By Kathleen Chamberlin
Out of breath, Jake caught up with Felicia, stared, and whispered, “What should we do with it?
Felicia turned on him, her look withering. “We don’t do anything with it. We don’t go near it. We don’t touch it. We leave it alone.”
They had stumbled upon the body as they had been running up the wooded hillside. Felicia was out in front, teasing Jake by stripping off her clothes and tossing them over her head as she ran like an uninhibited forest nymph, bare-breasted, her hair streaming behind her, the sunlight through the trees dappling her skin. Jake caught up to her when she’d stopped abruptly, emitting a gasp. He thought she’d twisted an ankle or been whipped by a tree branch as she ran. He was about to ask her what was wrong when she gripped his arm and pointed. His eyes followed her outstretched hand to the figure wedged between a tree trunk and a flat-surfaced boulder.
“We just leave it?” he asked. “Don’t we call someone?”
Felicia paced back and forth. “Call 911. Tell them what we found. I have to find my clothes.”
“I’ve got them,” Jake said holding them out to her and then making the call.
Dressing quickly, Felicia knew that she had to come up with a plausible explanation for being in the park instead of in school, one good enough to eclipse the logical deduction. She wasn’t sure what that story would look like nor if Jake would make a convincing enough liar. Maybe it was just better to tell the truth and suffer the consequences. She was weighing those options when Jake called out to her. “The Park Ranger is on the way with the cops and an ambulance.”
She nodded and glanced back towards the body. It looked like a man waiting leisurely at a restaurant, his left arm resting on the rock.
The police arrived, no lights or sirens, just the sound of the engines shutting down and car doors closing. Two cars. First one, then the second. She watched the men approach, one calling out, “Are you the one who dialed 911?”
Jake walked toward them. “Yes, sir,” pointing in Felicia’s direction, “It’s over there.” They followed Jake, momentarily walking past her. She heard the park ranger speak into his radio. “Yeah, it’s a body. Yes, two detectives are on scene. Right.” The ranger briefed the detectives, then watched for the ambulance. Forensic investigators hung yellow crime scene tape and began scouring the ground, taking pictures. One of the detectives turned his attention to Felicia. Notepad in hand and pen poised to record whatever answers she gave, he approached her.
“I’m Detective Roberts, Miss, and I’d like to ask you a few questions, all right?”
Felicia nodded. Consulting his notes, he asked “Were you with Jake, when he found the body?”
“Jake didn’t find the body. I did.”
“You found the body. And what’s your name? “
She told him, noting his reaction, although he made no comment.
“Can you describe to me what happened?”
She did, omitting her half-naked dash up the hill, substituting a race to see who could get to the top of the hill first. When asked, she gave him her address and cellphone number adding “Please don’t tell my parents. I don’t want them to know I ditched school.”
Detective Roberts tapped his pen against his pad. “I’m not sure that’s possible. It’s better if you just tell them, yourself, Miss.”
Felicia knew instantly that Detective Roberts understood exactly why she and Jake weren’t in school, and her face turned crimson as Jake rejoined them, about to put his arm around her shoulders. She took a quick step away from him, towards the parking lot and asked nervously, “Can we go? I really need to get home.”
“Just one more question before you leave: do either of you know the victim?” Felicia’s eyes went wide. “No. We were just running and there he was, propped up against the tree.” She heard the anxiety in her voice. Did this guy seriously think she and Jake were somehow involved in whatever had happened to whoever that was wedged between the rock and the tree?
“About what time did you arrive?” He continued to ask questions and wrote down their answers. Finally satisfied, he gave them each his card, suggesting they call him if anything else came to mind and told them they were free to go. They did.
After they left, his partner, Randy Benoit, joined him. “What do you make of those two? Involved?”
Roberts shook his head. “Only with each other. Just two horny kids looking for a secluded place for a hookup who stumbled onto the ultimate turnoff. I don’t think they have any connection to the body. Although, ” he added, “her last name is Delfino.”
His partner raised an eyebrow and grunted. “The kid, Jake? He was pretty freaked out. Didn’t want anything to do with it. Just took us to the body and looked like he was ready to puke. So, no, I don’t think they’re involved in it. No ID on the body, so they’re searching the area for any signs of a struggle or anything the killer might have left behind. Kind of bizarre, though, sitting there like that. Why here? And as for motive, anything is possible. It would help to know who he is.”
