and Vaness without stopping. “She’s insane,” I said, making directly for the exit. “Maybe I should start carrying a gun.”

“Why?” When the doors closed behind us, she asked, “Have you ever been shot?”

“On more than one occasion.”

“In the War, right?”

“The first time.” I took a look at the list to change the subject. “I hope they’re not all like that.”

Vaness caught up. “What are you saying?”

I slowed down. “You’re right.” I tried to think of something clever. “She waved a pistol at me like it was a popgun!” I smiled. No… that wasn’t it.

“I wouldn’t wave a gun at you!”

I swallowed and looked at the paper. “Anyway, which name seems the least threatening?”

“Pff. Antoinetta Spadaro, now that’s too much.” She pulled on the paper. “The address, though, that’s what’s weird. Is she a prostitute, or why does it say ‘Over Viazzo’s?’”

“If his mother is as snoopy as I think, maybe she only knew the restaurant. Or club. If prostitutes live there, maybe she didn’t want to get too close.”

“Gotta be a restaurant. No brothel would call itself Viazzo’s.”

It was a restaurant club. And it was seedy. The floor was several inches below street level, all the black curtains drawn over the windows, and we had trouble getting around the little tables without bumping into people. The only lit area was the stage, where a blind man in shades crooned at a piano. Eventually, I bumped into a slim man with thin eyebrows standing along a wall, who looked vaguely like an employee, and asked if he ever heard of an Antoinetta Spadaro.

“I’m Spadaro,” he said.

“No, I’m looking for Antoinetta. Does she live in the apartment upstairs?”

He cupped a hand to his ear.

“Does she live upstairs?”

He nodded. “Just wait half an hour. She’ll come out.”

The man calling himself Spadaro disappeared into a doorway by the stage. I turned to a man nearby and asked him for the time. Three-fifteen.

“Damn. I’ll have to be at the station by five to deliver my notes.”

Vaness frowned up at me, one eyebrow cocked. “I thought you weren’t working.”

“Depends if you consider this work. You want a martini?”

Vaness hugged my arm. “Margaritas are my favorite.”

We sat around the bar, Vaness facing in, me facing out, hands in pockets, taking in the scene. Without knowing the case, I was going to run out of questions real soon. The pianist made his way offstage, and a female MC in a silver dress grabbed the microphone and conducted the applause.

In-tro-du-cing the fab-ulous Antoinetta Spadaro!” She extended her arm. “And her glamorous friends, Gilda, Bebe, and Lucille.”

I leaned on my knees as several made-up dames in glittery dresses pranced out, realizing the man identifying himself as Spadaro was now, in fact, wearing a gold ballgown, gloves, heels, and white furs.

They proceeded with several popular musical numbers in voices that could have been female, kicking their legs high and slipping into poses around Antoinetta with feathered fans and coy expressions. Vaness sipped her margarita. “That’s a twist.”

“Suddenly, I got a helluva lot more questions to ask.”

The place was pretty crowded for a matinee, or whatever you’d call it. But the audience started to clear out afterward so the employees could prepare for the evening shows. Vaness and I waited along the wall, hoping Spadaro would come out alone. When he did, he was still in nylons.

“We can ah, wait for you to change.”

“You asked for Antoinetta, didn’t you?”

We took a table by the stage. Antoinetta lit a cigarette. “So what do you wanta ask me about?”

“I’m a private investigator. I heard you were a… girlfriend of Rocco Bianchi.”

Antoinetta laughed heartily. “Who said that?”

“I should ask you.”

“Oh, I dunno.” He fluffed his blonde wig. “We all make jokes now and then. Me and the other boys–”


“Yessir. Me, I like being a man, and I like wearing women’s clothes. I mean, except Pauline. She introduced us. And Sadie, who isn’t here, is off in Switzerland getting cosmetic surgery. Anyway, the boys and I used to do these shows when we were GIs. They loved us.” He flipped open a small mirror and checked his eyes. “Sometimes I miss it.”

“Really?” I said.

Antoinetta lurched forward. “NO.” Antoinetta paused to laugh. “Rocco likes this place. He’s got a lot of friends here. One time we walked all the way to his place in my stage outfit, ya know, to see how far we’d get before anybody noticed. The funny part was, nobody did. His father says, ‘Who’s this? Another floozy, Rocco? Where’d you pick up this tramp?’ Rocco says, ‘This ain’t no floozy. This is Antoinetta Spadaro. I met her over at Viazzo’s. That’s where all the hep chicks are. Tell mama they can’t be bought off so easily with soup.’ Boy, did I giggle.” Antoinetta blew smoke, turning serious. “So I guess this is about what I heard on the radio…”

“What’d you hear?”

“Excuse me a minute.” Spadaro reached down his dress and scooped out two fake boobs. He set them on the table. “Those things make this dress tight as hell. Excuse my language.” He drummed on the domes. “Now, what was I saying? Oh yes. Real early in the morning, I hear a suspect in some grand theft’s been booked after a shootout that killed a cop. I wake myself up with the radio. Helps my brain function. We were going to meet at ten to pick up my puppy from the vet. I don’t know what else could possibly keep him.”

“Maybe he changed his mind.”

“No, no, no. We’re a crew. Me, those other boys you saw onstage, Rocco, and some of his friends. We go on all our stupid errands together. Don’t matter the why, don’t matter the when.”

“How close would you say you are with Rocco?”

“Not enough to get thrown in the slammer with him, if that’s what you mean. He’s not exactly my type. Have you seen him?” 

“He’s not that bad,” said Vaness. She shrugged, eyes closed, palms upturned. “What he lacked in looks, he made up in charm.”

Spadaro tapped some ash in a tray. “I can’t believe he’d do it, though. He’s not one to start violence. Sometimes, we get crazy drunks in here who pester the boys. Rocco’s the one that breaks it up. If he happens to be here.”

“Thanks. If I need more information, I’ll come by.”

“Sure thing.”

“Yeah,” said Vaness, “That was a riot!”

“Oh, thank you.” Spadaro put out the cigarette in the tray. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get out of this dress. It itches like crazy.” He stood and politely leaned over to shake my hand. “If you happen to see me out of dress, the name’s Tony.” He paused and then grabbed the boobs off the table. He clutched them to his chest with a head tilt and a flutter of eyelashes. “Wouldn’t want to forget these.”

When I dragged myself into the police station, my throat was dry, and I could have used a snack. The station had gotten muggier, and I wondered if Antoinetta had ever had issues with melting mascara.

I leaned on the door and almost stumbled into Lieutenant Carbone, perched on the edge of his desk, his polished black shoes stretched across the floor, hands in pockets. I hung my jacket and fedora, then nodded, glanced at his shoes, and said, “Careful, Carbone. I almost tripped.”

Carbone straightened and wandered to the window. He inhaled sharply through his nose. “What’d you learn?”

“Bianchi has a variable taste in women.”

“Any of them act like jewel thieves? Skipped town, nervous?”

I briefly reminisced on my time with Emerald Norval. “Not as yet, no.”

He pivoted from the window but looked at an unspecified spot on my desk. “Take everything you need.” He approached the box intended for Schok and O’Grady and raised it briefly. “Mm. A little weedy.” The aging sunlight highlighted the gelled curls of his neat black hair. “No point sitting down.” He fixed me with his round, dark eyes, his brow straight across. “Take everything you need. We’re going down to the hospital to question Rocco Bianchi. He’s awake.”


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