Though they preach love and understanding, the people of Hanover House also know a thing or two about strong-arm tactics. When an errant member of the Canal Street cult plans to write a tell-all book exposing Davis Craddock’s pseudo-religion as a sham, the Hanoverians react calmly. One of the cult’s members, Flo Alamare, is dispatched to let the would-be author know that he’s welcome to write whatever he likes—so long as he doesn’t care whether his daughter lives or dies. Soon Flo is found dumped in an empty lot in the Bronx. She’s barely alive, having apparently suffered a stroke or seizure—and the doctors don’t realize that she overdosed on a powerful drug of Craddock’s own design. She’s returned to her parents, who had been desperately searching for her. The tough-minded Alamares want revenge, and hire bruising PI Stanley Moodrow to catch Craddock and break his cult wide open.
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Bad to the Bone
A Stanley Moodrow Crime Novel
By Stephen Solomita
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Stephen Solomita
All rights reserved.
THE AFTERNOON TRAFFIC OUTSIDE the small Eighth Avenue bar, the Blue Rose, where Flo Alamare waited patiently (in direct contrast to the truckers and cabbies out on the street), was backed up from 34th Street down into Chelsea. The root cause of the heavy traffic, on this particular day, lay within Flo Alamare's view—two dozen buses, triple-parked in front of Madison Square Garden, were trying to load a thousand Bronx grammar school students. After three hours of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, the kids were enormously excited and the raised voices of exhausted teachers, desperately trying to keep order, complemented the shouts of the children and the blaring horns of frustrated drivers. It was a situation familiar to the teachers, of course, a situation which continually threatened to descend into chaos as some of the more adventurous children cartwheeled down Eighth Avenue.
Inside the Blue Rose bar, the shrieking horns formed a riotous counterpoint to the frenetic salsa pouring from an enormous jukebox. The Blue Rose was a Latino neighborhood bar at night and a haven for local alcoholics during the day. The owner, Henry Martinez, working behind the bar, was used to the horns and the salsa. He understood himself as a businessman and was only interested in filling his customers' needs. The dirt and the noise (he'd decided long ago) was exactly what they needed. Just like they needed the cigarette-scarred bar, the mismatched ashtrays and the dusty bags of pretzels.
He poured an inch of Canadian Club into a small tumbler. Like most bartenders, he knew that his livelihood depended on staying sober enough to collect and count the money coming across the bar. He also knew that his sanity depended on staying just high enough to ignore the depressing, ultimately boring misery that haunted his afternoons. Just high enough to shrug and say "okay" when one of the drunks puked on the floor or pushed a glass into his neighbor's face.
Henry Martinez turned to the woman (la bitch blanquita was the name he'd given her when she first walked through the door) sitting on the stool closest to the window. She presented him with a smooth, white profile framed by shoulder-length black hair, an indifferent profile as cold as her ice-blue suit and white-on-white silk blouse.
"Wha' you wan'?" he asked, glancing toward the other patrons. La bitch blanquita wasn't the only female in the Blue Rose. Carla Santa Cruz was there, too, all three hundred pounds of her squashed into a booth near the smelly toilet. Carla had been wearing the same clothes for three days and looked more like a pile of wet laundry than a human.
"A Coke." The blanquita was looking out the window, as serene and confident as if she'd just stepped up to the bar at the Plaza.
Henry decided to make a joke. "A cocaine?" he asked. "We don' got no cocaine."
She corrected him without turning her head, and he decided he didn't give a shit whether she was a paying customer or not. He poured her a foamy Coke and took it the length of the bar with every intention of slopping it all over that blue dress. But then she opened her purse to get money to pay him and he looked inside and saw a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson lightweight nestled between her lipstick and her Kleenex.
He was so surprised he stood there with the Coke in his hand, staring into her purse like he couldn't figure out what he was looking at. "Wha'?" he said, then repeated himself. "Wha'?"
He looked up to find la bitch blanquita offering him a five-dollar bill. Her eyes reached out for his and held him while she communicated her amusement. Her mouth said, "Keep the change," but her eyes were calling him a stupid, insignificant drunk. A man dead to everything except the dirty glasses and human garbage contained by the walls of the Blue Rose.
"Gracias," Henry Martinez said, backing toward the register as the woman turned to the window again. "Gracias." A few minutes later, as she was leaving, he nodded and whispered it again. Gracias. Gracias.
Henry Martinez was wrong about Flo Alamare. She was much too purposeful to bother with Henry Martinez's ego (which was an insult all by itself). She'd only come into the Blue Rose because she needed a clear view of the southwestern corner of Madison Square Garden. That's where the school kids (who got the crummy seats in the upper balcony) would come out. She'd known, of course, that Henry Martinez was about to bust her chops—the smug, male triumph came off him like the stink of the Blue Rose itself. But his discomfort wouldn't feed the source of her power. If there was anything to be learned from the years of submission, it was the relationship between obedience and obligation. They were wound about each other like the two snakes on the caduceus and translated themselves into commitment (not submission) to the will of Davis Craddock.
