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"Mr. De Nardo, my name is John Fitzgerald," a man with a deep voice said. "I was given your name by a detective in missing persons. My daughter has been gone for a month now and the police aren't doing much of anything about it. I was wondering if I -"
I reached over, picked up the phone and said hello.
"I hope I'm not calling too early," he said.
"You aren't, that's okay - what can I do for you?"
"As I was saying, Mr. De Nardo, my daughter Anne vanished without a trace and the cops aren't doing diddly-squat. I need someone like you. Can you help me? Can I come see you? I have your card here, I'm nearby."
"You want to come over now?"
"Yeah, if it's okay, sir?"
"Who gave you my card?"
"Detective Flynn in missing persons. He says you're the best there is."
"He's exaggerating. Okay, sure, you can come by," I said.
"I'm on my way," he said and hung up.
I climbed out of bed, made coffee, had some toast and a slice of cantaloupe as I stared out the kitchen window, hoping my two fig trees made it through the winter. It had been unseasonably cold and fig trees were dying all over the place, according to an article I read in the Metro section of The Times. As I was cleaning up, the doorbell rang. I checked the security monitor. A lone man stood in the vestibule. I buzzed him in, opened my door and watched him slowly lumber towards me. He was a large man with wide shoulders and the ruddy complexion of someone who spent a lot of time near the sea or near a bottle of whisky ... or maybe near both. He had a slight limp.
"Thank you for seeing me on such short notice," he said, offering me a weak smile, extending his hand, which was thick with calluses, though loose and lifeless, like a tough all terrain tire suddenly gone flat. In his other hand he carried a worn black attache case. I offered him one of the two chairs in front of my desk. He took off his worn leather overcoat and with a heavy sigh sat down. His large, round face told me that he had come to me as a very last resort; the downward set of his thin-lipped mouth, the eggplant colored circles under his eyes, spoke volumes. Over the years I had come to see what I saw on his face many times before. He was hurting badly deep inside and it was written all over his face.
I asked him if he'd like some coffee. He said he didn't want anything. He had, I noticed, a swollen lip and a golf ball size black and blue over his right eyebrow.
"Tell me how can I help?" I said, sitting behind my desk and giving him my undivided attention.
He took a long pained breath and said, "To the cops my daughter's just another missing person. A piece of meat. But to me she's the world; she's all I have. If it's okay, if you don't mind, Mr. De Nardo, I'd like to tell you a little bit about her. It's important you know who we are talking about here. "
"Please, go ahead."
"So you can understand everything, I have to begin at the beginning, if that's okay ..."
"I'm all ears."
"Since my daughter was a child she loved to read," he said. "She'd read anything she could get her hands on. And she began talking about writing when she was just a little peanut, what 7, 8 years old. 'Daddy I want to be a writer, daddy I want to be a writer.' If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times. Of course I did whatever I could to encourage her, gladly bought her all the books she wanted, let her stay up late to read. When other kids on the block were out playing, my daughter was reading, always reading. Mind you, Anne was a beautiful child; I mean it's not as though she was staying in the house reading because she couldn't make friends or anything like that. In fact she was very popular in school; voted class president in both grade and high school. But she went and dropped out of college. She said you learn how to write by going out into the world, living life and writing, not in a classroom. I didn't want her quitting school. I kept telling her not to drop out, that if her writing didn't pan out for her she'd always have something else to fall back on. But she was bullheaded beyond reason just like her mother was and she up and quit college two months into her freshman year. I lost my wife when Anne was 3. She was killed in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway," he said, suddenly became quiet and withdrawn, stared at the edge of my desk. His eyes moved back up to my face. They were now filled with tears.
He said, "So we got to arguing about her leaving school and one thing led to another and she ended up moving out of the house and went to live in Manhattan. Down on Orchard Street, just off Houston."
He sat back and again became tightlipped. We stared at one another. I silently watched the silvery tears roll down his weathered face. He angrily wiped at them. He seemed to be somewhere else now. I waited for him to come back. The front door opened and I heard my assistant, Louise, come in and sit down at her desk.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"No need to apologize," I said.
"So after a time we made up and again I helped her all I could, with furniture, a computer - anything she needed. If she wanted to write, if that was her passion in life, I was going to do all I could to help her, to support her ... to be there for her; you follow me?"
"What interested Anne most were true stories. She just loved talking to people and getting them to tell her things they'd not tell anyone else. She kind of had a gift for that - getting people to open up, and in no time she got herself a job at The Voice and began writing stories for them and her articles were really good. The third piece she wrote, about runaway children who were being abused at Covenant House, won her all kinds of awards. I was so proud of her. I get all choked up when I think of her," he said, and still more tears started streaming from his long-lashed blue eyes. He opened the black case.
"Here it is," he said putting an aged, yellowed copy of the Voice on my desk. "Her story about Covenant House. I brought it along because I'm thinking maybe if you read it, Mr. De Nardo, you'll be able to see how special my Anne is; how sensitive; how smart. She also published three books. And received very good reviews and all kinds of awards." "Please, you can call me Frank, if you wish," I said.
Vaguely, somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered this article, that it had caused a scandal at the Covenant House; that it forced the pervert running the joint to resign in disgrace, a bleary-eyed, horse faced Catholic priest named Ritter. I picked up the paper. It was stiff with age. The story was entitled "Swear on God You Won't Tell."
"How long has she been missing exactly?" I asked.
"Five weeks come tomorrow," he said.
"You sure she didn't just maybe decide to go away for awhile, work on a story in peace, something like that?"
