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Walking the Perfect Square introduced Moe Prager - retired New York City cop-turned-wine shop owner - to much acclaim and an enthusiastic readership. Still possessed of his vintage police savvy, and perhaps the only Jewish licensed PI in the five boroughs, Moe wonders if he's really meant to be a merchant and not a cop. Redemption Street finds him in 1981, lured into the mystery of a 1966 hotel fire - one that killed seventeen people, including his first love - by a long-grieving brother and Moe's own restless ...
Walking the Perfect Square introduced Moe Prager - retired New York City cop-turned-wine shop owner - to much acclaim and an enthusiastic readership. Still possessed of his vintage police savvy, and perhaps the only Jewish licensed PI in the five boroughs, Moe wonders if he's really meant to be a merchant and not a cop. Redemption Street finds him in 1981, lured into the mystery of a 1966 hotel fire - one that killed seventeen people, including his first love - by a long-grieving brother and Moe's own restless determination to set things right.
Reed Farrel Coleman's crisp, page-turning narrative has Moe trudging through his childhood summer vacation stomping grounds, the now-decaying Catskill resort scene. The borscht belt's near-forgotten landscape of scarred lives, ambitious politicians, and corrupt cops is the minefield Moe must brave to find the truth. Was the fire really sparked by a negligent smoker or was it murder? Will the long dead keep their secrets or divulge their stories? And will what Moe uncovers lead him down another blind alley or into the bright light of Redemption Street?
"Hey, boss." Klaus interrupted my dusting.
"Some guy's up front looking for you," he said, rolling his eyes in disapproval. "He's a real loser, kinda seedy, and I suspect he took the shuttle bus up from Bellevue."
"You're dressed in a Dead Kennedys tee shirt, ripped jeans, and unmatched sneakers and you're callin' this guy seedy!"
"On me, boss, it's fashion. On him it's seedy."
"Whatever," I surrendered, handing him my duster. "Lead on, Macduff."
When I spotted the man worrying a rut in the floorboards around the cash register, I had to tip my cap to Klaus. His assessment was right on. "Loser" was the word that came immediately to mind. As a cop, I'd seen a million of them and escorted more than a few to the loony bin. That's official police jargon. You can look it up.
This guy was a classic: raggedy, all fidgets and tics, smoking the life out of a cigarette. Sometimes they were deathly still, catatonic, but mostly they were like this clown. Their clothes always ill-fitting, too loose or too tight. Their hair always messy—not dirty necessarily, just all over the place.
"How may I help you?" I asked politely. I had had to learn that line. It wasn't one that came easily to the lips of an ex-cop. "What the fuck's going on here?" was what I was more comfortable with.
When he pulled the poor defenseless cigarette away from his mouth and faced me, I got a funny feeling in the pit of my belly. Mr. Fidgets seemed vaguely familiar. Not like my long-lost Siamese twin or nothing. More like a face I'd seen on the subwayevery now and then, but years ago.
Fidgets laughed, showing me a perfect mouth of stained teeth. "You don't remember me."
"I guess I didn't suppose you would remember," he said in a sturdy voice that was an odd contrast to his fragile appearance.
"Actually, there is something familiar about you. I'm not sure what it is exactly."
He wrinkled up his brow. "What's the line? We went to different high schools together. We both went to Lincoln, but I was a senior when you were a sophomore. You were in my little sister's grade." He waved the filter of his spent cigarette at me, shrugging his shoulders apologetically.
"Here," I said, offering my cupped hand as an ashtray. He dropped it in without a second's hesitation. I opened up the front door and, like any good New Yorker, flicked the butt at a passing yellow cab. Maybe, if the wine business didn't work out, I could get a gig at the Coney Island freak show: Mighty Moe, the Human Ashtray.
"Okay, now that we've shared that Kodak moment," I sneered, brushing my hands together impatiently, "what can I do for you?"
"I want to hire you."
"No offense, buddy, but let's get real here. Not to judge a book by its cover or anything, but my guess is you're not the president of a major liquor-store chain, and I already know the sales rep from Moët and Chandon."
