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AWLL 2 - Book 2 - Stephie

Michael Loucks

Cover











For Stephie







Copyright © 2015-2020 Michael P. Loucks


First publication date: 2016-09-05

First revision publication date: 2019-12-26



You may contact the author at: author@michaelloucks.com

https://a-well-lived-life.com/

Prologue

July, 2003, Chicago, Illinois

“Morning, Dad!” Birgit said, coming into the sunroom early on a Sunday morning.


“Hi, Pumpkin. What’s up?”


“I think I’m a bit old to be called ‘Pumpkin’, don’t you? I’m a woman, you know.”


I chuckled, “Don’t I know it! You’re pretty good at teasing your old man about stuff he shouldn’t even be thinking about!”


“First of all, you aren’t old, Dad. Second you’ve always told me that the best fantasies are the ones that always stay fantasies.”


“You got me there!”


“I could get you anywhere! And you’d love it!”


“You go ask your moms THAT question. There’s no way in the world that’s ever going to happen. We both know that. It’s not right.”


“Maybe so, but it would be a lot of fun! I want to ask you something. Will you answer me honestly?”


“I always have, I think.”


“Who was your first?” she asked.


“That’s not really something that should be discussed,” I said.


“I know. But I thought you might tell me about it.”


“No names. OK?”


“Sure.”


“Is there a specific reason that you’re asking now?”


“I asked my question first!” she said with a smirk.


“True. She was about nine years older than I was. She didn’t have a husband at the time.”


“Divorced?” Birgit asked.


“I’d prefer not to answer.”


“Then I know who it is,” Birgit declared mirthfully.


“Now how could you know THAT?” I asked, surprised.


“If you won’t answer, it has to be someone that I know, and someone you still see regularly. I know one person who fits the bill of being nine years older and who wasn’t married when you were fourteen!”


I sighed, exasperated, “I had to have smart kids!”


“Does Aunt Elyse know?”


“Yes. And so do your moms.”


“Do Matthew and Chelsea know?”


“No. And it needs to stay that way,” I said.


“One more secret for me to keep for you!” she giggled.


“You just have a knack for finding things out,” I said.


“You mean like about you and Kristin?” she smirked.


“It doesn’t count as ‘finding out’ if she TOLD you about it!” I chuckled.


“She didn’t just tell me, she gave me all the details. She bragged about it! I’m jealous!”


“Remember what I said about fantasies.”


“Oh, I do! I do have another question on a different topic for you.”


“What’s that?”


“I decided for sure I want to be an exchange student.”


“Sweden?” I asked.


“Obviously! But not until my Junior year, the same as you. And I’d stay with Karin and Kristian.”


“They said they would love to have you!”


“So would Kjell!” she giggled.


“I wondered about that,” I said with a grin. “You two were VERY discreet! Was he your first?”


“Yes, of course! He performed well! But maybe I should have gone to Uncle Kurt or Uncle Pete!”


“And you think that either Kathy or Melanie would have EVER allowed that?”


“No, of course not! But Kjell was a virgin as well, so we kind of had to figure things out.”


“Birgit Elizabeth Adams!” I said, laughing. “You’ve had an excellent sex ed course, as well as long talks with me and with both of your moms. I also know you talked with your Aunt Penny as well.”


My daughter smirked, “That was an interesting conversation to say the least! Even more detailed than the one with Kristin! But Dad, you have to know, it’s WAY different to talk about it than to do it.”


“Very true,” I said. “But you’re my daughter, so I’m sure you figured it out. And that you both enjoyed it.”


“Of course we did! So now, about those fantasies…” she smirked.


“You are so bad!” I chuckled.


“And so are you! The moms will be up soon. I suppose we should make some breakfast!”


“I suppose so,” I said. “Let’s go.”


“And you can tell me all about how Aunt Jennie got your cherry!”


She was absolutely Kara’s and my daughter. There was no question about it.

I. Fallout

June 20, 1987, Milford, Ohio

Edward Krajick, you’re under arrest for murder!


“What the fuck?” I said aloud.


“Sir, step away from him, please,” the Sheriff said.


I looked at the Sheriff dumbfounded.


“Steve, come over here, now!” Pete barked in his ‘Law Enforcement’ voice.


I took a few steps away from Ed and towards Pete. The Deputy Sheriff put handcuffs on Ed and one of the Milford Police officers read him his Miranda rights.


“Ed, don’t say a word,” Karl said. “Officers, may I see your arrest warrant please?”


“What business is it of yours, Commander?” the Deputy asked, seeing the rank insignia on Karl’s white dress uniform


“I’m an attorney admitted to the Federal District Court for Northern Illinois, as well as the Bar of the States of Illinois and Wisconsin.”


“This is Ohio, Commander.”


“True, but he is entitled to counsel and I want to be able to advise his local attorney. May I see the warrant please?”


The Deputy handed over two pieces of tri-folded paper to Karl who unfolded them. He scanned them carefully and handed them back to the Deputy.


“It’s all in order,” he said. “Ed, you have to go with them, and they can search you and your car. Keep your mouth shut until you talk to a lawyer. That will probably be on Monday. One of us will talk to your parents and arrange it.”


“I need to search your car, Mr. Krajick. Do you have the keys?”


“In my right front pocket,” Ed answered nervously.


The Deputy reached in and took the keys, and then the Milford police officers patted Ed down. The Deputy went over to Ed’s car, opened the trunk.


A moment later he called out, “Found it!”


“OK. We’ll call for an evidence technician and a tow truck,” the Sheriff said.


“Oh shit,” I breathed. “Bethany!”


“Go tell her Steve,” Pete said. “Mr. Adams, would you talk to Ed’s parents?”


“Yes, of course,” my dad said. “Sheriff, is he going to the county lockup or the village jail?”


“The county lockup, at least for now,” the Sheriff answered.


I turned and quickly walked back into the building. Bethany and Nick were just about to cut the cake, and I didn’t want to ruin that. Only the guys who were outside knew, so I felt I could wait. I saw my dad come in and pull Harry Krajick aside. Harry recoiled from the hushed conversation and hurried outside with my dad. After Bethany and Nick cut the cake, they stepped aside to let it be served, I went over to them and asked to talk to them privately.


“What’s up?” Nick asked.


“Just come with me to the room you guys were in before,” I said. “It’s extremely important.”


They followed me, and Bethany had a look that was a mix of curiosity and concern. We got to the room and I closed the door. I didn’t feel that I could mince words, so I just told them straight out.


“Bethany,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm, “I don’t know how to say this any way except bluntly - the Sheriff just arrested your brother on a murder charge,”


“What?!” she shrieked, and collapsed against Nick.


“Steve?” Nick said, asking a thousand questions with that one word.


“All I know is they had a valid warrant. Karl looked at it and said that Ed had to go with the Sheriff. They’re taking Ed to the county lockup. There’s nothing you can do right now,” I said.


“I need to see him!” Bethany wailed.


“Bethany, they’ve already taken him away,” I said. “And I know this may be hard to hear, but you need to stay at your wedding party, AND you need to go on your honeymoon.”


“No, I can’t!” she protested frantically.


