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XIII

Bella Goes Missing

 

Mama Scorvino was wild with worry.  Bella hadn’t come home yet and it was almost midnight.  She had gone out earlier with her best friend Diana, saying she would be home by ten at the latest; she had a strict curfew and she knew her father would be none too kind to her if she was late.  She promised to be a good girl, kissed her mother and father and went out to the nearby Catholic church, St. Cecilia’s for a rare social.  Mama and Papa felt safe in the knowledge that their daughter was at church and, therefore, believed she would be fine without one of her brothers escorting her.

 

At 10:30 when she hadn’t returned, Mama called Diana’s mother and inquired if Bella was there, but Diana and she were not home yet.  Diana’s mother, ever the practical one, reassured Mama that all would be fine and that the girls were probably just walking home slowly.  But by 11:30 Mama was frantic, and now Papa was also getting upset because his wife was panicking.  Again, she called Diana’s mother, only to discover that Diana had come home at 10:45, and she said that Bella had walked home with another friend, leaving the church before 10:00pm, which would have put her at home no later than 10:15pm.

 

Mama called Big Sam and poured out her worry to him over the phone.  Sam, who of course knew much more than his parents about the world that Bella had so recently been exposed to, was immediately nervous for his sister’s safety.  But he didn’t want to upset his parents even more, so he just said he would come over and go to the church to see if Bella was there with her friends.

 

When he got off the phone, he called Arms immediately.  No answer.  Then he made the rounds, calling Foil next.  No answer.  Of course, he reached Hog, who as a good family man, was home with his wife and kids.  Explaining the situation, he asked Hog to meet him at the church.  Hog was none too pleased to be dragged out of bed, but he did know that searching for missing persons was something that Swine’s Detective Agency was very good at and he was the best of the three in finding people who either didn’t want to be found or others said couldn’t be found.

 

Hog was like a hound dog on a scent; he always found his man, or in this case his woman.  He had every bit of faith in his own skills and thought that Big Sam was overreacting to the situation.  But Hog had been instructed earlier by Arms when they all met up again after Foil had been to the morgue to work with Big Sam if he called on him.  

 

So here he was driving to a church in the middle of the night to see whether a young girl of 18 could be found easily.  He thought of his own daughter at home, asleep, and knew that if this was his child, he would be frantic so he was actually sympathetic to Mama and Papa Scorvino’s desperate worry about Bella.  

 

He arrived at St. Cecilia’s just as Big Sam was pulling his black Cadillac up alongside the building. The church was dark, and shut up for the night.  Hog pulled out his flashlight, and lit a cigarette.  He inhaled and blew the smoke out in front of him, as he began to walk around the church.  He listened for any sounds, and was careful not to walk any place twice.  He could hear Big Sam lumbering along behind him, probably erasing evidence in his path, but Hog was concentrating on finding some kind of clue to Bella’s whereabouts.  And then he saw it, a white scarf on the ground in front of him.  He pulled out a pair of gloves and put them on before he touched the scarf.  Big Sam came up behind him and saw the scarf on the ground; he reached for it, but Hog slapped his hand away, exclaiming, “Fool, don’t touch that you might destroy evidence!”  

 

He hadn’t meant to call Big Sam a fool, but it came out of Hog’s mouth before he could stop it.  Big Sam was none too pleased, but he was very happy to see his sister’s scarf, which he recognized immediately as one that his mother had given to his sister for her birthday last year when she turned 18.  As Hog held the scarf in his gloved hands, both men looked at it carefully with the flashlight, and Hog immediately noticed blood on one of the corners.  His heart sank, as this could only mean that Bella had probably been grabbed and hurt.  He could only hope that she tried to fight off her attacker and been hurt in the scuffle and not before, but he was very worried.

 

He did not share his worry with Big Sam, who seemed to have missed the blood on the scarf in the darkness of the church walls.  But he would see it soon enough when they went back to the Scorvino home to speak to Mama and Papa.  

 

Hog decided it would be a good idea to take another walk around the church to see if he could find anything else.  He told Big Sam to go back to his parents’ house, and see if there was any more news.  In this moment, Sam was like an obedient dog, he seemed to have lost his tough guy exterior completely and simply did as he was told.  Hog really just wanted time alone to look around more carefully at the ground and see if he could manage to detect any footprints or other clues at the church.

