There’s a lot of ugliness in the world of international football. Inexperienced private detective Tony Cattone is on the case.
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Killing for a Baby
Finding a once attractive – in the most superficial and important of senses – and now very dead young woman with a baby’s bottle jammed down her throat is a disconcerting sight. Particularly when you know who she is, she’s in your office and you’re not too surprised to find her that way. If, however, you’re a pervert and that’s your weird little fetish, then it’s probably all very enjoyable and shockingly fortuitous.
Two days earlier she first threw open the door to my dust-caked cubbyhole mid-rant and, to state the obvious, alive. Interrupting my ninth attempt to draw a rhinoceros with forgetful sharks for legs, she made her demand loud enough to be a call to action for the whole block and half of the Adult Learning Center on Fairmount Avenue.
“Get me my baby back!” she shouted as an odd, yet refreshingly direct professional greeting.
I told her no. She didn’t find that funny.
“My baby,” she repeated as if lecturing one. “Get me my baby back. You’re a detective, right?”
“I claim to be.”
“So do it. I can pay you whatever it takes. The father bought him from me for a lot of money.” Her white jeans seemed to be molded to legs as long as stretched out taffy. She wore a bright green tank top to highlight the work of a skilled surgeon and too much makeup to hide a pretty, symmetrical face.
“Bought? So we are talking about a car. Walking’s good for you anyway. Get some muscle on those pins.”
She impatiently tapped her right foot, which was strapped into a black shoe with a bayonet for a heel. “We’re talking about my son. The father took him to Europe or wherever and paid me a lot to stay away from them. He said if I broke our agreement I’d be breaking some international law and I’d be put in a jail in Belgium.”
I tried to swallow it, but a laugh hopped out of my throat and popped like a “get well” balloon at a little kid’s funeral. I spoke quickly, hoping it would act as a diversion. “Those words don’t work like that.”
She stared down at me — her eyes were smothered in dark paint that matched her hair, but it didn’t obscure those little blue flames that could convince a man across the room to burn himself and enjoy every excruciating second of it. I took my feet off the desk and sat up straight in chair, causing it to creak. I grabbed a pad and a freshly sharpened pencil to take notes. The tip broke off, but I pretended like it didn’t.
“Who’s the father?”
“And who are you?”
“Lucy Reynolds.” She scratched her arm.
Lucy shrugged. “He’s some famous soccer player in Europe. I don’t know. I wasn’t with him because of that.”
“So why then?” I was genuinely curious.
“Because life is short and new tits are cheaper than finishing an engineering degree. And because I knew who else he’d been with. Paris. Kim. You know.”
“Anyway, he plays for Spain or something. That’s why I came here from L.A. I heard his team was playing Philadelphia.”
“When did he take your son?”
“Right after he was born. I didn’t even hold him. Some lawyer came in and told me to sign these papers and I’d get $10 million. I thought it was a pre-nup. After I signed, he told me I just agreed to give up all parental rights and could never tell anyone that Cristiano’s son was mine, too. The nurse said his mother took the baby that night.”
I sat back in my chair and put my feet back up. “You should talk to a lawyer. Not me.”
“A lawyer would make me give back the money,” she said, putting on pair of dark sunglasses that covered half her face. I swore I could still sill the blue flicker.
“I see. You want the money and the baby. Sounds like a good compromise to me.”
Lucy sighed impatiently and looked at the bare walls on either side of her. “I don’t care about the money anymore. I really don’t. It’s the principle of it. I just want to see my baby. Come with me to this game tomorrow and tell him I want to see my baby or I’m telling the press that I’m not dead. I can get you in the locker room. You just have to tell him I’m serious and I’ll pay you $5,000.”
She stared at the floor and held her arms tight against her body. She didn’t move, just kept staring. I asked if she wanted a drink and offered her a glass. She took the bottle instead. She breathed in a swig of whiskey that would make a hobo swallow his teeth and held onto the bottle for safekeeping.
“Why does the press think you’re dead?”
“Because his family keeps telling them that the mother of his baby is dead just to keep them from asking questions. It’s disgusting. How can they do this to me? How can they be so heartless? This child has a right to know his mother.” She lifted the bottle to her mouth again, this time merely splashing the liquor against her lips with a snap of her wrist.
Her story was off and I was pretty sure that much money didn’t exist anymore, but my pencil was broken, so I decided to go along. We arranged to meet outside the stadium during the game so we could confront him when he was good and tired after it was over. That was my idea.
She handed my bottle back before turning to leave. It was nearly empty, but I gave her credit for at least giving it back. When she reached the door, she asked if I had “anything.” That explained why she was in the neighborhood and maybe why this Cristiano took the kid, too. I told her every other door in the building had an overdose behind it and she just happened to knock on the one that didn’t. She smiled a condescending smile and left. If it weren’t for her $5,000, I would’ve hoped to never see her again.
The next night, around 9:30, I waited for her near the employee entrance around the back of the football stadium in South Philly. We agreed to meet around the parked food service trucks and the elevated I-95 highway. Between two of the trucks, a couple of gorillas – one Nordic type and one Asian – in tight grey suits bent over a scrawny man wearing what remained of a blue and red striped shirt and pummeled him into a holiday jam. He shouted “Barcelona! Barcelona! Mes-si! Mes-si!” while Bjorn or Inghard alternated between hitting him with an aerosol can and spraying him in the face with it.
The game had already started and most fans were inside, except for the one who were too poor, too drunk or too badly beaten to make it out of the parking lot. It was the middle of summer, so being outside was as pleasant as sitting in a sauna with a thousand mosquitoes and a couple hundred people with their sweaty, exposed flesh on buffet.
