Robert J. Schneider
Chapter 1 of 12
At exactly noon on a mid-September Tuesday, Monica McCool, the thirty-three year old receptionist for the Pringle-Luna Literary Agency, walked into her boss's office and announced a visitor.
"I have no scheduled appointments today," replied Lana Luna, proprietress and sole owner of the literary agency despite the Pringle portion of the agency's name. Barely a year ago the slim, thirty-five year old brunette inherited the agency after her uncle Ron Pringle's untimely death. Prior to that sad event Lana had worked as a research assistant for a mid-size investment company. Her love for her favorite uncle and her love of literature had persuaded her to leave her former lucrative but boring position to try and make a go of her uncle's literary agency. Lana's vague notion of how a literary agency conducted business and even vaguer notion of how one actually made money from it was of little concern when she gave notice to her manager at Robicheau & Devane.
Monica answered, "He's a walk-in. He wants to hire a detective."
"Didn't you tell him we are not a detective agency?"
"I'm only the receptionist/office manager/assistant, you're the boss. You should tell him. Besides, things are slow around here. You're not even covering my salary. Find out what he wants. Maybe you can make some money. His name is Michael Calabrese. He's single and he's good looking...and not that much older than you."
Lana did not appreciate Monica's smart mouth and occasionally disrespectful manner but she had grudgingly come to like and depend on her. At first Lana did not even think she needed a receptionist to say nothing of an office manager. After finishing her second day in the office Lana realized that Uncle Ronny's literary agency seemed to only have two author-clients: One was a female romance writer who had authored two books that Ronny managed to sell to Harlequin. Her next seven efforts were rejected by every romance publisher in the country. The other author-client was a reclusive man who wrote, well quite frankly, violent, pornographic novels in a style best described as Mickey Spillane revved up several notches, How her uncle had sold one of his detective novels to a new mystery imprint of a well known publisher was indeed a mystery to Lana. Comparing the published book to the dozen or so manuscripts in the author's office files convinced Lana that Ronny had heavily edited that one effort.
"Very well, send him in," Lana said to Monica, hopefully in a cool and reproachful manner.
The Pringle-Luna Literary Agency really could not afford Monica's salary but she was efficient in her own way, and surprisingly, she had a knack of finding near-sales worthy manuscripts in the slush pile.
When Michael Calabrese entered her office, Lana immediately noticed that he certainly was a handsome man, probably around forty, blond hair and hazel eyes. After she introduced herself but before he could begin talking Lana said, "I'm afraid there has been a mistake, Mr. Calabrese. I'm not a detective. This isn't a detective agency."
Her visitor replied, "But the sign down the hall said to see you with any questions about I. I. I."
"Yes, well that's the building owner's idea. You see, International Investigations Inc. seems to have suddenly and mysteriously abandoned its office suite at about the same time I took over the lease of my uncle's literary agency space and . . ."
"You mean you can't help me? They can't help me?"
"I'm not a licensed private investigator. I am a literary agent. As I was explaining, the landlord asked me to, well, show the former offices of I.I.I. to prospective tenants. The sign directing you here is a bit misleading, I suppose."
Michael Calabrese said, "They have ads all over the place: Yellow Pages, White Pages, Internet . . ."
"Yes," Lana interrupted. "Apparently I.I.I. paid for the ads and the office lease in advance. My responsibility is to show you their office space if you are considering leasing it. I have the keys right here." He looked so downhearted and disappointed that Lana just couldn't send him away. She softened her tone by saying, "Why don't we walk down the hall and look over the space. It's quite nicely furnished. We'll sit down there and you can tell me about your problem. Maybe I can offer some advice."
Monica McCool gave Lana a smug look as she and Michael Calabrese walked past the reception desk. Lana led Michael down the hall toward the former office suite of International Investigations Inc. At the far end of the hallway could be seen the only other tenant of the 12th floor. The Mena Employment Agency was a bustling office with people constantly coming and going. Lana's receptionist was technically an employee of the Mena Agency. Anna Mena, the dynamic and somewhat pushy owner of the employment agency, had managed to talk Lana into contracting for a receptionist the first day Lana took possession of her Uncle Ronny's office. Monica McCool showed up the next day and Lana could never seem to summon the courage to send her back.
Lana unlocked the detective agency's office door and after they both found comfortable chairs in the lavish conference room Lana asked, "Mr. Calabrese, why do you need a detective?"
After a moment of hesitation Michael replied, "My father killed my mother and then killed himself. This happened two weeks ago in their house in Queens. The police dropped the investigation after a few days. To them it was cut and dry. Husband looses it, hits his wife, she falls, hits her head on the coffee table, dies, then he gets a gun and shoots himself."
"Do you think the police made a mistake?"
Lana thought for a moment then asked, "So, you accept the police conclusion of what happened but you want to hire a detective to, to perhaps find out why your father killed your mother?"
"Maybe it was just an accident?"
Michael quickly answered, "I believe that it was an accident. But he definitely did hit her. Slapped her most likely, very hard on the jaw. She fell back and struck her head on the coffee table. The blow from the corner of the table is what killed her according to the autopsy. It seems that after my father realized my mother was dead he went up to his room, got a handgun, came back down to the living room and shot himself in the head. What I want to know is why my father hit my mother? I never saw him strike her, ever."
"Were you close to your parents?"
"I thought so. I didn't live with them, not since I graduated college and started working in Manhattan almost twenty years ago. I'm a partner in a wine distribution business. I talked with my parents at least a couple times a month and visited them at least once a month. We got along well. In fact, I spoke to them just two days before the, err, the tragedy. Nothing seemed wrong."
"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"No. I'm an only child."
"Are you married?" Lana asked.
So, Monica was right thought Lana. "Any other close relatives?"
"Only two. One is my aunt, my mother's sister, who lives in California. Then there's my father's cousin. She lives out on Long Island. No close relatives other than my two aunts, although technically I guess that my father's cousin is actually my first cousin once removed, but I've always called her Aunt Eda."
"Tell me about your mother's sister in California."
"My mother and I used to visit Aunt Katherine about once a year. My father was not a flier so he never accompanied us to California. When I was older I sometimes visited Katherine on my own. But then her health began to suffer and our visits became less frequent. I've not visited her since she sold her house in Malibu and moved into an assisted living facility in Pasadena a year or so ago."
"Does she know of your parents' deaths?"
"Called and informed her the next day. She was devastated, of course. She can no longer travel due to her poor health. I'm to visit her as soon as I can take time from work . . . probably in a week or two."
Lana asked, "What about your father's cousin on Long Island?"
"I called my Aunt Eda right after I finished talking with Aunt Katherine. She was also devastated. She was my father's only close living relative. We visited her often when I was young. I know that my parents, especially my father, talked to Eda regularly. I have occasionally visited her over the years. Oh, I almost forgot, Eda has a daughter. Alexandra is probably now in her mid-thirties, lives way out on Long Island. Alexandra is my second cousin, to be specific."
"Did your parents have close friends?"
"They mostly kept to themselves. They were friendly with their original neighbors but as houses were sold and new people moved in my parents were cordial to their new neighbors but not especially friendly."
Lana looked into the man's eyes and said, "Well then, Mr. Calabrese, it would seem that you were the closest person to your parents. If anyone could know or possibly guess the cause of this horrible event, it would be you."
He looked back into her eyes, "That's just it Miss or is it Mrs. Pringle-Luna . . ."
"Actually it's Ms. Luna. Pringle was my uncle's name. He was the former owner of this literary agency. He died about a year ago. I kept his name on the agency and added mine after I inherited it. Why don't you just call me Lana."
"You can call me Michael. I've driven myself crazy trying to figure out what happened. Why he did it? Why he hit her? I can't come up with anything."
Lana knew she should simply console Michael for a bit, speak about the loss of her own parents and uncle, and then send him on his way. She just couldn't bring herself to do that. After a moment Lana said, "Things are a bit slow at the agency just now. I'll look into your case. Since I'm not a licensed private detective I can't charge you a fee."
"We'll work that out later. When can you start?"
Lana thought for another moment then said, "Right now. We will go out to your parents' house and see what can be discovered."
Michael said, "Good. The police released the house a few days after the. well, when they were finished."
"I understand," Lana said. "Do we take a cab or the subway?"
"The subway ride to Flushing is only about forty minutes but we can more easily talk in a cab. I have a meeting later this afternoon. We should have enough time to look things over and get back to Midtown before my 4:30 meeting."
Chapter 2 of 12
Lana questioned Michael further during the half hour cab ride. She learned that although his father, Tony Calabrese, was a good father and a loving husband with no recent record of violence, he had spent about a year in prison for taking part in a robbery nearly forty years ago. He had protested his innocence at the time but was convicted and sentenced along with two others. Tony Calabrese claimed that he was just asked to drive a truck by two friends from his old neighborhood. He had no idea that his friends were planning to rob a warehouse. The robbery was botched and a guard was shot. The guard eventually recovered but they were all convicted of armed robbery. His so-called friends did not back up Tony's claim of innocence. There was a trial and eventually all three went to prison. Soon after, one of the friends was knifed in prison and made a deathbed confession admitting that Tony was just a dupe. Once the guard fully recovered, he also confirmed that Tony was not involved in his shooting. The other friend finally admitted that Tony was not privy to the robbery plan. Tony was released, became a teamster and was never in any further trouble with the law.
"I don't really know many details about what happened back then," said Michael. "My father was arrested just after my mother became pregnant with me. It must have been hard on her since she had no family nearby. By that time her older sister Katherine had left New York to become an actress in California. My mother, her name was Maureen, eventually went out to live with my aunt in Los Angeles. In fact, I was born out there. Not California though. I was born in Norway."
"Norway! How did that come about?"
Michael answered, "My little joke. Norway is a small town in Oregon. Apparently my aunt had some time off and decided to drive up the Pacific Coast with her pregnant sister, my mother, along for company. My aunt had convinced my mother that this might be her last chance for a vacation for years. They must have mis-timed my mother's due date or else my mother went into labor early. She started giving birth to me in the car. Luckily my aunt found a small hospital, really just a clinic, in a tiny Oregon town called Norway. I've never been back there but I've looked the place up on maps at various times. Norway is about fifteen miles south of Coos Bay and North Bend, which are two of the larger towns in the Coos County area."
"I'm not familiar with the West Coast in general or Oregon in particular," said Lana.
"It's a sparsely populated region on the Oregon coast roughly eighty miles north of the California border. I was born there and some days later we all returned to Los Angeles."
Lana thought that this might be a good time to discover Michael's age: "When were you born?"
"April 1st 1969. A few months later my father was released from prison and my mother took me back East. My mother and sister grew up in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn but when we returned to New York it was to an apartment in Woodside, Queens. I don't remember anything about that place. When I was about four years old my parents bought the house in Flushing. That's where I grew up and that's where my parents lived until, well until two weeks ago."
The cab deposited them in front of a modest house not too far from the Number 7 elevated subway line. It was an old neighborhood but the detached houses were well kept. At one time the houses must have been identical but over the years the owners had re-modeled, repainted and otherwise changed their appearances. The neat little front lawns all had fences of different types. Each house had its own driveway leading to a small garage at the back of the property. Michael unlocked the front door and allowed Lana to enter first.
"I hired a company to come in and clean up. Although I have emotional attachments to the house I don't want to move back. I'll sell it eventually but until I know for sure what really happened I'll . . . well, I just don't want to change anything or sell right now."
Lana walked around the living room, studying every object and piece of furniture. After a while she turned and faced Michael.
He pointed to a spot on the carpet. "It happened right there. My mother was found lying between the couch and the coffee table. My father was found in front of the television set, a bullet through his head."
"What time of day did it happen?" Lana asked.
"Just after two in the afternoon. Both my parents were retired. It was raining that day. The TV was turned on. This is a quiet neighborhood. Neighbors heard the gun shot and called the police. A patrol car was here within minutes. I was notified about an hour later. All the doors were locked. There appeared to be no break-in."
"Was there a note?"
Michael shook his head and said, "No note. Only my father's fingerprints were on the gun. He didn't have a license for it. I never even knew he owned a gun. The only fingerprints in the house were theirs and mine."
Lana looked over the television set. She examined the VHS/DVD player on the shelf below the set. She turned the power on and pushed the button to open the DVD disc compartment. It was empty. She opened the tape player door and noticed it contained a tape. She pushed buttons until the tape extracted itself. She turned and showed it to Michael.