“Bethany, listen to me,” I said gently but firmly. “You can’t do anything for Ed right now. Neither can Nick. He needs an attorney here, in Ohio, licensed to practice here in Ohio. It’ll take some time to sort it out. Please go on your honeymoon.”


“Steve, let me talk to her, please,” Nick said firmly.


In Nick’s voice, I heard Jason telling me that Stephie was his girl. And now, Bethany was Nick’s.


“Of course,” I said. “My dad talked to Bethany’s parents. I’ll be outside if you need me.”


I left the room, closing the door behind me, and went back outside. I saw Harry and Nora getting into their car, and walked over to my dad.


“They’re heading to the Clermont County Jail. I tried to talk them out of it, because they won’t be able to see Ed at least until tomorrow, and probably not until he’s arraigned. How is Bethany?”


“In shock. I left her with Nick in a private room. He’s the one to take care of her now.”


“Yes, he is,” my dad agreed.


“I did encourage her to go on her honeymoon, but I’m afraid that she won’t.”


“That’s up to her and Nick, Son. Let them work it out.”


“Yes, Dad.”


“Do you have ANY idea at all what this is about?”


I had speculation, but I didn’t know for sure. Given what Stacey had said about Anthony, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d dragged Ed back in, and given what he’d asked me, it probably had involved a firearm. Don Joseph had reprimanded Ed for brandishing the gun and had kicked him out. That could have affected Ed in a way that might lead to something like this. But I didn’t know. It could have been something else.


“No. I haven’t talked to Ed in quite some time, and Stephanie hasn’t seen him for a few months, at least. Maybe even over a year. She and Jorge have been dating fairly seriously, though there seems to be some issue between them right now. But Stephanie and Ed don’t talk at all as far as I’m aware.”


“Well, all we can do now is wait to see what the police have on him. I was able to convince the Sheriff not to draw his service revolver, because I knew that Ed would come out here voluntarily with you.”


“I’m glad we were outside. That would have been really ugly if they had gone inside and arrested him.”


“That’s what they were planning. It was lucky that I know the Sheriff.”


“I’m going to go talk to my friends,” I said.


“OK, Son. I’ll see what I can find out on Monday from the Sheriff.”


“Thanks, Dad.”


I walked back over to where Pete, Karl, and the rest of the guys were standing.


“How’s Bethany?” Kurt asked.


“In shock, I think,” I replied. “I’m afraid that she won’t want to go on her honeymoon.”


“It’s tough,” Karl said. “If she stays, there really isn’t anything she can do. If she goes, she’s going to feel guilty that she didn’t stay. Howard, you’re Nick’s best friend - why don’t you find Kathy Jaeger and see if the two of you can talk to Nick and Bethany?”


“Good idea,” Howard said, turning to head back in.


“Does anyone have ANY clue what this is about?” Karl asked after Howard had left.


“Not me,” I said. “I haven’t talked to Ed since Thanksgiving of '85, and the last time I saw him was at my wedding, three weeks later. That may well have been the last time my sister saw him. Let me get her.”


I went inside and found my sister.


“Where’s Ed?” she asked.


“Come outside with me, Squirt,” I said.


“What’s up?” she asked, suddenly curious.


I grabbed her hand and led her outside to where the guys were standing. I was purposefully vague to see if I could draw anything out.


“Ed was arrested,” I said. “Do you have any idea what he might have done?”


“Arrested? For what? The last time I saw him was for a few minutes at your wedding. He was pretty upset about what happened at Thanksgiving, if you remember.”


“I do,” I nodded. “The Sheriff arrested him for murder.”


“What?!” she shrieked. “Ed? Murder? No way!”


“Well, that’s unanimous then,” Lieutenant Park, whose first name I couldn’t remember, said. “The kid is going to need a very good lawyer.”


“I’ll call my friend Ben van Hoek,” I said. “It’s early enough that he’ll likely still be up.”


I went inside and found the payphone, dropped a quarter into the slot, and dialed the van Hoeks' number.


“Hello?” Becky answered.


“Hi, Becky, it’s Steve. May I speak to your dad? It’s urgent.”


“Sure. Where are you?”


“Milford, for Bethany’s wedding. I’m sorry, but it was a quick trip, so I wasn’t going to be able to see you. I do need to speak to your dad right away, please.”


“One minute, I’ll get him.”


I heard her call her dad to the phone and a few seconds later, I heard an extension click onto the line.


“Steve? It’s Ben. What’s the problem?”


“My friend Ed, who is Bethany’s brother, was arrested tonight, and is being charged with murder. They took him to the Clermont County jail.”


“Did you see the warrant? Who arrested him?”


“It was the Clermont County Sheriff and Milford Police. I didn’t see the warrant, but my friend, Lieutenant Commander Schumacher did. He’s a Navy lawyer who’s not licensed to practice in Ohio.”


“Is he there? May I speak to him, please,” Ben said.


“One sec,” I replied.


I let the phone hang down, hoping nobody would hang it up, and hurried outside to get Karl. I explained what I needed, and he came back inside with me. I only heard his side of the conversation, but it did shed a little bit of light. The alleged murder had happened in Cincinnati earlier in June, and the warrant had been issued by Hamilton County. They’d called the Sheriff and the Milford Police to arrest Ed.


Karl handed me the phone.


“Steve,” Ben said, “I’m not a criminal defense lawyer, and that’s what your friend needs. Most likely, he’ll be transferred to Hamilton County on Monday, and be arraigned on Tuesday morning. I have a friend who specializes in felony defense. I’ll call him tonight. Who should I put him in touch with?”


I thought for a minute.


“My dad,” I said. “He’ll be able to talk to Harry and Nora Krajick, and he’s friends with the Clermont County Sheriff, so he’ll probably be able to find out when the transfer will happen and where Ed will go.”


“OK. Does your dad still have your old number?”


“No, they have a new one. Do you have some paper?”


He did, and I gave him my parents' new number, thanked him, and hung up.


Karl and I walked back outside to find my dad.


“Dad, I talked to Ben van Hoek. He’s going to call a friend of his who handles felony cases, and have him call you. I figured that was best, because I have no idea what Harry and Nora will do. I figured you might also be able to find out when Ed will be moved to Hamilton County, given that’s who swore out the warrant.”


“I’ll do what I can,” he said.


“Mr. Adams,” Karl said. “The most important thing to find out is where Ed will be held so the attorney can get to him as quickly as possible.”


“Yes, Commander,” my dad said, suddenly sounding like the Chief Petty Officer that he had been.


“Did you serve?” Karl asked.


“World War II. Destroyers. I left the service as a CPO.”


“Thank you, Chief Adams!”


“I hope you don’t mind that I don’t salute,” my dad chuckled. “I’m not in uniform and I haven’t saluted anyone in over forty years! And that’s the first time I’ve been called ‘Chief’ in almost as long.”


Karl nodded, “I knew Steve had to have come from a Navy family. It was the only thing that made sense.”


We all went back inside, and it was clear that word was spreading, since nobody was dancing and everyone was standing in small groups speaking in hushed tones. I didn’t see Bethany and Nick, so I assumed they were in their private room. I wanted to check, but it wasn’t my place. Pete and Karl went to talk to Nick’s parents, and I went to be with my wives.