"No. She'd have told me. We are very close," he said.
"Was she seeing anyone?"
"I don't think so. She had a boyfriend, an actor she met at a book party, but they broke up months ago."
"Any problems with him? threats of any kind?"
"Nothing like that."
"You know what kind of story she was working on when she went missing?"
"I do," he said. "That's why I can't sleep; that's why I'm having nightmares. She was writing an article for Vanity Fair about vampires."
"'Vampires'?" I repeated, sitting back and giving him a jaundiced once over.
"Yeah, vampires," he said. "Right here in New York. I've got what she wrote with me." Again he opened the case. "She wrote by hand - has the most beautiful handwriting," he said, holding up a yellow pad so I could see the neat script on the pages.
"After it was all written up she'd input it into her computer and worked on it some more. I read it. It's just unbelievable," he said, and slowly put the pad in front of me - as if it held dark, mysterious secrets.
"Please read it. It's the beginning of her story. When you do you'll understand why I'm so upset. The police, I gave it to them, but they haven't done anything. They haven't even talked to him."
"The one I believe is responsible for Anne's disappearance. His name is Santos Dracol. He owns a nightclub downtown called Club Blood ... have you heard of it?"
"I have. Over on West Street, I think."
"Yeah that's it. I went there. I tried to talk to him. I waited for him outside the club for hours. He finally came out and I went up to him but he just ignored me. Looked right through me like I was a glass of water or something and walked away. I grabbed him by the shoulder and his bouncers took hold of me and one of them hit me and knocked me down."
"That how you got that swollen lip and bruise on your forehead?"
"Why do you believe this Dracol guy has something to do with your daughter's disappearance?"
"Because Anne made the mistake of trusting this creep. My daughter's fearless, do just about anything to find out the truth of a thing. 'Why?' ... I feel it. I feel it in my bones," he said. "Mr. De Nardo, I'm not a rich man, but I'll gladly pay you whatever your fee is. I know experienced men like you don't come cheap."
"If you don't mind my asking, what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a lobsterman out of Montauk."
"That where Anne grew up?"
"Born and raised."
"Nice town. I used to go fishing out there all the time. How's the fishing these days?"
"All things considered pretty good."
"You say she trusted him. How do you mean trusted him?"
"She spent a lot of time with him; even went to his house - alone."
"And you believe he's a vampire?"
"Read what Anne wrote. It's all there. Here's a photograph of him. Anne had one of those spy cameras and she used it to take this," he said, handing me an 8x10 glossy, which had obviously been taken when Dracol didn't realize it. The photograph was somewhat out of focus. He was getting out of a black Mercedes limo parked somewhere in front of the Hudson River. He was a tall, slender man with long black hair combed straight back, which highlighted a ghostly pale face, large, mirthless dark eyes.
"Is there any reason in particular you feel he is responsible for Anne's disappearance, I mean did she tell you he'd done something out of line, threaten her, anything like that?"
"No, but I'm sure he's at the bottom of this."
"You know if she taped the individuals she interviewed?"
"She said that intimidated people."
"Have you been inside her apartment since she's missing?"
"I have. She gave me a set of keys when she first bought the place. It's a condominium right over here on West 94th just off West End Avenue. Everything looks normal enough."
"Would you mind if I had a look?"
"Not at all. I was going to ask you to check it out, you being a detective and all. I'm sure you'll see things I'm blind to. Least that's what I'm hoping."
I told him I would do all I could, had him sign a standard contract form and he gave me a retainer. We soon left my place and started over to 94th Street. It was very cold outside. The sky was low and gray. It looked like it was going to snow any minute. He told me that he had parked his car on my block, but we left it there and walked to Anne's place. I offered to hail a cab but he said he had a recent knee replacement and needed the exercise. As we moved west, a powerful wind off the Hudson came barreling down the street. It nearly knocked my hat off. I've got a touch of arthritis in my right hand, damage from the days I boxed professionally, and I've grown to hate the cold. I often think about moving to a warmer climate, maybe Florida, out to the West Coast, but every time I seriously consider the move, a case comes along and I get involved and everything gets put on the back burner. Though the truth is I was born and raised here in New York and love the place; even with its cold and crime and mean streets.
Excerpted from Smiling Wolf by Philip Carlo Copyright © 2004 by Dorchester Publishing. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 27, 2008
This book just isn't very good. The plot-the whole concept, really-is rather cliched. The dialogue is lackluster and there's lots of stereotypes. The characters are especially dull, almost stock characters. All in all, the book was disappointing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 16, 2007
Six stars, really! As a big reader I devoured this book and I have to say that it's been quite a while since I have read a book this good! This book was seriously gripping from the very first page I read and therefore impossible to put down. So the story... A desperate father seeks the help of a private detective because his daughter, a beautiful young writer is missing since five days. At the time of her dissapearance, she was busy writing a story about vampirism. She was in contact with the self-claimed vampire/bad boy Santos Dracol. He sleeps in a coffin and drinks real blood yeah, he lives the vampire lifestyle. But is he all he claims to be? And does he really have anything to do with the dissapearance? And how about the other dead people?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 28, 2006
It's a good book, but forgetable. The main character Frank De Nardo is caught in a world in which he knows nothing of when a case comes his way about a missing woman. Something about this book just didn't satisfy my expectations I don't know if it was the repetition that all priests are child molesters, or the steryotypical motion that all Italians are somehow linked to the Mafia.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2006
this was a very compelling read --- near impossible to put down. it has shocking twists and turns and dragged me into a world i knew nothing about. i highly recommend smiling wolf!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 16, 2009
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