The Not Exactly Complete Works of Peter Schulman

Circumstantial Evidence

©2010 Peter Schulman
 

 

  Chapter 1  

  Chapter 2  

  Chapter 3  

  Chapter 4  

  Chapter 5  

  Chapter 6  

  Chapter 7  

  Chapter 8  

  Chapter 9  

  Chapter 10  

  Chapter 11  

  Chapter 12  

Chapter 22

Monday I filed a Post-Conviction Motion to set aside Priscilla Caldwell’s conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel. I would complete the appeal this week. Alfred Boxer’s firm would handle the paperwork. They knew the drill.

At ten after eight Tuesday morning I buzzed Jamie’s apartment.

“You’re late. Don’t bother coming up, I’ll be right down.”

She was wearing a tight, gaudy, designer-print dress with full décolletage that made her look trashy in a very expensive way. It was so tight I could practically see the pattern the mattress had made on her back through the dress, and so short that it made less sense to describe how far it ended above her knees than how far it extended below her groin.

It may have been trashy, but I liked it. Most men would like it. In fact, if I walked into Eternal Elegance wearing sack cloth and ashes with her, they would believe I would find a way buy her whatever she wanted. They might have been right.

“If the law business doesn’t work out, you can be kept by some rich guy,” I said.

“Then what am I doing with you?”

“An error in judgment?”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

I opened the door for her.

“You’re just doing that so you can watch me get in,” Jamie said.

“That was supposed to be a secret.”

“Help me. This thing is tough to maneuver in. And don’t look.”

“Better to ask me not to breathe.”

Somehow, she got in without the dress flying apart. She handed me a travel bag. “Hi, Pokey. Good girl.”

Pocahontas didn’t move. She was sitting in the back wearing a red velvet jacket. The idea was to make me look indulgent of my women.

“Put your root beer barrels in the glove compartment,” said Jamie. “You'll blow the whole image when you take the first one out.”

“What makes you think I have root beer barrels?”

Jamie raised an eyebrow.

I emptied my pockets into the glove compartment.

I took I-95 to the Betsy Ross Bridge and got onto Route 73. Exit Four of the Jersey Turnpike was seven and a half miles from the river.

Why do we always think in terms of exit number? Today it would be an entrance. Where would we enter? Exit Four.

“Why are you always late?” Jamie asked.

“I’m not always late, am I?”

“Always.”

“I don’t know. I don’t mean to be late. I never think I’m going to be late. Then I’m late.”

“It’s a sign of disrespect to the other person when you’re late.”

“I can’t possibly disrespect everyone, can I?” I asked.

“What does your therapist say?”

“I don’t have a therapist.”

“Might not be a bad idea.”

Our first stop in New York was the St. James Theatre where The Producers was playing.

Jamie’s price for the trip was dinner and the theatre. The show was her choice. I waited in the car while she got in the short line. It took little more than ten minutes. She got in the car with a big smile on her face. Some days you get lucky and there are tickets and some days you go home empty-handed.

She beamed. “Row five, center.”

I drove past Eternal Elegance to locate it then looked for a place to park. Finding one close by would probably be just slightly easier than getting somebody else to confess they killed Janet Reedy.

A few blocks away I noticed the Marriott Marquis on Broadway. It had parking. Maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult after all; expensive, but not difficult.

Jamie, Pokey and I walked down Seventh Avenue, turned right at Forty-Seventh Street and made our way to number three. Eternal Elegance was located on the first floor.

We entered with a flourish. It was not an especially large establishment. The furniture looked old, but not worn. Lush green plants hung from the ceiling and rose up from containers. The lighting was subdued which did not help the plants, but gave the place a homey atmosphere. Glass-enclosed jewelry cases were scattered in no particular pattern.

We were approached by a heavy-set, mid-fiftyish man with sparse, white hair combed straight back. He glanced disapprovingly at Pokey. I stared disdainfully back at him. I would not be a customer if my dog was not welcome.

“Can I help you?” he asked without much enthusiasm.

“I’m looking for something nice for my Sheila.” I fought the instinct to say it with an Australian accent.

“Did you have anything in particular in mind?” he asked.

“We saw this bracelet -”

“Beautiful,” cooed Sheila.

“- at a party. We met this couple and she had this bracelet.”

