The Capiche Leash
"Just stick to the script and you’ll be fine." Max was talking, but whether she was listening was hard to tell. She sat with arms folded over one another, bent at the waist and rocking back and forth. Beads of sweat were on her forehead.
"Wanda. Wanda, listen to me." He’d like to belt her one. Smack her from here to Long Island. She was dumb.
"Wanda. This is the game you agreed to play. Remember?"
She was nodding now. Eager to please, but scared. She began to panic again, her head swirling and her insides retreating into a whirlwind that left her nothing but shivering skin and frail bones.
"Wanda. They are going to interview you again, and you are going to have to tell them what you told them before. It’s no big deal." Max now charming, exuding the sort of bonhomie that usually worked with his girls.
"I, I, ,,," Wanda’s lip trembled, and tears escaped the corner of her eyes.
"It ain’t true, Mr. Greenberg," frightened eyes looked to Max. "He never said none of that stuff."
Wanda, Wicked Wanda Rice had discovered religion? Max was angry and stunned. She used to be one of his top earners. Then she got a little too puffy around the eyes, and Max set her up working a phone bank in an above-board telemarketing shop. When she wasn’t crying and whimpering, she had a decent voice, and she could most often avoid words like ain’t.
"Well, Wanda, let’s talk some about the truth, shall we?" Max confident now. He was a good puppeteer and she was simply crafted.
"The truth is that you love your daughter, isn’t that right, Wanda?"
"How old is she now, eight, nine?"
"She, she’s nine."
"She still over there at St Anne’s?" He knew she was a student there; he was paying her tuition.
"Uhm, hmm," Wanda began to rock again, her insides collapsing into a hole.
"Well, I know how much you love her." Max speaking slowly now.
"And how much it means for you to have her home with you."
"Wanda, the cops find out you lied on a statement, you could go to jail. Perjury. Five years."
"And then where does your baby go, Wanda, the state?"
Wanda nodding again.
"As I see it, you got no choice, here, babe. I see you studying your lines and nailing the script, don’t you?"
Wanda nodded again. The panic ebbed, leaving her adrift on a deep, dark pool of despair. Max had tricked her into lying for him. She worked as an escort for him. She didn’t much like the work, but the money was good. She wore expensive clothing and went to dinners, the theater and, over and over and over again she went to hotels, motels and condominiums where she would close her eyes and pretend each time that Raoul was whispering in her ear that he would always love her. She would pretend that each night was the night her baby was conceived.
Then Max told her he needed a favor. He needed her to say that some football player had boasted about slicing the throat of a kid. She had balked, and then Max told her she had no choice. He said the police were going to arrest her for prostitution, and that the State would then take her baby. The only way she could save herself and her family was to meet with an officer. She had to tell him that she could not have been the prostitute they saw at the Grande Hotel during a stake out one fall night. She had an alibi. She was with a football player.
Max rehearsed her lines with her for half a day, and showed her a dozen photographs of Marcus Antoine taken from the local newspapers. He made her study them. He made her repeat his obvious features. Eyes close together. Bushy eye brows. Head shaven. A birth mark high on his right cheek.
Wanda met with the police and gave her alibi. She was shown a set of photographs and without hesitation picked out Marcus Antoine, not once, but twice. And then she forgot about it, until the night Clarence Sterling, Belle Grande’s prosecutor called her to say her testimony would be necessary in the case of State v. Marcus Antoine.
"Yeah, yeah, she’s good to go. No problem." Max had the phone jammed between his left jaw and shoulder.
"I’m telling you she’s good to go."
Petrine was on the other end asking questions, but not listening to the answers. What am I, some kind of shrink, gotta repeat myself eighteen times, Max was thinking.
"Look, Petey P. She is good to go. Do ... you ... read ... me?
"What I want you to do is keep an eye on her kid."
Max drew deeply from his cigar, the smoke stinging his eyes.
"Mirabelle or something like that. Yeah, she’s over at St. Anne’s on Broadway. Just follow her around for a week or so. Take notes. Tell me what she was wearing. What color’s her book bag. That sort of thing. I want Wanda to think I’m the freaking eye in the sky. We gotta keep her on a leash, capiche?"
Max liked that. He’d have to use it again. He wrote a little note: The Capiche Leash.
"And, Petey. You don’t touch the kid, hear me?"
Petrine was talking, and Max took the phone from his ear and placed it over his crotch. Go down on this, whacko.
"I am telling you, Petey, this is not a test. Got me. No runs, no hits, no errors. You are looking, but that’s it. Got it?"
Petrine said enough to satisfy Max.
"I’ll send someone by with a little something to tide you over," Max made a note. "No problem, Petey. Now be a good boy."
Max was thinking that Petrine had become a high-maintenance problem. One it might be cheaper to solve.
Clarence Sterling was methodical. He was doing God’s work, of this he was certain. There was no doubt in his mind that Marcus Antoine was a murderer. A pampered murderer. Sterling would bring him to justice, just as he had brought so many others. But before this fight, as before all the others, Sterling needed to pray, to feel God’s hand on his shoulder. The joy of the Lord was his strength.
"Lord Jesus, I ask that you bless and consecrate my efforts in this case. Make me worthy of the trust the people of Connecticut have placed in me. Let me speak the truth, and, I pray, let the jurors hear the truth." He knelt with his back to his gray, government issue desk. His face buried deep in his hands as he leaned into the grainy felt of his swivel chair. His knees were on his prayer rug, a gift from his wife, purchased on a trip they had taken to Jerusalem, to see the site of Jesus’s passion.
Sterling was silent now, for a time, waiting to discern God’s response. "I love you, Lord Jesus," he said, and there was no doubt of this love in his mind, nor was there doubt that Jesus was present to receive it. "Praise be to you, Lord Jesus, " he said, beginning to rock in a gentle rhythm. He knew no greater joy than prayer. Not his wife’s embrace; not even the birth of their children. Oh, these things were precious in their own right, but they were of this world, and were scented with sin and death.
The love of God knew no death and was timeless. It was perfect. Eternity bursting the bonds of time. As he prayed, he felt a quiet stirring just beneath his heart. He began to hum, aglow with the spirit of God. And then the words, strange words he’d never heard before began to trip from his lips. He was on his knees in his office, his arms held high in glory to God. He was speaking in tongues. Glossalalia. No known language, but his spirit alit and aglow and reaching to God. Speaking in the tongues of angels now, as soon he would speak in the tongues of man to a jury. Inside himself he felt calm, and then a voice. He was sure he heard a voice.
"You are my son, and in you I take great joy."
Sterling was crying. There is no joy more sublime, more perfect, than that which comes from the knowledge that God loves you, and has taken you for his own.
Sterling sang his praises to God in a quiet voice, from time to time almost shouting out "Praise you, Jesus."
When the spirit passed, he would head upstairs to the chambers of Jonathan Reardon. Trial was to begin in the Antoine case. Clarence Sterling was ready. Had not God himself said so?