Flo closed her eyes briefly, enjoying the wave of sensation coursing through her body. The trucks, the horns, the cursing cabbies, the sharp stink of diesel exhaust—the city tingled beneath her skin, as smoothly sensual as a warm ocean breeze. When she opened her eyes to see the little girl with the two red ribbons, she wasn't surprised. She crossed the street quickly, a kind smile pulling up the corners of her mouth, and waved, catching the girl's attention.
"Auntie Flo," the girl, Terry, cried in surprise. "Auntie Flo," she repeated, throwing herself into Flo Alamare's arms.
Marsha Goldstein, Terry Williams' fourth-grade teacher, smiled indulgently. She was standing by the door of Bus 18, counting the kids as they boarded. It was the last important task of a hectic day, and she was anxious to get through it.
"What are you doing here?" Terry asked frankly. All the children had been taught to be direct, and Terry had been one of the brightest.
"Your daddy's going to be a little late," Flo said. "I told him I had an appointment in midtown, and he asked me to pick you up. I'm very glad to see you again."
Flo glanced at Marsha Goldstein (remembering to smile with her eyes as well as her mouth) and the teacher smiled back, nodding her agreement.
"Let's go out for ice cream sodas," Flo said. She stretched out her hand and the child took it without hesitation.
"Why did Daddy make me leave Hanover House? He says I can't go there ever again. Does he really mean it?"
Flo glanced back casually. They were standing at the corner, waiting for the light to change, and she wanted to make sure the teacher hadn't heard. She needn't have worried. Marsha Goldstein, having completed her count, was already stepping onto the bus.
Twenty minutes later, Flo and Terry were driving up Amsterdam Avenue toward 125th Street. Terry lived in the eastern part of the Bronx, in Throgs Neck, a neighborhood of single- and two-family homes with an occasional low-rise apartment building on the main avenues. The houses were not ostentatious, but the blue-collar, mostly Italian whites who dominated the neighborhood worked on their small yards every weekend. Their homes were as important to their collective golden years as their pensions, and neighborly conversations about property value had the same emotional impact as patriotism at a defense plant.
They found a neighborhood candy store on Eastchester Road near Pelham Parkway and ordered chocolate ice cream sodas. Terry wanted to know everything about her old buddies, especially Flo's son, Michael, who used to be her best friend. She ticked their names off, one after another, and Flo provided the information as best she could. Flo was Terry's bonding mother; she'd been freely chosen from all the women in Hanover House. Hanover House was the place of Terry's birth, the only home she'd ever known until her father pulled her out. Now she was having problems with the neighborhood children.
"The other kids don't like me," she explained seriously. "They only have one mother and one father, and they hit each other all the time. They say I'm a dork."
"Did you tell Billy about it?" Billy was her father's name.
"I used to tell him, but he gets very sad. I think he's having trouble at work." She made a wry face, working her mouth into a thin semicircle. Terry had barely known her father when they were living in Hanover House, but the courts had given him custody after her mother's death. "Do you think Billy means what he says? Do you think he'll let me go back?"
Flo smiled her most loving smile, the one she'd worked years to perfect. She felt a confidence that bordered on ecstasy. Energy surged through her, yet her mind remained clear and serene. "That's just what I want to talk to him about. About sending you for a visit."
They walked back to the small van with Terry beaming at the prospect of seeing her old friends again. Flo returned the child's warmth, thinking how much she really did like little Terry. "Do you want to play a game?" she asked the child.
Flo opened the rear door instead of the passenger's door and hustled the child into the back, climbing in after her. There was only one window in the side of the van, a convex bubble tinted a deep gray. The third row of seats had been removed and a thick lambskin rug lay across the metal floor.
"Let's make Billy a nice surprise," Flo said. "Maybe he'll change his mind, if we give him a nice surprise."
"Okay, what'll we do?"
"Remember how we used to paint clown faces on the kids?"
"When we did the shows?"
"That's right. Do you remember the makeup we used? What was it called?"
"Theatrical makeup." Terry's voice was just a touch contemptuous. How could Auntie Flo think she wouldn't remember something so important? "Are you gonna paint me like a clown? Is that the surprise?"
"I'm going to paint a special design on your forehead. An old Indian sign. It means 'I love you' in Indian sign language. Maybe when Billy sees it, he'll change his mind and let you visit us."
Flo worked quickly. She didn't want Terry to be so late that her father felt obliged to call the police. Billy would know what had happened to his daughter as soon as he spoke to the teacher. It had happened often enough in the past. Children didn't leave Hanover House because children were, after all, the ultimate insurance policies.
Flo drew a large white circle on Terry's forehead and quickly filled it in. A smaller yellow circle followed, at the center of the white circle. Then four lines, two vertical and two horizontal, from the outer edge of the white circle to the outer edge of the yellow. The project took only five minutes to complete and was instantly recognizable for what it was—the crosshairs of a telescopic sight locked onto a bull's eye.