“Steve, there’s a rumor that Ed was arrested for murder!” Kara said.


“He was. I have no idea what’s going on beyond that. Bethany’s obviously upset, and her parents took off for Batavia.”


“Is that where the Sheriff’s jail is?” Jessica asked.


“And the courts. But the warrant was from Hamilton County, so they’ll send him there at some point. Karl thinks it will be Monday morning. I called Becky’s dad and asked if he could help. He’s going to refer a criminal defense lawyer to the Krajicks.”


“This is unbelievable!” Jennifer said. “Poor Bethany! What a way to ruin a wedding!”


“At least it happened outside, after the wedding was mostly over, and not in front of all the guests. We have my dad to thank for that. He had me come inside and ask Ed to come out. It’s a good thing that my dad is friends with the Sheriff, because otherwise they’d have come in with guns drawn.”


“What are Nick and Bethany going to do?” Elyse asked.


“I don’t know. Howard and Kathy are in with them. I told Bethany and Nick what happened, and then Karl suggested that it was best if Nick’s best friend and Bethany’s best female friend talked to them.”


As if on cue, Kurt walked over to where we were sitting.


“Is the rumor true?” he asked.


“It is,” I said. “Is your wife still in with Bethany and Nick?”


“Yes. Her mom has the baby. What a complete mess!”


“That’s for sure,” I said.

June 21, 1987, Colerain Township, Ohio

Joyce arrived at Donna Grossi’s guest house just after we’d finished breakfast. She’d been at the wedding, but I couldn’t ask her the question I needed to ask then. When she arrived at the house, I took her aside.


“Do you know if Ed had gotten involved with Anthony and Connie?” I asked.


“I try to stay out of that as much as possible,” she said. “The less I know, the better. But Grandfather broke his relationship with Ed years ago.”


“I’m aware of that. But a couple of weeks ago I ran into someone who used to work for one of the houses. She told me that she ran away to Chicago because Anthony had tracked her down and tried to blackmail her back into working for him. I wonder if he tracked down Ed, too.”


“It’s possible,” Joyce sighed. “And Ed was a hothead to start with, which is why Grandfather sidelined him and had Andreas take back the pistol.”


“I can’t imagine any other plausible scenario. If the victim had been Josh Benton, Bethany’s rapist, then I might believe it, but he’s been dead for a couple of years now, and was killed in prison. Of course, then it might be me, instead of Ed, who was sitting in jail right now.”


“Ed’s going to need a very good lawyer,” Joyce said. “It’ll be telling if one of Grandfather’s lawyers shows up to defend Ed. That’ll tell you everything you need to know.”


“I called Ben van Hoek - Becky’s dad - to get a referral. He was going to talk to one of his friends who handles this kind of thing. Ben does corporate and tax law.”


“Here’s the other question. Do you think Ed can hold «omertà»?” she asked.


“I have no idea.”


“If he doesn’t, and Antony IS involved, Ed will be dead. Anthony is just stupid enough to give an order like that himself, or, to tell Ed it was OK to use the gun if he needed to. He doesn’t understand the concept of buffers.”


I chuckled, “The family had a lot of buffers!


Godfather 2” Joyce smirked.


“Of course,” I said, then sighed. “If Ed tries to go the route of Frankie Five Angels, he’s going to end up the same way.”


“No. My brother-in-law would have him hit; he wouldn’t wait for Ed to slit his wrists in the bathtub.”


“I thought Cincinnati was all business!”


“It was until my grandfather made the only big mistake he ever made in his life - handing the reins over to Anthony.”


“Did he have a choice, really? It’s like in the original Godfather, where things go really bad when hot-headed Sonny takes over. But Don Corleone didn’t really have a choice at that point, with Michael hiding in Sicily and Fredo being, well Fredo. Only after Sonny died, could Michael return and become Don.”


“But he was the most violent of all of them!”


“Yes, I’m not saying it’s a perfect analogy. Just that Anthony is a hothead like Sonny. And became the heir-apparent because of circumstances. I certainly couldn’t have been in charge. We both know that. And even though Cincinnati isn’t quite the same as New York, Chicago, or Philadelphia, they weren’t going to accept a female in charge.”


“No, I suppose not,” Joyce said. “But we’re speculating. It’s probably what happened, but we don’t know.”


“We’ll just have to wait to find out. But, as much as I want to know, I don’t think you should talk to your sister or brother-in-law about this.”


“I agree,” she said. “Let’s go have coffee with your wives, sister, and Elyse. And I want to see that new baby!”


“How’s Jake?” I asked.


“Good. I’ll be flying down later in the week. I’m up here Mondays and Tuesdays, then fly down on Tuesday nights. I usually fly back on Sunday evening, but this week I came back yesterday morning because of Bethany’s wedding. Jake had duty this weekend, so he couldn’t fly up with me.”


“At the risk of sounding like an Italian grandmother, what about kids?”


“Soon. We talked about it, and because there’s always a risk of abnormal cells coming back in my cervix, we decided that we should have our kids in the next couple of years, just in case.”


“Cool!” I said. “Now let’s go find my family!”

June 22, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

My dad called me at the office early on Monday morning to let me know that the attorney had been in touch with the Krajicks and that Ed was being transferred to Hamilton County later in the day. His arraignment would most likely be on Tuesday morning as we had speculated. He didn’t have any further details, but he did say that he’d heard from Harry that Howard and Kathy had talked Bethany into going on her honeymoon, which made me happy. My dad promised to call if he heard any more details.


“Who got arrested?” Penny asked quietly.


“Ed Krajick. Bethany’s little brother.”


“Whoa! For what?”


“Murder. But I don’t know any details beyond that.”


“Holy crap! He’s only twenty, right? The same age as your sister?”


“Yes. Remember, it’s just an allegation now. We don’t know any details at this point.”


“Wait! Did he get arrested at Bethany’s wedding?”


“Yes, but fortunately, it was outside, in the parking lot, after the ceremony and dinner.”


“But still!”


“I know,” I said. “It’s crazy.”


That conversation was repeated several times over the course of the day. Dave and Julia had been at the wedding, but hadn’t heard anything more than the rumor. Cindi and Chris hadn’t made it to Cincinnati, but heard from Julia what had happened. Everyone wanted more information, but I didn’t have any, and truth be told, I didn’t know how much information I would get.


At lunch, I went home and found Kathy and Kristin with Kara, Elyse, and my sons. I took Jesse for a walk, stopping by the office to pick up Charlie so that I could take Jesse to the park to see Francesca. Carol’s divorce was complete, and she was taking evening classes at the local junior college. She seemed to be doing OK, and the kids seemed to have dealt OK with the separation, at least so far.


“How was the wedding?” Carol asked as we watched Jesse and Francesca play together.


“There was a bit of drama with Bethany’s brother, but otherwise, everything was great.”


“Oh?”


“Nothing that really affected the wedding, fortunately. Bethany and Nick are on their way to Tahiti at the moment.”


“Must be nice! My honeymoon was five days at Niagara Falls. Where was yours?”


“Two weeks in Sweden,” I said.


