Catalina D’Amato’s brain oozed onto the courtyard of the Royal Arms where dogs let loose among shoe scuffs and gum droppings. She had lived in what my father called the ass-end of our two-building apartment complex. That he had acquired the powerful friends, IOUs, and embarrassing secrets sufficient to “bring down the fear of hell” on anyone who stood in the way of his dream of expanding from big-time personal injury attorney to master builder was why everyone called him the Mayor of Brooklyn—and why we got to live in the penthouse.
A crucifix sat on Mrs. D’Amato’s palm. Gold rose petals ran up and down the cross, and the Jesus was silvery and shimmered in the sun.
“She jumped,” Mr. Schneiderman observed,
“Poor girl snapped,” a woman added, fleshing out his theory.
“First the accident with poor Manny in the boiler room,” Mitch Green’s mother said, clutching her flowered bathrobe to her neck. “Now Catalina D’Amato. If the Royal Arms isn’t cursed, you explain it all.”
A guy everyone called the old rabbi nudged aside a crumpled piece of paper with an orthopedic shoe. I picked it up, figuring he’d dropped it. It was from a place called Don Corleone’s Pawns and Loans. The handwriting was crude and jerky, but I could still pretty much make it out. “One gold crucifix,” it read, with the word “redeemed” written across it like an arrow through a heart. I was about to give it back, but he glared at me like I’d knocked it out of his hand on purpose, his eyes burning with some weird, mysterious hatred, though we’d never met.
“I know you, you’re the son,” he hissed. “Son of Abaddon the Destroyer. Your father destroys a house of God for these towers of Babel, so he can line his pockets and put an old rabbi out of business.”
I was in danger of becoming more of an attraction than Mrs. D’Amato. The old rabbi was famous for never talking. Since his retirement, he’d made a habit of pacing the grounds alone, hands clasped behind his back, in communion with God Himself, it seemed: a moving center of righteous gravity, like the pillar of cloud that led the Jews out of Egypt, and a silent rebuke to us all. Now it was like he’d saved up his words for me. Daryl Sherman was king of our friends because he could crush a can of Pepsi between his hands. I felt like that can. Luckily, EMTs and cops began to break up the crowd, but Rabbi Mandelbaum wasn’t going anywhere.
“The things one hears,” he fumed, “deals with the devil, corruption to the core. A man who disappears for days on end when he should be home with his wife, who demolishes a venerated synagogue as if it were nothing but another Burger King. Would a man like that think twice about taking the life of an innocent young woman?”
The Mayor had often said Mandelbaum was going senile and needed to be put out to pasture, and if everyone in the Royal Arms was afraid of him, it was only because they were superstitious sheep who feared a nonexistent God. So I didn’t tell Mandelbaum about Carmine Giacalone, who’d been paralyzed by a defective elevator, and how my father had changed his life by persuading a jury to give him five million dollars. Or how Darius Johnson had wept for joy that Sunday we stood in his parlor, the Mayor and I, flourishing a settlement check. Most of all, I kept to myself how, come September, I’d be starting college as the first step toward claiming my partnership in the Law Firm of Arthur Krakow.
Instead, I turned away, shoved the pawn receipt in a pocket, and headed for home.
I knew it was a joke to think my father would actually kill someone. Cheating on my mother was not quite at the same level of impossible. He often vanished without saying goodbye, whenever he had a “monster case” that forced him to work through the night. Somehow, the prospect of a monster fee would send her scouring our apartment like the angel of death with a mop as her scythe. Meanwhile, I’d play junior lawyer—but only in my mind—mounting a spirited defense in favor of the monster case as she pulverized every stain as fervently as Mandelbaum working out a knotty problem of Torah. But now I wished those rabbi eyes hadn’t seen through me, to where it was getting harder to believe in my father’s innocence.
I had to know, before I escaped to college. Had to know for sure if an affair with my father was why Catalina D’Amato had jumped from her kitchen window.