Anxious to get away from the dead body and the police, Felicia and Jake wasted no time leaving the park. They stopped at a drive-up food stand not far from the park entrance to grab a soda and decide what to do. Jake was fidgety, still reacting to the surge of adrenaline that came with finding the body and talking to the police. Every muscle screamed “I’m alive but he was dead,” drawing a clear distinction between himself and the man in the park. Felicia was more subdued now that the initial shock had worn off. She’d been to wakes and seen dead bodies before but they had been in coffins, eyes closed, in peaceful repose, hands crossed and holding rosary beads. Her family was Catholic. She wasn’t one. Nor was her father but she and he both understood and tolerated her mother’s adherence to the faith of her childhood. If religion gave her comfort, Felicia’s father had said, it was fine with him providing she didn’t try to force her beliefs on him or Felicia. Felicia was an agnostic, maybe even an atheist, but her father was noncommittal about his own beliefs and unconcerned about his daughter’s. He had fostered in her the value of analytic and critical thinking so that whatever conclusions she came to would be the result of careful reflection. Rational thought, he had told her, made him reject angels as well as demons. Life simply was.
The body she had seen today, however, was sitting upright, had its eyes open and didn’t look as if a choir of angels had sung him to his rest. His head had lolled to one side and his mouth had hung slack. She hadn’t been close enough or looked long enough to notice the insect activity that was already underway, but Jake had been. As a result, Jake’s adrenaline rush had unhinged his jaw and while he was pacing back and forth, he kept repeating “That was freaking wild. Did you see him? Really see him? That was freaking wild.”
She poked his arm. “Lower your voice, you moron. We don’t want to attract any attention.” It came out like a low snarling warning but Jake didn’t hear her. She imagined him replaying the entire sequence of events like a referee watching instant replay from every possible angle.
“Jake! Shut up!”
One or two people turned to look at them, decided it was a lover’s quarrel and returned to their own conversations. Jake stopped abruptly as Felicia walked toward the car. Picking up his soda, he followed her, unlocked the car and slid behind the wheel as Felicia clicked her seat belt into place. When he looked at her, her face was grim.
“Sorry. I guess I’m, I don’t know, in shock or something? I mean, it was a deadguy up against a tree, just sitting there! ”
“I know. I was there, remember? I found him, remember? I told you to leave him alone and call 911, remember? Or did you think you were there by yourself?” She wasn’t sure why she was so angry at him, but she was and her tone told him so.
“Hey, what gives? Why are you passed at me? I didn’t kill him.”
She knew nothing had been his fault but she was angry and needed to turn that anger against someone, anyone, and Jake was there to bear the brunt of it. Before she could answer him, her cell phone rang and her heart sank as her father’s face filled the screen, making it impossible for her to ignore the call. She took a deep breath and answered. “Hi, Daddy,” she said trying to sound upbeat. Jake couldn’t hear what her father said but he could see her face change as she listened, raising her hand to her forehead, then moving it to the side, turning it palm up as she attempted to speak, only to drop it into her lap in defeat before saying “Yes, I understand. I’ll be home as soon as I can.” Then she put the phone down.
“Take me home, Jake, I’m in deep shit.”
Jake knew her father by reputation. He was an overly protective father who, if gossip could be trusted, was “mobbed up,” “connected,” and could, with the right words whispered in the right ears, make any problem disappear. Jake didn’t want to be a problem.
“Does he know about me? ” Jake asked as he pulled onto the highway. Felicia didn’t look at him but continued looking out the window.
“Daddy? Maybe. I mean he knows everything about everything. I never told him about you, but who knows? Don’t worry. I’ll tell him you and I were doing a school project and had to collect stuff from the woods to finish it. He might believe that, but then you and I will have to keep our distance just to make the story stick. Okay? ”
“I’m good with that.”
Suddenly, the idea of being with Felicia Delfino had lost its allure as the realization of exactly who her father was settled in. Just to be sure, he repeated it. “School project, nothing more, and no more contact. I’m good with it.”
They were silent for the rest of the drive. When they got to her house, she mounted the steps, slipped her key into the lock and let herself in. Her father was sitting at the dining room table waiting for her. Silently, she took a seat across from him and waited. He sat at the head of the table, shirt sleeves rolled up slightly to reveal the gold watch he always wore, a family heirloom passed from father to son over several generations. Her father sat with his elbows on the table, his fingers steepled in front of him as he looked at her. She could feel her heart rate increase as she reviewed and discarded several potential scenarios with panicked rapidity. “Don’t show fear,” the voice of survival warned.
The silence was almost unbearable when her mother appeared with a cup of coffee that she set down in front of her husband, turning scornful eyes on her daughter before leaving the room without speaking. Her father stirred his coffee thoughtfully, put down the spoon and finally spoke.