Even he thought that was pretty funny. For a brief second, the tics stopped and the sun seemed to rise on his face. It quickly set. "No, no, you misunderstand. I want to hire you to find my sister."
I could feel my heart beat hard at the walls of my chest. "I think you've got me confused with somebody else. This is a wine shop, not the Bat Cave."
Without a word, he reached into the pocket of his shabby coat and produced a few sheets of badly folded glossy paper. They shook in his hand as he thrust them out at me. There was no need for me to look at them. I knew what they were, where they came from. To the uninitiated, they appeared to be pages from an old edition of Gotham Magazine. I knew better. They were, in fact, reminders of a ghost that would likely haunt me for the rest of my natural life. I dared not reach for the pages in Mr. Fidgets' fingers for fear my hand would tremble more than his.
LITTLE BOY LOST was what the bold black typeface read at the top of page 17. Just beneath the author's byline were two pictures. Both photos, though very different from each other, were of the same young man. His name was Patrick Michael Maloney, a handsome college student who'd come to Manhattan for a party on the night of December 7, 1977, and had vanished, never to be heard from or seen again. Well, that wasn't true. I'd found Patrick, alive if not exactly well, but let him slip through my fingers. Only four people on the planet knew I'd located Patrick. The author of the article, Conrad Beaman, wasn't one of them, so he couldn't be held responsible for omitting that fact from his otherwise scrupulously accurate piece.
What Beaman did know was that, during my investigation of the disappearance, I'd fallen in love with Katy Maloney, Patrick's older sister. Katy, now my wife, didn't know I'd found her brother or lost him again. I didn't have the balls to tell her after it happened. Now, over three years later, she could never know. I rationalized that it would have hurt her too much to lose Patrick twice, but it was just bullshit. My reasons were purely selfish. I was the one worried about losing a loved one. I couldn't risk Katy finding out I'd been complicit, even if innocently so, in Patrick's vanishing act.
"I can't help you," I said, waving away the crumpled sheets.
With a pin stuck in his balloon, Fidgets' entire body seemed to cave in dejection. "But"—he puffed back up, unfolding the article—"you found that little girl. It says so right here on page nineteen." He held the page up to me and pointed.
He was right. There were two pictures on page 19 as well. One was of a little Puerto Rican girl. The other was of me in uniform. The text read:
On Easter Sunday 1972, Marina Conseco (above left) disappeared in the amusement park at Coney Island. The girl, the daughter of a New York City fireman, seemed to vanish without a trace. Even her brothers and sisters could not recall when they had seen her last. After four days of searching failed to produce any solid leads, a group of off-duty police and firefighters led by Moses Prager (above right) found the girl at the bottom of a rooftop water tank on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. Sexually assaulted and battered, she had been thrown in the disused tank by her attacker and left to die. Prager, credited by his fellow search-team members with the idea of checking rooftop tanks, refused comment. "He just sort of looked up and had a flash," said John Rafferty, one of the off-duty firemen. "One more day up there and she'd'a been a goner. I don't know what made Moe think to look up there. It was like God zapped him or something...."
So that was it. Nine years ago I'd gotten lucky and found Marina Conseco. Now Mr. Fidgets thought I had an in with the Almighty. I shouldn't have been surprised. My luck in finding Marina was what led the Maloneys to me. It was only a matter of time before someone else stumbled onto the myth of my mojo: Moses Prager, Finder of Lost Souls. Give me a break!
"I can't help you," I repeated.
"But you've got a license. I checked. And you used to be a cop."
I could dispute neither point. I'd been on the job for ten years before a sheet of carbon paper and a freshly waxed linoleum floor had conspired to twist my knee in such a manner that not even Gumby could replicate. I had, in fact, gotten my investigator's license shortly after the whole Patrick business. But I'd gotten my marriage license at about the same time and hadn't ever taken my investigator's license out of my sock drawer. It was just a conceit, anyway, a lie I tried to tell myself, a hedge against the ifs in life. Unfortunately for Aqualung here, the wine business was working out, and there wasn't much he could do or say to inspire me to take the Endust to my license.
