CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-NINE
“It is perfectly legal,” the son said.
“So is this,” William said. “We’ll file by end of day today to take control of the buildings. Unless, of course, you have the money to pay off the loan?”
“You’ll give us a month?” the son asked.
Bernie looked at his lawyer.
“How long did they give their tenants?” Bernie asked.
“Twelve hours,” William said.
“I’ll give you twelve hours from the time we notified you about this meeting,” Bernie said.
“That would be. . .” William looked at his watch, “. . . ten minutes from now.”
The father’s head continued to shake back and forth. The son started spewing words. His flawless, unlined face made every effort to twist around the cruel, rage-filled word. It was odd to watch the plasticity of the skin, so smooth and blemish free, bend around the rage. Bernie and William watched in fascination.
After a few minutes, two security guards arrived at the office and dragged the shouting son and his shocked father out of the conference room.
Bernie and the son of his old lawyer, his current his lawyer, William, sat in silence for a moment.
“That was. . .” William said.
Bernie started laughing.
“Satisfying,” William said. “Yes, yes, it was most satisfying. You have balls of steel, old man.”
“As do you,” Bernie said.
William’s face was covered in a face mask but Bernie was pretty sure he was grinning.
“We become what we hate,” Bernie said, gesturing to the door. “The boy reminded me of the Nazis — then and now.”
“If I’m honest,” William said.
Bernie gave a slight nod.
“He terrified me,” William said. “You’ve seen this before?”
“During the war,” Bernie nodded. Rather than spend time talking about Nazi evil, he said, “Did you know that it was my granddaughter who found the trove of Jewish art?”
“In Poland?” William was either surprised or was polite enough to act surprised. “Salt mine?”
“My Seth helped get it,” Bernie said.
“O’Malley is an incredible man,” William said. “Why do you bring this up?”
“My granddaughter gave me something for you,” Bernie said.
William’s hand flew to his heart.
“You. . .” William started. Overcome, the man’s eyes welled with tears. “You. . .”
“Is your father here?” Bernie asked.
“I won’t let him come into the city,” William said. “It’s too dangerous for the elderly.”
Bernie gave a quick nod. He reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a tissue paper wrapped packet. He set it on the table and pushed it over to William.
William’s eyes held Bernie’s for a long moment before he looked down at what was in front of him. His fingers picked at the tissue until it began to unfold.
A shiny gold pocket watch the size of a quarter and two gleaming rings were nestled inside the tissue. He opened the ornate pocket watch cover to reveal a beautiful face. In an effort to control his emotions, William snapped the lid to the watch closed. Bernie pointed to a set of initials engraved in the watch. William’s thumb moved over the engraving as if he were caressing soft skin.
“It’s on the rings, too,” Bernie said.
When William looked up, tears were streaming down his face. Bernie nodded.
“We may have more of your possessions. It will take some time,” Bernie said. “But I wanted to get this to you as soon as we knew they was yours.”
William had opened the watch again.
“Your great-great-grandfather made that watch,” Bernie said. “He signed it inside the instrumentation. We had it cleaned and a new timing coil put in so that it will work. I thought you should have it, especially during this challenging time.”
William gave Bernie a nod. Bernie grinned at the son of his old lawyer.
Bernie stood up from his seat and left the room. He nodded to the young woman at the front and left the office. He was in the elevator when his cellphone rang.
“Thank you,” William croaked. “My father is crying his eyes out. Right now. These are his parents’ rings.”
“Yes,” Bernie said. “They are.”
“Your granddaughter is Sandy Delgado?” William asked.
“Seth’s child with Andy Mendy,” Bernie said.
“I was going to say that she looks so much like Andy,” William said. “I looked her up. Your granddaughter. What a beautiful person.”
“She’s amazing,” Bernie said. “This effort of hers could use some help.”
“Donations?” William asked.