 

And then he heard a sound like music being played; he wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but he followed his instincts and like the hound dog he was he almost sniffed the air for a scent.  He heard the sound again, like a child’s voice coming from the distance.  He hardly thought it would be Bella, but a tiny ray of hope entered his father’s heart, and he crept slowly towards the sound.  As he rounded the corner of the church his foot hit something hard, and he stopped short.  Shining the flashlight on the ground he saw what looked like a box.  Again, the gloves came out, and he stooped to pick up what seemed to be a wooden trinket box.

 

In fact, it was a small music box, which he opened and up popped a ballerina and a sound elicited from it, which was tinny and unfamiliar.  The box had obviously been stepped on and partially broken.  He examined it further and could see more blood on the box and he thought this probably matched the blood on the scarf. Now he was convinced that Bella had been grabbed and hurt in the process.  

 

This would not be easy to explain to Mama and Papa Scorvino; even though he was a trained and calm detective, Hog never liked to talk to parents about their missing children.  Arms had sent him for a purpose because he was good at finding people, but his heart was sore about this case.  He lit another cigarette and walked back to his car, the smoke leaving a trail in the air and evaporating into the night.

XIV

Peeling Back the Layers of the Case

 

Two men dead, one a wealthy crime boss, the other a small-time thief, and now a missing girl. What was the connection among the three?  This is what Arms wondered to himself as he drove to the offices late Saturday evening.  The case that started out mildly strange and fairly straightforward had turned radically complex and dangerous.  He felt a driving need to begin to restructure his original plan and get down to some serious detection, but where to start.

 

He and the boys were meeting again to get a handle on it all.  Once a month Mildred came in on a Saturday to help with the cases; this was one those days and Arms made sure to pay her time and a half for her work.  Today she would also take notes and pull out some old files that the guys needed about the California crime syndicates, particularly any information they had on the Scorvino family and the O’ Shea crime ring.  They left all that up to her, and trusted her to keep their work life in order.  

 

When he got to the office Mildred was already there.  “Of course, she is,” he thought to himself, and here were the requisite paper plates, plastic cutlery, and a whole array of desserts.  In came the chocolate cake, the raspberry and blueberry muffins, and a cheesecake.  Sugar got the boys going, and worked their brain cells, or at least that was Mildred’s maternal point of view.  She thought this was all far better than whiskey or cigarettes, but the detectives just humored her because she was so kind to them.  Still, they ate up dutifully.  

 

Mildred sat inconspicuously in a corner of Arms’s office and took notes as the boys began peeling back the layers and complexities of the case.

 

“Well, boys whatta we have?  Whatta we know?” asked Arms, getting the ball rolling and diving right in.  He typically took the lead at these moments but he was by no means the leader of the trio; he had just been the one approached at the beginning of this case and so he felt the need to get everything going.

 

“Let’s start with you, Hog, as you’ve had the most recent interactions with the Scorvino family,” said Arms, still taking the lead.  

 

Hog sighed.  It had been hard walking into that family’s home with the white scarf in hand and the music box.  When Mama saw the blood on the scarf, she wailed and practically fainted into Papa’s arms.  As a parent, he could understand Mama’s pain, but steeled himself against feeling anything more.  He had a job to do and it needed to be done.  As he sat in Arms’s office thinking about that moment, he realized how much he still needed to compartmentalize and be objective.  

 

To the boys, he said, “Look it was hard.  Mama and Papa were out of their minds with worry, and then I show up with a bloody scarf and a crushed music box.  I couldn’t get much out of either of them, and Big Sam had to step in and try to interpret.  The scarf was Bella’s alright, and the music box it turns out, according to Bella’s friend Diana, had been something Bella won at the church social in a raffle.  No parent wants to see the blood of their child,” he added quietly.

 

Hog looked down at his shoes; why was it so hard to repress his emotions in this case?  There was something about Bella’s youth that made him think about his own daughter, Lilly, and this pushed that parental fear of the unknown to the forefront of his life.  This wasn’t like him at all; usually he was a steely character not a soft one.  He lit a cigarette to hide his emotions from the boys and inhaled the sweet nicotine into his lungs, feeling himself relax.