“I need to know everything. Start at the beginning, from the moment you left this house this morning until the moment you sat down at this table. Leave nothing out.”
Felicia began, carefully presenting a summary that she thought was a plausible explanation of why she and Jake had left school and driven to the park but she wasn’t sure she was delivering it with the degree of innocence she would have if it had been the truth. Her father listened, sipping his coffee, his eyes never leaving her face. When she finished, she waited for his judgment. It felt like a bench trial with the defendant (her) presenting her case to a judge (her father) whose verdict would be final and absolute.
“You shouldn’t have been in the park. There will be consequences for cutting classes. I understand why Jake called the police, but you,” he said, his eyes pinning her to the back of her chair, “should have called me.”
Felicia swallowed and nodded mournfully. She knew the Rules of Engagement where the police were concerned. Any and all interactions with law enforcement were to be immediately followed by a phone call to her father because, as he told her, her family name might make her a target, a way to reach him.
He leaned back in his chair. “All right. I have what I needed to know. One more thing,” he said as Felicia rose to leave the table. She stopped. “Invite Jake to dinner tomorrow night.” Then he gave her a dismissive wave and retreated into his own thoughts.
The phone call to Jake was difficult. “Why do I have to come to dinner? You said our story was a school project.” Jake had visions of a movie with Joe Pesci heading off to what he thought was dinner only to be whacked. Jake didn’t want to get whacked.
“Look, Jake, I’m pretty sure my father wants to size you up. Test my story about why we were in the park. Just be yourself and don’t worry. If you’re nervous, that’s a normal reaction to dinner with someone’s parents. Be here by 5:45. Dinner is set for 6. I’ll see you then. And Jake, ”
“Keep quiet about today. Understand? ”
“Yeah. I do.”
Dominic Delfino carried his coffee cup into the kitchen, told his wife to ground Felicia for a week and said he was going out for a few hours. She didn’t ask why and she didn’t ask where. Nor did she ask when he would return, having long ago became accustomed to not asking questions she might not want the answers to. She only smiled and said what she always did when he left the house: “I love you. Stay safe.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Always.” And then he was gone, Marco driving him, she was sure, to wherever and whatever needed his attention.
While Marco drove, Dominic made a series of brief calls, all identical: “The Roost. Ten minutes.” Marco parked by the back door of The Roost and they made their way to the private room Dominic rented, already stocked with pitchers of water, pots of coffee and ashtrays “just in case” although almost no one smoked anymore. The days of smoke-filled back rooms with the mingling odors of cigars and cigarettes had vanished once the threat of dying from cancer was greater than dying from a rival gang’s bullets. One by one, each of the men Dominic had called filed in, waiting to hear why they were assembled. Dominic looked toward Joey Corelli and Tony Vita, before he moved to the head of the table and gestured to the surrounding seats.
“Let’s sit and talk.”
Dominic was a man of few words and “talking” meant that he wanted answers, but to what, they could only speculate until he asked his questions.
“An unfortunate event transpired today concerning my daughter. It seems she stumbled across a body in Ridley Park. She was interviewed by the police and she described what she saw, but once she gave her name, the cop reacted. That makes it certain he’s going to try to find a connection between the body and me.”
He leaned forward, intently scanning the assembled faces. “So my questions are simple: are we vulnerable? Are we exposed?” Then, slamming both hands on the table with a force that rattled the coffee cups, he demanded “Was anyone stupid enough to leave a body leaning against a tree in the park?” He folded his arms and waited for an answer.
Across town, at the police station, Nathan Roberts and Randy Benoit were hard at it. “Do we have an ID on the body yet?” Benoit shook his head. The missing persons files had been a dead end.
“No. They took DNA samples and are checking dental records and fingerprints, so we’re in a holding pattern until the results are in, but my money’s on a fingerprint match.” Benoit cracked his knuckles to accentuate his point.
“Do you think Delfino’s involved?”
“Maybe, but if he is, it’s an inconvenient coincidence that his daughter found the body.”
The following night, Jake arrived promptly at 5:45, nervously shifting his weight from side to side after ringing the doorbell. He was admitted by Felicia, her face both cautioning and smiling. She led him into the dining room where her mother and father stood waiting for their daughter to introduce them to their dinner guest.
“Mom and Dad, this is my classmate, Jake Gilbert.”
Dominic Delfino extended his hand. “Welcome to my home, Jake. We’re pleased you could join us.” His handshake was firm and Jake recognized the restrained strength behind it. Leading Jake to the dining room, he pointed to the chair next to his. “Come, take a seat.”