"Sorry, friend," I patronized. "Can't do it. The holidays are our busy season. Maybe if you come back in January we can discuss it. Okay?"
He deflated once again. "It'll be too late then."
"But you haven't even asked my name, my sister's name. You went to school with her. Doesn't that count for something? Don't you even care?"
"I care about anybody who's missing." Impatience crept, not too subtly, into my voice. "If you read that goddamned article you keep wavin' in my face, you'd know I care. Now, like I said, I'm sorry, but the answer for now is no. So, if you don't mind—"
"Karen Rosen!" he hissed at me. "My sister's name is Karen Rosen."
Clearly, he meant her name to be a slap in the face, a jolt to snap me out of my stupor. But instead of hitting me like a bucket of ice water, her name rolled off my shoulder like a raindrop. I might've heard the name. Rosen is not exactly an uncommon name in Brooklyn. Maybe we did go to school together. Maybe not. There were eleven hundred kids in my graduating class. It wasn't like I was on a first-name basis with all of them.
I took a deep breath and repeated my new mantra: "Look, I'm sorry about your sister, but—"
"She's dead! Don't you even care that she's dead?"
"That's it! Out! Right now, get the fuck out!"
Fidgets thought about striking out at me. I could see it in his eyes, which, for the first time, seemed like crazy eyes. Finally, they matched the rest of his demeanor.
"Karen Rosen," he whispered her name like a plea. "Try to remember her. When I'm gone, someone has to remember."
Before I could say a word, he drifted out of the store. He did not look back, but I could not take my eyes off him. At last, he drifted into the rest of the faceless crowd on Columbus Avenue.
"So what happened?" Klaus, the store yenta, was anxious to know.
"You were right. He was just some nut job."
"Good, I could use your help," Klaus confessed. "We're busy."
We were always busy. Business was booming. It had been from the moment my big brother, Aaron, and I had opened the shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For Aaron's sake, mostly, I was pleased. Our success had, for the first time since we were kids, allowed Aaron to escape from beneath the shadow of our father's dreadful adventures in businessland. Neither Aaron nor my dad ever understood that it was the business, not my father, that had failed. Me, I was just along for the ride. If I hadn't blown out my knee, I'd still be on the job, patrolling the streets of the 60th Precinct instead of the French reds aisle.
Don't misunderstand. I kind of liked the wine business, and making real money had a major upside. I owned a home for the first time in my life and finally drove a car that didn't look like it belonged permanently attached to the ass end of a tow truck. Katy could afford to stay home with the baby and still do freelance design work out of her basement studio. My pension money was cream and went straight into a college fund for our little girl, Sarah. Yeah, it was all cake, but too much cake's a bore. I wasn't bored yet, not really—just restless, I think. There's only so many times you can explain the difference between champagne and méthode champenoise before you get itchy.
At least we did have a stimulating clientele: a mixed bag of actors in various states of employ, Juilliard students, TV producers, Columbia profs, black kids drifting down from Harlem, and tourists who, after too many hours at the American Museum of Natural History, needed a buttery Chardonnay with just the proper hint of oak. On Friday and Saturday evenings we did big volume with the under-twenty-five crowd from New Jersey and the boroughs. Though their selections tended to come with screw-off caps rather than corks, we still let them in the front door. Aaron and I never lost sight of the fact that, in spite of our fancy locale, we were just two schmucks from Brooklyn who'd made good.
I did get to meet a few famous people. I mean really famous people, not just this week's hot soap-opera star. John Lennon, for instance, bought a case of Perrier-Jouet for a friend's birthday gift. He was kind enough to take a picture with me. Emboldened by his generosity, I asked him if Paul McCartney was really the selfish, self-centered prick the press made him out to be.