“I married the wrong guy, for sure! Tahiti? Sweden? Niagara Falls doesn’t even compare. Not to mention my husband turned out to be a real cad.”


“Things are still going OK otherwise?”


“Yes, they are. My goal is to finish my degree by the time Francesca starts first grade. I’m on track to do that. The house is fine, and the cad is paying the child support and alimony on time.”


“Good to hear!” I said.


“The only thing missing is somebody to keep me warm at night,” she sighed.


I wasn’t going to touch that comment with a ten-foot pole. I just let the comment hang in the air, and watched Jesse and Francesca walking around hand-in-hand. We sat quietly watching them, until it was time for Charlie and me to head back to the office. We said goodbye to Carol, dropped Jesse at home, and then went back to the office. Kaitlin had a message for me from my dad, so I went to my office and called him back.


“The Enquirer had a small blurb about Ed’s arrest. The victim was supposedly a guy in his mid-30’s. The article didn’t say much more than that Ed had been arrested and was being arraigned. No possible motive or any other details.”


“OK. All we can do is wait,” I said. “Let me know if you hear anything.”


“I will,” he said.


I hung up and went back to work.

June 25, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

We were just finishing dinner when my phone rang. I went to my office to answer it.


“Steve? This is Connie.”


I suppressed a sigh. A shoe was about to drop. I just didn’t know which one.


“What do you want?” I spat.


“It’s what you want. Your friend Ed is in trouble. We can help him.”


“That’s the LAST thing he needs,” I said. “He has an attorney. A reputable one.”


“Who said anything about an attorney? You help us, and we can help Ed.”


“FUCK YOU!” I growled, holding down my voice so nobody else would hear, trhen slammed down the receiver.


It really didn’t matter what was going on. If Ed HAD done it, then he’d have to pay the price. If he hadn’t, then his lawyer would have to win in court. A horrific thought struck me - what if this was all a setup to get to me? I’d promised to kill Anthony if he did anything to Becky, and I’d threatened to tell Anthony about Connie and me if she didn’t back off. Of course, I could still do that, but then Ed would be caught squarely in the crossfire.


I took a few deep breaths, and then dialed the number that Joyce had given me for Jake’s place in King’s Bay.


“The other shoe dropped,” I said when she answered the phone. “I just don’t know for sure what it means.”


“Anthony?”


“Connie, but I’m sure she was calling on his behalf. That means that they’re involved somehow. Either Ed was working for them, or this is a setup.”


“There’s a third possibility. That they read the newspaper article, knew who he was from his past association, and decided to pretend that they can help to rope you back in.”


“Either way, my response to them is still the same - ‘Fuck you!’.”


“I think that’s the only thing you can do, really. Ed is going to have to sink or swim on his own. I hope he has a good lawyer.”


“I know Ben van Hoek well enough that he wouldn’t have suggested anyone who wasn’t at the top of their game. Ed’s going to have to rely on his lawyer and the legal system. I do have a question - was the person who was killed associated with any of the old businesses?”


“I don’t know. It’s not a name I know. He owned a small convenience store. He was killed in his shop late in the afternoon.”


“What day?”


“A Tuesday afternoon. It was after Ohio State was out. I checked. That likely means that Ed was home, not in Columbus.”


“That would have been an iron-clad alibi,” I said. “I wish I knew what Anthony’s game was.”


“Just let it go, at least for now. When I get back home, I’ll see what I can find out.”


“Thanks,” I said.


I hung up and stayed at my desk, considering all the possible permutations from Ed having killed someone for his own personal reasons, to Ed being set up by Anthony to get to me, and a slew of other possible scenarios. I didn’t have enough information to even narrow things down, and gave up in frustration after about ten minutes. I got up and went to find my wives, who were in the great room with Elyse watching the news.


“Anything happening in the world?” I asked.


“No,” Elyse said. “CNN Headline News is on its usual 30-minute loop with nothing changing.”


“Who was on the phone?” Kara asked.


“I was talking to Joyce,” I said. “Did I tell you that she and Jake are going to have kids soon? She’s concerned about her abnormal cervical cells coming back, and wants to have kids right away, just in case.”


“She had an abnormal Pap smear?” Jessica asked.


“Yes, a few years ago. And cauterization. Once that was done, her Pap smears were clean.”


“You don’t know that story?” Elyse asked.


“Steve was involved, so of course there has to be a story,” Jessica laughed. “No, I don’t know it.”


Elyse laughed and told Jessica about my agreement with Joyce, which led to Jessica laughing and shaking her head.


“So, he could have had kids with FIVE women?” Jessica asked.


“I don’t see any meaningful difference between four and five,” I said. “And if you noticed, every single one of those women is a professional, with a college degree, and with excellent job prospects. It’s not like I’m fathering welfare babies!”


“True,” she agreed. “You’ve surrounded yourself with intelligent, successful women. Have you ever had a girl who wasn’t like that?”


“One, I guess. A girl who lived at the end of Overlook Drive. Her family was dirt poor. She was very, very smart, but just had a bad family situation. She got pregnant at fifteen, which made a mess of things for her.”


“Not yours, though?”


“No. The guy was a complete jerk. She got pregnant while I was in Sweden. I actually helped her buy a car some time ago, but then we lost touch.”


“That was a girl who Steve’s sister thought might show up and upset the applecart at some point,” Elyse said. “She and Steve really got along well, but circumstances just got in the way. He liked her son, too. Though not as much as his friend Anna’s nephew.”


“Anna? The blonde girl who shows up occasionally?”


“Yes,” Elyse said. “That kid had Steve wrapped around his little finger.”


“You mean like Jesse does?” Jessica laughed.


“Like Jesse wishes he did,” Kara said. “Otherwise Matthew wouldn’t be here!”


I chuckled, “Jesse does think he rules the roost, doesn’t he?”


“Jennifer and Josie keep him in check, but he can be a real turkey!” Elyse said.


“Less than a year from now we’ll add another one!” Kara said with a smile.


“It’s going to be crazy around here!”

June 26, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

“Steve, can you meet with Dante Puccini next week?” Julia asked after the business development meeting.


“Sure. What’s the issue?”


“He’s has a lot of interesting ideas, and it looks like a serious challenge for us. And he has the money to spend. I gave him a rough estimate of what it would cost, as well as the limitations of what we could do, and he didn’t blink.”


“Set it up,” I said. “Just make sure Dave knows I’ll be out for a few hours.”


“He’s coming along, too. Dante wants to meet the entire team.”


“OK,” I said. “Let me know.”


Late in the afternoon, Dave came into my office.


“Think we could go someplace else for breakfast besides Lou Mitchell’s?” he asked.


“Sure. We picked Lou’s because it’s a good place for the guys up north and all of us in Hyde Park. What did you have in mind?”


“A place in Bucktown on North Avenue called Bucktown Bistro. It’s a bit further north and slightly west. It’ll be cheaper than Lou Mitchell’s and I think the food will be better.”


“How did you find this place?”


“I met the owner, Alex Saunders, when I was having a cup of coffee with Jamie and Julia while we were talking about some contracts. He was super friendly and mentioned that he’s trying to build breakfast clientele.”