Felicia’s mother, who thus far had said nothing, kept a taut smile on her lips, but exuded nothing remotely resembling warmth or welcome. Throughout the meal, her father gently probed, asking Jake seemingly innocuous questions about school and movies and his opinion about a rumored baseball trade, all of which made Jake relax and wonder what he had been afraid of. That was until Dominic said, “So, Jake, satisfy my curiosity.”
“Sir? About what?”
Eyes suddenly turning cold, colder than any Jake had ever looked into before, Dominic Delfino asked, “What do you think a father should do to a young man who takes advantage of his daughter?”
The room went still, as if someone had shouted FREEZE. Felicia opened her mouth, but her father, never taking his eyes off Jake, raised a warning finger to her and moved it from side to side. “I’m asking Jake’s opinion, Felicia, not yours.”
Jake blanched, looking desperately at Felicia but she didn’t look as if she’d be any help at all. Then he felt the blood that had drained out of his face rush back, turning his complexion red and hot. Jake began to stammer but Felicia’s father cut him off.
“I know things are different from when I was a young man. The customs of my heritage demanded certain things of Felicia’s mother and me, things that people of your generation seem to have abandoned. Simple things… like respect.”
Dominic’s voice was quiet and silky, slightly seductive, and its very quietness made Jake afraid.
“You do agree, don’t you Jake, that respect is essential? We should show it to our parents, our country, and especially to women.”
“Good.” Dominic reached over and patted Jake’s shoulder approvingly before his grip tightened. “Then, explain to me how you can sit at my table and exchange pleasantries when you have not shown my daughter and, by extension, her mother and me, respect.” There was a sharp edge to his words and Jake was really afraid. Felicia’s mother kept her eyes on her plate, but Felicia’s anger matched her father’s. Ignoring the warning voice in her head, she challenged him.
“Dad! Leave him alone! It’s not taking advantage if it’s consensual and it is.”
Dominic released his hold on Jake’s shoulder and looked at his daughter. “For this,” he indicated Jake by the knife in his right hand, “chicken-livered, worthless slime who doesn’t even have the decency to come to the house to meet your family before taking you out? For this, you consented? For a do-nothing, strutting peacock?” Dominic hadn’t raised his voice, but his tone was as sharp as the knife in his hand. Jake was praying the ground beneath him would open so he could crawl to safety.
Turning back to Jake, he continued as if he had not been interrupted.
“I have always allowed my daughter to make her own decisions, even if they prove to be poor ones.” Dominic lifted his shoulders in a shrug that said “nothing to change that” and then fixed Jake with those eyes that spoke louder than his words. “I hope you can appreciate what I’m going to say and consider it good advice: You will not speak of my daughter to anyone. Ever. You will not acknowledge a relationship of any kind with her. You are merely classmates who were working on a school project. And you will no longer have any reason to spend time with Felicia after this evening. Do I make myself clear? Tell me you understand.”
“Yes, sir. Yes.”
As if the last few minutes hadn’t happened, Dominic Delfino smiled at his wife and said “Angela, do you have a tasty dessert for us?”
As Felicia’s mother rose to go to the kitchen, Jake bolted to his feet, nearly toppling his chair in his haste to be out of it. “Sir, I’m sorry, but I can’t stay. I have a ton of homework. Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Delfino.” Felicia was at his side but so was Dominic who put his arm around Jake’s shoulder and walked him to the door. “I’m glad we were able to spend this time together and come to an understanding.”
“Yes, sir. Goodnight.”
Closing the door, Dominic confronted his daughter. “You will not see him again and you will be more discrete in your future dalliances. Is that understood?”
Felicia longed to shock her father, to scream “I’ll screw whoever I want to and you can’t stop me!” Maybe one day, but that day wasn’t today. She looked penitent and said, “You have my word.” Her capitulation was complete. In her father’s world, a person’s word was sacred and binding.
While the domestic scene at the Delfino house played out, Randy Benoit set his cup of coffee on the desk and waved a sheet of paper in the air. “We have a match. The John Doe in the park is Salvatore DeSimone, late of Philadelphia, with alleged connections to Francis “Fat Frankie ” Buccarelli, current head of the old Sabella family.”
Roberts leaned forward in his chair, scanning the yellow sheet of the late Salvatore DeSimone. “What are we looking at here? Why does someone drop a body from Philly in Ridley Park? Is there about to be all-out war or is this something else?”