“Beautiful,” cooed Sheila again. Jamie would never sound like that.

“She was gorgeous. Not as beautiful as my Sheila here,” I put my left hand on her left arm and my right hand proprietarily on her shoulder, “but really something. A few years older than Sheila, a little taller, brunette, killer body.” I used my hands to indicate a not inconsiderable bosom.

“This bracelet had a hand-made platinum setting,” I continued, “princess cut stone surrounded by sixteen round brilliant stones. We told her how gorgeous it was and asked where she got it and she told us at Eternal Elegance in New York so here we are. It was a magnificent piece.”

“Tell him about the man, Sweetie,” Sheila urged.

“Oh, yes. I can’t remember his name. She said she was Janet, but I can’t remember what she called him. Anyway, he said to come here and tell you he sent us and you would make us very happy.”

I summoned the enthusiasm for this conversation by imagining I was talking about baseball. Ordinarily, if I were talking about jewelry, I would more likely be yawning than gushing.

“They don’t sound familiar,” said the man. “And we don’t carry anything like you’re talking about.”

I thought our acting had been pretty good, but he didn’t seem to be buying it. We were offering to spend a lot of money and he should have been fawning.

“Oh, you've got to remember her. She turns almost as many heads as Sheila walking down the street, from in front and behind. Killer behind.”

“No,” he said. “I never saw either one of them. We don’t carry any kind of jewelry like that. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I leaned in conspiratorially. “It doesn’t need to be a piece like that, and I’m certainly willing to spend more on Sheila than he spent on Janet.”

He shook his head.

“I need to close up to make a bank deposit. I won’t be back until after lunch. Sorry I couldn’t help you.” He ushered us out the door brusquely.

“Maybe he didn’t like my disrespectful descriptions of women,” I said.

“Something sure spooked him. He chased us out like we asked if he had a spare kidney.”

“Well, you were great, Sheila. Beautiful,” I cooed.

“You were terrific, too, sweetie. The way you gushed, I thought you were talking about baseball.”

Did she know me that well?

“When did you learn all that about jewelry?” she asked.

“Lily gave me a picture of the bracelet and I asked Peter at Main Line Jewelers about it. You have to do your homework to go undercover.”

Something didn’t feel right. He was way too anxious to get rid of us. There were other things I couldn’t pinpoint. My intuition was telling me I had noticed something I wasn’t yet aware of at a conscious level.

I felt him before I saw his reflection in a window. My intuition had been right. “Don’t turn around, Jamie. Don’t turn around. We’re being followed.”

Her head twitched.

“You’re turning around. Very big guy. He looks as comfortable wearing a tie and jacket as I usually do. He came out of Eternal Elegance after we did. He must have been in the back.”

“What do we do?”

She sounded worried. It was not inappropriate. I hadn’t expected this or planned for it. I like to plan as thoroughly as possible for any potential danger. I had screwed up.

“We drop you off at the hotel,” I said.

“What if he comes after me?”

“He’s not looking for a date. He probably wants to tell me to stay away and forget they exist or something like that.” There was no point in telling her I had suggested the best-case scenario.

We crossed Forty-Seventh at Seventh Avenue and she got a glimpse of him without being obvious. “What are you going to do? He’s a behemoth.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be back for you.” Probably. I walked her to the Marriott.

“Stay here until I come back. I have an idea how to handle him. You could get hurt and it will be a lot more difficult for me to try to handle him if I have to worry about protecting you.”

I did have an idea. He would need to cooperate. He would need to not pull a gun on me. Failing that, my plan would be much more difficult to implement and could prove fatal.

“I don’t like it,” Jamie said.

“I’m not soliciting your opinion. Stay here. One more thing: change your clothes. I don’t think there is any real possibility he'll come back looking for you, but in that very unlikely event, I doubt he'll recognize you dressed normally. He won’t be looking for your face.”

“You’re scaring me,” she said.

“Good. Do what I told you.” I took her in my arms and gave her a big open-mouthed kiss with an ample measure of tongue.

When I released her, she smiled lovingly and said, “You creep.”

I smiled back and gave her a brief kiss on the lips. “I had to sell it. I don’t want him to think we’re investigating them until I play the whole thing out.”

She smiled adoringly and said, “You’re just a naughty little boy, aren’t you? You love to fool around.” She gave me a peck on the cheek on the side away from him and said, “I’ll get even.” Then she swished through the revolving door.