I was there early even though I knew she’d be late. She didn’t disappoint. When Lucy Reynolds finally did appear, she was walking fast and wearing the same white jeans as the day before, but they were a little muddied and now led to an even taller pair of gold heels. From the waist up, she was almost camouflaged against the cloudy night sky in her giant sunglasses and a loose-fitting black shirt that left one shoulder exposed.
“He’s probably going to have protection,” she said without moving her mouth as she kept walking past me and towards the open door guarded by a chubby guy in a yellow shirt.
“I can handle myself. You might have to kick a crotch or two, though.”
“I don’t mean like that. I mean his mother.” She said the last word like she was spitting out a hornet. Before I could ask if his mother was a cyclops with a potato gun, I caught the security guy smiling at us.
“Luce – what’s up? Didn’t expect to see you ‘till the new season. How’s Dante?” He looked at every part of her except her face. She just kept her head down and moved past him. I followed, he chuckled and did nothing.
We moved through corridors full of people doing actual jobs and others standing around in too much jewelry, eager to show their unrelenting impatience. By the time we reached the locker rooms the game had ended and it was loud and hot and claustrophobic. Those mobile jewelry displays now cared enough to elbow each other for position on the inside of the narrow and grabby human tunnel that the teams squeezed through to reach the privacy of their respective nudity zones.
As the worn-out and dead-eyed athletes started to make their way through, Lucy took my hand the way a jumpy friend anticipating a terrible scare in a horror movie – she dug her lacquered nails into my knuckles and mouthed “I want my baby, I want my baby, I want my baby” as she searched the passing faces.
She squeezed harder and punctured my skin. I followed everyone else’s eyes to the player in white who looked like a Roman statue that came to life and spent a year perfecting its tan and worrying about its figure while a dwarf massaged fragrant oils into its manicured tuft of black hair.
Lucy shouted: “You can’t just take things! What are you going to say? What are you going to say when he asks?”
Cristiano turned his head slightly and went half a step slower as he continued towards the doorway to his safe room. He stared at her out of the corner of his eye with an arched brow and sniffed at something rancid, but not foul enough to care. Then he winked at another brunette by the door. He and Lucy were perfect for each other.
He disappeared into the locker room, the door closed soon after and the congregation of bodies dispersed. I turned around and almost stepped on a short older woman in a red T-shirt bedazzled with plastic rhinestones. I tried to get out of her way, but she wouldn’t let me.
“You don’t do that! I tell you already. No more chances…” the woman scolded Lucy in heavily accented English while refusing to blink. Her soft features resembled the statue’s, but contorted into a menopausal fury.
“Your son has to answer some questions,” I told the woman, trying to sound like a cop and only coming off as a stern loan officer.
“He has to do nothing.” Her short, feathered hair bounced for emphasis. The rebuttal seemed valid. She stood straighter and stepped closer, looming over me with her forehead level to my sternum.
“This woman says your son’s baby is hers, too. She says he paid her to forget that. What kind of father would do that to his child?” I asked while she violently shook her head.
“Do you condemn a widower for not having a mother for his child? No. My son is like a widower. The mother is dead and he cares for his son better than anyone!”
“When he’s around.”
“When he’s around. Yes,” she agreed with a firm nod. “And when he’s not, I am. And so is my daughter. We are all the best with babies. I have raised them before. Myself.”
I held back my own egotistical self-praise to allow Lucy to make a more emotional reply. It didn’t come. She was gone and I was losing an argument to a person in a sparkly T-shirt.
Cristiano’s mother asked who I was. “Anthony Cattone,” I told her. “A private detective. And I just have one more useless question: when that kid asks, what are you going to say?”
“The truth,” she stated with the same cocky sniff. She then smiled the way every mother smiles, patted me on the arm and greeted a group by the locker room door with hugs and squeals.
I walked down block after block of worn-out row homes that night, half looking for a client I was sure I’d never see again, half coming to terms with the fact that I’d never get that five grand, and seven eighths because I do my best thinking when all the sane people are asleep.
In the morning, I went back to the office. The door was off its hinges and propped up in the frame at an angle. I could see the Asian lug from the night before sitting at my desk, swiveling from side to side with his feet planted firm as if it were some kind of hillbilly workout. I put the door slab to one side and told him you don’t need to kick in an entrance that doesn’t have a lock. That’s when I felt his partner’s boot slam into my spine, liquefying several vital organs.
Lucy was sitting against the wall, staring at the ceiling with the stale look of frozen bemusement in her eyes and a blue bottle stuffed halfway down an airway she was no longer using.
“If you like, we can take her off your hands,” the sitting one said, still swiveling.
“And if I tell the uniforms?”
“Then you can tell them why she’s here, why you’re operating without a license and why you assaulted the mother of an international superstar last night. But don’t get any ideas. We didn’t do this,” he said with the smirk of someone telling a half-truth.
I stated the obvious: “There’s no way, Cristiano got his hands this dirty.”
“He’s just a mamma’s boy.” The smirk turned into a chuckle that displayed a row of perfectly white, gap-filled teeth at severe angles. The other one stopped his chair exercise and stood up.
I would’ve started a fight had I not been so sure they were telling the important part of the truth and carrying more than the zero guns I had on me. That’s when I decided to go for another walk. There was time for one more stupid question, though: “Was she the mother?”
The jimmy-legged Viking in formal wear shrugged. “She’s not the first to say she was.”
Whether she was or she wasn’t didn’t seem to matter anymore. She was dead and the kid was headed back to Europe, well taken care of. Maybe one day he would find out the truth, but that was no business of mine. The far more pressing question was whether it would be possible to cut my own hair without the end result making me look like a mental patient.
When I got back, all three of them were gone and the bottle sat on my desk. I briefly considered selling the desk.
Previously in The FIFA Files: Sir Alex hires a Private Investigator
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