"The police examined it. I played it. Just some old game shows, back from the Sixties or Seventies. My father was a big fan of game shows. He was always watching Game Show Network on cable."
Lana asked, "There was nothing special or unusual on the tape?"
Michael answered. "Nothing but three half-hour episodes of a show I never heard of. Must not have lasted long."
Lana examined the homemade label. It read 'Wordmasters, episodes 104-106, 12/68'. She inserted the tape into the player and started it up. She then fast-forwarded through the tape, stopping at various intervals to view something of interest. Just as Michael had described, it showed episodes of a show unknown to Lana. Wordmasters seemed to be a combination of The Price Is Right, The $100,000 Pyramid and Let's Make A Deal.
Contestants were chosen from the audience to compete for prizes by solving word games and puzzles.
"You watched these shows all the way through?" Lana asked.
"No. I looked at the first show and scanned through the second. It seemed to be a silly sort of show. I don't know why my father even had it on tape. He usually preferred a more intellectual kind of game show. Password and Jeopardy were his favorites along with some others from the Fifties like What's My Line, The Name's the Same and, well he also liked You Bet Your Life."
"Do you mind if I watch it?" asked Lana.
"Not at all but I do have to get back to my office for a meeting. Why don't I show around the rest of the house? It shouldn't take long. Then you can take the tape back with you and watch it later."
Michael escorted Lana through the rest of the ground floor and then took her upstairs. Nothing unusual was revealed by the furniture, knickknacks and family photos that decorated the Calabrese home. One small photograph pictured two young girls. Next to it stood a larger photo of two young women, They were very pretty strawberry blondes, obviously sisters, enough alike to possibly be twins.
Michael said, "Both photos are of my mother and her sister. They looked alike. My mother was a year or so younger and a bit shorter."
Lana pointed to the shorter girl, "So, this is your mother?"
"Yes. Her name was Maureen. Maureen O'Day back then. The other girl is her sister Katherine. You might better know her as Kay."
"Kay O'Day! I used to watch her on The Harpers. She played the single sister-in-law who lived with the Harper family. I liked that show."
"I liked it, too," Michael added. "It was my aunt's first big acting break. She later went on to that detective series in the Eighties."
"Calhoun, PI. I liked that one too. Your Aunt Kay played Calhoun's loyal secretary."
"It only lasted three seasons," Michael added. "Aunt Kay did a lot of guest shots after that: Dynasty, Dallas and a whole bunch of half-hour sitcoms. She even did a Seinfeld episode and some small movie roles here and there."
Lana said, "Come to think of it, I haven't seen her on any shows recently. Did she retire?"
"Not voluntarily," Michael replied. "She loved to act. Her health started going downhill a few years ago. She'd like to go back to work but she has bad arthritis in her legs and some other problems. I guess that's why she sold her house in Malibu and moved into an assisted living facility."
After a moment Lana asked, "Had your father's health or demeanor or habits changed recently?"
"No, nothing that I noticed. He did take up a new hobby of sorts."
"In addition to the game shows?"
Michael replied, "Well, I wouldn't call game shows his hobby. He just enjoyed watching the old ones when he could find them on TV. I was surprised he had a show like Wordmasters on tape. As I mentioned, he usually preferred shows from the Fifties or early Sixties. Wordmasters seems to be from the late Sixties."
Michael brought Lana to the room that was formerly his childhood bedroom. Now it seemed to be his father's den or study. He pulled from a desk drawer an accordion folder stuffed with papers and said, "My father became interested in genealogy about six months ago, right after he attended a lecture on the subject at the local library branch."
Lana said, "It's a fascinating subject. There a plenty of websites that can help research your family tree."
"My mother didn't mind the game shows. She'd watch along with him. She didn't like him spending a lot of time on the ancestry stuff. I enjoyed listening to my father talk about his genealogy research. Discovered a lot about his relatives, traced some all the way back to Italy."
Lana asked, "Could your father spending so much time on his hobbies have caused some conflict with your mother?"
"There were some minor arguments over that but it was mild stuff, nothing major. The only time I heard them really argue recently was when my father found a place that would do DNA tests for seemingly cheap prices. She claimed it was a waste of money that could be spent on more important things."
Lana asked Michael a few more questions as they went downstairs and outside for a cursory look round the back yard and garage. After agreeing that nothing more of importance was left to see, Michael locked up the property. They began walking to the nearby subway station since hailing a cab would probably be fruitless at this hour. They caught a local so about forty-five minutes later Lana got off at the Grand Central Station stop and walked back to her office building. Michael continued on to the Times Square stop.
Chapter 3 of 12
"So what happened with you and Mr. Calabrese?" Monica asked as her boss walked into the literary agency.
"Do you remember a murder-suicide in Queens about two weeks ago?"
Monica was an avid reader of the Post and Daily News. She seemed to relish reading about all the sordid crimes covered in those tabloids. "Sure. Husband killed the wife, maybe accidentally, then killed himself. Oh, I see, Michael Calabrese is the son."
Lana said, "That's right. He's not satisfied with the police investigation. Mr. Calabrese doesn't think it's a simple open and shut case. He wants me to find out what really happened, or more precisely, why it happened."
Monica screwed her face into a skeptical expression and said, "And you think you can find out?"
Lana answered, "Well, you're the one who likes it when I play detective."
"Actually I do like it when you're out of the office. I get more work done when you're not hovering over me."
Lana didn't argue with her assistant. It seemed that with so little work to do, her presence or absence would have little influence on Monica's productivity. The two previous times that "cases" dropped into Lana's lap were the most exciting few days she experienced since she re-opened the literary agency. Actually they were the most exciting days of her quiet and mostly uneventful life.
Lana asked, "Do you know where I can find a TV set that can play VHS tapes? Mine at home can only play DVD's."
Monica thought for a minute and said, "I think there's one in the I. I. I. office."
"Let's lock up here and watch this tape down the hall. It's after four o'clock. I doubt a budding Sue Grafton will show up today."
Lana gave Monica a recap of what happened at the Calabrese house and what information Michael had revealed. They easily found a television set that played VHS tapes in the empty office suite. Lana was inserting the tape when Monica asked, "Do you really think you can get a clue to what happened out in Flushing by watching this tape?"
"It's possible," Lana replied. "Michael said that his father and mother usually watched Game Show Network when the older shows from the 1950's were aired. This show was from the late 1960's. I found it odd that there were no other VHS tapes anywhere else in the house."
The tape began playing and both women watched the first two episodes. Nothing unusual or notable happened. The graphics were primitive and the format was cheesy. Lana could see that Monica was losing interest so she said, "Don't forget that this is 1968, according to the closing credits. You're used to higher production values." That didn't mollify Monica who slowly shook her head, but kept watching anyway.
The show's concept seemed awkward. Lana was not surprised that it did not last. The prize money was generous for the time and the contestants certainly were enthusiastic. Near the end of the third episode a contestant was chosen from the audience to compete against a man who had won the last two rounds. She was a pretty blonde who introduced herself in a low voice that was difficult to hear clearly. Lana raised the volume and re-wound the tape a bit. The contestant seemed to say that her name was Maureen Calabrese. She won a small bonus round prize but then lost to the defending champion. The show ended and Lana and Monica looked at each other. Lana spoke:
"That was Michael's mother."
Monica said, "So you're on a first name basis with him now?"
"Yes I am."
Monica asked, "How do you know it's his mother? It was difficult to hear her name clearly."
"I studied the family photos very closely when I was in the Flushing house. That is Michael's mother on the tape. If you listen carefully you can hear her introduce herself as Maureen Calabrese. She looks exactly like the girl or girls in the photos. It must be her."
Lana re-wound the tape and started it again from the beginning.
Monica stated, "Once is enough for me. I didn't spot anything that would make a man hit his wife then kill himself, even if the wife once appeared on a game show a long time ago."
"Maybe we're missing something," Lana said. "There must be a reason why this tape was in the downstairs set. It might have been the last thing Michael's mother and father watched before their deaths."
Monica stood up, shook her head and said, "Or . . . maybe they watched the tape days earlier and just forgot to take it out of the player."
"That's possible but I still think that there is something significant about this particular tape."
Monica sat back down and said, "I don't think so but hey, it's past five o'clock. If you're paying overtime I'll stay and watch it again."
Lana could barely afford Monica's regular wage, overtime was out of the question. She waved good-by and began watching the tape.
Monica was all the way to the door when she sighed, returned to her seat and said, "All right, no overtime but I can't let you stay here alone till all hours. You might get conked on the head like one of those girl detectives in those old books and movies."
Lana was pleased that Monica chose to stay. Though she was sometimes exasperated by her work habits, she genuinely liked Monica and since Lana had no relatives and few friends, she welcomed Monica's companionship.
They watched all three shows again. Neither Lana or Monica could see anything of significance. Lana re-wound the tape again. Toward the end of the third show, Lana stopped the tape. She said to Monica:
"Watch when the host picks Michael's mother out of the audience."
Lana did a frame-by-frame during the time that Maureen Calabrese stood up to introduce herself and walked on the stage to join the male contestant behind the big desk.
Lana said, "That woman isn't pregnant. Michael said that he was born in April of 1969. The show is dated December 1968 and there are Christmas decorations all around the set. That woman is not five or six months pregnant. Look. she's wearing a body hugging blouse and miniskirt."
"Maybe you're wrong about her being Michael's mother?"
"Oh, so you're on a first name basis with him too," Lana chided.
Monica ignored the remark and said, "Maybe she's a different Maureen Calabrese and not Michael's mother. Maybe the show was taped earlier in 1968 and then broadcast in December."
Lana replied, "I studied two photos of the O'Day sisters very carefully at the house in Flushing. If that's not our Maureen Calabrese, nee O'Day, then it's her twin. I suppose there is a way to research as to exactly when that show was taped but right now I'm assuming that Maureen Calabrese's appearance on this show was sometime around Christmas of 1968."
Monica asked, "Well, you said both sisters looked alike. Maybe this was Kay, the older sister, who was an actress."
"But then why did she say she was Maureen Calabrese instead of Kay or Katherine O'Day?"
Monica admitted, "I guess you're right. Kay O'Day was probably just starting out back then. It would be silly not to identify herself and perhaps get noticed for a role." Monica thought for moment then said, "Well Lana, if you're right then that explains why this tape was in the Calabrese house out in Flushing."
Lana got out her cell phone and called Michael at the number he had given her. He picked up on the second ring. Without fully giving her reason, she convinced him to come right over to view the tape. Twenty minutes later Monica met Michael at the elevator and escorted him to the I. I. I. office suite.
Michael said, "I thought the detective agency was closed down?"
"It is," Monica answered. "When we are on a case we prefer to use this office."
"But Lana said that she wasn't really a detective, she just occasionally showed this empty office to prospective tenants."
"My boss isn't a real detective but she is a good amateur sleuth. She's already solved two cases in the past year. People come up here looking for a real detective, find out the detective agency no longer exists, spill their guts to Lana and Lana winds up helping them. I assist her with the investigations, of course."
Michael and Monica joined Lana in the I.I.I. office suite. Lana started playing the tape, volume turned low, just at the point when the host was choosing a new contestant near the end of the third episode. When the young blonde woman stood up and spoke to the host, Michael slightly changed his position in the chair. Lana had instructed Monica to not reveal anything to Michael before he viewed the tape.
"Play that segment again," Michael said once the show's closing credits rolled on the screen.
Lana complied, saying nothing. Michael requested a freeze frame when the blonde woman stood up in the audience. He leaned nearer to the screen, studied the image then turned to Monica and Lana and said:
"That's my mother. She never told me she was on a game show."
Lana turned the volume up and played the segment again so Michael could hear his mother introduce herself. When the tape ended Lana said, "I wanted you to see her before you could clearly hear her say her name."
Michael sat back in his chair and was silent for a full minute. Then he said:
"I'm sure it's her. That's exactly how she looked back then just after she graduated from high school."
"How do you know for sure that it's your mother rather than your aunt?" asked Monica.
Michael thought for a moment then said, "Well, I suppose it could be Aunt Kay but I don't think so. It would be silly for Kay to say she was someone else. She was trying to break into film and TV acting at that time. Why give up a chance to be seen on TV and possibly catch the eye of a director or agent?"
"That's what we figured," Monica stated.