 

“Yeah, it was hard,” he said after his momentary pause, “but we did nail down that she had been seen by her friend Diana at 10:00pm with another girl from the church.  We just gotta find that other girl now, but no one seems to know her name or who she is.  Another fuckin’ mystery to solve in this already complicated case!”  He let his annoyance and frustration seep into his voice in that moment.

 

Arms looked up and peered at him curiously.  “You okay, Hog?” he asked.  “Yeah, fine,” said Hog, he continued, “Let’s get on with it.  What about you Foil, what happened at the morgue.  You got any more information for us about this Charlie Martin fella?  Or should I call him Antonio Boudreau.  I guess it doesn’t matter, either way, he’s another dead man in this crazy case.”

 

Foil leaned back in his chair, ever calm and composed, and said, “yeah, I did find something that I didn’t show to the police or Big Sam and it’s this,” and he pulled out a gold cigarette case and placed it on Arms’s desk for them all to see.  Arms picked the case up and examined it.  It wasn’t very big, just large enough to fit into a lady’s handbag, for it was definitely a woman’s case.  The lid was covered in mother of pearl, and the underside of the case had a quote on it with some initials.  It read in full: “To my darling Susan, my one and only beauty, forever in my heart . . . yours, A. B.”

 

Foil observed, “yeah, and his wife’s name is Abigail, so who’s Susan?”  I held it back from Big Sam and the police because I knew it might help us with Bella’s case.  Just had a hunch we needed all the information we could get and why share all the wealth with others.”

 

Arms had been holding the case in his hand, when Hog suddenly said, “hey, let me see it . . . I’m thinking we might have a bit of twist here.  What if the initials A. B. are Abigail Boudreau?”  

 

Foil scoffed at that idea, “what? Two broads together? Nah, I don’t believe it.”  But he wasn’t so sure, maybe Hog had a point.  But where did that lead them?  Down another rabbit hole of information that hardly helped in this very moment to solve the murders of two men or to find the missing girl.  It was just another piece in the puzzle to think about and figure out.

 

Hog passed the cigarette case back to Arms who let it sit on the desk in front of them.  The boys could see Arms was thinking and thinking hard, then he said, “it never felt right to me that Big Sam was so emotional about his sister, something felt off about that.  Here’s this great big strong man babbling on about his family troubles, but then I’ve seen a lot in my time.  Still, I think there’s something he’s not telling us and I intend to find out what that something is.” 

 

At that moment the phone rang.  Arms answered it, “yeah, hello.”  Whoever was on the other end of the line was clearly frantic because Arms said immediately, “hey, slow down, not so fast, I can barely understand what you’re saying.  What?  Where?  When did this happen?  Hold tight, I’ll send Foil right away.  Yeah, it’s fine.  He’s reliable.  No, Foil’s got a gun and he can take care of himself.  Great.  I’ll send him now, and he’ll meet you there.” And then he hung up the phone.

 

The boys heard all of this and could tell from Arms’s responses to the person on the phone that something serious had happened. 

 

“Foil,” Arms barked at him, “get a move on down to the LA Port.  Big Sam got a tip off that Bella is being held in one of the shipping containers in Warehouse 1.  He’s on his way.  We don’t have much time, take your gun and move it!”

 

Foil was out the door before Arms had finished his last sentence and jumped in his car.  There was no time to lose, and he knew Big Sam might even beat him there in his fast, black Cadillac.  

XV

The Port of Los Angeles

 

It was a setup but Foil didn’t know that yet . . .

 

Foil could handle himself and he could handle a gun.  Growing up he used to go shooting with his father, who though a middle management engineer had himself grown up on a farm and was very familiar with firearms.  Foil and his brothers started at the shooting range when they turned 12 – it was a rite of passage for each one of them -  and then around 15 Foil joined his brothers, father, and his uncle on hunting trips to the Midwest, out in the woods of Wisconsin where some of the finest deer could be found.  He remembered these trips with great fondness and sometimes they flashed into his mind at the oddest times, such as now when he was heading towards the Port of Los Angeles to find Bella. At this point she had been missing for over 48 hours.  Any more time lost in her search, and they would be entering the “dead zone,” that is, the time when she was less and less likely to be found alive.  