“Assistance distributing the items, determining their authenticity,” Bernie said. “And, between you and me, more than a few of your father’s friends are acting like jackasses. One of his friends is suing her for not giving him his item long before he or she knew it even exited! Is that how we deal with people now? No patience, no trust — just bring in the lawyers to harass someone who’s done you a favor.”
“I’ll take care of it,” William said. “You can’t imagine what this means to us. Thank you.”
“And it’s our pleasure,” Bernie said.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” William said. “Anything at all. As it is, you’ll take possession of the buildings by five tonight.”
“Thank you,” Bernie said, but William had gone.
Grinning at himself, Bernie left the building. He found Maresol where he’s left her.
“How did it go?” Maresol asked, standing.
“Much screaming,” Bernie said.
“Yes, I saw that,” Maresol said, as she tucked her hand into his arm. “How do you think he keeps his face so still while he spews such hate?”
“No idea,” Bernie said.
“I think he’s the devil,” Maresol said. “A demon at the very least.”
“Could be,” Bernie said. “We did just give him a very, very bad day.”
Chuckling, she squeezed his arm. They walked to the car that was waiting for them. He opened the door for her and she got inside. They returned to Seth’s building where anxious people waited to find out if they would have their homes this winter.
Thursday morning — 9:00 a.m.
Seth O’Malley knocked on the interview room with his foot. A uniformed officer opened the door and nodded. Seth went into the room carrying two cups of coffee.
“Coffee?” Seth asked.
The man in the interview room looked up at him and then nodded. Seth sat down across from the man. For a minute, they both took long drinks from their coffee cups. Seth set his down and looked at the man across from him.
In his day, this man — Gerald Whitestone — must have been a giant. Well into his 90th year, he still held himself with the powerful look of someone to be reckoned with. Thick chest and biceps pushed through the man’s tailored suit. His skin wasn’t quite brown and wasn’t exactly black. His eyes were on the brown side of hazel. What hair the man had left was combed back across his dome.
They had both been tested for Covid-19 before they entered this room. Neither was seemed to have the disease.
“The detectives tell me that you’ve made it through a physical and psychological evaluation,” Seth said.
Gerald Whitestone nodded.
“You’ve had your Miranda Rights read,” Seth said. “Any questions?”
Gerald Whitestone shook his head.
“We’re taping this interview,” Seth said. “Audio and video.”
“Got it,” Gerald Whitestone said.
“What would you like me to call you?” Seth asked.
“Whitestone,” Gerald Whitestone said. “You mind if I call you, O’Malley?”
“Most people do,” Seth said with a grin.
“You know ’bout the cancer?” Whitestone asked.
“I’ve got about three months to live,” Whitestone said.
“That’s why I’m here,” Seth said.
“You aren’t po-lice anymore, are you?” Whitestone asked.
Seth shook his head.
“I work special investigations, cold cases,” Seth said with a shrug. “They let me talk to people like you.”
“Why’s that?” Whitestone asked.
“They think that you’ll talk to me,” Seth said with a shrug. He held the cup to his lips. “Two old men in a room.”
Whitestone laughed. The men finished their coffee. Seth replaced his facemask and waited for Whitestone to do the same.
“That detective is older than you,” Whitestone said.
“More miles,” Seth said.
Seth gave Whitestone a long look.
“When I was a kid, I used to spend my weekends playing at the swing clubs in New York City,” Seth said.
“Big Daddy,” Whitestone said, softly, as if he didn’t want anyone to hear.
“I took jazz lessons from his father-in-law,” Seth said, not willing to give up the name of his mentor to the police detectives behind the mirrored glass.
Whitestone’s indicated that he knew who Seth was referring to.
“I spent a lot of my youth in those clubs,” Seth said.
“You can’t charge me for the swing club,” Whitestone said. “Or selling alcohol. They aren’t crimes any longer.”
“Murder,” Seth said. “You’re here for murdering your wife as well as another male, Mrs. Jones and a child.”
“Fair enough,” Whitestone said.