Pokey and I wandered down Broadway and made some turns until I saw an alley. I bent over, pointed to the alley and told Pokey, “Let’s go in here,” as if to reassure her I had a plan for her to relieve herself. It was bad melodrama, but I was off Broadway.

We walked very casually into the alley. I wanted the behemoth to have plenty of time to catch up. I was kneeling, petting Pokey and telling her what a good girl she was when he appeared.

He drew closer. “Hey bud, what do you want with Eternal Elegance?” It sounded anything but elegant when he said it. Thankfully, his greeting was not accompanied by a weapon.

“Is this one of those consumer surveys?” I asked.

He wasn’t sure if I was a smartass or just stupid. “Tell me what you were doing there. Who sent you?” It was not a request.

“Is there a prize?”

Now he was sure. “I don’t like a smartass.”

“I’m crushed. I thought we’d go to ball games and chase women together.”

He stepped closer. I gave Pocahontas a hand signal to stay. I don’t think he noticed or was even aware a forty-seven-pound dog could pose any threat to someone of his magnitude.

“You better cut the lip and answer me.”

“Why does your boss want to know?” I demanded. “What is he hiding? And don’t give me any lip. I hate a smartass.”

I lied. I love a smartass, but I hoped it would encourage him to act impulsively.

“I’m gonna enjoy hurtin' you, buddy.”

I turned sideways and took a stance. It was not a good stance. My legs were too straight. My arms were up too high. I looked like somebody copying the cartoon-like karate you see on TV. There was no point in warning him I was a serious threat.

I don’t know how anybody else feels, but to me the object of being in a fight is to win. It’s not about fairness. It’s not about politeness. It isn’t about skill. Either you win or you get hurt or killed. Win was the only option that appealed to me.

“I've got to warn you,” I said, “I’m very good. Just tell me what I want to know and I won’t hurt you.”

With this stance and my size there was no possibility whatsoever he would take me seriously. He knew he would win, and it probably wouldn’t take his best effort.

He laughed, then raised his arms and stepped forward with his left foot. My left hand was forward and I repeated the stay gesture to Pokey. She will ignore an order like that if, in her opinion, I am in danger. She would have been all over him had I not repeated the command.

I let out a few high-pitched noises like they do in the movies and waved my hands around pointlessly.

He was developing a big smile. If I did much more of this nonsense I might be able to take him down just from his uncontrolled laughter.

He regarded me so lightly he didn’t even bother to try to set me up with a combination. His right arm came straight toward me with no wasted motion and the force of his body behind it. He was skilled.

My left foot moved away from us into a perpendicular stance as I leaned away from his moving arm. As his fist passed to my right I pivoted onto my right foot and swept both of my arms against his right arm to amplify his forward motion.

He was off-balance. I was not.

I shifted my weight back to my left foot and drove my right foot up between his legs. I did not use full force. I wanted him to recover today.

He made a pitiful noise before his knees and then his hands hit the concrete. He retched but didn’t vomit.

It had happened so quickly that Pokey had not had a chance to pounce. I petted her head and told her she was a good girl. We waited for him to recover.

I knew how he felt. I have been foolish enough to play shortstop without a cup.

After ten minutes he sat up. In another few minutes his head started to clear.

“What are you trying to hide?” I asked. “What’s so important I can’t know it?”

He stood. “You’re gonna be sorry you suckered me, dickhead.”

“How did you discover my alter ego?” I asked. “You’re better off answering my questions. I’m still very good.”

He pulled out a knife. It was so quick I was relieved it wasn’t a gun, though a knife is nothing to be taken lightly. “Try and sucker this,” he said.

He moved toward me. This time I gave Pokey no signal. By his second step she had launched herself into the air and sunk her teeth into his arm. He immediately lost control of the knife and his balance as he tumbled to the ground screaming.

He tried unsuccessfully to kick at her. He grabbed at her with his other arm to try to pull her off and she released her grip and scrambled up his body to grip his neck in her mouth.

“Don’t move!“

He froze. Pocahontas maintained her grip on his neck and remained atop his chest. I gave a hand signal. Pocahontas got off him and sat by his head. I could see the indentations on his neck from her teeth. She had not drawn blood from his neck, although she had from his arm.

