Don’t Let Us Get Sick

“So Mr. Magliacci,” Vic said, laying the photos down on his desk, “I feel like you should know, most of my experience is with insurance investigations, unfaithful partners, things of that nature. Pretty much all of it, if I’m being honest.”

“And?” said Mr. Magliacci, who had close-cropped battleship-gray hair and the bullet shape common to middle-aged men who were muscular in their youth. “Is that a no?”

“No, no, no, not at all,” Vic said, sitting forward in his chair. “Point I’m making, Mr. Magliacci, is this: by and large, people who hire me expect to turn up things they won’t like. More to the point, they’re sending me after people they’re prepared not to like. You seem like you love your daughter a lot, like you’re concerned about her.”

“Fuckin’ A.”

“So I just wonder if you feel like my area of expertise will lead me to investigate this in a way you didn’t necessarily emotionally prepare for.”

“Jesus Christ,” Mr. Magliacci said. “Whadya, tie ’em up and beat a confession out of them?”

“Of course not.”

“Then cut the bullshit. My God.”

“Just covering the bases. Tell me what you need. Specifically.”

Mr. Magliacci hugged himself and scratched his right forearm. “So Mr. Valdez, my little girl, Angie, she’s 20, sophomore at Columbia, first in the family.” He said it faux-conversationally, trying to make it sound like something other than a brag. It was the verbal equivalent of Bugs Bunny disguised as a woman: ridiculously obvious, but it still worked on some level. “And, like, I ain’t blind. I know my little girl. And I see her on parents weekend and I meet this friend of hers, black girl, and, like, she’s a friend of hers, you understand?”

Vic nodded, trying to propel this wherever it was going.

“And, like, I’m pretty old-school, most people would say. She’d definitely say. But that’s still my little girl and I’m not one of these pricks who’s gonna throw a fit over that. But I never told her I knew, and I can’t really explain why. Maybe she knows I know, who knows. Anyway, I still read the blotter, which is goofy, I know, but about a week ago, somebody killed this girl, this friend of my Angie’s. Had her picture and everything. Looks like someone took her wallet and when there were only credit cards in there, they got pissed off, shot her.”

Vic nodded again, hoping to God Mr. Magliacci didn’t have him confused with a bounty hunter or a button man but also not wishing to interrupt the kind of man who goes looking for one.

“Now, ever since, Angie’s been acting strange. Which, obviously, that’s kinda to be expected, but I mean a different kind of strange. I tried to visit her on campus a couple times, as a surprise, you know, but everyone on her hall said she was gone. Like, with a friend. That’s what they said, a friend. And the other night, I pulled up across the street from her dorm, I see her get into this car I never seen before, but I know this type of car, right? Pulled over a hundred like it back in the day.”

“You think your daughter’s on drugs.”

Magliacci sighed and his entire upper body shuddered forward. “Yeah, that’s about the size of it. I’m not good at intervention shit and I want her to feel like she can talk to me about her friend, but if she feels like I’m coming at her, she might close up, you know?”

“Right, sure. So what is it you want me to do? Just find out whether she is?”

Mr. Magliacci shook his head. “A little more than that. I want you to get the guy away from her. I don’t need to know how and I don’t care.”

“You don’t think she’d find another dealer?”

“She probably would. But it gives me a window when I’d feel better about talking to her.”

Vic looked back at the pictures Mr. Magliacci had brought. Angie was a chubby dark-haired girl with a heart-shaped face and husky-blue eyes. “Tell me a little more about her. She have a job?”

“She’s a part-time production assistant at NBC. They’re pretty reasonable about her class schedule, so she’s there around 6 to 11 Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

“Okay. Anything else I need to know?”

Mr. Magliacci looked hesitant. “She’s, you know, she’s got autism, we’re pretty sure.”

“Pretty sure?”

“I mean, we got her diagnosed when she was eight, I was just never convinced. You know, she talks normally, she finished school and all that shit.”

Vic raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s, you know, it’s a spectrum, man.”