"Nah," he said. "The real Paul's dead, you know. He was a great mate, a generous sort, but the sod actor we got to replace him is a genuine shite. We'd have gotten rid of him, too, but he was a better bass player than the real Paul. Not as good a songwriter, though. Do you suppose the Paul who wrote ‘Yesterday' would write roobbish like ‘Silly Love Songs'?" John winked at me, stuck out his tongue, and left.
I hadn't lied to Mr. Fidgets. This was our busy season. Yet, in spite of the huge influx of cash, there was something about the week leading up to Thanksgiving that made me blue. Was it that Mother Nature made sure to give us a nice kick in the ass to remind us that winter was just one calendar flip away? I used to think so. Now I'm not so sure. Maybe it's the inevitable onslaught of Christmas. All those holiday songs are great the first 3,411 times you hear them.... But it wasn't the music.
Christmas in America is an existential nightmare for Jews. We try to be both part of it and apart from it, and neither works. It was especially tough for Katy, unpracticed as she was at the ordeal. A Catholic all her life, she'd converted to Judaism of her own volition. I thought she was nuts for doing it, but...I had suggested we get a tree to sort of ease the transition, but Katy wouldn't hear of it. Maybe a tree would have made it harder for her. I was too embarrassed to admit the tree would have been as much for me as for her.
However, when things finally slowed down, I found I was not thinking of Christmas or even impending Thanksgiving. I found myself looking out into the darkness and into the clog of rush-hour traffic and wondering where Mr. Fidgets had got to. I was wondering about my past and trying to put a face to the name Karen Rosen. But no matter how much I tried, I could not remember her.
* * *
Katy seemed to be half listening to the story of Karen Rosen's brother over dinner. I wanted to think her lack of attentiveness was because Sarah was being fussy. It wasn't. It was about Patrick. Katy was always upbeat. It's one of the things I loved most about her. I couldn't help noticing, however, her mood crash whenever the increasingly rare lead about her little brother would come our way. Hope has an ugly dark side, and I was witness to it every single time some money-hungry idiot tried to pry a buck or two out of the reward fund Katy's dad had set up in '78. Whenever someone who looked like Patrick was spotted in Whitefish Bay or Bobo-Dioulasso, Katy and her mom would go into a tailspin. Then, when hope faded, some semblance of normalcy returned. The last thing Katy wanted to hear was another story of loss.
"Good night, honey." I kissed Sarah's forehead, but she was already well asleep, and, for the night at least, out of the dark reach of false hopes.
I watched Katy kiss our little redhead good night.
"Don't you remember her at all?" Katy whispered, pulling up the crib rail.
Her question caught me off guard. "What? Remember who?"
"Karen Rosen, the woman—"
"Oh," I whispered back, nodding my head for us to leave. "I didn't think you were listening at dinner. No, I don't remember her. I feel like I should, but I don't. It's buggin' me. Her name goes around in my head, but there's nothing there, no face attached to it. Christ, it's weird. I feel guilty about not remembering."
"What a shock." Katy giggled, closing Sarah's door behind her. "You feel guilty for the sinking of the Andrea Doria and the Dodgers moving out of Brooklyn."
"The Andrea Doria maybe, but I had nothing to do with the Dodgers. That was my Uncle Murray."
Katy folded herself into my arms, pressing herself into me. It was magic the way she did that, blurring the borders between us. I think the first time she held me this way I knew I could not lose her, ever.
"I love you, Katy Maloney Prager."
"Look in your yearbook," she purred, her cheek to my chest.
"For Karen Rosen, yutz!" Katy pushed me playfully away, wagging her finger at me. "Some detective! Put a face to her name. Maybe then there'll only be the two of us in bed tonight."
"I guess the conversion's taking. Your Yiddish is improving."
"And you can kiss my half-Celtic ass, mister. Now go find that yearbook. I've got a company logo and letterhead to design. Welcome to the exciting world of graphic arts. Oh, and, by the way," she said, turning back from the stairs, "I love you, too."