Benoit pointed at the mug shot of the recently deceased, looking almost as grim in his mugshot as he did when his body was found. “If he was down here, he was here on business. Let’s take a look into what Delfino has been involved in over the last year. Then, we reach out to whatever precinct keeps an eye on Bucarelli to see what he’s been up to, see if they overlap.”
This was the way of it, Roberts knew. Criminals conducted business. Police departments were aware, but tolerated it provided no bodies dropped. Yesterday, one had. It might be the prelude to a turf war with more bodies to follow. There was always the chance that Salvatore DeSimone had chosen to sleep with the wrong woman and his death was the direct consequence of his indiscretion. Roberts picked up the phone and began making calls. Two hours later, he entered everything he had learned into the file on his desk and shared the information with his partner. Philly hadn’t had any reason to monitor DeSimone’s activities. He was rumored to be retired, but they would check to see if anything was in the wind, especially between Fat Frankie and Delfino.
Days went by and Jake kept his distance from Felicia as he’d promised, barely a nod of hello when they took their seats in class, those intimate moments they had shared fading and seeming no more real than wishful thinking. Fear created a self-induced amnesia Jake welcomed and was content to live with, right up until the moment Detective Roberts called.
“Hey Jake. This is Detective Roberts. My partner and I are trying to tie up some loose ends about the body you found in Ridley Park. Can you make it down to the station to clear up a few details for us?”
Jake almost laughed at the way Roberts phrased it. The body in Ridley Park, as if there were other bodies in other parks that Jake had discovered. Instead, he asked, “Do I need a lawyer?”
“That’s entirely up to you, but we’re just trying to narrow down our time line.”
Jake hesitated. His parents knew nothing about his brief fling with Felicia, the dinner with her family and absolutely nothing about the body in the park. If he needed a lawyer, he’d have to tell his parents everything. Because he was eighteen, though, he could meet with the police without having a parent notified. The question was, did he want to?
“Will it take long?”
“It shouldn’t. Can you be here by 4?”
Jake would have to risk being late for dinner but he’d find a plausible excuse. He wanted this over.
“I can be there by 4.”
After he hung up, his mind went into overdrive. Were they really just interested in the time-line or was it something else? He tried to go back over that day as if he were viewing a film, frame by frame, pausing and rewinding the key moments from the time he and Felicia had slipped down the back stairs from the cafeteria and pulled out of the parking lot full of erotic anticipation, Felicia was teasing him as he drove, sliding her hand along his inner thigh and describing what she planned to do to him once they got to the park. She was out of the car and running before he could turn the engine off. His arousal made running difficult and he’d stopped to scoop up her discarded clothing, so he was surprised to find Felicia standing still, no longer laughing. He recalled being disoriented, he remembered calling 911 and he remembered Felicia being angry. Why? What had he said or done? He couldn’t bring it into focus. He didn’t remember.
Felicia received a similar call but she told the officer she was 17 and had to have a parent with her. She would call back after she reached her father. This was the catechism she had been taught from the time she was ten years old: always have her father with her before saying anything to anyone, but especially if that anyone was law enforcement. She’d botched that when they’d discovered the body. She and Jake should have left the park and called her father who would have found a way to notify the authorities, keeping himself and her insulated from any investigation. She wasn’t going to make another mistake, so she phoned her father.
“Yes?” he said. She told him. “Give me the number. I’ll take care of it. Be home for dinner.”
Unknown to the police, Dominic Delfino had been making inquiries of his own, consulting a parallel network of sources to determine the reason Salvatore DeSimone had met his end in a park in Dominic’s neighborhood. Whatever he found out, he would keep to himself and take action, if necessary. This new interview might shed light on the police theory of the crime and allow him to contrast it to his own. He called the detectives and arranged to meet them the following day at 4:30.
“How do you want to handle the kid when he gets here?” Randy Benoit asked. “Do we let him know what we have or do we see if he tries to hide it?”
Roberts thought for a minute. “I think we start out slow, friendly. Take him through it again, watch his reactions. Then ask him if he has any connection to Fat Frankie and see how he handles that. Then, you show him the picture.”
Benoit cracked his knuckles, a habit Roberts hated, but which signaled that Benoit was assuming his aggressive stance for the interview.
Jake left the interview a little before six, but he didn’t go home. He drove his car to the parking lot near the park entrance and pulled in, killing the engine. His mind was racing, trying to process what had just happened. How much trouble he was in? Who did he need to talk to first, his father or his mother’s cousin who had somehow gotten him involved in something nefarious? Jake didn’t know that word, but if he had, it’s the word he would have used. Maybe he should call Felicia. Almost immediately, he rejected the idea. That would only lead to trouble with her old man. No other choice presenting itself, he called his father. The conversation was brief, Jake telling his father he was in trouble, not to tell his mother and to please meet him in the parking lot by the park.
