WHERE'S...ELI? Excerpt

Chapter Twelve

Finally, a lead.

“Hello, this Mrs. Marchetti?”
“Hey, damn it, you ain’t supposed to be botherin’ me with no phone call. I’m on that don’t-call list.”
“No, I’m not soliciting you. I’m Al Forte from the neighborhood. I’m an attorney.”
“You from the neighborhood, you say. So the fuck what? Know how many con artists, perverts and lowlifes come outa South Brooklyn? You say you’re a lawyer. What are you some kinda shyster my soon-to-be-ex hired to try and get some of my money?”
“No. I am not Larry’s attorney.”
“Then, you gotta be shylockin’ for some folks Larry owes money to, probably forged my name, and you wanna get me to pay.”
“No, ma’am. I’m calling to speak to your daughter, Iris.”
“Why you wanna bother that sick child for? And why you callin’ her with this number? It ain’t hers.”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but didn’t Jenny from D’Amato’s call you to say I’d be calling to talk to Iris?
“And don’t you remember me? We went to Sacred Hearts the same time.”
“Oh, wait. Shit, yes, that’s right, Jenny did call. I’m so worried about my sick Iris that my mind ain’t right. Sorry. I forget who she said was gonna be callin’. And, Jesus, you expectin’ me to remember all the strunzes I went to grammar school with? Shit, lots of stuff happened since.
“Wait, ain’t you Mick Forte’s cousin?”
“Yes, Mick Forte and I are cousins.”
“You know that Mick’s a blessed saint.”
“Yes, lots of folks from the neighborhood think highly of him.”
“Wasn’t for Mick, we ain’t be havin’ this here conversation.”
“I called to have a word with … .”
“My soon-to-be-ex came over to bug the shit outa me one night when I was still there in Brooklyn. This was after I even gone to court and got this Order of Protection sayin’ he can’t come, I don’t know, so close to me. What? Fifty feet? Whatever. Can’t even wipe your ass with that worthless piece of paper.
“Anyways, Larry and me, we really get into it. Not just yellin’. He’s hittin’ me, I’m bitin’, kickin’ him. The whole block could hear the commotion.
“My neighbor, Veronica Giambini, knows about the Order. She calls Mick. She knows him real well, they real close; he’s helped her kid, husband—everyone in that family. She knows he’d get there faster than the cops. She calls ’em after she calls Mick.
“So, Mick gets there real quick. Tries, but ain’t able to talk no sense to Larry. You see, Larry ain’t from the neighborhood, so don’t really know Mick. Musta thought he could take him. Mick’s short, you know, and a little chubby, but please don’t tell him I said that about him. Larry don’t think Mick’s tough, and that asshole fool makes the mistake of goin’ after Mick, who beats the livin’ shit outa him. Don’t know why we say, ‘livin’ shit’? Shit’s alive? Anyways, listen to this: Mick actually kicks the shit out of Larry; that dirtbag drops a load right then and there. The place stunk so much; was terrible.
“So, the cops finally get there and take Larry away. And I get stuck cleanin’ up the stinkin’ mess.
“Now, my aunt knows how bad I’m doin’ and how I need to get away from my ex. So, bless her, she tells me to come and move to this place, here in Staten Island, and get started on my own. And it was Mick who moved my stuff here. He got me the truck and his guys did the move.
“Said to me his guys were all ex-cons but could be trusted. He guaranteed it. Normally, I wudda said ‘thanks but no thanks,’ but it was Mick. So I knew he’d back up what he says. And the movers he sends, one’s white, one’s Spanish and one’s one of ’em Negros. Now, most of us in the neighborhood growin’ up and even ’til now, stay with our own, ain’t have much to do with other kinds of people, if we can help it.
“You know, I learned a lot from the day of that move. These guys, rough and tough as they looked, with their tattoos, muscles, hairdos, ‘cept for the guy with the shaved head—scary too, if you ran into any of ’em on an empty street when it’s dark—’em guys couldn’t of been better behaved gentlemen. Mick told me that he’d take care of everythin’, that I owed him and his guys nuttin’. I ain’t got much money, but I ain’t no charity case. So, besides orderin’ some pizza and beer, so they don’t go home hungry and thirsty after workin’ so hard on such a hot, humid day, I hadda give these guys somethin’ to show my appreciation. I was ready to give ’em twenty bucks apiece, but they each smile at me real cute and say they appreciate it very much, but the pizza and beer was already above and beyond and not necessary, and the honor of helpin’ me was more than enough for ’em. They ain’t took the money. I cried like I never cried in my life, this was so sweet of ’em. That day changed me; got my eyes opened some.
“Anyways, it ain’t been easy here on my own. I work two jobs, for this store durin’ the week and waitress for a diner not far from here on Friday and Saturday nights, but my aunt she don’t charge me much rent, and I don’t waste the few bucks I make. And Iris is on her own. Goes to school at night and works over at D’Amato’s. Lives with a roommate at a family friend’s place for almost nuttin’. So, she does all right, ’cept now she’s so sick.”
“Jenny tells me they think she has mono. I hope she’s getting better.”
“You ask me, those doctors ain’t really got no friggin’ clue what the fuck she’s got, but I forced her to come and stay here, so I can keep an eye on her and make sure she gets back on her feet.”
“Do you think I can have a quick word with her.”
“Wait. You says you’re a lawyer and you’re Mick’s cousin. You ain’t that pain in the ass chooch that bugs the hell outa Iris at work?”
“No, Mick has two cousins who are lawyers, me and Eli Ativa. You and I went to school the same time. Eli’s from the neighborhood too but went to public school. It’s Eli who runs his law practice from D’Amato’s.”
“If both you and this asshole Eli are Mick’s cousins, how come your last names ain’t the same?”
“That’s because Mick’s dad and my dad are brothers, and Eli’s mom and Mick’s mom are sisters. Eli and I are not related.”
“That goddamn neighborhood is somethin’. Everyone’s connected with each other in so many different ways.
“Anyways, it’s real nice to talk with you, Al, but again why you callin’ me?”
Luckily, we are on the phone, and Mrs. Marchetti can’t see me roll my eyes and shake my head in astonishment.
I say, “I need to ask Iris a few questions.”
“About what?”
“About something that she may have witnessed at work.”
“Listen, she’s real sick, and really’s not up to gettin’ involved in no legal mess.”
“No, I assure you, Mrs. Marchetti….”
“Al, it’s Valerie, doncha remember?”
“Of course, I remember. Your full name was Valerie Valentino. Not easy to forget a name like that.”
“Yeah, you remind me I gotta get rid of this Marchetti and get back to my family name.”
“So, Valerie, can I speak with Iris?”
“Oh. I don’t know. Let me see if she’s up to it. Give me a sec.”
After maybe five minutes, Valerie gets back on the phone.
“Al, listen, she’s real weak, but says she heard from Jenny the information you need from her. Says that was her last day before she got sick but remembers that that Eli had a different computer with him that day. She says he got up and left all kinds of papers thrown all over the table he uses for his office and left with that computer still on.”
“She say anything about anyone using the computer.”
“Hold your horses, I’m just gettin’ to that.”
“Okay, now listen. She says ’cause it bein’ lunch time she was busy and away from that Eli’s table, but did….

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