Quite a prodigious amount of dust had settled on my copy of the 1966 Abraham Lincoln High School edition of Landmark. That was the name of our yearbook. I don't know why, exactly. Maybe because the school paper was called the Lincoln Log and all the other good "L" words were taken. When I started thumbing through the yellowing pages, it struck me that Losers might have been a more apt name than Landmark. Almost everybody looks like a loser in his or her high-school yearbook, even the beautiful people.
I think the only saving grace in '66 was the conservative nature of everyone's attire. The real social upheaval was just getting started, Vietnam was still far, far away from Ocean Parkway, and the Summer of Love was a year in the future. The girls' outfits were strictly proper, and the boys wore all-white shirts, thin ties, and skinny lapels. Boys still wore their hair short and parted. There were one or two Beatle haircuts. The girls...well, the girls featured lots of bangs and hair spray. Pages and pages of black-and-white photos of future Donna Reeds and Dr. Kildares. Today, I guess you'd say the boys looked like Elvis Costello clones. But Karen Rosen was nowhere to be seen.
Katy had been right to suggest I try and exorcise Karen's faceless ghost before going to bed. I went to bed all right, but not nearly to sleep. It was good that Katy was working late in the studio or I imagine I would have tossed and turned her to distraction. Admitting defeat, I snuck into the living room and took a few fingers' worth of Dewar's.
Sure, I owned a wine shop, but I wanted a real drink. The kind of stuff that didn't need to breathe or chill, that didn't have legs, a nose, or hints of pepper and berries. The kind of stuff that burned going down. I couldn't lay it all at Karen Rosen's dead feet. I suppose maybe I was a little more bored with our precious wine shop than I'd been willing to admit.
I stared at the phone like a nervous teenager. What was I going to say? To whom would I say it? Which one of my old friends was going to get the midnight call? It didn't really matter, because I had old friends in name only. Over time I'd seemed to shed friends as a snake does skins. They tell me it's natural. Things change. People change. They get married. They have kids. They get divorced. They stop smoking. They take up golf. Some die. I'd accelerated the shedding process by becoming a cop, not the most popular career choice for a college student in the late sixties. Though cops were no longer on the top of everyone's shit list, friendships are hard to rekindle. Both parties need to be up for the awkwardness of it all. More often than not, it was like a one-armed man trying to light a fire with two sticks.
I picked the phone up a few times, started to dial once or twice, imagining the conversation.
Hey, Bob, it's Moe, Moe Prager.... Sorry it's so late. Nothin's wrong....Three kids, huh? Yeah, I heard you owned a bread route.... No, I'm off the job four years next month.... I fucked up my knee. Listen, anyway, what I was wondering was, do you remember Karen Rosen from Lincoln? That was Karen Bloom, Bob, and she swore to me she was a virgin. Yeah, I know, she swore that to everyone.... So do you remember—No, huh? Yeah, sounds good. We'll have to get together. Bye.
The thought of a few conversations along those lines rocked me right to sleep there in the living room. That, and four more fingers of scotch.
Posted May 17, 2009
Redemption Street by Reed Farrel Coleman
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had a "comfy" feel to it, like the narrator was a friend. The retired detective (Moe) turned wine-store owner in the 1970's New York City takes his first P.I. case, not because someone asks him to do it; but because someone offers him money to not take it. Right away I knew that I would like this character and he didn't disappoint anytime. As he investigates an old fire in a Catskills hotel that killed 17 people in the 60's; one a girl he'd had a crush on in high school; he explores his feelings about being a Jew especially as he meets other Jews who are quite visually advertising their beliefs like the Hassids and the Yellow Stars. These emotional threads colour and influence his findings about the fire and the people involved, the small resort town police, politicians and former members of the destroyed hotel. All the characters are well rounded out and quite believable. The twists and turns sometimes come as a surprise which I like in a mystery, who likes to know the ending before getting there? The author has included personal scenes in the development of the character which helps Moe come alive and makes the story something that is happening to the character right now. I give 5 stars.
Posted February 6, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted December 26, 2010
No text was provided for this review.