“Cool. I suppose we tell everyone tomorrow morning. Of course, a lot will depend on everyone liking the new place.”


“OK. I’ll raise it in the morning at breakfast. Did you have a few minutes to talk about our new programmers?”


“Sure. Penny, take a break, please.”


“You are NO fun!” she grumped, but it was a put-on.


She got up and went out to the reception area to get a soft drink from the mini-fridge that Kaitlin and Kimmy kept stocked. Dave shut the door behind her and sat down.


“Is there an issue?” I asked.


“No. I just wanted to get your feedback.”


“Well, you know my opinion of Penny, obviously. Tasha is still doing great, and she’s back in the swing of things. The mentoring sessions I have with her have helped a lot. So far, Heather is doing good work. I don’t spend too much time with Charlie, Terry, or Alonzo. I guess those are more up to you.”


“The only thing I’d say at this point is that it might be good for you to spend some time with Alonzo. He has his ‘book learning’ if you will, and he’s sharp, but he needs to pick up some of that hard-won knowledge that experienced programmers have. You and Penny are best suited to do that. Well, Tom, too, but he’s up in Wisconsin.”


“What if we have food brought in on Fridays and do a team lunch? Everyone could eat and we could address some technical topic - not just programming. There’s so much going on in the technology field that there’s no way for everyone to read everything and keep up.”


“That’s a great idea. We can also use that time for our team meetings, and to brainstorm ideas for the projects we’re working on. I’ll check with Elyse on it, but I’m sure we can afford it.”


“Make sure everyone is invited. The better educated our people are, the better off we are, and that includes Kimmy.”


“Got it,” Dave said.


When I arrived home, Kara was waiting.


“Jess called. She said that we’re going out to dinner and a movie tonight.”


“Said?” I chuckled. “She decided?”


“Yes. She said we’re going to Connie’s, and then going to see The Untouchables. And then you’re taking us for ice cream.”


“Did she have a bad day?” I asked.


“I think so. She sounded annoyed and cranky.”


“Uh-oh,” I said. “OK. Let me put my bag down. I’m guessing she’ll be here in a couple of minutes. She’ll want a shower before we go, too.”


Jess came home a few minutes later, and was indeed cranky and grumpy. She went up to take a shower and fifteen minutes later was back downstairs. We went out to my car and got in for the drive to Connie’s.


“Going to tell us what happened?” I asked.


She sighed deeply, “I screwed up. I was taking a history and doing an exam and forgot to check for something important. I missed the diagnosis horribly. The Attending reamed me for it.”


“But they caught it, right?” I asked.


“Yes, the Chief Resident checked my chart; saw that I’d missed checking a kid’s ears for vesicles. Fortunately, he hadn’t left the ER yet, and they got him back to treat him.”


“You learn from your mistakes, Babe. That’s why they double-check on you at this point.”


“But I don’t make mistakes!” she replied.


“Sure you do,” I said. “All of us do. You’re training so that you make fewer mistakes.”


“But people die if I make mistakes!” she protested.


“I know. And it’s going to happen, according to Doctor Barton. He said it’s happened to him.”


“I hate it!” she said, a tear running down her cheek.


I reached over and touched her arm.


“I love you, Babe,” I said. “Do your best and learn as much as you can.”

II. Little Tony, Part I

July 2, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

“Welcome home! How was your honeymoon?” I asked Bethany as she let herself into the house just after dinner.


“Wonderful! We actually got in last night and decided to crash at the hotel at O’Hare. We spent the day getting the new house ready. I came to get some things. We’ll get the rest on Sunday.”


“Have you talked to your parents?”


“Yes. I called as soon we got in. Ed’s in the Hamilton County Jail pending trial. He couldn’t make bail because of the charge. Steve, the police say that the gun they found in his car was the murder weapon!”


“Do you know how they knew it was him?”


“From what they called a ‘confidential informant’.”


I carefully controlled my emotions. That revelation certainly lent credence to my thought that Ed was set up in some way. It didn’t have to be the case, but it certainly seemed like it might be. The problem was, I didn’t know what I could do about it since nothing in the world would make me work for Anthony Cicilioni.


“What does Ed say?” I asked.


“That he didn’t do it, of course!”


That didn’t add any information, because Ed would certainly deny having done it to his family no matter what, and his attorney would advise him against talking to the police.


“I assume the attorney that Ben van Hoek recommended is working the case?”


“Yes. I’m not sure I like the idea of Becky being involved, even tangentially, but at this point, if you fucking her would clear Ed’s name, I’d go to Kara right now and tell her that she had to allow it.”


“What does Nick say?” I asked.


“That we have to wait and see what happens, but the gun is pretty damning. They searched his room the next day but didn’t find anything.”


“I wonder how they knew that the gun was in the trunk of his car,” I said.


“The same anonymous tipster.”


Everything seemed just too neat and tidy. They get an anonymous tip that Ed did it, and a tip that the gun was in his car. They get an arrest warrant and show up at the banquet hall, and find the gun in the car. If I was a betting man, I’d have to say that he was framed by Anthony for the express purpose of getting to me. The only question in my mind now was how to prove it. I absolutely needed to talk to Joyce.


“Let me know if I can do anything. Are you going to need help on Sunday?”


“Nick’s bringing Howard and Pete. That should do it, really.”


“I’m going to miss you living here,” I said. “But I’m very happy for you!”


“You and Nick are becoming very good friends, so we’ll see each other quite a bit. And you can always call me! You’re going to have your hands full with kids and wives and your business!”


“True. But I’ll still have time for you if you need me.”


“I will, just in a different way than in the past. We both have obligations to our marriages that have to come first.”


I nodded and she went up the stairs to the room that she shared with my sister. So much had happened to us since we first met nearly ten years before. I’d made plenty of mistakes, and so had she. And yet, despite it all, we had both found happiness. But, there would always be that thought of ‘What if?’ that would always be with me. I waited until she came down, and then walked her to the car where Nick was waiting. He got out and we greeted each other and shook hands.


“See you two on Saturday for the party,” I said.


They drove off, and I went back into the house.

July 4, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

“The grill is ready to go,” Pete said. “Jamie, Karl, Nick, and I will take turns.”


“So pretty much as usual!” I grinned.


The guys started cooking burgers and brats, and I went to stand with Elyse, Jennifer, Josie, and my boys.


“Happy that your mom is gone?” I asked Elyse.


“More than you could possibly know!” she said. “You take good care of me, and all my mom did was annoy me.”


“A little too much parenting advice?”


“You could say that,” she said. “But she’s gone as of yesterday!”


“Still planning to come into the office for a few hours a day starting on Monday?”


“Yes. I figure it will be easier to get my work done. Kara and Kathy are here, so I’m OK with leaving him for a few hours.”


“Just keep whatever schedule works for you. Every hour that you’re in the office will be a huge help to Julia. We’ve been working on that major proposal for DP Engineering, and Julia really needs more time.”


“She told me about that. It’s pretty ambitious. And some of the stuff he wants probably isn’t possible.”


“I agree. That’s why Julia is spending so much time on our proposal and making sure that Jamie reviews it thoroughly.”