Whitestone leaned back in his chair. Sitting in silence, the men looked at each other for a long moment. Whitestone sighed.
“You waiting for me to confess?” Whitestone asked.
“No,” Seth said. “You did that last night.”
“That’s right,” Whitestone said. “There’s nothing wrong with killing a cheating woman. Not one thing.”
“That’s what I was thinking about,” Seth said.
Whitestone looked up at him.
“According to Wretched Jones, your wife wasn’t cheating on you,” Seth said.
“What about that man?” Whitestone asked indignantly. “She spent a powerful lot of time with him.”
“According to Wretched, the man was a teacher,” Seth said. “He was teaching your wife, and his, how to read.”
Whitestone made a “tsk” sound and shook his head in disbelief.
“Your wife was also learning basic accounting,” Seth said. “I guess you were having trouble with people stealing?”
“That’s just it,” Whitestone said. “I couldn’t tell.”
“She wanted to surprise you by doing all of the books,” Seth said.
“Nah,” Whitestone said. “She was cheating. I knew it the moment it started. Heard it from a guy who said he saw them together kissing and carrying on.”
“This guy,” Seth said. “He wouldn’t happen to be tall, lanky white guy?”
“Jeramiah Simons,” Whitestone said with a nod.
“You mean Sergeant Jeramiah Simons,” Seth said. “Soon to become Captain? Spent his nights and weekends in a white hood?”
Seth gestured with his hands to indicate a pointed hood.
“He the klan?” Whitestone asked. For a moment, his mouth dropped open. “Po-lice?”
“Feds,” Seth said.
“I’ll be God-damned,” Whitestone said with a slow shake of his head.
“They set you up,” Seth said pointing to Whitestone. “They didn’t care if you killed your black wife or Wretched’s, for that matter. They wanted to get rid of the teacher who was giving good hardworking black people an education. And they wanted to get rid of places where black people could congregate, enjoy themselves.”
Seth picked up a piece of paper and read.
“Reducing the native population was the cat’s meow,” Seth read. Seth looked up at Whitestone. “This is a letter he wrote to his superior.”
“How did you get that?” Whitestone asked. “That for real?”
Nodding, Seth set the sheet down. Whitestone picked up the paper and read the letter for himself.
“I. . .” Whitestone started and then stopped. “He. . .”
“It’s easy to get led astray when you want to believe it,” Seth said. “You had mistresses? It says here that you have three kids by three other women besides your first wife.”
“Sure,” Whitestone said.
“You thought your wife was behaving like you were,” Seth said.
Whitestone gave Seth a long look. After a moment, his head went up and down.
“You’re right,” Whitestone said. “My wife was a Christian woman. She drove me crazy with all of the praying and church going. I wanted. . . Well, I don’t know what I wanted.”
“You were relieved when you could justify killing her,” Seth said.
“Now where do you come off. . .” Whitestone started.
“Big Daddy told me that a very long time ago,” Seth said. “It’s taken me all of these years to realize it was this speakeasy — you — he was talking about.”
Whitestone looked away from Seth, and Seth waited. After a moment, the elderly man’s eyes flicked back to Seth.
“Big Daddy,” Whitestone said with a shake of his head. “The guy before him gave us the capital to start the club. First time I saw Big Daddy, he was traveling with his parents. Huh. The kid had my number the whole time.”
“Big Daddy had everyone’s number,” Seth nodded. “That’s how and why he was able to be who he was for such a long time.”
“Your children would like to bury their mother,” Seth said. “I guess there’s a plot already purchased for the both of you?”
Whitestone didn’t move.
“We’ll make arrangements,” Seth said.
“They still okay with me going in the ground there?” Whitestone asked.
Seth gave a slight nod.
“They’ve always known that you killed your wife,” Seth said. “At least that’s what your eldest daughter said.”
Whitestone gave Seth a slow nod.
“Out of curiosity, were you involved in building the ballroom?” Seth asked.