 

Of course, his time in the war was always with him, though he had not picked up a gun in that context.  He had somehow managed to never shoot anyone in the war or to be shot; he did not know how he had never done that, but it was something that he recognized set him apart from many of the men who had served.  But that didn’t matter in the long run because every time he lost a man, every time he couldn’t save one it was as if he had shot the man himself.  He kept a tally of the men who died in his care, and it was as if each time they died he lost a piece of himself, which he then had to pick up off the floor and put back together in the time that it took to reach for and try to save another wounded soldier; which was no time at all in the relentless cycle of war and of killing.  

 

When he turned 18 his father had given him a Colt pistol, a little old fashioned, but it functioned.  He had retired that a while back and purchased a gem of a Ruger Blackhawk revolver, which he carried with him now as he pulled into the gates of the port, coming to a stop and jumping out.  The port was busy even at this time of night, which was nearing midnight, and he had to be careful not to draw too much attention to himself.  He saw Big Sam’s car parked just ahead of his but not Big Sam himself.  Where was he?  Foil started towards Warehouse 1 where he had been told Bella was being kept and figured he would see Big Sam on the way.  

 

Walking stealthily in the shadows of the ships which loomed over him, he made towards the largest building lit up in the night and made sure to have his pistol at the ready.  He saw something move ahead of him, and ducked behind a cargo container.  He peered out and recognized a mop of hair that he knew to be Big Sam.

 

“Psst, Sam, over here,” whispered Foil in a long hissing sound.  Big Sam turned around and seemed surprised to see Foil, but walked towards him where he was crouching with his gun in his hand.  Coming up to him, Sam moved into the light and Foil could see a huge bruise on the side of his face.  “Hey what happened to you?” he said, sotto voice and low.  

 

“Don’t worry about me,” said Sam fiercely, “I’m here to find Bella.  One of my runners came to me with a message saying she was being kept in Warehouse 1 and I wasn’t to go to the police or she would be killed.  I don’t know where the message came from or who sent it, but I’m not taking any chances, any lead is a clue.”  

 

Sam seemed a little disorientated by Foil’s presence; “maybe he got hit too hard in the face,” thought Foil to himself.  Then Sam turned to him and seemed to get his equilibrium back, “Let’s go, come on what are you waiting for?” he said.  Big Sam turned to move away from Foil, but Foil held him back.  “Don’t be so stupid, we don’t know what we’re walking into.  We have to be careful; anybody could be out there in the dark.” Foil was feeling uneasy about Big Sam and that bruise on his face.  Arms was right, something was up here and Foil didn’t like it.

 

Still, he couldn’t take any chances and had to see if he could find Bella.  The Warehouse was a huge place, and without any definite information it would be impossible to know where to start looking.  But Big Sam’s desperateness was palpable; Foil didn’t fear for himself, but was worried Sam would botch the job from sheer recklessness in the moment.  He made a decision then and there to move ahead on his own, and leave Big Sam behind.  “You stay here,” said Foil.  I’ll go on ahead and check out the Warehouse.  Don’t move and keep a watch out for any police, we don’t want to be messin’ around with them right now.”

 

“What? No, I’m coming with you, don’t push me out detective this is hardly your job to do alone!” cried Big Sam.  Foil couldn’t trust Sam to not get in his way, he pushed him back behind the cargo container, which was surprisingly easy considering Big Sam was in fact quite large, and put the gun to his chest, “listen here big guy, I can’t have you fuckin’ anything up right now. You’re too emotional, get your shit together and watch for the police.”  Foil was losing it, and he knew time was slipping away.  He had to get to Warehouse 1 and search for Bella. 

 

Foil left Big Sam and moved towards the Warehouse in the shadows.  The closer he got, the more uneasy he felt but his duty as a detective to follow through on finding Bella pushed him forward.  He was nothing if not diligent in his pursuit of truth and action; like Arms and Hog, he did not leave a job unfinished, and in the moment, he only had one thing on his mind and that was following through on his promise to search for Bella.  He continued to work his way along in the shadows until he came to a point where he would have to move into the light of a lamp to get to a door leading into the bowels of Warehouse 1.  He stopped and waited, listening to his breathing, and looked from side to side trying to take in everything around him.