“So they say.” Mr. Magliacci shifted in his chair. “I’m just a cop from Bensonhurst, the fuck do I know?”

Vic Valdez was youngish, photogenic and had never been a cop, all of which were fairly unusual for a private detective. This made him closer to people’s image of a TV detective than most of the competition, which was good for business. It gave him an advantage when his clients were cops, oddly enough; they allowed themselves vulnerability they wouldn’t when they felt like they had a bullshit tribal façade to maintain. Magliacci likely wouldn’t have told another cop Angie was autistic.

Along with the photos, Magliacci had included the clipping from the police blotter about Sophia, Angie’s girlfriend. As luck would have it (for a given value of “luck”), Sophia had been killed about three blocks from campus, close enough that an alert had gone out to all the students. Vic put on his reading glasses and combed his undercut into something more befitting a bureaucrat as best he could. In a couple of Magliacci’s photos, Angie was with friends; he was able to identify one, Katrina Something.

Vic was able to enhance the photo to pick out a uniform shirt under Katrina’s windbreaker; he cross-referenced it with a Yelp search and determined she was a waitress at the Side Door, a local restaurant that wasn’t owned by the university but whose clientele was overwhelmingly students (locals, as is often the case with such places, regarded it in a manner reminiscent of Romanian villagers discussing Castle Dracula).

Vic called the restaurant and asked if Katrina was available; the manager said she’d be in at six that evening. Vic thanked him and staked out the place from across the street at five, making sure to queue up albums he didn’t mind listening to in their entirety, like Nick Cave’s “Murder Ballads” and Florence & the Machine’s “Ceremonials,” on his phone.

Katrina got off around 9. Vic crossed the street and called her name. She turned and looked confused but not worried.

“Hey, Katrina,” Vic said, jogging up to her. “You’re a, you’re friends with Angela Magliacci, aren’t you?”

“Sure. Can I help you?”

“My name’s Forsythe Jones, I’m a grief counselor. Now, I don’t know if she ever told you this, but Angela’s mother was murdered in a robbery gone wrong several years ago.” (This was true.)

“I did, actually.”

“Right, okay. So the, ah, the shooting, near campus, recently, there’s concerns, sometimes, when something like that happens, it’ll trigger sort of a downturn, emotionally, for someone who’s had that kind of thing affect their lives before, so I’m just trying to find out if Angela seems like she’s been acting… odd, at all, since it happened.”

Katrina tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “The university has a nondiscrimination policy,” she said. “You know that, right?”

“Of course. What’s that…”

“So if you’re trying to ferret out queer girls, that’s illegal.”

“It’s nothing like that. Are you saying they knew each other?”

“Soph was Angie’s girlfriend, yeah.”

This was good to know. Magliacci’s intuition being right meant a lot of the rest of what he’d said was likely accurate. “So back to my question, how’s Angela taking it?”

Katrina pursed her lips. “It’s complicated.”

“How do you mean?”

“Angie’s not a repressed person. She lets you know when she’s happy, when she’s sad, when she’s angry, all of it. But ever since Sophia died, it seems like she gets tenser and tenser over the course of the day. Her suitemate, Carol? Apparently the first few nights, right around 10, she said Angie had some kind of attack.”

“Attack?”

“Like, almost like a panic attack. She sounded like she was trying to keep it down, you know, repress it? You know how if you’re crying and trying to stop all at the same time?”

“Sure.”

“Yeah, that was how Angie was the first few nights. And we’d just been out that evening and she seemed fine.”

“So you said the first few nights. It’s been about a week and a half. Did something change?”

“She hasn’t been in the last few nights. At least not when most of us go to bed.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Honestly?” Katrina dropped her voice a little. “I think she’s on the rebound. Which I totally get, no judgment, you do what you have to do for yourself, I just at the same time get why she’d want to be discreet about it too.”

“What makes you think that? Just her absence?”