“Kathy and I are planning to stay at the house tonight when the gang goes to Grant Park for the fireworks. We can see them decently enough from here, and we both think the babies are too little for all that noise.”


“That’s certainly up to you,” I said. “Jesse was there, but that was Josie and Jennifer’s decision.”


“He was a bit older. These two are barely a month old now.”


“As I said, it’s fine. It’s not an issue.”


“Looks like a good turnout,” Elyse said. “Did you invite everyone from NIKA?”


“No, just the people who were friends before they joined the company. With our usual group of friends, plus our new Navy friends, it’s already crazy, so I didn’t want to add too many more people. We’ll have separate parties for the NIKA staff, like the one we had last month. I also invited Carol, so that Jesse could be with Francesca.”


“Those two are quite the item for being under two!”


“Carol seems to have calmed down a bit about the whole thing.”


“I think Carol is so horny that at this point, if you said that black was white, she’d agree in a heartbeat if it meant you would fuck her. That’s what I think!”


“I think that’s not happening for a host of reasons,” I said.


Elyse smiled, “She’s only a few years older than we are, she’s cute, has a nice body, and small boobs. What’s not to like?”


“The drama that would come with it. Not to mention that I’m not what she needs.”


“You’re exactly what she needs - a nicely sized hard dick attached to someone who really knows how to use it!”


“There’s more to it than that, and you know it!”


“Oh sure, you can fuck for any reason you want, but girls can’t,” Elyse said, sounding exasperated.


“You know I don’t believe that for a second! But what I do believe is that Carol would form an emotional bond that could only lead to problems down the road. The last thing I need is another girl like Becky.”


“You really think that’s what would happen?”


“I do,” I said. “Can we drop this please?”


“Sure,” she said.


I gave Elyse a quick kiss, kissed Matthew on the forehead, and then walked over to the grill where a large group of guys had congregated. I knew Elyse was playing her role, providing a counter-balance to the pressures of life that threatened to unbalance me. I’d made an effort to try to ‘have more fun’ as they put it, but the constraints on my time were such that I’d only managed to go skydiving once so far this summer, and that had just been a couple of refresher jumps because I’d been away for a year.


And things were about to get crazier and less predictable. On Monday morning at 5:00am, Jessica would start her first 36-hour shift. That was going to play havoc with our time together, and make her even more irritable than she had been. On the plus side, she was here, not in Indianapolis, so Kara and I would be here for her, and we’d get to see her for lunch and dinner. She’d have anywhere from 12 to 24 hours off in between those long shifts, depending on the hospital schedule. The key for me was to keep my frustration level as low as possible, so that I could support Jessica. I knew that Kara would help as well, and the wisdom of Jessica’s solution was even more apparent than it had been.


I listened to the guys talk, and watched as Jesse and Francesca played together, while Frankie ran around like a maniac, seeking attention from anyone who would give it. He had some success with Tasha and Penny, though I saw Ned roll his eyes more than once. Karl’s two kids, Ken and Lou, played with Frankie a bit, but also spent a lot of time kicking a ball back and forth. My kids weren’t quite big enough for that yet, but Jesse soon would be. The conversation between the lawyers was mostly about the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and the vow of several democrats to defeat the nomination.


Soon enough burgers and brats were ready, and everyone loaded up their plates with food and found a place to eat. I sat with Jessica, Kara, Jennifer, Josie, Jesse, Elyse, and Matthew on a blanket in the shade of the house. Kathy, Kurt, and Kristin were nearby with Nick and Bethany, and Karl, Ginny, and their kids. Everyone else found spots either in the yard or in the house.


As we had the previous year, we took the South Shore line into the city, and then walked to Grant Park for the fireworks display. We also had a portable radio so that we could listen to the musical simulcast from the band shell. The weather was nice - in the upper 60s with light clouds that wouldn’t interfere with the display. I put one arm around each of my wives, and we lay back and waited for the show to start.


Chicago always put on a fantastic fireworks show, and this year’s display was in keeping with tradition. Skyrockets and aerial bombs filled the night sky, and explosions echoed around the park. Jesse jumped every time one of the bombs exploded, but he was laughing and enjoying the show. Josie had tried to put earplugs in his ears, but he would have nothing to do with them.


When the display finished, we walked to the trains and joined a huge crowd trying to get home. Fortunately, Metra was on the ball, and had extra trains running, so it didn’t take too long to get back to Hyde Park, where the party resumed with drinking, dancing, and playing pool. I spent most of my time with the guys in the basement at the pool table, though I did go upstairs and dance for a time.


The party finally broke up about 1:30am, and nearly everyone headed home. Tasha was staying in one of the guest rooms so that she wouldn’t have to drive out to the suburbs at that late hour, and Kathy and Kurt were staying as well. My housemates helped clean up a bit, and then everyone turned in.

July 5, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

I cooked breakfast for our housemates and overnight guests, though most of them weren’t up until after 10:00am, so I turned it into brunch. When everyone had eaten, Kathy, Kurt, and Kristin headed home, though Tasha decided to stay for the afternoon, as she’d already missed church. Everyone ended up relaxing in the sunroom, including me, since there was no race on TV. It had been run on Saturday, and the party had taken precedence. Mid-afternoon, I excused myself so that I could call Stephie.


We spoke for a few minutes, and she said that there hadn’t been much change. She was still doing OK and still able to do everything for herself, but she got tired easily and the pain could get pretty severe at times. After we hung up, I took the opportunity to call Joyce. I’d tried to call her earlier in the week, but hadn’t been able to get in touch with her.


“I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a setup,” I said. “An anonymous tip? The search while everyone was at the wedding? The gun in Ed’s car? And the arrest timed for the wedding? It just seems too neat and pat.”


“I asked Connie about it and she laughed at me,” Joyce said. “I’m not sure what that means.”


“I’d say that’s even more evidence that it’s a setup. Especially given she said that Anthony could help Ed if I was willing to play along. I’m not. But I need to find out if Ed did it or not.”


“How?”


“I need to talk to him, and the only way that’s going to happen is if I come down to Cincinnati.”


“He could lie to you,” she said.


“I know. I’ll just have to decide if he’s telling the truth or not. Bethany was there on Friday and he told her that he didn’t do it, which is the same thing that he told his parents and his attorney.”


“And if you believe him?”


“Then I will deal with Anthony and put an end to this once and for all.”


“Steve, killing him won’t solve any problems, and will land YOU in jail.”


“I’m not going to kill him. I don’t need to.”


“Steve, be careful. You have no idea what you’re getting into.”


“That’s where you’re wrong, Joyce. I know EXACTLY what I’m getting into. That little prick tried to threaten Becky, but I made him back off. I guess I wasn’t clear that he wasn’t supposed to mess with ANYONE. Now I’ll make it clear. And he WILL get the message.”


“Promise me that you won’t do anything stupid!”


“No. I’m going to do something very, very smart. And this WILL end. I’ll talk to you later, Joyce.”


“OK,” she said with a sigh.


We said goodbye and hung up. I had a plan in mind, but I needed some help to put it in motion. The plan wasn’t fully formulated, but I had some time. Yes, it meant Ed had to sit in jail a bit longer, but if what I was thinking worked, then he’d be out and could go back to Ohio State in the fall, cleared of the charges. Or at least I hoped that was the outcome.