"This is important. My father must have been watching Game Show Network when, by chance, this show came on. He recognized my mother, somehow made or managed to get a tape of the show, then showed it to my mother. Something on that tape caused trouble between them. I don't know what the trouble was but we have to find out."
Lana said, "I think I know what caused the trouble."
Michael looked at Lana, then looked at Monica, then asked, "Well, what was it?"
"Your mother is not pregnant," they both replied.
Michael stood up and ejected the tape. He examined the label and said, "The date could be wrong."
"It could be wrong," Lana said, "but then the date on the closing credits would have to be wrong, too."
Michael inserted the tape back into the machine. Lana advanced it to the last minutes of the third episode. The credits played. The year 1968 was clearly displayed.
Michael said, "The year might be right but this could be earlier in 1968, not necessarily December. Just because there is a Christmas tree on the set . . ."
Monica said, "Most TV shows put up Christmas decorations in mid-December and take them down right after the holiday, certainly by New Year's Day at the latest."
"Besides," added Lana, "if you were born in April of 1969 . . ."
"I know. I must have been conceived in July or late June of 1968. My mother joined my aunt in California right after my father's trial. That would have been sometime in the fall of 1968. There must be some mistake. There has to be some way to double check as to when this show was actually taped."
Chapter 4 of 12
Monica suggested returning to the literary agency office to see what some Google searches would reveal. They gathered around the reception desk computer. Monica turned it on, brought up the web browser and gave her chair to Lana then stood behind Michael's chair, demurely leaning over his shoulder. They hit numerous dead ends but eventually stumbled across a website devoted to Wordmasters. Apparently a dedicated fan created the site to memorialize his favorite game show. The fact that the show only lasted one season helped to make the site quite comprehensive. After many paragraphs detailing the show's conception, bio's of the creators, host and announcer, the site's owner provided an episode index detailing taping dates and air dates. Episode 106 was taped on December 17th 1968 and broadcast on the CBS network the next day. The show lasted another 41 episodes. The final show was taped on February 22nd 1969, broadcast February 23rd before it was abruptly cancelled. CBS replaced it with a soap opera that only lasted three months.
More revealingly, the owner of the website had a page where one could order taped episodes of the show, generally in groups of three.
"Well, I guess we now know where my father most likely got this tape," Michael said. "After my mother's unexpected appearance, he didn't have time to try and tape what he was watching. Afterwards, he must have checked the Internet like we just did, found this site and ordered the relevant tape. He was able to narrow down the probable episode number from the detailed descriptions provided in the episode summary section." Michael sat thinking for a moment then said, "Now I know why my mother was so upset about those DNA tests my father wanted to do. They would have proved I wasn't their child."
Lana said, "Just because your mother wasn't pregnant when she ought to have been could mean a lot of things." She paused a moment. "You mentioned a cousin or aunt on Long Island."
"Yes, my Aunt Eda," Michael answered.
Lana said, "Maybe she can enlighten us. I'd like to interview her. Can you arrange a meeting? I'll travel to her house if necessary."
"Sure," Michael answered. "I can arrange that. I won't be free till the weekend but . . ."
"It might be best for me to see her alone. Also, I think we should tell no one about what we think we noticed on the tape, at least for the time being. I'd like Eda to tell me what she knows about your father and mother during the time before you were born."
Michael seemed hesitant. After shaking his head he said, "I don't know . . . I'm still trying to grasp the implications of what the tape showed."
Lana said, "I know this is yet another shock piled on top of the deaths of your parents but you came to me to find out some answers. All I've come up with are more questions but if you want me to continue the investigation it will have to be on my terms. If not, here's your tape. I wish you well."
Monica McCool was very impressed with her boss's show of firmness. Lana always seemed confident and assertive when on her detective missions. It was a big contrast to when she was on literary agency business: all timid and wishy-washy. Monica added, "My boss knows what she's doing Mr. Calabrese. You should let her take charge."
Michael stared at Lana's still outstretched hand holding the videotape. He soon came to a decision. "All right, we'll do it your way. You're the one who discovered the significance of the tape. I'll do whatever you say."
"Good," Lana replied. "Call your aunt Eda tonight or first thing tomorrow. Arrange for us to meet and prepare her to answer any questions I pose. I have my own methods of getting at the truth and sometimes my methods seem roundabout and unusual."
Michael Calabrese called the literary agency at ten o'clock the following morning. Eda Mangano would meet with Lana the next day at her home in West Babylon and answer any questions put to her that could help Michael understand what happened to his parents. Monica relayed Michael's message along with Eda's address to a very pleased Lana.
Chapter 5 of 12
The train ride from Penn Station to the Babylon station took about an hour and twenty minutes. Lana walked up to one of the several taxicabs that met the train and stated the address she wanted. The cab left her in front of a pleasant little house in what seemed to be a working class neighborhood located about three miles from the train station. The middle-aged woman waiting at the door called out, "You must be Michael's friend."
"Yes, my name is Lana Luna."
"I'm Eda Mangano, come in."
Lana was shown into a small but nicely furnished living room where she was soon seated on a couch with hors d'oeuvres, cookies and refreshments inches away on a coffee table.
Lana said, "You have a lovely home."
Eda Mangano looked directly into Lana's eyes and said, "Thank you, now what's this all about?"
"Didn't Michael explain?"
"He asked me to see you and answer any questions you might pose but he did not expalin much beyond that."
Lana hesitated then said, "Michael has asked me to, well, investigate certain aspects of . . ."
"Are you a detective?"
"No," replied Lana. "I own a literary agency but I have been successful in resolving some situations to the satisfaction of the person who asked me to . . ."
Eda Mangano was not helping Lana out at all. She just sat there listening and weighing each of Lana's words. Lana was prepared to question Michael's cousin/aunt, not to be subject to scrutiny from the get-go.
Lana continued, "Mrs. Mangano . . . Michael is, of course very upset by the deaths of his parents. He came to me, perhaps at first inadvertently, but now he is depending on me to examine exactly why the tragic event happened."
Still no response from Eda.
"I have other avenues of investigation if you don't want to . . ."
"I didn't say I wouldn't cooperate and what makes you think I'm not as upset about Tony and Maureen's deaths as is Michael." Eda paused than continued, "Look here, I just want to know why you're prying into my family's affairs and what your motive might be."
Lana said, "My motive is to help someone who wound up coming to my office seeking help."
Eda picked up a small cookie off the coffee table and popped it into her mouth. Lana noted that she did not bear much of a resemblance to Michael Calabrese. Eda was about five foot six. . . several inches shorter than Michael . . . dark complexioned, attractive and still shapely considering she must be over sixty.
"Michael seems to trust you," Eda said. "He made it very clear in his phone call that I should answer all your questions. We are a small family. Even though Michael calls me his aunt, I'm really his first cousin once removed but I was close to his father and to a certain extent, his mother, too. I love Michael. I don't want to see him hurt or the memory of his parents . . . what's the word I'm looking for . . . tarnished."
Lana said, "I'm very discreet. I wouldn't do anything to deliberately hurt Michael. He gave me complete freedom to look into his parents' deaths, no matter what I might discover." Lana knew this was not quite true but she felt that Michael would back her up. If he didn't, well then there was always something she could be doing back at the literary agency. "If you are uncomfortable with me or my questions, then I guess we're finished here. I won't bother you further."
Lana reached for her handbag. Eda Mangano touched Lana's wrist and said, "No. Please sit. I am uncomfortable discussing family matters with strangers but I'll help as much as I can . . . for Michael's sake."
Lana paused and then pulled a steno pad from her bag. "Good. I know I'd feel uncomfortable in your place. I really think I can help Michael make some sense of what happened. I advised Michael that my questions and methods may not make sense to everyone but . . ."
Eda said, "Go ahead and start with your questions already, Miss Luna."
"Please call me Lana. Could you explain the family relationships back then, just before Michael's mother and father," Lana consulted her notepad, "Maureen O'Day and Tony Calabrese, were married.
Eda took a deep breath, exhaled and began, "I'll start a little before then. My father and Tony's father were brothers; Paul and Domenic Calabrese. Paul was my father and Domenic was Tony's father. Both Tony and I were born and raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Our families lived on the same block about five houses apart. We were very close growing up. Each of us was an only child."
Eda noticed Lana cocking an eyebrow. "Yeah, I know, usually Italian families are pretty big. Not ours. Tony and I were more like brother and sister rather than cousins. I was a year older than him. We went to the same Catholic grade school but I wanted to go to St. Brendan's High school. Tony had enough of the nuns. He wanted to go to public school. Besides, St. Brendan's was an all-girls school. Tony was a good athlete. He wanted to play sports so he went to the neighborhood public high school. He played varsity football and baseball at Ft. Hamilton High. Good enough to be scouted by some local colleges for baseball. But Tony wasn't for the academics. He just wanted a good job driving trucks like his father and my father."
Lana asked, "So, Tony met Maureen O'Day at Ft. Hamilton High School?"
"Oh, no," Eda answered. "I met Katherine, or Kay as she liked to be called, and her younger sister Maureen at my high school, St. Brendan's. The O'Day girls were my schoolmates, not Tony's. Kay was a sophomore and Maureen was a freshman when I was a senior. That's when I first got to know them."
"So, Kay and Maureen O'Day were your friends and you introduced them to your cousin Tony?"
Eda laughed and replied, "No, it wasn't quite like that. I barely knew Kay and Maureen, being a freshman, was almost unknown to me, until the school play during my senior year."
"Tell me about how you met Maureen."
Eda replied, "Every March the students at St. Brendan's put on a school play. My mother was a seamstress and managed to teach me how to sew clothes. I worked on costumes for the plays. During my senior year we girls decided on The Women. Remember, we were an all-girls school and all the parts in The Women are, well, women or girls. We avoided disagreements over which girls had to dress as men."
Lana remarked, "I've seen the 1939 movie many times. The later versions were not as good, but the original was wonderful."
Eda said, "It was a great movie. Growing up I watched it many times on the late-night TV channels. I still occasionally rent it on DVD."
"So many great roles for you girls to play," Lana said.
"Yes, it was a lot of hard work but a lot of fun. The audience loved us."
"What parts did Kay and Maureen play?" asked Lana.
"They were both understudies," Eda said. "Only juniors and seniors were supposed to have speaking roles. Maureen understudied the Paulette Goddard role. Kay understudied the Joan Fontaine role and she also did some backstage work, you know . . . prompter, assistant stage manager, things like that."
Lana said, "I didn't realize that Maureen was also into acting like her sister."
"Oh yes, Maureen was quite the little actress back then. Nowadays she'd be called a drama queen. But let me tell you how Tony met the O'Day sisters."
Lana sat back in her chair and waited for Eda to continue.
"All students were supposed to sell tickets to the two performances, Friday night and Saturday night, since we put the shows on as fundraisers," Eda explained. "I convinced Tony to buy a ticket. He was sort of a ladies man around the neighborhood and at his high school so it wasn't too hard talking him into attending an all-girl play at an all-girl school. I even invited him to the small cast party we were having after the the first night's performance. That's when he met Kay. They hit it off immediately. Tony was a year older than Kay."
Lana asked, "Did he also meet Maureen then?"
"Yes, he met her then but even though she was as pretty as Kay, maybe even prettier, Maureen was only a freshman. Tony, being a junior. was more interested in Kay that night. In fact, he insisted on buying another ticket for Saturday's performance just so he could see Kay again. He really didn't have to buy another ticket since both Kay and I would have invited him to Saturday's big cast party anyway. He went to see the play again on Saturday night and it was during that performance that he first took notice of Maureen."
Lana asked, "I thought you said that only seniors and juniors had speaking roles?"
"That was how it was supposed to be," Eda answered, "Somehow, Angela Piccola, the girl playing the Paulette Goddard role, became very sick at the party on Friday night. She was still sick on Saturday so Maureen, being her understudy, had to go on in her place. Maureen certainly made the most of her break. Do you remember the cowgirl outfit Paulette Goddard wore in the movie?"
"I remember it well; tight blouse, short skirt and cowgirl boots."
Eda said, "Well, believe it or not, Maureen wore a tighter blouse, shorter skirt and sexier boots. She must have got hold of Angela's costume somehow and had someone alter it. She certainly didn't ask me to work on the outfit. Maureen always had great legs and even though her little bosoms weren't fully developed then, they were quite pert and, as I mentioned, the blouse was very tight. The nuns were upset with Maureen but the men and boys in the audience loved her, especially during the fight scene."