“No, I’ve seen him. Artsy-looking white boy, older. Maybe like 30. Drives a Caddy, looks like a douchebag. We have an evening class Tuesday and Thursday and normally after it lets out we’ll go have a drink or chill in the commons but the past few nights she’s said she’s got something to take care of and I saw this guy pick her up.”

“And around when is that?”

“Class lets out at 9:40.”

Vic pulled a campus map out of his coat. “I haven’t worked on campus long; can you show me around where she meets him?”

Katrina pointed to an intersection on the map. Vic thanked her and headed back to his car.

It was Wednesday. The next night, Vic put on his black turtleneck and leather jacket and put his gun against the small of his back before driving to the spot Katrina had said was the rendezvous point. As was his habit, he was early, which was a terrible strategy for keeping one’s nerves steady.

The Cadillac slid into the intersection around 9:30. Not long after, Angie advanced down the sidewalk and opened the door. She had a weird, purposeful stride in her step, with none of the trepidation Vic would have expected from someone making a drug buy. The driver, a skinny dark-haired guy with a goatee wearing a scarf over a cardigan over a t-shirt, did indeed look like a douchebag.

Vic was lucky he had filled his tank that morning; Cadillac Douche drove all the way to Brooklyn, parking out front of a small storefront in Greenpoint. After they got out and walked in, Vic waited a second before getting up and following. The door, as he’d anticipated, was locked, but he was able to jimmy it open with the slim jim in his pocket.

The lights were dim inside the building; as Vic’s eyes adjusted, he realized it was the waiting area of a recording studio. There was no one in the live room but he could make out the outlines of Angie and Cadillac Douche in the control room. He slowly approached the door, keeping out of what, as far as he could tell, was their line of sight. He put his ear to the door.

“…five hundred,” Vic heard the guy say.

“That wasn’t what we discussed.”“That wasn’t what we discussed on Tuesday. It’s a pain in the ass getting this shit.”

“It’s not shit.” There was a ragged, primal edge in Angie’s voice, but it wasn’t that of a junkie; it was something else Vic couldn’t put his finger on.

“Let me hear it.”

“Money first.”

“Don’t be a prick, Brett. I don’t have that much on me anyway. I’ll give you the balance next time.”

“Sure you will.”

“Have I ever stiffed you?”

“I don’t work on credit, little girl.”

There was a pause, followed by a deep, shuddering sigh, and Vic felt like he’d caught a whiff of the barely-repressed panic Katrina had described.

“Take me back to campus, then. I’ll… I’ll deal with it.”

“Okay, let’s not go nuts. There are ways you can pay me upfront.”

“What? What do you want, my phone? I need it.”

Brett sighed. “Jesus Christ, you can be dense, you know that? Do I have to spell everything out?”

“In my case, probably.”

“Fuck’s sake. Okay, I will. You want this without paying me 500, suck me off.”

There was another silence, this one unpunctuated.

“You are fucking disgusting,” Angie said at last.

“That’s a nice way to talk to your ride home.”

“I’m not riding home with you. I’ll get a cab, something. Let me out.”

“Whoa whoa whoa.” Vic heard the squeaking of Brett standing up in a leather chair. “Let’s… sweetie, I gotta tell you, you really don’t hold the cards you think you do.”

Vic threw open the door, flicked on the light and held his gun on Brett. “Get away from her,” he said.

“Hold on, who the fuck are you?”

“I’m not Porky Pig, so I know for a fuckin’ fact I didn’t stutter. Stop blocking her path, creep.”

Brett stepped back, shooting Vic the sullen expression of a child told he couldn’t ride his bicycle on the roof.

Vic kept his gun on Brett and shifted his gaze to Angie, who was remarkably composed, from the looks of it. “And Angie, I need you to tell me what’s going on. What are you buying from Fucko McScarfneck over here?”

Angie sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Show him, Brett.”

Brett, still wearing that look, took a CD out of his cardigan and put it in the stereo. It began to play and an unaccompanied voice, a gorgeous, velvety one, sounding like a young Etta James, unspooled throughout the room and Vic knew he was listening to the late Sophia.