“No. Meet me at The Hitching Post.” The Hitching Post was a family run pub that Jake’s father had a half interest in and would provide them with the veneer of a normal father/son outing. Jake’s father was sitting at the table nearest the kitchen door, the noise providing a curtain of privacy. Jake took his seat and his father said “Talk.” Jake did, laying it out succinctly, but without mentioning anything about Felicia. Once he had finished, he waited for his father to tell him what to do, how to extricate him from the shit show he found himself starring in.
“They have a picture? ” his father asked. Jake nodded. “Of what? Taken when?”
“They said it was from a video. It showed me and Mom and her cousin Frankie at a restaurant in Philly when we were there for my birthday in October. And the dead guy is standing at the bar, behind us, watching us.”
Sam Gilbert had a visceral response of disgust at his wife’s cousin’s name that burst out in anger once Jake had finished.
“Son of a bitch! Goddammit! Have you or your mother been in contact with Cousin Frankie since then?”
Jake avoided his father’s eyes. “Kinda.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘kinda’ Jake. Either you have or you haven’t. Which is it?”
Jake swallowed. “I got a couple of phone calls from him and his office manager.”
Sam groaned. “Jake, people like Cousin Frankie don’t have office managers. They have associates , button men, but not office managers. Tell me everything about the trip to Philly. Try not to leave anything out.”
Jake remembered how excited his mother had been to see her cousin Frankie in the coffee shop and delighted when he insisted she and Jake join him for dinner. “My treat,” he’d said. “We’ll celebrate in style” choosing an expensive restaurant for them all to meet. Sam cursed inwardly at his wife’s inability to see her cousin for what he was. She only saw the remnants of the boy she had loved and played with whenever their grandparents had their two sons for Sunday dinner. That was a long time ago, long before Maria Gilbert had stayed in touch with Frankie through holiday cards, mostly, and an occasional phone call. She refused to believe the stories linking him to crimes, despite evidence to the contrary. And now her disbelief had endangered Jake.
“When he called,” Jake said, “I kind of bragged a little about this girl I was seeing and he laughed and gave me pointers. He asked her name and I told him about Felicia.”
“Felicia Delfino? You’ve been seeing Felicia Delfino? Are you out of your mind? Do you know who her father is?”
“Yeah and I know who Cousin Frankie is but I didn’t before. I just thought she was hot and…”. Jake left his sentence unfinished and shrugged.
“Is that why you were at the park?”
“Yeah. The weather was perfect and we’d been talking about it and she said it was safe.”
Sam groaned. Stupid, he thought. Wrong place at the wrong time. Or was it? He considered the possibility. “Jake, whose idea was it to go to that park?”
“Mine. It’s very private there, so it’s my place to, you know.”
Sam would address the “you know” later. He needed one more question answered. “Did Cousin Frankie know about your place or that you planned to bring Felicia there?”
“Yeah. He knew.”
Sam Gilbert sat back. If Frankie knew about Felicia and the park, was it possible that he arranged to leave a body where they would find it? Unlikely. Anyone could have found it before Jake enticed Felicia to go there. He asked Jake another question. “Do the police know any of this, other than the dinner in Philly? ”
Jake shook his head. “No. They only know about the dinner and I told them I didn’t know the dead guy. I wasn’t introduced to him. He wasn’t sitting with us or anything. I think they believed me, but what do I do now? ”
Getting to his feet, Sam looked tired but determined. “We go home. We write it all down. We go back to the police station and give them the statement. Then, we wait.”
They delivered Jake’s signed statement the following day, answered questions for the two detectives and were on their way out just as Felicia and her father and their attorney arrived. Jake dropped his eyes but Sam Gilbert and Dominic Delfino locked theirs, as Sam put a protective arm around Jake’s shoulder. It was an explicit communication, father to father, about his role in their current situation. Dominic nodded his head slightly, took Felicia by the elbow and guided her inside to the waiting detectives.
Questions followed a familiar pattern and Felicia had no problem answering them honestly. How do you know Jacob Gilbert? Why were you in the park instead of school? Who found the body? What did you do after that? But it was the next question that got Dominic’s attention although his demeanor was unaltered: “Do you know Frankie Buccarelli?”
Felicia looked confused. “Who? Is that the dead man’s name?”