Lana nodded her head, "Oh right, the fight scene."
"Exactly." Eda said. "It was when the Rosalind Russell character arrives at the ranch in Reno where some of the characters are waiting for their divorces to be finalized. The fight scene didn't go exactly as scripted."
Eda continued, "The girl playing the Rosalind Russell role was Nina Benevento, who happened to be Angela Piccola's best friend. Nina suspected that Maureen had something to do with Angela getting sick the night before. I didn't think Maureen would have done something like that but she was serving drinks and food at the party. Angela claimed someone slipped Ex-Lax into what she ate or drank and Nina figured it must have been Maureen, the only person who benefited from Angela's illness."
Lana said, "So, this Nina Benevento got rough with Maureen during the fight scene?"
"Rough doesn't fully describe it. The scene lasted twice as long as it was supposed to. In fact Sister Clair and Kay had to come onstage to break it up. But before the girls could be fully separated, Nina remembered that she was supposed to, well, pretend to bite the Paulette Goddard character. She broke free from Sister Clair's grasp and dove right at poor Maureen, who was being restrained by Kay. Nina bit Maureen hard on the back of her calf. The audience loved it, not realizing the fight was real and the bite was real. But I have to admit, Maureen was a trooper. During the next scene, Liz McCall, who played the Norma Shearer role, really did have to dress Maureen's leg wound. That night's performance became legendary at St. Brendan's."
"I could understand that," Lana added.
Eda stood up and walked to a bookcase across the room. She returned with a large blue and gold book and placed it on the coffee table. Lana noted that it was the St. Brendan's High School 1965 yearbook.
"No one caught the bite on film," Eda said, "but here's a picture of Nina and Maureen rolling around on stage. The senior girls on the yearbook staff wanted to use a picture from the prior night's performance but they were, uh, prevailed upon to leave this one in. Nina and Angela had almost all the seniors in the drama club convinced that Maureen did spike Angela's food or drink on Friday night. Sister Roberta, who was in charge of the yearbook, insisted that the picture with Maureen stay in the yearbook because it happened to capture all the other actresses in the scene. Besides, Maureen was underneath Nina at that point, you can't even tell which actress it was."
Lana said, "You were a senior then. Did you think Maureen was responsible for Angela's illness?"
Eda smiled and shook her head. "I didn't know then, I still don't know what really happened. Maybe Angela just over-indulged at the party. Maureen was kind of selfish and self-centered back then. Later on, after she came back from California and re-united with Tony, well, she seemed different; more mature, less selfish. I guess the birth of Michael and Tony's imprisonment changed her. Maureen and I got along much better after she moved back to New York."
Lana asked, "Are there any other pictures of Kay and Maureen in this yearbook?"
Eda flipped through the pages and stopped at a large group picture. "This is a shot of the Drama Club. You can see Maureen and Kay on the far left." Eda pointed to two pretty girls at the edge of the photo. "The senior girls wanted to crop out Maureen but then Kay would also have been cropped out. Kay was well liked so the picture was left as is." Eda flipped a few pages forward and stopped in the class pictures section. "Here's Sister Bridget's ninth grade homeroom class. Maureen is here in the front row." She paged forward a bit more. "This is Sister Joyce's tenth grade homeroom. Kay is in the back row. I think there is one more shot of Kay." Eda paged to the sports teams section and pointed to a picture of the softball team. Kay could easily be identified kneeling in the front row.
Lana said, "In some of the pictures at Michael's parents' house in Flushing the sisters look very much alike. In these pictures they can easily be told apart."
Eda said, "Since when I first met them I've never seen them dressed alike. Back then Kay was more of a reddish blonde. Maureen had some red highlights but was closer to being a true blonde. Their personalities were so different that no one at St. Brendan's ever confused Maureen with Kay."
Eda then went to a back section of the yearbook that featured individual headshots of the senior girls. She pointed to an attractive dark-haired girl with a pageboy cut. "That's me."
"You were . . . beautiful!" Lana exclaimed.
"Thanks. Vinny always thought so." Eda leaned over and picked up an 8x10 wedding photo off a side table.
"That's my husband, Vincent. We met while we were both working at a bank in Manhattan." Eda was silent for a moment. "He died two years ago."
"I'm sorry." Lana reached for Eda's hand. "He was very handsome."
"He was, and he was a good husband and father." Eda reached back toward the same table a took hold of a graduation picture. "This is our daughter, Alexandra."
"She's beautiful, too"
Eda ran her index finger along the face in the frame. "She is, isn't she. And a good daughter, too. She lives way out in Manorville with her little boy, Paul."
"He's named after your father, his grandfather."
Eda seemed pleased that Lana remembered her father's name. "Yes, and if Michael ever gets married and has a son, he'll name him Domenic."
"Is Alexandra married?"
After a moment Eda answered, "She is a widow. Her husband, David, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center. He died in the 9/11 attack twelve years ago. Alexandra was three months pregnant with Paul at the time."
"She never re-married?"
"David was a good man and a good husband. Alexandra hasn't met anyone who could take his place, at least that's what she says to me. She devotes herself to raising Paul. It's difficult enough being a single mother under the best of circumstances. Paul has some learning disabilities and behavior problems. Alexandra has money from David's insurance. I try to help out however I can. I wanted my daughter to sell her house and move back with me. Alexandra stayed with me and my husband during her pregnancy and for several months after. She wanted to return to the Manorville house she and David had bought just after they were married. I stayed with my daughter and baby Paul often. Eventually Paul was enrolled in a good school in Manorville with some special programs to help him."
Lana said, "A woman as attractive as your daughter is likely to, well attract men."
"Not many men want to step into a situation with a twelve-year old boy with some problems already in place."
Both women were silent for a moment. Eda then continued, "Alexandra has really only been serious about two men in her life, so far. One was David."
"Who was the other?" Lana asked.
Lana shook her head, "Michael Calabrese, her cousin?"
"Yes. They are actually second cousins. Michael is five years older than Alexandra. She practically worshiped him growing up. Had a real crush on him. Michael was always fond of Alexandra and never hurt her feelings. He acted as sort of a big brother to her. My daughter came to understand that nothing romantic could ever develop between them but nevertheless she idolized Michael. I was so happy when she met David. He had many of Michael's qualities, even looked a bit like him, not quite as handsome but almost."
Lana asked, "Michael has never married?"
"He came close one time that I know of but he doesn't like talking about marriage. As you know, he is very good looking, almost movie star handsome. He has no problem attracting women."
"Maybe that's why he hasn't married. He's satisfied with the status quo."
Eda replied, "Maybe you're right. He certainly could afford to marry if he wanted to. His wine distribution business is doing very well now."
"Now? It wasn't always a thriving business?"
"After Michael graduated from St. John's University, he and a classmate went to work for a big wine distributor. After a couple of years they decided to go out on their own. They struggled for a while. Vinny and I had become familiar with the wines grown on Long Island's North Fork vineyards. We suggested he specialize in them He and his partner thought is was a good idea. Now they're the biggest distributors of Long Island wines throughout the tri-state region."
"I suppose Michael was very grateful that you and your husband gave him the idea of specializing in the local wines."
"Oh, yes," Eda answered. She stood up and escorted Lana to a pantry area near the kitchen. Eda opened a walnut cabinet and exposed a large wine collection. "This climate controlled wine cabinet was a gift from Michael once his business took off. He sends delivery trucks here every few weeks to make sure it's fully stocked, mostly with Long Island wines, off course. Since Vinny died I don't go though the inventory like we both did together. I give some bottles away to my neighbors."
Eda realized that they had been talking longer than expected. She suggested lunch and Lana readily agreed. While Eda prepared the meal they continued their conversation.
"So," Lana asked, "if Tony was dating Kay in high school how did he end up marrying Maureen?"
"Good question." Eda stopped the food prep for a moment and said, "I never really knew exactly what happened or how it happened. I graduated in June of 1965. My grades were pretty good but I didn't want to go to college. I got a job with the Sloan Guarantee Trust in the financial district so I'm light on the juicy details. I was commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan five, sometimes six days a week, working long hours at the Sloan. Tony dated Kay all through his senior year of high school and Kay's junior year at St. Brendan's. After Tony graduated , his father and my father got him in the Teamsters. He was working hard but he still dated Kay during her senior year. Then the accident happened."
Eda explained, "Kay and Maureen's parents were both killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway two weeks before Kay's graduation day. It was terrible. The sisters had no other family. There wasn't much money or insurance. Kay did graduate from St. Brendan's but instead of going on to Hunter College in Manhattan she decided she had to go to work to support herself and Maureen. Kay wanted Maureen to stay in school and graduate the next year. Kay asked me to help her get a job at the Sloan. I told my boss about Kay and she arranged for a secretarial position in commercial banking. Kay worked hard during the day and went to acting classes at night. She was making just enough at the Sloan to continue paying rent on their old apartment in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, support Maureen and pay for acting lessons. That's when Kay and Tony grew apart."
"Because Kay was so busy with work and acting classes?"
Eda replied, "Yes. Tony was sometimes busy and sometimes not. When he wasn't driving trucks he would naturally go over to Kay and Maureen's apartment in Greenpoint. Kay was rarely at home but Maureen was usually there after school. I guess that's when Tony fell out of love with Kay and in love with Maureen."
Lana said, "That must have created an awkward situation between the two sisters."
"I knew that Kay was still in love with Tony. She took it hard but she loved her sister and always looked out for her, especially after their parents died. Kay wanted the best for Maureen and, in a way, wanted the best for Tony, too. I don't know exactly how they all hashed it out but one day Tony was Maureen's boyfriend and no longer Kay's."
"Kay seems almost saint-like . . . giving up the guy she loved so her sister could find happiness."
Eda said, "Well, Kay was certainly a better sport than I would have been in her place. I can't imagine what I would have done to Maureen if she had set her sights on my Vinny."
Lana could well imagine what would have happened had Eda been in Kay's position. Lana saw Eda as a strong-willed woman who knew what she wanted and would fight for what was hers. "So, Tony married Maureen and Kay went off to Hollywood."
"That's a good summary of what eventually happened," Eda replied. "Kay kept on working and going to acting classes until Maureen graduated in June of 1968. Tony and Maureen were married two weeks later and the day after the wedding Kay boarded a plane to California. She's only been back here once since that day."
"When was that?" Lana asked.
"For Tony's trial. When it ended she took Maureen back with her to California. Of course I've seen Kay many times on TV and in one or two movies but I haven't seen her in person since the fall of 1968."
"Michael mentioned that he and his mother often visited Kay out in Los Angeles while he was growing up."
Eda said, "Oh yes, if not every year, they certainly flew out there every other year. I was never invited to join them on any of their trips."
"Did Tony ever go along to visit Kay in California?"
"No. Tony only flew twice in his life; when he and Maureen honeymooned in Bermuda. The return flight was horrible. Tony refused to get on a plane after that. Maureen loved to fly and Michael has flown since he was a baby."
Lana reviewed her notepad, jotted down some words and thought for a moment. She looked up from her pad and said, "It's the summer of 1968. Kay is in Hollywood. Tony and Maureen are newlyweds. What happened next?"
Eda sat back on the couch, took a breath and said, "I had met Vinny by then and we were dating seriously. Tony and Maureen seemed happy living in the old O'Day apartment in Greenpoint. Maureen announced in August that she was pregnant. Tony was ecstatic, Then Labor Day weekend came. My parents got a phone call from Tony's parents. They said that Tony had been arrested for armed robbery. It was all so confusing at the time but eventually we learned that Richie Russo and Vito Gerano, two of Tony's friends from Bensonhurst, robbed a warehouse down the docks near the Brooklyn Bridge. A guard was shot. Richie and Vito had gotten a truck from somewhere . . . probably stole it. They asked Tony to drive it for them so they could pick up some merchandise for a Coney Island store owner. Tony drives them down to the docks and waits in the cab for his buddies to load the goods. There was no Coney Island store owner. The idiots were stealing the stuff. Richie and Vito weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. A security guard caught them. They panicked and shot the guard. Before Tony could do anything, his friends jumped back up into the cab of the truck and ordered Tony to drive away. Tony refused until they explained what had happened. Richie pulled the gun on Tony and forced him to drive. Within minutes they were stopped by cops. Richie threw the gun away, after wiping off his prints, and he and Vito jumped out and ran. Cops caught them right away. Tony stayed behind the wheel and surrendered. The cops roughed them all up. Remember, this was 1968. Down at headquarters Tony tried to explain his side but no one was listening especially since Richie and Vito didn't back up his story."