The first step was getting some help. I picked up the phone, consulted my address book, and dialed a number.


“Hello?”


“Hi. This is Steve Adams. I need the favor you owe me.”


“Of course. What do you need?”


“Come see me on Monday at the office,” I said. “I’ll be in by 5:30am. Come early.”


“Will do.”


I hung up and went back to the sunroom.


“Is everything OK? You were gone longer than I expected,” Jessica said.


“Yes. No real change with Stephie, but I want to go to Cincinnati to see Ed.”


“Why?” she asked. “You guys weren’t close.”


“No, but he is a friend, and he’s Bethany’s brother. I want to talk to him. I’ll only be gone one night, and I’ll go while you’re on one of your long shifts. I can see Joyce and my dad, too. And I’ll see if Ben van Hoek wants to have dinner.”


“When will you go?”


“I’ll figure it out tomorrow. Probably later in the week. Your next shift starts on Wednesday morning, right?”


“Yes.”


“Then I’ll probably leave on Wednesday morning and come back on Thursday afternoon.”


“Kara, are you going?” Jessica asked.


That would create a problem, because I didn’t want her involved at all.


“No. I need to watch Jesse and Matthew. I just saw my mom when we were there for the wedding. Is that OK, Snuggle Bear?”


“Sure,” I said, trying not to sound relieved.

July 6, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

“Have a good day, Babe!” I said when I hugged and kissed Jessica outside the doors to the ER.


“I’ll call you when I can get a dinner break. Bring Kara, OK?”


“Sure. How late should we wait?”


“If you don’t hear from me by 7:00pm, go ahead and eat. That means I’m tied up.”


“OK. I love you!”


“I love you, too, Tiger!”


I walked back towards the office, and continued to formulate my plan. It had to be decisive, but it had to be something that didn’t land me in jail. I had two specific things I needed to accomplish - to get Anthony out of my hair once and for all, and to get Ed out of jail. If I could only accomplish one of those needs, then it would have to be getting Bethany’s brother out of jail. I stopped for my usual cup of coffee along the way, and sipped it carefully while I walked to the office.


When I arrived, I unlocked the door and disabled the alarm, and then locked the door behind me. Kaitlin, Dave, Julia, and Cindi all had keys, and anyone else would ring the buzzer. I turned on my computer, but didn’t start typing. Instead, I sipped my coffee, contemplated what I was about to set in motion, and waited for the buzzer to ring. I didn’t have to wait too long.


“Good morning,” I said.


“Good morning. What favor can I do for you?”


“I need you to come with me to Cincinnati on Wednesday. We’re going to pay a visit to your former boss and his girlfriend. We’ll come back on Thursday. I’ll talk to your boss here about getting the two days off.”


“What are we going to do?” he asked.


“Send a message. But, I want to be clear, nobody gets hurt. Well, let me rephrase that, nobody has any permanent damage. I’ll give you all the details on the way there.”


“Got it. Should I meet you here?”


“Yes. At 5:30am on Wednesday. I’ll clear it with your boss, so don’t worry about missing work.”


“Good. Thanks.”


He got up and left without another word, and I got to work. Later that morning, when Penny took a break, I called Milford to make some necessary arrangements. Once those were made, I called Connie to set up the meeting.


“I knew you’d come around,” she said haughtily. “Can’t leave your girlfriend’s little brother to rot in jail, now can you?”


I gave her a time that was three hours after I’d arrive, so that I had time to prepare. She promised that she and Anthony would be at the meeting. My next call was to the Hamilton County Jail to verify visiting hours. Finally, I called Ben van Hoek and arranged to have dinner with him. With all my plans in place, I got back to work.


Jessica called that evening at 6:45 and said that her break would be at 7:00pm. Kara and I hurried to the hospital, and met Jessica in the cafeteria.


“How’s it going so far?” I asked.


“It was relatively quiet this afternoon, but it was crazy this morning. I didn’t get my first break until almost 1:00pm.”


“Did you get to do anything interesting?”


“No, but fortunately the senior surgical Resident that I’m assigned to believes that new Residents should do procedures. That means soon I’ll get to do more stuff. But for right now, it’s almost like my trauma rotation - IVs, sutures, intubation, that kind of thing. Did you make your plans for going to Ohio?”


“I did. I’ll leave right after I drop you at work on Wednesday and be home early Thursday evening.”


“What are you going to say to Ed? Finding the gun in his car is pretty damning.”


I nodded, “It is. All I can do is ask him what happened and take it from there. I’m curious, where do you sleep tonight?”


“On a gurney in a treatment room, or a cot in the locker room.”


“How many people are on overnight?” I asked.


“Two senior Residents and two first-years. There’s also a senior Resident on call if things get out of hand. And of course, an Attending.”


“I hope you get some sleep!” I said.


“It’s not too hot out and it’s not quite a full moon, so it should be fine.”


“Wait, those things matter?”


Jessica laughed, “Yes, they do. There was a study done at Cook County Hospital that showed that there are more, and crazier, emergency room visits during full moons. The heat makes sense, if you think about it. Gangs are not going outside in 20-below temperatures!”


I chuckled, “Yes, that does make sense. The full moon thing is interesting.”


“I have Friday off, so I’ll miss the actual full moon this month.”


“Do you want us to come for breakfast tomorrow?” I asked.


“I won’t know when I can eat, so why don’t you sleep in?”


“Me? Sleep in?” I chuckled.


“True. I’ll see you for dinner tomorrow night.”


We finished our meal and Kara and I headed home, while Jessica went back to work.

July 8, 1987, Chicago, Illinois

“Have a safe trip today,” Jessica said when Kara and I walked her to work.


“I will. I’ll see you tomorrow night! Have a good shift!”


Kara and I both hugged and kissed Jessica, and then Kara walked me to the office. She kissed me, wished me a safe trip, and then headed back to the house. I went into the office to wait, and about ten minutes later, my traveling companion arrived.


“Ready to go?” I asked.


“Yes. Where are we staying tonight?”


“A hotel by Eastgate. Our meeting is in Milford.”


“Let’s go!”


I’d parked my car in the union lot the night before, telling Jessica and Kara that I didn’t want to disturb Jesse by starting the car very early in the morning. We got into the car and I started it, put it in gear, and pulled out of the lot.


“Are you going to tell me the plan?” he asked. “Or do I not need to know?”


“Now that we’re on our way, I’ll tell you the entire plan.”


“Smart. This way, I can’t spill the beans. I knew I made the right decision back in December.”


I explained exactly what I wanted to happen, and how I expected things to go, reiterating that nobody was to get hurt and that I’d call everything off if things seemed to be going badly. He made one suggestion which I thought was very good, and then we rode in near silence, hearing only the radio playing softly and the droning hum of the tires.

July 8, 1987, Greater Cincinnati, Ohio

Traveling early in the morning, we made good time, making only one stop for gas and coffee. We arrived at the Hamilton County Courthouse just before 11:30am. I parked the car, and went inside alone. I asked to see Ed, and ten minutes later, was led to a room with a small table and two chairs. Ed, wearing a gray uniform that said ‘Prisoner’ on it, was sitting, handcuffed, in one of the chairs. I sat down across from him and waited for the guard to step outside.