Benoit looked smug, cracking his knuckles. “Fat Frankie Buccarelli was not the victim. He does business in Philadelphia. Do you know him?”
Felicia looked at her father while her lawyer intervened. “What does that have to do with Miss Delfino finding a body in the park and calling immediately to notify the authorities?”
“She didn’t make the call” Benoit said, cracking each knuckle in succession, “her boyfriend did.”
“To be accurate, Detective Benoit, Mr. Gilbert is not Miss Delfino’s boyfriend as you erroneously suggest. He is a classmate with whom she was working on a class project, as her statement reflects.”
Benoit didn’t hide the leer in his voice when he muttered “so that’s what they’re calling it these days.” Roberts shot his partner a look before addressing Felicia directly.
“You and I talked at the scene. I may not have remembered about the project, so excuse the error. Let me ask you a different question. Have you ever heard the name Frank Buccarelli ? From Jake, maybe?” Felicia shook her head. “Would it surprise you to know that he oversees a crime syndicate in Philadelphia, that the victim is an associate of his ,”
Dominic put a hand on his lawyer to prevent him from interrupting “and that Jake Gilbert is his mother’s cousin?”
Felicia frowned, then bit her lower lip before imploring Roberts with her eyes. “It’s not the kind of thing we talked about. I didn’t know him well enough to talk about families. We were just paired up for the project.”
They had played their ace, Roberts knew, and his attention was on Dominic rather than Felicia. If he had expected a strong reaction, he didn’t get one. In fact, he could see nothing to suggest Dominic had heard anything more dramatic than the weather report. Dominic, however, turned this new piece of information over carefully in his mind. If Jake had been an accomplice, Dominic would have sensed it at dinner. Dominic had smelled the boy’s fear as he walked him to the door. No. It was probably a series of coincidences that held no threat to him or Felicia. He remained silent while his lawyer oversaw Felicia signing her statement. As they were leaving, he said “Detective Roberts, thank you for the professional way you conducted my daughter’s interview. As a father, I appreciate it. If you need her to answer any additional questions, please contact our attorney.”
As soon as they were out of earshot, Benoit fumed. “I wanted to yank that smart-ass out of his chair. He knows something. I can feel it.”
“Maybe. Or maybe he’s just a father looking out for his kid.”
Benoit scoffed. “Then what? What’s the connection? ” .
“Maybe there isn’t one. What if it really is only a coincidence? A wrong place, wrong time situation? Or what if Fat Frankie devised this to put Delfino in the cross hairs? Link him to a homicide?”
Roberts turned that possibility over in his mind as he shuffled through the reports on his desk “Do we even have a cause of death yet?”
“Still waiting on the ME. The toxicology report isn’t back yet. Right now, there’s no bullet, no sign of trauma or broken neck. Nothing to make it a homicide. ”
“Drug overdose? Or message to rival dealers?”
“Could be. My money’s still on Delfino but let’s go over it again.”
As Marco drove away from the police station, Dominic turned to his attorney. “What’s your assessment, Anthony? ”
“Felicia has nothing to worry about. She’s been honest about what she saw and what she did and it was clear that she doesn’t know Buccarelli and didn’t know Jake does.”
“What does it mean for me?”
Anthony shrugged. “Most likely closer scrutiny for a while. You know how these things go. Until they solve it, they’ll look at everyone.”
Dominic sighed and sat back in the seat, picked up Felicia’s hand and gently kissed it. She choked back tears as the words poured out of her. “I didn’t know, Daddy, about Jake. I just thought he was cute and fun and I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I want to talk to Jake’s father. Can you call him to arrange it? Discretely. I don’t want the detectives to know.”
The following evening the two men met at TheRoost, Sam Gilbert uneasy but determined.
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Gilbert. Did you take the necessary precautions?”
“I did,” Sam said, taking a seat opposite his host. “I prefer, as you do, that no one knows about this.”
Dominic stirred his coffee. “Can I offer you any refreshment?”
“Coffee please. Black.”
Dominic glanced at Marco who poured a cup of coffee and set it down in front of Sam.
“Why am I here, Mr. Delfino?”
“We’re both fathers, Mr. Gilbert, and our children have become involved in a situation they are ill-prepared to navigate without substantial guidance. ”
“Like the guidance you offered my son at dinner the other night? That kind of guidance?”
Dominic turned his palm over. “He was foolish and so was she. He didn’t consider consequences.” Dominic shook his head. “He had to understand that his conduct and hers was unacceptable. But this,” he paused,” is a different matter. With Frankie Buccarelli.”