Lana asked, "Didn't Tony have a lawyer?"
"Richie Russo had called some shyster relative . Tony wanted no part of him once he realized that Richie and Vito were going to lie about his role. Eventually my father and Tony's father got a Teamster lawyer involved. Didn't help much. All three were found guilty and sent to prison. Richie and Vito figured that the more blame they threw on Tony the easier things would for them. Two real jerks. The guard was in a coma for months, so he couldn't testify as to who had shot him."
Lana asked, "What happened to Maureen during all this?"
Eda answered, "She was too upset to stay all alone in the Greenpoint apartment. She stayed with Tony's parents in Bensonhurst during the trial. Kay was working in Europe on some movie. It was her first role. Tony, Richie and Vito weren't allowed bail. Kay only made it back for the last day or two of the trial. Maureen, like all of us, was devastated with the verdict. Kay convinced her to move to Los Angeles. Kay had earned enough from her movie part to make a down payment on a small house. She figured she was in a better position to take care of her pregnant sister than was Tony's family. Tony's parents disagreed but once Tony understood that Kay would be able to take care of Maureen and the baby, he agreed that his wife would be better off out in California. So, Maureen and Kay flew to the West Coast and that was the last I saw of Kay O'Day, in person that is."
Lana quickly wrote several sentences in her notebook then looked up at Eda and said, "Pregnant Maureen then travels with Kay to her house in California. When was that exactly?"
It was Eda's turn to think for a moment before replying, "It would have been sometime in October, probably late October."
"They went to trial very quickly."
"Yes," Eda said. "We were all surprised that it happened so fast. Tony and his jerk friends were in prison by the end of October."
Lana said, "So, this was late October of 1968 and Maureen was four months pregnant when she left with Kay."
"That's about right."
Lana said, "Michael told me that he was born in Oregon, not California."
Eda shrugged her shoulders. "I never quite understood that story. Something about Kay wanting to drive them up the coast to Oregon for a few days. You know, a short vacation before the birth. They mis-timed Michael's coming or Maureen want into labor early."
"So, Michael was born, in Oregon, on April 1st 1969. A few days later Kay and Maureen took Michael back to Los Angeles and they stayed at Kay's house until . . ."
Eda said, "Actually I think they stayed in Oregon for about two weeks, then they returned to Los Angeles where they all lived together until Tony was set free."
"When was that?"
"Let's see. Richie Russo was knifed in prison in June of 1969, I think. He made a deathbed confession admitting that he shot the guard and Tony knew nothing about the robbery beforehand. The security guard, by chance, had come out of his coma a few days before the knifing. Richie must have thought that the guard might ID him anyway so he decided to do the right thing. Vito soon corroborated what Richie had admitted. It seemed to take forever but eventually Tony was out of prison." Eda considered for a moment then said, "It was August of 1969 when Tony was released. Right about the time the Mets were making their big run against the Cubs. One of the first things Vinny, Tony and I did after Tony was released was to go to a Mets game."
"When did Maureen return with baby Michael?" Lana asked.
"Once she and Kay knew for sure that Tony would be freed they began making plans for Maureen's return. She and baby Michael arrived back in New York at the very end of July. She found a new apartment in Woodside where she and the baby waited for all the formalities to wind down."
"I wondered about that at first," Eda answered. "Although they had no blood relatives left alive, the O'Day sisters were well known and well liked in their old Greenpoint neighborhood. Maureen would have had something like a support network had she moved back to the neighborhood she lived in for almost her whole life." Eda thought for a moment, "Maybe Maureen felt Tony needed a fresh start in a place where no one knew him."
Lana referred back to her notes, "Maureen had not seen Tony for almost a year?"
Eda answered, "Well, to be accurate, ten months. Tony's mother never forgave Maureen for leaving town and not visiting Tony in prison. But, Tony wanted it that way. As I said, he thought it best that Maureen stay with Kay in California."
Lana said, "I gathered from Michael that his grandparents and your parents are all deceased."
"Yes, they had all died at various times back in the 1990's."
"Kay did not accompany her sister and infant nephew back to New York?"
"No." replied Eda. "By then filming had begun for the sitcom Kay had just gotten a role in."
"The Harpers", Lana said.
"Yes, it was Kay's big break."
Lana reviewed her notes again. "Not every wife of a convict is loyally waiting for him when he gets out."
Eda became more erect in her chair. "My cousin Tony should never have been in prison. His mistake was to trust his two idiot friends. Any woman worth her salt would have waited."
"But it was Tony's word against two others at the time. I'm just saying that, well, the impression I get of Maureen back then is that the seemed immature and self-centered."
Eda was about to say something then hesitated. She reached for a cookie, ate it, waited a few seconds then said, "I gave you that impression of Maureen. She was certainly self-centered, a bit immature in some ways and somewhat selfish. Kay was the sensible, reliable, unselfish sister. I honestly had doubts that Maureen would ever return. We all knew Tony would have a hard time supporting his new family. I give Maureen credit. She left behind sunny California, a generous and loving sister, who would do anything for her, to return to a husband facing an uncertain future."
Lana smiled and said, "Well, everything turned out all right. As Michael describes it, they had a good life, obviously raised a fine son and seemingly had just entered a golden retirement until . . ." Lana paused, not knowing how to continue.
Tears welled up in Eda's eyes. She grabbed a tissue, dabbed at her nose and eyes. Lana rose from her seat with the intention of taking her leave.
"You don't have to go. It's not your fault. Please stay for dinner. I rarely cook for anyone but myself anymore."
Lana consulted the train schedule and eventually agreed to stay, as long as she would not be too much trouble. They shared a delicious meal filled with good conversation. By meal's end the two women had come to respect and even like each other. The only disconcerting thoughts bothering Lana revolved around whether to disclose to Eda the fact that Maureen was probably not pregnant at a time when she should have been pregnant. Lana really wanted this caring and intelligent woman's thoughts on the subject. In the end Lana decided to keep the questionable pregnancy aspect of the investigation to herself. Eda held nothing back in answering Lana's questions yet Lana would leave West Babylon without being truly forthcoming with her hostess.
Chapter 6 of 12
"You're late," Monica said to Lana the next morning.
Lana glared at Monica, checked her wristwatch and said, "If I'm the boss, How can I be late."
"You are usually in before nine, or in any case, before me. I don't like being the first one here."
Lana ignored Monica's comments and said, "Come into my office. I want to talk."
Monica followed Lana into her office, chose her favorite chair and said, "Is this personal talk, literary agency talk or detective talk?"
"Detective talk. I've got to go to L.A."
"To interview Kay O'Day."
Monica thought for a moment. "Oh, you're talking about Michael's actress aunt."
"She's the key to this puzzle."
"You do know that we haven't brought in any income this month."
"Yes, I know. Being a crummy literary agent can sure put the kibosh on detective work."
"What about Michael? Didn't he tell you that he planned to visit his aunt soon? Maybe you could go along with him to California?"
Lana smiled at Monica. "Not a bad idea. Michael did say he was going to visit Kay in the next couple of weeks."
Monica's face brightened. She rose and trotted out of Lana's office, returning a moment later holding the office appointment calendar. Monica paged ahead two weeks and pointed to a highlighted Friday-Saturday-Sunday.
It was Lana's turn to brighten as she said "The Left Coast Crime Writers Convention in San Francisco. I'd forgotten all about it."
Lana and Monica had gone back and forth as to whether it was worthwhile spending extra money on attending the convention as a literary agent rather than just as an ordinary attendee. It would cost more as an agent but Lana would have more opportunities to meet aspiring and established mystery writers. Also, she would get to be on at least one panel discussion if she attended as a literary agent.
Monica said, "You can kill three birds with one stone. Tag along with Michael when he visits his aunt in Los Angeles, then after you interview her, rent a car and drive up the coast to San Francisco. Michael would probably pay for the first leg of the trip."
"That's two birds: West Coast trip paid for and interviewing Kay. What's the third bird?"
Monica smiled, turned and headed back to her desk. Halfway there she turned back toward Lana and said, "The third bird is Michael. Long plane trip together, probably staying in the same hotel for one night at least. It's your golden opportunity to seduce a handsome eligible bachelor."
Lana was embarrassed but did not want to admit it to Monica. She shouted out to her retreating assistant, "Bring me the convention schedule and then leave me alone. I have an important call to make."
The phone call to Michael Calabrese went better than Lana had expected. Once Lana explained how she wanted to tie a business trip to San Francisco with an interview with his aunt Kay in Pasadena, Michael seemed agreeable. He asked a few questions, took some notes and said he'd call back soon. Less than two hours later he did call back with everything arranged. They would take a 7pm flight from JFK to LAX on Wednesday evening, stay overnight in a hotel near the airport then rent a car the next morning and drive to Kay's apartment in Pasadena. Lana could then conduct her interview. When Lana was finished she could drive the rental back to the airport hotel, get a good night's sleep and drive up to San Francisco on Friday morning. Hopefully she would arrive in time for the welcoming cocktail party Friday night and attend all the convention events on Saturday. She would catch a flight back to New York after the Sunday brunch. Michael would cover all travel expenses. The Pringle-Luna Literary Agency would only be responsible for the convention costs. Michael would stay at a hotel in Pasadena near his aunt's assisted living facility and then fly back to New York on Sunday.
Monica made all the convention related arrangements for Lana: hotel room, panel discussion assignment, seminar choices, etc. She even managed to set up some appointments with budding mystery authors who'd been in prior contact with the agency.
Chapter 7 of 12
The plane ride was a bit rough but Lana did not take much note of it. She enjoyed Michael's company and he seemed to enjoy hers. It was about 9pm Pacific Time when they arrived at the hotel just outside the Los Angeles Airport main entrance. They agreed to meet in the hotel's restaurant bistro for a late dinner.
The next morning Lana had risen early to gather her notes and go over just how she would approach certain points with Kay. During the drive to Pasadena Lana concluded that she was as ready as she ever would be for the interview with Kay O'Day.
Michael found a parking space in The Hillshire's guest parking lot. The assisted living facility was a beautiful seven floor, red and tan brick structure with numerous balconies overlooking stunningly landscaped grounds. Lana and Michael entered the soaring atrium but before they reached the concierge desk a very attractive blonde-haired woman called out to them. She was sitting on one of the many lobby couches near a large tropical fish aquarium. As they turned in her direction, the blonde woman stood up and slowly walked toward them using a rollator for support. Kay O'Day warmly hugged and kissed Michael then turned her attention to Lana. The two women sized each other up for a brief moment before Lana extended her hand as Michael introduced her to his aunt. Kay acknowledged the introduction and invited them to follow her to the bank of elevators. Lana noticed that Kay relied heavily on the rollator. Visions of the spry young actress who made audiences laugh at her slapstick antics as the kookie sister-in-law on the family sitcom came to Lana's imagination. Then Lana visualized Kay's more serious role in the detective drama that showcased her athleticism; running, jumping and rolling on the ground in pursuit of bad guys. Lana wondered if Kay's current frailness was due to illness or to injuries she may have suffered during her acting career or a combination of both.
Lana said to Kay, "This is a beautiful facility, much nicer than anything I've seen in New York."
"Oh, you've visited many assisted living facilities?" Kay questioned.
"Well, not many, but a few. Nothing as nice as this."
Kay led them to an elevator that took them to the seventh floor. Her apartment was lavishly but tastefully furnished. It had a balcony that overlooked a landscaped courtyard. Lana felt like she was in a luxury hotel, not an assisted living facility. Kay already had set a table for brunch. They sat down on a couch and Michael began the conversation:
"This really is an impressive facility. Are you happy here Kay?"
"The Hillshire is top of the line, nothing else approaches it in the LA area. I heard of it from one of my actor friends. I visited once and knew this was the place for me. My health has been going downhill over the past few years. I fell in the Malibu house last year. Was in the hospital for two weeks. Even after completing physical therapy I knew I could not continue living alone in the beach house with all those stairs. I sold it and moved here."
Lana said, "It must be very expensive."
Kay eyed her guest and said, "Yes, dear, it is expensive, very expensive but the care is top-notch and, as you've noticed, the building and grounds are quite impressive."
