Mallory’s words smack me. Not as hard as the Creeper did last night, but enough to provoke the physical reaction I’m sure the Cop with the Girl Scout Arm hoped for. I feel my eyes go big, like silver dollars. When my breath comes back, it’s quicker and a little shallow.
“Who did you send up there, Carr? Tell me now or I’m taking you in on suspicion of murder. Let the newspapers and TV stations have the news.”
I labor for a deep breath. I need oxygen. I need the Lone Ranger. The Cisco Kid. Luis.
Okay, Carr, think quick. Tony Farascio is Mr. Vick’s friend. Tony’s carrying one-hundred-thousand dollars in what I assume to be unlaundered gambling money. And anyway you look at it, thanks to me, Tony went to see Talbot on Shore’s behalf. I do not want to give Mallory Tony’s name.
Mallory screams at me. “Who the fuck was it?”
But Shore’s troubles can only blossom into full-boat disaster if I lie during a murder investigation, play hide-the-truth with Branchtown cops.
When you’re sinking in heavy shit, it figures as pure folly to dig yourself in deeper.
“His name’s Tony Farascio,” I say.
“He works for you?”
“He’s a friend of Mr. Vick’s.”
“He’s a lawyer or something?”
“Something,” I say. “Maybe just a friend.”
Mallory’s eyes narrow. “But he was on Shore Securities business?”
I didn’t think it possible, but the tall cop pushes closer. His nose brushes mine. An Eskimo kiss.
Gee, Jim, does this mean we’re going steady?
“Was he or wasn’t he, Carr? I thought you were running the company while Vick’s out of town.”
I cough to clear my throat. That backs the bastard up. Maybe I should tell him I have TB.
“Mr. Vick told me to call Tony if I had trouble with...” My sentence dies. I’m wandering down a dangerous path here. I keep talking this way, explaining myself, it’s going to sound like I--or Vick, Shore, somebody--hired Tony Farascio to threaten or even kill Talbot.
“Trouble with what?” Mallory says.
Mallory shakes his head. His jaw sets like black- flecked white marble. “Screw this, Carr. You’re coming back to the station, spend the night answering questions. For now, just tell me what Farascio looks like.”
The New Jersey sun is long gone. Stars flicker above the Navasquan River. I don’t see Gina the Luscious anymore, and the last stranglers have wandered back inside the Martha. The Branchtown Fire Department rumbles from the parking lot in a red parade of trucks. Everything’s finished. Especially me.
“Six foot one or two,” I say. “Two hundred pounds. Dark wavy hair and a permanent five o’clock shadow. Handsome as a movie star.”
“Brown. Like a puppy dog.”
An hour later, at the police station, I say, “Listen to me. Every night our back office tells the clearing bank in New York what to do with the money and securities taken in during the day’s business. We send the bank a list of names and account numbers, what’s to be deposited in each.”
Mallory and I sit in an eight-by-eight-foot police interview room with a desk and two chairs. The furniture ranked as old twenty-five years ago, and the puke green, chipped walls haven’t been painted since Harry Truman was President. The floor smells of lemon disinfectant over stale urine.
“If the bank goofs,” I say, “if they leave one dollar of a client’s funds in Shore’s catchall account, then technically we’ve co-mingled client moneys. And if we don’t catch the mistake, if the banker doesn’t bother telling us, just fixes it himself the next day, our permanent records become inaccurate.”
Mallory nods with satisfaction. “I get it. And if this co-mingling charge hit the newspapers, Shore would lose a crap-load of business, maybe even close.”
I shake my head.
“You or your boy Farascio killed Talbot to keep this report from going public,” Mallory says.
He waves papers at me I assume came from Talbot’s hotel room. How else would this redheaded Irish cop know about the co-mingling charges?
“Exactly,” I say. “Shore hired Tony to kill the A.A.S.D. investigator because everybody knows a murder trial would make us look good.”
“I don’t think your friend Farascio expected to stand trial,” Mallory says. “He figured to burn the place down, cover his tracks.”
The interview-room door opens and Mallory’s partner leans in holding a manila envelope. The young detective looks nineteen in his schoolboy haircut and brand new J. C. Penny suit. Like an Eagle Scout.
“Here’s the fax from Washington,” Scoutboy says.
Mallory opens the folder, reads a few minutes while I wonder what he’s staring at. I don’t have a rap sheet, but maybe Tony does. Maybe I shouldn’t have given up Farascio’s name. I definitely shouldn’t have let Tony go see Talbot. Mr. Vick’s going to choke me when he gets back from Italy. Or, more likely, Tony, Bluefish, or Max will have throttled me long before the boss gets home.
If and when I get out of here, I’m never going to stop drinking martinis.
Mallory’s had enough of the file. He tosses the manila folder onto the poetically inscribed table between us with a tiny splat. The papers and photos slide partially out, pulling my eyes like a Shania Twain cheesecake calendar. What is this?
“How long have you and Anthony Farascio been friends?” Mallory says.
“I told you. We’re not friends. I never met the guy until this week.”
“Right. He’s a total stranger. That's why you sent him up to deal with the A.A.S.D. for you.”
“He’s Vick’s friend, not mine.”
Mallory grins. His bony fingers pick up the manila folder again. He slides out a photo-fax, nudges the grainy image across the table. My open hand slides across the table to pick up the paper, the wood smooth against my fingertips. It feels like I’m crawling into a trap.
My eyes take in the shot of a burned-out, two-story brick building, probably a restaurant and bar judging by the blackened sign in the foreground that gives the joint’s hours as 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Guess it could be a massage parlor. One that knows how to give its customers the Big Finish.
Mallory saying, “The Feds call your pal Farascio Tony the Torch.”
Branchtown’s top detective slides a second photo toward me, this one featuring three, tarp-covered bodies, all with blackened feet peeking from under the canvas.
“He gets paid to burn things for insurance money,” Mallory says. “Every once and while, there are people inside. You people at the Martha tonight were lucky.”