“Hi,” I said.


“Hey. I was surprised when they said that you were here to see me.”


“I came to ask you one question. Did you do it?”


“No. I have no clue what’s going on, or how that gun ended up in my trunk.”


I looked him hard in the eyes and had a strong suspicion that he was lying to me. That changed the entire complexion of my trip. Now, if Anthony COULD get Ed off, I wasn’t sure that I wanted him to. Maybe I had misjudged Ed’s response, but a few questions would help me decide.


“When did you get involved with Anthony Cicilioni?” I asked.


Ed’s eyes went wide, which made it clear that I’d asked the right question. And that my new suspicion was correct.


“How did you know?” he asked.


“A hunch,” I said. “I couldn’t imagine that you would be in the predicament that you were in unless he was involved somehow.”


Ed lowered his voice, “Right after Don Joseph died, Anthony called me and asked if I wanted to work again. I said yes, because I really wanted to do it.”


I sighed and shook my head, “Bad idea. He’s not the same as Don Joseph. What did he have you doing?”


“When I was at school, loan sharking and a sports book. When I was here, whatever was needed. But I didn’t kill anyone!”


“For some reason, Anthony seems to think that he can get you out of this,” I said.


“How do you know that?” he asked.


“His girlfriend called me and made it clear they could get you off if I worked for them again.”


“This was a setup?” he hissed. “I was framed? To get to you?”


“Well, if you didn’t do it, I’d say that’s a real possibility. The gun in your trunk - was that one that Anthony gave you?”


“It sure looked like it. It was a 9mm Beretta, which is what I had. So I guess it was.”


“Then how did the police match it to the crime if you didn’t do it?” I asked.


“I have no idea.”


Something didn’t add up. I was missing something important, but I had no idea what it might be.


“Did you know the person who was murdered?” I asked.


“Yes,” Ed replied. “He ran a small convenience store where we were collecting protection money.”


“Were you there the day of the murder?” I asked.


“Yes. I collected from him that morning, an hour or so before he was killed.”


“And where was your gun?” I asked.


“In the trunk. I didn’t need it because the guy never gave us any trouble. That’s why I went alone.”


“Did you use your gun between then and the wedding?”


“No. I never even took it out of the trunk.”


If that was true, then it might well be a setup. But I still had a strange feeling that I didn’t have all of the information, and that something important was missing. I still felt that Ed was lying to me, which meant that I had to change my afternoon plans.


“Ed, honestly, if that was your gun, and if your prints are on it, and if it matches the bullet or bullets that were fired, and if an eyewitness puts you there, I’m not sure what anyone can do.”


“You think I did it!” he said, exasperated.


“It certainly seems like it, and to be completely truthful, your denial rang hollow for some reason. Add in the fact that you willingly went back to work for Anthony, and it sure as heck seems like you might well have done it.”


“But I didn’t!” he said.


“OK. Let’s assume that’s true for the moment. What could Anthony possibly do? The gun is damning, even without the witness who can place you there that morning. Sure, he might be crazy enough to make a witness disappear, or, if it’s a setup, have them recant. But I don’t see how he can get to the gun. If this were Chicago, where there are corrupt people all over the place, maybe, just maybe it could work - buy off the judge, have the police lose the evidence, or who knows what. But here? That doesn’t make sense.”


“I don’t know what to tell you,” Ed said. “But I absolutely didn’t kill anyone.”


“So, someone took the gun from your trunk, killed this shop owner, then put the gun back in your trunk, then tipped off the cops. And you didn’t know that the gun was gone? I don’t think anyone will buy that. I’m not sure that I buy it. Sure, it’s possible, but why? Just to get to me? Because you’re Bethany’s brother? That’s a stretch.”


“But you thought that might be the case before you came here, didn’t you?”


I nodded, “Yes, I did.”


“Help me, Steve. For my sister, if for no other reason. I did NOT do it.”


“I’m not sure what I can do. Did the cops get any prints from the gun?” I asked.


“No. It was wiped clean. But as my lawyer said, that proves nothing.”


“Where exactly were you when the murder happened?”


“In my car, on my way home. But before you ask, nobody was there who can verify the time I arrived home.”


“Did you stop along the way? Did you do ANYTHING where someone might have seen you?”


“No,” he sighed.


“OK. I’m not sure what I CAN do. Let me think about it.”


“Did you come all the way to ask just that question?”


“More or less. I’m having dinner with my friend Ben van Hoek and breakfast with my dad. If I figure anything out, I’ll get in touch with you.”


“Please help me! First degree murder is 20 years to life! And Ohio has the death penalty!”


“I’ll try. That’s all I can do.”


“Thanks,” he said. “Tell my sister that I love her.”


“I will.”


I got up and rapped on the door. The guard let me out and another guard came and led Ed away. I went back out to the car, and got in.


“Well?”


“Hell if I know,” I replied. “It could be a setup. Or he might have done it. That’s what we need to find out this afternoon. We’ll stick to the original plan. Just the questions will change.”


“OK.”


We stopped for lunch at Wendy’s, and arrived in Milford about 1:30pm. I parked the car in the lot in front of Andreas' Deli, and walked inside.


“Kid!” Andreas said. “I was really surprised when you called the other day.”


“Thanks for doing me this favor,” I said. “I’ll owe you one.”


“We didn’t get a chance to talk at the funeral,” Andreas said. “But I saw you with two beautiful girls. Some things never change!”


I chuckled, “No, they don’t. But that’s not why I needed the favor. I needed someplace safe to have a meeting, and the apartment fits the bill.”


He handed me a familiar key ring and key.


“Just drop it off when you’re done. Do you have time to talk?”


“Unfortunately, no. I have a pretty tight schedule, and I have another meeting after this one. Tomorrow I have breakfast with my dad, but he’s moved up near Mason, and then I have to head back to Chicago.”


“Don’t be a stranger, Kid.”


“Thanks, Andreas,” I said.


I walked back outside and got into my Daytona and headed up to the apartment. I parked in a spot where I’d parked my Trans Am many times before, and we went inside.


“When they ring the buzzer, you go wait in the bathroom until they come in. Once we’re all sitting at the table, come out as we discussed and we’ll put the plan in motion.”


“Got it.”


We had to wait nearly an hour, but I’d brought a book and my companion played solitaire with a deck of cards he’d brought with him. When the buzzer rang, he gathered his cards and went into the bathroom and shut the door most of the way. I buzzed Anthony and Connie into the apartment.


“Don Anthony,” I said deferentially, trying to put him at ease.


“Steve. Good to see you.”


“Hi, Connie,” I said.


“Hi.”


“Come on in and sit down so we can talk,” I said.


Anthony and Connie sat down, and I took a chair across from them. They’d done exactly what I’d hoped they would, and sat with their backs to the bathroom door. I saw the door open slowly and before they could react, a gun was put to Connie’s head.

That was a preview of AWLL 2 - Book 2 - Stephie. To read the rest purchase the book.

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