A member of the food service staff brought the meal to Kay's apartment. He put out the food and beverages and placed what looked like pudding parfaits in the refrigerator. After making sure everything was just as Kay wanted he departed with his food cart. When the tasty brunch and dessert were finished Lana gave Michael a signal and he excused himself with a vague description of an errand he was obliged to perform. Within a few minutes Lana was alone with Kay.
Kay suggested they would be more comfortable in the other room. Lana watched as Kay maneuvered her rollator toward the living room area. She noticed that Kay still had those fabulous legs that were her trademark on the detective series. The only blemish on those legs, Lana noted, was a small scar on her upper calf. The scar actually served to highlight the beauty of the leg, not detract from it.
Lana followed Kay to the couch, took a notepad and pen out of her bag, made herself comfortable and looked toward the chair where Kay chose to sit.
"You're going to take notes? Michael didn't say this was to be so formal."
Lana replied, "I've been taking notes throughout my investigation."
"Investigation? I thought you were just helping Michael understand what happened with his parents?"
"Well, to do that I have to, in essence, investigate. And part of my investigation is to interview you. To make sense of the interview I need good notes."
Kay studied Lana for a moment then said, "Did Eda Mangano let you take notes when you met with her?"
"Yes. Does that surprise you?"
"It does surprise me. Eda can be a stubborn woman and she can be overprotective of her family."
Lana decided she needed to take control of the interview. She said, "You have a good memory to recollect Eda Mangano's personality traits. You haven't seen her in over thirty years."
"Closer to forty years if you're counting. I got to know Eda in high school. Her name was Eda Calabrese back then. She introduced Maureen and I to her cousin, Tony Calabrese."
"Eda told me the story. I'd like to hear the events recounted from your viewpoint."
Kay crossed those almost perfect legs, took a deep breath and began:
"Our high school, St. Brendan's, was all-girls. In my freshman year we put on a play, The Women'and . . ."
Lana interrupted her, "I thought it was your sophomore year?"
Kay flashed a look of annoyance at being corrected, quickly recovered and answered:
"You're right, my you do take good notes. I meant to say that it was my sister Maureen's freshman year. I was a sophomore. Anyway, we were putting on this play, The Women. Have you ever seen it?"
Lana answered, "Not the play but I have seen the movie versions. 1939 was the best one."
"That's the only movie version worth seeing although there are differences between the play and the movie.' Lana waited for Kay to continue. "Anyway, Eda introduced Maureen and I to Tony. We both fell for him. He was a nice guy and quite good looking. Tony and I dated for a while. Later on I became busy with my acting lessons and work. We drifted apart. Tony started seeing my sister. They fell in love and got married."
"You left for California right after their wedding and never came back."
"I've been to New York many times since then."
"But never back to the old neighborhoods, Bensonhurst and Greenpoint, for family visits; or Flushing or West Babylon for that matter."
"I'm sure I must have visited Maureen and Tony at their house in Flushing at least once. I admit that almost all my trips back to New York were for business, not pleasure." Kay paused for a moment. "Maureen and Michael often came to visit me here in LA."
"Michael talks fondly about those visits. He speaks quite fondly of you too, Kay."
"Michael always was a good boy . . . a good nephew, a good son."
Lana smiled and said, "Michael is a good man. I really want to help him understand what happened that day in Flushing." After pausing for a moment Lana went on, "Getting back to those days in New York during the 1960's; Eda was not very clear about how Tony stopped dating you and started dating Maureen."
Kay drank from a glass of ginger ale the waiter had left behind, took a deep breath and said, "The news of my sister's death was quite shocking. It's been what, barely a month now. I'm as upset as Michael was . . . is. Dredging up memories of something that happened between two sisters that could have ended badly . . . but didn't, is not something I want to recall and recite in precise detail, especially to a stranger . . . as I'm sure you understand Lana."
Lana thought for a moment. She was unsure as to how she should proceed. She glanced past Kay's shoulder toward a display shelf and spotted three familiar-looking golden statuettes. She asked, "Are those Emmy's?"
Kay turned in her seat and said, "Yes, my three Emmy awards. The one on the left is for best supporting actress in a comedy series for The Harpers. The other two are for best actress in a dramatic series for Calhoun, PI."
"Michael told me about your career. I've seen re-runs of both your shows. I always thought that The Harpers was kind of silly, but I liked your character as the offbeat sister-in-law. Calhoun, PI was a very good show. You were great in the role of Calhoun's secretary/assistant and eventual partner. It should have lasted longer than it did."
"That's the television industry. I had fun doing The Harpers. It was my first real break in the business. Lasted seven seasons and I was very well paid for the final three. I didn't make quite as much doing the detective series but the scripts were good and I learned a lot about acting in those three years. Comedy always came easy to me. The drama and action of Calhoun really stretched me."
"You never had a regular series after Calhoun ended?"
Kay looked harshly at Lana then replied, "How nice of you to bring that up. No, I never got my own series. After Calhoun, I made a lot of guest appearances on shows like Magnum PI, Cosby, Roseanne, Dallas, Seinfeld and a bunch of others. I kept busy, paid the mortgage off on the Malibu house. At a certain point my health prevented me from getting the parts I wanted. Later on, my health problems prevented me from getting any parts at all."
Lana made some notes. When she looked up Kay continued, "Calhoun, PI should never have been cancelled. The scripts were good right from the pilot and actually improved each season. For some reason we never got the ratings the network expected. Had they been more patient . . . well, I wouldn't have had to scramble for all those guest roles. I would have been financially set. Both Bruce Hancock, who played Calhoun, and I had small pieces of the show. Four more seasons and higher ratings would have set us both up for life."
Lana asked, "Could you talk about the period from when you first arrived on the West Coast up until Maureen left you to rejoin Tony in New York?"
"Maureen was pregnant, her husband was in jail, our parents were dead. Both Maureen and I thought she would be better off with me here in LA rather than be dependent on Tony's family in Brooklyn. I had made enough money from a movie shot in Europe to buy a small house in the Valley. We figured that with some economizing, we could manage for a while until I could get some decent paying roles."
"So, it was October of 1968 when Maureen joined you in LA?"
"Sounds about right . . . it was just after Tony's trial ended."
Lana consulted her notes, "Maureen would have been four months pregnant."
Kay answered, "Three or four months, I suppose. Maureen never told me exactly when Michael was conceived."
Lana flipped through a few pages and said, "Eda Mangano believes that Michael was conceived on Maureen and Tony's honeymoon in Bermuda. That would have been late June of 1968."
Kay smiled and said, "Eda was always a bit of a busybody when it came to Tony's personal life. I myself was never sure of exactly when Michael was conceived."
Lana asked, "Was that why you suggested the trip up the coast in late March of 1969? Both you and Maureen figured the due date was a few weeks away?"
"Yes, that's right. It seems we both mis-calculated."
Lana was silent for several seconds. She paged through her notebook then placed it on her lap. "I'm puzzled by the timeline of Maureen's pregnancy."
"It's not puzzling at all. I talked Maureen into an ill-advised car trip up the coast. We were in some god-forsaken town in Oregon when Maureen went into labor. She gave birth just after midnight on the morning of April first in a tiny rural clinic in a village called Norway, As soon as Maureen and baby Michael we able to travel, we returned to Los Angeles. Maureen and the baby stayed with me until Tony was about to be freed from prison."
"Tony's release would have been, lets see, it would have been August of 1969.
"I believe so. I had gotten my callback for the part in The Harpers. I was offered the role and production began in June. We were deep into filming when Maureen and Michael left for New York, so it was probably late July or early August of '69."
Lana looked into Kay's eyes. Kay returned her look. Lana broke the silence. "I'd like you to see something. Do you have a VCR player?"
Kay answered, "No, just a DVD player. Why?"
Lana leaned over and withdrew from her bag the videocassette tape she had brought from New York. "I want you to watch this." Lana handed the tape to Kay.
Kay seemed surprised by Lana's request, examined the tape cartridge then reached over and picked up a phone that was connected to a concierge desk that the facility kept staffed twenty-four hours a day. About fifteen minutes later an attendant wheeled in a small television set with a VCR slot built in to it. The attendant plugged its cord into a wall outlet, fiddled some with the controls and then turned to Kay and said, "It's ready Ms. O'Day. What did you want to play?"
Lana stood up and handed the tape to the attendant. He inserted it and in a moment Wordmasters appeared on the screen. The attendant stopped the tape, showed Lana and Kay how to use the remote controller and left the room.
Lana made up her mind to go directly to the third episode rather than start at the beginning of the tape. She fast-forwarded to the opening credits of episode 106 and let the tape play. Lana studied Kay's face as the old show began. Kay seemed curious and kept her eyes fixed on the screen, only occasionally glancing in Lana's direction. From the instant the pretty blonde stood up, introduced herself and walked on stage Kay's eyes were riveted on the screen. Lana shut the tape off as soon as the closing credits ended. She turned and faced Kay and waited. Kay returned Lana's stare without saying a word. Lana realized that Kay would not be the first to speak, so she she started the conversation:
"I assume you recognized your sister?"
"That was Maureen? She never told me she was on a game show. How can you be sure it was Maureen?"
Lana knew she had to choose her words carefully. "Let's play the episode again. I'll raise the volume."
They both watched the episode from beginning to end. Lana rewound the tape again and played it for a third time. She stopped the tape just after the blonde woman introduced herself to the host. She turned to Kay and waited for a response.
Kay said, "It sounded as if the woman said her name was Maureen Calabrese and she certainly resembled Maureen as she looked when she was younger but I doubt that was my sister. She would have told me she had appeared on a TV game show."
"One would think so," Lana replied. "Michael has seen the tape and he believes it was his mother."
"Is that why you both made the trip here, to have me confirm that the woman on the tape is my sister?"
At this point Lana decided to lie. "We actually have confirmed, or at least 95% confirmed that it was Maureen on the game show that day. We came here to see if you could make the confirmation 100%."
"How could you possibly be so sure that it is . . . that it was Maureen?"
Lana lied again. "My staff has done extensive research online and by phone."
Kay was silent for several heartbeats, shrugged her shoulders and then stated, "Well, I suppose it could be Maureen, although I don't understand why she never mentioned it to me."
Lana considered Kay's reluctant admission as a victory of sorts and proceeded: "What has been puzzling Michael, myself and my staff is the actual date that Maureen appeared on the show."
"Why is that such a big puzzle?" Kay asked.
"It was December 17th 1968."
Kay thought for a moment then asked, "I still don't see what's so puzzling about the date."
"It's puzzling because your sister would have been six months pregnant with Michael on December 17th 1968."
After a few seconds Kay said, "Either that wasn't Maureen on the tape or you have the wrong date of the show's taping."
"Our extensive research confirmed that episode of Wordmasters was taped on 12/17/68 and was televised on CBS the next day."
"Then the woman on the show was not my sister."
Lana knew she was dealing with a professional actress who could be acting or telling the truth. Lana said, "I thought it might have been you."
"Me? Are you crazy? First of all, if I had somehow been in the audience of a TV game show back then and been called up on stage, I certainly would have used my real name since the publicity could only have helped my career. Second of all, although I may have forgotten being in the studio audience of a game show I certainly would remember being a contestant on the show. I assure you that it was not me and, as you yourself stated, it could not have been Maureen. It was just some pretty, young blonde woman who resembled what both Maureen and I looked like back then."
After a moment Lana replied, "Yes, the young woman certainly looked like both of you or either of you. She could have been a third O'Day sister."
Kay did not reply. Lana broke the silence by saying, "Quite a mystery, isn't it?"
Kay fidgeted in her seat, yawned and said, "Lately I seem to become easily fatigued. I do need to rest now. Forgive me for not showing you out."
Lana gathered her things, walked up to Kay, held out her hand and said, "It was a pleasure meeting you Miss O'Day. Please tell Michael when he returns that I'll see him back at the hotel tonight. Good bye."
The room's temperature seemed to have dropped several degrees in the 30 seconds it took Lana to make her exit. She planned to go down to the lobby and have the concierge arrange for a cab. Once the elevator deposited her in the lobby Lana changed her mind. She found a comfortable chair and spent about twenty minutes observing the comings and goings in the lobby while she replayed the interview over in her mind. She finally came to a decision, got up, walked to the concierge desk and had that cab called.