 

There were some dark spaces in between himself and the actual building, and he knew he was taking a chance stepping out into the light.  But there was no way around it.  It was eerily quiet in this area of the Port; the air was still and the night excessively dark with overhanging clouds.  He could see no stars and just a hint of the moon when he looked up; it was as if for just a moment time stood still.  He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, smelling the diesel fuel of the ships all around him.  He felt for a minute hemmed in and a little claustrophobic, like he had in the war when he had to run into the midst of shell fire to save a man.  In a moment that all came flooding back to him, and he had to fight the urge to turn and run.

 

He shook himself, and gripped his gun, holding it and ready to fire as he moved out of the darkness into the lamp light.  That was the last thing he remembered.  That and the shot that came whizzing at him out of the shadows.  It struck him in the chest, and he crumpled to the ground.  In a split second he felt the searing pain of life being sucked out of him, his breath caught in the fire of the bullet entering his body.  And then nothingness, a blank space in his mind, the peace of unconsciousness and darkness.

 

XVI

The Hospital

 

Big Sam saved Foil’s life.  He only survived because Big Sam heard the shot ring out over the movements of the port, loud and strong, and he ran towards where he knew Foil would be by the corner of Warehouse 1.  In front of him he saw a man stooping over Foil in the light, and pushing his body with his foot as if to check if Foil was dead or not.  Big Sam yelled and pulled his own gun out to shoot the man; he missed in his attempt, but clearly scared him and Sam watched the man run into the shadows.  Sam never saw his full face, but caught a glimpse of a scar that ran down his left cheek.  He had seen the man before and knew just where too.  Running over to Foil, Sam quickly picked him up in a fireman’s lift, and carried him back to his black Cadillac, the blood from Foil’s wound seeping into his great shoulders.

 

At the hospital Foil was rushed into surgery, and was lucky to be alive.  The bullet had just missed piercing his heart, and his death was only minutes away; he was saved because of Sam’s heroics.  He owed Sam then, but knew only much later when he understood what had happened that night how much he owed him.  

 

In the hospital room, Foil lifted his eyelids slowly, the room hazy and a little hot what with the sun streaming in on his face, he felt like he was in a dream.  There was a heavy weight on his chest and he could not take any deep breaths; everything hurt in his body, every part of him felt like it had been crushed between a bulldozer and the ground, as if he had been run over again and again.  He could barely move and he could not speak.  

 

He saw Arms first, holding his brown fedora in his hand looking worried, but smiling.  Then he saw Hog in his usual blue suit, snappily dressed even in the hospital!  It was good to see his friends.  He could barely turn his head, but he knew someone was next to him right by his side.  Then he heard crying and he knew it was his mother. He realized she was holding his hand and sobbing.  She had never left his side since she had gotten the phone call saying that her youngest son, her “baby” had been shot and taken to the hospital.  In the corner of the room stood his father, aloof but clearly loving, as Foil knew him to be.  In that moment Foil felt blessed though he was not yet sure why or even how he had come to be there.  

 

He didn’t remember much except stepping into the lamplight next to Warehouse 1 and suddenly feeling the terror of pain ripping through his body, then nothingness and then the here and now with people surrounding him.  Life was strange that way; it changed on a dime and would continue to change.  “Well, I’ll see what it holds now,” he thought to himself since he did not seem to be able to open his mouth and speak.  

 

His mother was weeping right next to him, but all he could do in that moment was close his eyes again and sleep.  

 

Arms gestured to Hog and the two of them left the room.  They both seemed to breathe a sigh of relief after that.  “Well, at least he’s alive,” said Arms, “but clearly he’s going to be out of commission for some time to come.  I don’t see him being much use to us right now, we’ll have to come back later to see if he can tell us anything.  For now, let’s go talk to Big Sam and see if we can get him to open his mouth about what he knows; he’s holding something back, I’m sure of it.” Hog nodded in agreement and they both left the hospital.

 

They didn’t know it but someone was watching them as they left.  A figure wearing a long grey trench coat with a deep scar that ran down his left cheek watched them walk to Arms’s Corvette, get in and drive away.  

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