Sam agreed and said so, giving full rein to his anger. “I found out about that when they called Jake for another interview. I knew it meant trouble.” He held nothing back in describing his conversation with Jake, trying to find some kind of logic in the events as he shared them.
Dominic listened intently and then spoke. “I have been making inquiries and I’m convinced that your son had no active role in this unpleasantness. But, I think you should be vigilant. Because Frankie is involved. I promise to let you know if I learn of anything that might threaten our children.”
Dominic stood, thanked Sam for coming, but didn’t offer his hand, knowing that Sam would be loathe to take it. It wasn’t necessary. Their meeting ended with the understanding of fathers, more binding than a handshake.
While his father was meeting with Delfino, Jake wanted to call Felicia. Just to see if she was all right. No, that wasn’t it. He wanted to know what she thought. He picked up his phone and started to enter her number. Then he stopped before he pressed the call button. What was the point? They were over the minute they stumbled across the body. Her father was crystal clear about that.
“Tox report is in,” Benoit informed his partner, “and he had enough oxy in him to put a rhino to sleep.”
“Looks that way. But he didn’t do it at his final resting place since we know that was a staged scene,” he said beginning to crack him knuckles, “but staged for who? Delfino? Maybe the kid lets it slide that he plans a romp in the woods with Delfino’s daughter and Fat Frankie sees an opportunity?”
“Could be.” Roberts agreed. “Let’s take a drive to Philly tomorrow and have a heart to heart with Frankie. The lieutenant will have to sign off.”
The phone on Roberts’ desk arrested their movements. The caller identified himself as legal counsel for Francis Buccarelli, calling to schedule a voluntary appearance by his client to address inquiries relative to his relationship to the late Salvatore DeSimone whose body had been recently discovered in Ridley Park.
“The mountain is coming to Mohammed, ” Benoit laughed, cracking his knuckles after Roberts relayed the gist of the call.
“He’ll be here tomorrow at 11, if that’s ‘satisfactory’. I told him it was.”
Benoit rubbed his palms together, almost giddy when he said “This is gonna be something else.”
Francis “Fat Frankie” Buccarelli arrived promptly at 11, looking every inch a man of importance, dressed in what had to be a custom-made suit, not only because it fit his expansive girth perfectly, but also because the material and tailoring were luxurious and impeccable. His lawyer was also decked out in sartorial splendor, creating a sharp visual dissonance to the weathered desks and chairs in the police station. Frankie looked at the seats distastefully, located the largest one and settled himself into it. His attorney sat comfortably next to him, guiding him through the interview. By the time his statement had been signed and all pleas agreed to and concluded, Benoit was left shaking his head.
“You gotta hand it to him. He thought of everything.”
Roberts had to agree. It was pretty slick. “Do we call and let Delfino know?”
“Nah. Let him and the Gilbert kid sweat til tomorrow.”
“You’ve got no heart, Benoit. I’m going to call them. They’re kids.”
“Suit yourself. But a little anxiety is good for the soul.”
Roberts called Dominic Delfino first. Then he called Jake Gilbert. Then he went home to his wife.
“What did you tell them? ” she asked.
“That DeSimone had advanced inoperable cancer and instead of suffering some very painful final months, chose his own exit. That he left a signed, notarized document saying he wanted Buccarelli to use his body in whatever way possible to turn up the heat on Delfino.
Payback for some old beef they had. And get this: he not only left money for his funeral but for whatever fine Buccarelli would face for improper disposal of a body. Buccarelli’s lawyer worked it out with the DA and the case is closed.”
Later that night, phone activity was brisk. Jake texted Felicia, “can we talk?” but silence was the only response. The phone in The Roost rang and Manny answered, scribbled instructions on an order pad. Sam Gilbert held the phone in his hand ready to berate his wife’s cousin but thought the better of it and put the phone down. Dominic Delfino answered his cell phone as Marco pulled into The Roost. He listened as Tony Vita spoke. “Joey Corelli just had a heart attack. He’s dead. Manny talked to his sister, Loretta, and she asked if we could handle the arrangements. Where do you want us to take the body? Gentiles?”
Dominic smiled. “No. I’ll talk to Loretta. One good turn deserves another. Have Manny drive it to a park in Frankie’s part of Philly.”
Bio: Kathleen Chamberlin is a retired educator living in Albany, New York. She began writing creatively during the quarantine period of Covid-19 and her writing has appeared in both print and online journals and anthologies. In addition to writing, she enjoys gardening, genealogy, and grandchildren. She has previously posted a story “Brotherly Love” with The Yard: Crime Blog.
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