Chapter 8 of 12
Back in her hotel room Lana imagined what Kay would say to Michael when he returned to The Hillshire for dinner. The phrase "nosy bitch" would certainly be one of Kay's descriptions of her. Lana also knew that Kay was a liar. What she had lied about and why was still not clear. Lana reviewed all her notes, concentrating on the interviews with Eda Mangano and Kay O'Day. After some time of reading and thinking Lana went down to the lobby to eat in the hotel restaurant. The meal was good but her mood was not. A few ideas were lurking about in her mind as she made her way back to her room but nothing concrete burst forth. Tired of thinking, Lana clicked through the entertainment options on the TV. She was surprised to find a channel where she could order up old movies. She scrolled through the choices carelessly until one title caught her attention. She ordered the 1939 version of The Women.
It had been a few years since Lana last saw this classic, witty, well written and well acted film. She knew that it was based on and adapted from a successful Broadway play but she could not imagine that the play was better than the movie. Lana stopped watching after the "cat-fight" scene at the Reno ranch between Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard. The film played on as Lana reached for her notes. She reviewed them twice then fell asleep just as the movie was nearing its climax at the New York nightclub.
Awakening late the following morning, Lana realized she had not planned out her day very carefully. She grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant, hurried back up to her room, packed and checked-out. There was no message from Michael but the desk clerk assured her that her room bill was taken care of. Lana carried her luggage to a shuttle bus that transported her to the car rental office. While waiting for her car to be brought to the front Lana made some inquiries about taking the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco. She was dismayed when she was told her preferred route would take ten or eleven hours. She was forced to settle for the inland route in order to arrive at her San Francisco hotel in time for the mystery convention's opening festivities.
Not being sure if California had a law against driving while using a cell phone, Lana placed a call to Monica in New York a little after 1pm California time while eating lunch at a rest stop on I-5. Monica updated Lana on the progress of her assigned research related to the Calabrese case. They exchanged some questions and answers and some theories. Lana suggested some further areas of research. Monica gave Lana last minute instructions regarding the convention. Lana finished her lunch and continued her drive on to San Francisco.
Chapter 9 of 12
Lana made it to the convention's registration desk at 5:04pm. The two registrars were almost done packing up and seemed annoyed to be forced to unpack and process Lana's registration. The opening ceremonies were interesting and the reception that followed was congenial. Lana recognized several established mystery authors but was not bold enough to introduce herself. She felt more comfortable mingling with the fans and aspiring authors. Lana knew Monica would chastise her for not schmoozing the right people but she did feel more like a fan than the owner of a New York literary agency. Still, she handed out plenty of business cards and participated in numerous conversations with interesting people.
When she got back to her room at about eleven that night Lana made it a point to study the next day's schedule that Monica had laid out for her. It matched up perfectly with the convention schedule handout: 7:15am - 8:50am, new author's breakfast. 9:00am - 9:50am, best novel nominees panel, etc., etc. It was to be a full and busy day. As a New York based agent Lana had requested, unsuccessfully, to be on the Ellery Queen discussion panel scheduled at 1:30. Noticing the industry heavyweights who made it on the panel, Lana was not surprised that she was relegated to the "Reporters Who Uncover Crime" panel instead.
The "New Authors Breakfast" started off the next day's non-stop action. Lana felt she acquitted herself well on her mid-day panel. For the most part the one-on-one meetings Monica had arranged with aspiring authors were not disastrous.
Lana's final appointment, at four o'clock, was with Henry Dellamuco, an aspiring writer of police procedurals. She thought the young man's samples were derivative but she did like one of his police detective characters. Since it was only 4:20, Lana felt she ought to give Henry his full thirty minutes. She asked him where he was from.
"Fortuna," the sandy-haired twenty-something year-old answered.
Lana replied, "I'm not familiar with Fortuna. Is it in California?"
Henry answered, "Oh, yes. It's up north, near Eureka."
Lana shook her head. Henry Dellamuco said, "You don't know much California geography, do you? Fortuna is about a five hour drive north from San Francisco."
Lana said, "Oh, is it near the Oregon border?"
"Couple of hundred miles south of it."
Lana thought for a moment. She took out her case notes from her bag, read through them for a bit then said, "Mr. Dellamuco, how would you like to do some real detective work?"
"You mean like for research purposes, because, you know, I have gone along on citizen police ride-a-longs. They have this program in Fortuna that . . ."
Lana interrupted, "Sure, it could be useful for your fiction but I need some, um, investigative work done for a project I'm working on. It's not dangerous but my staff in New York has been unsuccessful in acquiring a copy of an important document. A resourceful man might be able to succeed in-person where my staff has failed from a distance."
Henry looked doubtful. Lana thought quickly. She said, 'Look Henry, I would consider this a personal favor and I would reimburse any expenses you incur." He still looked doubtful. "If you were to succeed, I woud place the entire resources of my agency behind the efforts to get you published and . . ."
'Published' was the magic word. Henry Dellamuco volunteered for the mission.
Lana explained the job in detail then said, "All right Henry, time is of the essence. You'll need to be in North Bend, that's the Coos County seat, first thing Monday morning. If things don't go well there, you'll have to go on to Portland. Are you familiar with those cities?"
Henry answered that he had been to the town of North Bend on Coos Bay several times and to the city of Portland once. He'd have to arrange a couple of days off from his job at a chain pet store but he'd manage it. Lana made sure Henry had both Monica's and her own contact information before he left.
Chapter 10 of 12
The remainder of Saturday's mystery convention events passed like a whirlwind for Lana. She collapsed into her bed well after midnight. There were a few morning events on Sunday but by noon everyone was looking to take their leave. Lana was booked on a 4pm flight back to JFK, however she wanted to give Henry a day or two to accomplish his mission. Her ticket was refundable so she arranged to stay another day at the same hotel at the convention rate. Hopefully, Henry would have news no later than midday Tuesday. Lana used Sunday evening and night to re-organize her convention notes and new contacts information. She would bring back to New York several good potential client leads. Lana even made some useful publishing contacts; at least she hoped they would be useful. Lana had never been good at networking but she believed she had improved since taking over the literary agency.
Monday was devoted the the Calabrese case. Lana went over her case notes several times, coming up with several theories and eventually rejecting each one, except for one theory that refused to be dismissed. The more she thought about it the more powerful it became. It would explain what happened to Michael's parents. Yet, this theory was even more improbable than some of the rejected ones. She needed to hear from Henry.
The call from Henry Dellamuco came about half an hour before she would have to either check out or arrange for another night's stay.
Lana repeated to Henry, "Are you sure?"
"I'm looking at it right now. There is no doubt."
"Good job Henry. Scan a copy to my email address and also to Monica's at the agency. Once I return to New York, you will become the agency's top priority."
Lana used the hotel's business services room to log on to her email and print out the result of Henry's trip to Oregon. There it was. Henry was not mistaken. She called Monica. They argued about the meaning of the discovery. Monica rejected Lana's theory.
"It's too far-fetched," Monica complained. "It couldn't be true."
"Think about it Monica. It explains everything, or nearly everything."
Monica was silent for almost a minute then asked, "So, what are you going to do?"
"I need to verify one more thing before I return to Pasadena. I'll call you at home tonight with the news."
Lana extended her hotel stay another night then spent the next three hours tracking down an obscure video. The hotel concierge eventually steered her to a large video store in a dodgy neighborhood several blocks away. The owner was a quirky fellow with a massive collection of videos, DVDs and even actual film. He claimed to be a movie expert but seemed stumped at Lana's request. He sat thinking for a bit then jumped up and started down one aisle, sorted through some videos on a high shelf. He cursed and returned to the front desk. He thought a bit more, got up more slowly this time and wandered toward a dark corner of his store. He fingered through some videos, tossed a few on the floor, stopped, looked at a different shelf, reached in and came came back to his desk holding a dusty video tape. After charging an exorbitant price for the tape the store owner hesitated before placing it into a paper bag. He wiped some of the dust off and examined the cover carefully, then said, "I think I remember this . . . saw it once . . . it wasn't bad." Lana quickly escaped with her prize and hurried back to the hotel.
Lana had to haggle a bit with guest services but eventually a television set that could play VHS tapes was brought into her room. She had verified with IMBD online that The Barcelona Affair was filmed in Spain and Italy in the summer and early fall of 1968. Kay O'Day was given sixth billing, pretty good for a newcomer considering the international cast. Lana watched the caper film through once without interruption. Kay played a naive American tourist who winds up helping some suave thieves steal a valuable statuette from a museum run by a corrupt curator. Lana watched the film a second time, carefully replaying all of Kay's scenes. She also studied all the scenes involving the leading man, Luke Williamson. He had been extremely handsome and a rising Hollywood star back in the late sixties but his career was cut short by alcohol, drugs and scandals. He died of a drug overdose two years after The Barcelona Affair was released.
Lana ejected the tape, placed it back into its colorful case and sat in thought. After a few minutes she concluded that she had solved the case, but she needed more proof than an outlandish theory and a piece of paper. Only one person could confirm Lana's theory and that person would have every reason to refute her. Reluctantly, Lana booked herself on a 10am flight to LAX and called Monica at home to share her discovery. Monica was still skeptical but helped Lana plan her strategy for tomorrow. Both then settled in for a good night's sleep. Lana would need it.
Chapter 11 of 12
The next afternoon Lana had the cabdriver drop her off near the main entrance of The Hillshire in Pasadena. She requested he wait for her since she did not want to bring her luggage into the facility. The Hillshire did have a reception sign-in desk but, as she had learned from her observations in the lobby last week, security was minimal. If you were well dressed and seemed to know where you were going, the staff paid you scant attention. Lana walked directly to one of the sitting areas of the lobby near the elevators and waited for her opportunity. A few residents and two nurses were waiting for an elevator. When the bell rang Lana moved quickly and was able to blend in with the group entering the elevator. She exited on the seventh floor and calmly walked through the corridor in the direction of Kay's apartment. She knocked on Kay's door and waited.
"Yes, who is it?"
Lana spoke loudly at the closed door, 'It's Lana Luna." No response. "Michael's friend from New York."
Lana assumed Kay was eyeing her through the peephole. The door swung partway inward. Kay asked, "Is Michael with you?"
"No. May I come in?"
Kay nodded and slowly backed up allowing Lana to enter.
"Does Michael know you're here?"
"No," Lana answered. "Michael is back in New York. I'm supposed to be back there, too."
"Well, why aren't you?"
"I have something to show you. Can we sit down?"
Kay motioned to the same couch Lana had sat on during her visit five days ago. When they were both seated Lana took out a piece of folded paper from her bag and handed it to Kay. Kay studied it for a moment before saying, "This is a copy of Michael's birth certificate."
"Yes it is," Lana answered.
"But the date of birth is wrong. Where did you get this?'
Lana hesitated a moment then answered, "From the Coos County Bureau of Health and Records."
Kay shook her head and said, "Michel was born on April first, not May seventh."
Lana replied, "Michael Calabrese was born on May seventh, nineteen sixty nine."
"This is a fake. Michael has his own original certified copy of his birth certificate. I've seen it myself. More importantly, I was in the room with my sister when Michael was born."
Lana said, "Yes you were . . . in that small clinic in that small town in Oregon."
Kay O'Day slid back in her chair and gave Lana the same look she used to give the bad guys on her detective TV show.
Lana continued, "I've also seen Michael's original birth certificate, that is, the one he believes to be his birth certificate. In fact, I have a copy of it here." She took another sheet of folded paper from her bag and handed it to Kay.
Kay glanced back and forth between the two sheets of paper, placed one on the coffee table, held the other up in her hand, pointed to the sheet on the coffee table and said, "That's Michael's real birth certificate." Kay shook the paper in her hand. "This is a fake."
Lana picked up the sheet that Kay had placed on the table, studied it a moment and said, "No, this April first certificate is the fake. The May seventh one in your hand is the real one, Maureen."
The actress placed the sheet she was holding down on her lap and glared at Lana then said, 'What did you call me?
Lana replied, "I called you by the name your parents gave you, your real name, the name you used until sometime in early 1969. Your full name is Maureen O'Day Calabrese."
"What kind of nonsense is this? How did you get up here anyway? The front desk did not announce you and you are certainly not on my pre-approved visitor list."
"I just came up the elevator. No one knows I'm here. Security in this facility is not as top-notch as the care and the ambiance."
"I think you should leave now, Ms. Luna."