Billy Williams, Terry's father, knew the symbol immediately. His knees buckled when he opened the door to find his daughter standing next to Flo Alamare. "Oh," he whispered, a thin, hopeless cry. "Oh."
"See, Auntie Flo," Terry cried. "I knew he wouldn't like it. He doesn't like anything I do. Please take me back home with you."
Terry began to cry softly, and her father's spirits dropped even further. His shoulders slumped and he lowered his eyes. Flo, who'd been trained to observe the spaces where humans express their real feelings (even when they were trying to hide their intentions) had no trouble interpreting Billy's message.
"Why don't you go to your room and let me talk to Billy for a while?" Flo put her arm around the child and pulled her close for a moment. "Don't worry," she said, kissing Terry's forehead. "I think we'll be able to work it out. Okay?"
Flo watched Terry walk into her room, waiting until the door shut before turning back to Billy. "Close the front door and come into the living room."
She knew he'd obey—he was too far down to rebel. Her sharp command was designed to show him that she was aware of his emotional state. He followed dutifully, sitting upright on a straight-backed chair while she settled into a cushioned rocker. The living room was almost barren, a clear indication to Flo of Billy's struggle to establish a new life after a decade at Hanover House.
"I don't believe you'd hurt Terry," Billy protested. He did not raise his eyes to meet Flo's. "You were Terry's bonding mother."
For the first time, Flo felt a slight twinge of anxiety. A gentle reminder of an appointment that would have to be kept. Of what might lie on the other side of ecstasy. "What I would or wouldn't do is quite irrelevant here. Davis makes his own decisions. He's made one already. He wants Terry back at Hanover House."
"She's my daughter."
"You hardly knew her."
"That wasn't my fault, Flo, I ..."
"That's the fact, no matter whose fault it was. You hardly knew her then. You hardly know her now. You want to construct a life for yourself, but you have no experience at independence. You stayed with your mommy and daddy until you were thirty, then went directly to Hanover House. Now you're forty years old and you don't have the faintest fucking idea how to begin living on your own. That's why you dragged Terry along when you abandoned us. That's why you spoke to a lawyer and that's why you're speaking to a writer about doing a book."
"You know about that?" Billy's voice was filled with wonder. "That means John Burke told you. John is my best friend."
"Have you picked a title for the book yet?" Flo ignored his comment. "Maybe Cult of the Hanoverians? Or Davis Craddock Stole My Daughter? Yes, by all means put the name of Davis Craddock on the cover. Betray everything and everybody. You'll probably make a fortune. You'll probably get rich." She was standing, seeming to tower over Billy Williams, who held onto the seat of his chair as if he was about to fly away.
"Flo, I never ..."
She let her voice go street hard, not bothering with finesse, like a whaler firing a harpoon into the head of an injured whale. "Don't bullshit me, Billy. When you left Hanover House, you swore you'd never betray our way of life to the outside world. You're going to keep your word, whether you like it or not. First, Terry comes back to us, where she belongs. You personally deliver her. You knock on the door and hand her over. Then you go back to your piece-of-shit job, instead of trying to get rich by betraying Davis Craddock."
"For God's sake, Flo. She's my child. You can't take a child away from her father. I'll forget the book, but please let me keep my daughter."
He was begging now. There was nothing more to be done. Flo turned away, delivering her final lines as she walked through the door and into the street. "No more talk, Billy. Two days is what you've got. Go take a look at your daughter. Then look in the mirror. See if you've got the Indian love sign on your own forehead."
She was driving alongside the Bruckner Expressway when the need overcame her. It'd been washing back and forth like a toothache about to explode since she'd walked into Billy's apartment. She'd hoped that she could make it back to the privacy of Hanover House before she attended to her need, but that was clearly impossible. She pulled the van to the curb, locking the front doors, then opened the glove compartment, reaching inside only to burn the backs of her fingers on the small lightbulb.
"Damn." She sucked at the reddened area absently, then decided that the van must have some kind of an electrical short. Instead of coming on when the glove compartment was opened, the bulb was staying lit all the time. She always kept the van in perfect condition (that was part of overcoming the carelessness that had characterized her life before she'd met Davis Craddock), and she resolved to fix it as soon as she got back to Hanover House. In the meantime, she removed the small bulb, carefully wrapping her fingers in Kleenex tissue before sliding the bulb from its socket. Then she took the syringe, still warm in its black plastic wrapper, and moved to the back of the van.
In some ways, the rush of anticipation was better than the rush of the drug that Davis Craddock called PURE. There was a fear, like a memory, that always managed to push its way into Flo Alamare's consciousness before she injected herself. It whispered of what might follow in a few hours if ... The fear didn't vanish when she took the full syringe into her hand, but the certainty of relief transformed it into a physical tingling, into what could only be called arousal. Flo felt it in her breasts and her groin as she wrapped her arm with a piece of rubber tubing.
Excerpted from Bad to the Bone by Stephen Solomita. Copyright © 1991 Stephen Solomita. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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