“No,” Whitestone said. “That place been around since the 1890s. Build by some guy named Marlowe. I’ll tell you — he built places all over the city. Secret places where people of all colors could meet up. You know. . .”
Whitestone leaned forward onto the table.
“It’s owned by a guy named ‘Marlowe’ now,” Whitestone said. “That family is an old, old Colorado family. They built places all over. Own a mine in Leadville that’s supposed to be filled with blue diamonds, but I don’t know that for a fact.”
“He found the ballroom,” Seth said.
“I bet he’d find them all,” Whitestone said.
“I’m not sure he knows about them,” Seth said.
“He will now,” Whitestone said. “You’ll tell him.”
Chuckling to himself, Whitestone nodded.
“The Feds want me to about the Phosogene,” Seth said. “Did you fight in Europe in World War I? There’s no record of it.”
“My big brother from my Daddy’s first family. Brought that back from the war,” Whitestone said. “You have to understand — most blacks believed that white people would wipe us out. My brother used to say, ‘There’s going to be a race war and we need to be prepared.’ I used the club to organize our people. Take a stand. Many of the more recent black politicians came out of our movement.”
“And now?” Seth asked. “Do you have any more gas canisters? Bomb? Anything lurking in your storage shed?”
Whitestone shook his head.
“At least I don’t think so,” Whitestone said. “My brother was alive when I. . . Well, you know. He told me to use the gas. I did just what he said. He helped me close up the wall. We left the ballroom and never went back.”
“Is Wretched angry?” Whitestone asked.
“Sad,” Seth said. “This entire thing is so sad. I spent an hour with your kids while they wept for their mother. They knew that she wasn’t cheating around. They knew what she was doing. You never asked them?”
“Never thought to,” Whitestone said. “They were kids.”
“It was different then,” Whitestone said. “When their mother died, they went to live with her people. I sent money every month. They grew up in California. I didn’t see them again until they were long grown.”
“A couple of them live here now,” Seth said.
“To be near their kids,” Whitestone said. “Not me. They didn’t move here for me. But I’ll tell you, I gave them all I had left from the ballroom — more than $100,000. Those kids went to college on that ballroom. Made good lives for themselves.”
“I bet they would have rather had their mother,” Seth said.
Whitestone’s head jerked up to look at him. Seeing no judgement in Seth’s eyes, Whitestone nodded.
“You’re probably right,” Whitestone said. “Truth of the matter is that I would have had a better life if I hadn’t. . . I spent my life boozing and. . . doing nothing. That ballroom was the best of me. I killed the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“That’s likely,” Seth said.
“What happens now?” Whitestone asked.
“Your kids are asking for compassionate release,” Seth said. “Because of the cancer. That’s really up to the judge.”
Seth looked at Whitestone for a long moment.
“Jeraine is planning on having concerts in the ballroom,” Seth said. “Over the Internet. They think that they can manage the airflow and keep people healthy.”
“That’s good thinking,” Whitestone said. “That boy is smart.”
“He is,” Seth said nodded.
He waited for a moment and then looked at Whitestone.
“Is there anything else I should add?” Seth asked.
Whitestone shook his head.
“I’ve been waiting for this day since the day I kill them,” Whitestone said. “In some ways, it’s a relief to be here.”
Seth nodded and got up.
“I’ll get this typed up and get it to you,” Seth said. “I’ll have it for your signature later today.”
“Thanks, O’Malley,” Whitestone said. “Big Daddy would be proud of you.”
Seth snorted a kind of laugh and left the room. He closed the door and stood behind it for a long moment.
He couldn’t help but feel sad. At the peak of his success, this man had killed his wife and destroyed his family because he believed a cruel liar. That man was long dead. Yet there sat the man who’d acted on the liars words. Whitestone would spend his last days on this earth in prison for acting on the lie.
Sighing, Seth left to go find someone who could help him type up this statement.
Denver Cereal continues next week...