"I'll leave, Maureen. But first listen to this story. It's far-fetched yet true. Two sisters are growing up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Very pretty sisters. Born a year or so apart. Not exactly exactly Irish twins but almost. The older sister always looked after the younger. The older sister met this nice guy from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. They go steady. Maybe they fall in love. The sisters' parents die in a car accident. The older sister supports the younger. The older sister makes sure the younger finishes high school. The older sister is working a day job at a bank . . . taking acting classes at night. She doesn't have much spare time for her boyfriend. The younger sister has plenty of time. All of a sudden, the younger sister and the nice guy from Bensonhurst are dating and plan to marry. The older sister is not bitter. She is happy for the two people she loves most. She unselfishly steps aside . . . eventually moves to Los Angeles to pursue her goal of becoming an actress. Meanwhile, the younger sister and her husband seem happy. The younger sister gets pregnant on her honeymoon. Everything seems fine. The older sister gets a lucky break . . . lands a role in a movie to be filmed in Europe. Has the older sister really gotten over the nice guy from Bensonhurst? Probably not . . . but she is an unselfish person and genuinely wants her sister to be happy. On her movie set the older sister meets a very handsome fellow actor. They have a romance. The older sister finds herself pregnant . . . but her lover was not a nice guy from Brooklyn. He has little interest in marriage and even less interest in fatherhood. Even if the actor wanted to do the right thing, he'd be quite unsuitable, as a husband or a father. An interesting and compelling story so far . . . don't you agree Maureen?"
"My name is not Maureen."
Lana ignored her remark, "We don't know how the story would have played out because something totally unexpected happened. The nice guy from Brooklyn had some not-so-nice friends and he got mixed up with a burglary and shooting. He was innocent but wound up in jail. Things looked bleak for the pretty sisters from Greenpoint. The older was pregnant with no husband. The younger was pregnant with a husband in prison. The older sister took the younger back with her to California after the trial. What they talked about? What they decided? When they decided? How they decided? I don't know . . . but decisions were made and by December of 1968 the younger sister was no longer pregnant and the older sister was still pregnant. January then February rolls around. The older sister can no longer go on casting calls but the younger sister can and does. She impersonates the older sister with the older sister's permission. I have no idea what the sisters were going to tell the nice guy from Brooklyn, who is still in prison with no hope of getting out for years. Then, something happened back East. A deathbed confession eventually will lead to the release of the nice guy from Brooklyn. The sisters' hands are forced. The younger sister has real acting talent and is getting TV roles. The older sister is now eight months pregnant. The sisters from Greenpoint concoct a plan. They will switch lives. The younger sister no longer wants to be married to a truck driver, having babies every couple of years, living in cramped outer borough apartments. The older sister never stopped loving the nice guy from Brooklyn. The sisters look enough alike that they think they can pull off this scheme. They just have to accomplish two things: fudge the birth date of the older sister's child and never let anyone who knew them back East ever see them together, and especially never let the nice guy from Brooklyn ever see them together. They managed to accomplish both goals. The second was not too difficult considering Tony Calabrese was afraid of flying and career factors could always explain away the lack of visits by the actress sister to old family and friends back in New York. I'm not exactly sure how the birth date problem was managed."
The actress raised her voice, "Do you really think Michael will believe this wild story of yours? Do you think anyone would believe it? You have no real proof."
Lana replied, "That birth certificate is real proof. Blood tests and DNA tests will be real proof."
The actress was silent. She seemed to have aged several years in since Lana first entered her apartment. After three minutes of thinking she sighed and finally spoke, "All right, you win. I'm Maureen. The father of Kay's child . . ."
Lana interrupted, "Luke Williamson."
"Oh, you figured that out, too? You're a better detective than I thought. Yes, it was Luke Williamson. What a jerk. Once Kay told him she was pregnant, he wanted her to end it. Back then he had plenty of money and plenty of contacts for that sort of thing. I'm the one who eventually went for the abortion. Once we decided to switch lives, we did, as you say, have to solve the problem of the baby's birth date since Kay got pregnant two months after I did. If we were to pass the child off as Tony's then the baby would have to be born in March or very early April of 1969. We came up with the plan of having Kay give birth in some remote, obscure place, far away from any inquisitive eyes. We picked out a small clinic in a tiny Oregon town. I drove Kay up there and we waited in the car near the clinic until her labor began. We timed our arrival so there would be scant chance of them sending us to a bigger and better equipped hospital. No one questioned who we claimed to be. As you said, we certainly looked alike. We simply drove back to Los Angeles as soon as Kay and baby Michael were able to travel. We lied to everyone about Michael's birth date. We used some of the money Luke Williamson had given Kay to have a guy create a fake birth certificate showing Michael's birth date as April first instead of May seventh.
"Why April first?" asked Lana. "Wouldn't a date in late March more accurately match up to your expected delivery due date had you . . .well . . ."
"Not aborted my baby. March 25th was supposed to be my delivery date but we had to think about future pediatrician visits. We were worried that any doctor Kay went to after we returned to LA might notice a discrepancy in the baby's early development since Kay would be passing off a baby as being five weeks older than he really was. As Michael got older, that problem went away. Besides, using April first was our, well, something like an inside joke, you know, April fool. We thought it was clever back then. Silly, now when you think about it."
Lana said, "So, the potential problems concerning baby Michael worked themselves out. Wasn't Kay's reunion with Tony the trickiest part of the whole scheme?"
Maureen replied, "It went better then we ever could have hoped. Kay never stopped loving Tony. I don't think Tony ever stopped loving Kay. Maybe we were just lucky. Tony never suspected, at least I don't think he ever suspected that Kay and I switched lives . . . until the end. The shock of the long-time impersonation combined with the realization of Michael's true parentage must have been the triggering causes for Tony hitting Kay that terrible day last month. It''s the only explanation I can think of for what Tony did." Maureen silently sat staring at her hands which were folded in her lap. She began to cry. Lana did not know what to do. Maureen regained her composure and went on, "My sister and I figured the most dangerous time would be the first few days after she and the baby were re-united with Tony. But Kay really pulled it off. She would have been a good actress. Every few years something would come up that posed a risk: a health test here . . . a slip of memory there . . . Michael not looking at all like Tony. Kay managed to explain it all away. Until the end. something happened a month ago. Tony must have figured it out . . . confronted her. Who knows? It's hard to believe that something that happened forty years ago would wind up causing the deaths of two wonderful people."
Lana asked, "Those few months you were with Tony . . . did he ever . . ."
"Hit me, strike me, rough me up? No, never. He never raised a hand to me. Whatever he found out . . . whatever Kay said to him . . . whatever they argued about . . . something set him off. Obviously he was horrified by what he did to Kay. He couldn't live with himself . . . not because he realized Michael was not his child . . . not because he found out Kay and I switched places but because he . . . accidentally . . .killed the woman he loved."
Lana Luna looked into Maureen O"Day's eyes and asked, "Did you ever regret . . . did you . . ."
"Did I regret aborting my baby . . . did I regret not returning to Tony, my husband of three months?"
Lana was silent. Maureen went on, "Tony was a good man . . .a good husband to me for those few months . . . a good husband to Kay for all those years. You must think terribly of me for exchanging a humdrum but loving relationship for glamour and success."
"Was it worth it?"
"I never gave it much thought during my career. I've thought about it more lately."
Lana said, "It seems that Kay was happy with the switch."
"She was. She loved Tony, loved being his wife, loved being a mother." Maureen fell into a deep silence. After a while she said, "You mentioned regrets. I do have one regret."
"What was that?"
Maureen again fell into a silence, tears welled up in he eyes. She used a tissue, gathered herself and spoke, "You know, abortions were illegal back then. I went to a high priced abortionist. Everything seemed all right afterwards but years later I would find out that I could not have children. I don't regret my career choice. I'm proud of what I accomplished. I do regret the abortion. I was barely nineteen when I had it done. Kay begged me to have the baby. But, at the time I couldn't see any way . . . any other way out." Maureen shook her head. "It was a boy . . . Tony's son . . . my son. Maybe the punishment for my selfishness was to never be able to become pregnant again."
Lana had no answer for Maureen. She collected the two birth certificates and made preparations to leave.
"I suppose you will tell Michael the whole story when you get back to New York."
"Yes, that's what he wanted, the whole story of why his parents died."
"Before you go, explain to me how you figured it out? Was it simply seeing me not pregnant on that silly game show?"
"That was the first clue. Understanding why Tony had the tape in his possession was the second clue."
Maureen said, "It was the first day since after the abortion that I felt well enough to get out of the house. I borrowed Kay's car and drove to Hollywood. I was just walking around like the tourist I was. Kay wasn't feeling well so she stayed at home in that small house of hers out in the Valley. I was walking past the CBS studios when this guy practically grabbed me and some other people and begged us to watch a game show as part of a live studio audience. I thought, 'Why not?' Maureen fell silent in thought then she went on, "To think, had I not gone into that studio that day, Kay and Tony would still be alive today."
Lana had no reply to Maureen's lament so she continued with her explanation, "Other things started to add up. Tony Calabrese's sudden interest in genealogy and Kay's concern about his new hobby. Michael not looking anything like Tony. The fact that you and Kay looked so much alike. The way Eda Mangano described Maureen's different personalities before she went to Los Angeles and after her return to New York. Kay, impersonating Maureen, choosing not to return to her old Greenpoint neighborhood. She found an apartment in Woodside for her and Tony and baby Michael to start their new lives. Too many people in your old neighborhood knew both of you too well."
Maureen absorbed Lana's explanation for a moment then said, "Yes, there was no going back to Greenpoint, much too dangerous for Kay, it seemed like everybody knew us there. Once Kay was settled back with Tony, Eda Mangano became our next big worry. Eda never did like me. She always liked Kay. I guess she thought that I matured out in LA and became more like Kay when I returned. Little did Eda know that it was really Kay who came back, not Maureen." She looked a Lana for a moment and said, "So that was it? You pieced it all together with just those clues?"
Lans said, "Well, I left out the biggest and most important clue."
"What was that?"
Instead of answering, Lana leaned over, reached out her hand and touched the back of Maureen's left calf muscle. Maureen seemed puzzled. Lana said, "Nina Benevento."
Lana answered, "Nina Benevento, Angela Piccola's best friend. You still have the small scar on your leg from when she bit you. Eda Mangano described the biting incident that happened during your performance of The Women in high school. When Michael and I were here last week I noticed the small scarring on the back of your leg."
"Oh God, I'd completely forgotten about that. Geez, it was such a big stink at the time."
Lana gathered her things and declared it was time for her to leave. Maureen did not get up from her seat. As Lana was reaching for the doorknob Maureen called to her; "Tell Michael that I love him . . . have always loved him. His mother loved both him and Tony more than anything else in the world."
Lana closed the apartment door and began walking toward the elevator. She thought, 'You're wrong Maureen. Kay loved you just as much as she loved her son and husband.'
Chapter 12 of 12
It wasn't a celebration. It was just a gathering in the offices of the Pringle-Luna Literary Agency on Friday afternoon. three days after Lana returned from the West Coast. Michael Calabrese had been given a full report two days earlier. Michael suggested the small gathering so he could thank Lana for a job well done and as sort of a tribute to his mother and father. Besides Michael, those present included Eda Mangano, her daughter Alexandra and grandson Paul. Lana Luna, Monica McCool and Ana Mena, from the employment agency down the hall, completed the group. Michael had arrived early accompanied by two burly deliverymen who carried a beautiful walnut wine storage unit into the pantry area of the office.
Eda, Lana, Monica and Ana were sipping wine and discussing the O'Day sisters when Monica noticed that Eda was not keeping up her end of the conversation. Eda apologized for her distraction, took a sip of wine and nodded over toward where Michael, Alexandra and young Paul were sitting and talking. She said, "My daughter is happier now than at any time since her husband's death twelve years ago."
Monica and Ana seemed puzzled. Eda excused herself and walked over to join her family across the room. Lana watched Eda walk away then turned to her two friends and explained, "Michael and Alexandra have realized that they are not blood relations . . . they're not cousins."
Monica McCool raised her wineglass and said, 'Well, here's a toast to the handsomest man I've ever met."
Lana and Ana also raised their glasses. Lana said, "We are watching yet another eligible bachelor bite the dust."
Ana looked at Lana and said, "A disappointment from which you may never recover."
Monica found that remark to be quite hilarious.