“Don’t let us get sick,
Don’t let us get old,
Don’t let us get stupid, alright?
Just make us be brave,
And make us play nice,
And let us be together tonight.”

“Sophia was trying to record an album here with Brett,” Angie explained. “Right up until she died, she was recording it. I was the one who told her she should record it because…” her voice caught for a second. “..because after we started to get serious, she’d sing to me over the phone every night after I got home from my evening class. Did my father tell you I’m on the spectrum?”

Vic nodded.

“I have my routines. I need them. After Sophia died, I cried for nearly a full day, and once I was done, I realized I couldn’t sleep without her voice. I tried, God, did I try. After the first week, I reached out to Brett; I met him briefly when Sophia started recording. He was going to trash what she’d recorded but I told him how much I needed it, which, clearly, was a mistake. This is what men do, you know. They take advantage. Please tell my dad I’m sorry if I worried him.”

Vic looked back over at Brett. “Hey, Brett,” he said, “just so you’re aware, Miss Magliacci’s father is a cop. Did you know that, Brett?”

“No.”

“Okay, well, now you do. And what’s going to happen is, you’re going to give her everything Sophia recorded with you — everything, understand — or her dad the cop hears what you tried to do, but before that happens I’m going to beat the shit out of you and glue that gross weak-chin-concealing goatee to your dick. You got all that?”

Brett nodded.

“Go get it. Darse prisa, dipshit.”

Brett kicked aside a cardboard box on the floor and opened a combination safe set in the wall. There were several jewel cases inside, each with an unlabeled CD. He roughly handed them all to Vic.

“Don’t give them to me, asshole, give them to her.”

Brett, rolling his eyes before he could stop himself, handed them to Angie.

“Angela, are you okay with me giving you a ride home?” Vic asked, the gun still on Brett.

“Sure,” Angie said. “Thanks for asking.”

Angie didn’t say much as they drove. It was a beautiful, clear night; a stiff breeze was lingering from February but spring was still in the air, the warmth of newness palpable in the spaces between.

“You gonna be okay, Angela?” Vic said as they crossed the Williamsburg Bridge.

Angie looked up as though she’d forgotten he was there. “I think so,” she said. “It feels different than with Ma. I… I miss them both so much, you understand, but Sophia and I, we were both new at this. I’m not trying to sound callous, but I have to deal with this on two levels: I miss Sophia the person but I also have the disruption in the way things are to deal with. And that second one is easier than it was with Ma, because we were just getting serious. The singing will keep me steady on my feet until I’m ready to really think about her being gone. Does that make any sense?”

“Oh, no, yeah, perfect sense.”

“Are you just saying this? I’ve never lost someone like Sophia. I have no idea how much of a heartless bitch I’m being.”

“Angela,” Vic said, “I promise you, you are no kind of heartless bitch. Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

“Thank you. What are you going to tell my father?”

“He wanted to know if you were on drugs, and I’m going to tell him you’re not.”

“What if he wants specifics?”

“I don’t think he will. He’s not a guy who understands everything, but he understands what he doesn’t understand, you know?”

“That’s true. Thank you.”

Vic pulled up to the spot where Brett had picked up Angie and handed her his card. “You ever get in any kind of trouble, let me know, okay?”

“Actually, Mr…” she glanced at the card. “…Valdez, I have a request. I hope it’s not too strange.”

“Shoot.”

“Does this car have a CD player? I can’t tell by sight.”

“It does.”

“Can we play the rest of that song? It’s a bit late. I don’t want to wake anyone.”

“Sure.”

Angie put the CD in the player and hit the skip button a couple of times, and that ethereal voice filled the car.

“The moon has a face, and it smiles on the lake,
And causes the ripples in time.
I’m lucky to be here with someone I like,
Who maketh my spirit to shine.
Don’t let us get sick,
Don’t let us get old,
Don’t let us get stupid, alright?
Just make us be brave, 
And make us play nice,
And let us be together tonight.”