“What’s your name?” I asked quietly.

“Louis,” he said.

“Louis, I need to know why you came after me.”

“They'll hurt me real bad if I talk to you.”

“She may not leave enough of you to hurt if you don’t. I won’t give you up if I don’t have to and I shouldn’t have to.”

He looked at Pokey. She was ready. He decided she was the more immediate threat.

“We’re not just a regular jewelry shop. Big Gene cheats on the color and the clarity. It can be a lot of money. That bracelet you was talking about, the difference is around twenty grand. He don’t want nobody pokin' around. It could cause a lot of trouble.”

“If he’s Big Gene, who are you, Humongous Louie?”

“Gene owns the place, but we’re connected.”

It was a good thing Louis decided to cooperate. I didn’t want to become an item on the mob to-do list. Neither did he.

“I don’t care about your scam,” I said. “I’m just interested in the guy who bought the bracelet.”

“You’re not gonna tell him about we cheated him?”

“I just want to know who he is. I won’t tell him about the scam. He won’t come back to Big Gene. Nobody will know you told me anything. You can tell him you dissuaded me.”

“What did I do?” he asked, confused.

“You scared me off.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, I did.”

“Who is the guy?”

“Name’s Forrest Akers.”

I glanced at Pokey. “I’m supposed to believe that?”

“That’s his name. I can’t help it. I swear.”

The fear in his eyes and the urgency in his voice told me he was probably telling the truth.

Aker’s parents must have had a sick sense of humor. Maybe a guy that rich doesn’t have to worry about being made fun of. Then again, my parents essentially named me John Smith.

“Anything else I should know? Where do I find Forrest?”

“Don’t know.”

“How did he find out about you?”

He hesitated. I glanced at Pokey again.

“Jackie Pops - Popparino. Hangs out at the Clubhouse Tavern in South Philly.”

I made a hand motion. Pokey walked to me and sat at my side. “You should leave first in case somebody’s watching. I wouldn’t leave first if you scared me off. I’d be recovering from my lesson. And you may want to punch a trash can or something to bruise up your hand.”

“Thanks,” he said. “That’s smart. You know, you don’t fight fair.”

“Neither do you. You’re twice my size. You have boxing experience and you pulled a knife.

“You have to tell Gene something. Say I was on the level. We really just liked the piece, but we’re too damn scared to come back now.”

Louis left. I gave him five minutes and we headed back to the hotel. I could still feel the after effects of the adrenaline making me jumpy. You can lose even an unfair fight. If I could have arranged it, I’d have had a sniper on the roof and a swat team hiding behind some trash cans.

And yet, I felt exhilarated.

Jamie looked relieved to see me. She hadn’t changed her clothes. She gave me a warm hug then pushed me away.

“You’re not going to believe what happened to me. A cop tried to arrest me for being a hooker. I told him I was undercover for the Philly DA, but he didn’t believe me. I had to show him my ID.”

I smiled. “I think you look like the girl next door.”

“Where do you live?” It dripped with sarcasm. Her tone changed. “So what happened to you? I was worried.”

I told her. I figured she wouldn’t worry as much next time if she knew how scrupulously I avoid a fair fight.

Jamie had gotten flustered over her confrontation with the policeman and forgot my instruction to change. We went back to the car and got her bag. I walked her into the lobby of the Marriott. She went into the ladies room and changed into her theater outfit.

We had lunch and the three of us did some sight-seeing for a few hours. As evening approached we took Pokey back to the car. I opened all the windows and put her in the front seat. She could get out if she felt the need, but she wouldn’t wander off. I didn’t worry about anybody trying to steal the car.

The Marriott was a good base of operations. Pokey was in the car downstairs and the theater district was nearby. Upstairs was The View Restaurant and Lounge. I didn’t know much about it except that it was high up, had a great view of the city and it revolved. That would be enough for Jamie. She would find it so romantic she wouldn’t notice the food.

She didn’t.

Neither did I. I have no idea what we ate. I just remember that we finished and headed for the theater after I took a doggie bag down to Pokey.

 

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  Chapter 13  

  Chapter 14  

  Chapter 15  

  Chapter 16  

  Chapter 17  

  Chapter 18  

  Chapter 19  

  Chapter 20  

  Chapter 21  

  Chapter 22  

  Chapter 23