Molly Sullivan believed in playing fair. She collected favors and dished them out in almost equal measure. Recently, she’d returned from a road trip to help extricate a childhood friend from a serious predicament. Now, back on her home turf, she’d barely had time to unpack before receiving an urgent call from a trusted friend who happened to be a policeman. It was her turn to give.
Lieutenant Tierney was a man in a hurry. Bulldozing his way through the squad room of the 23rd Precinct, he narrowly avoided a number of calamitous close encounters with his law enforcement colleagues. Following in his footsteps, Molly Sullivan did her darnedest to emulate the lieutenant’s example, but with limited success.
When the pair rounded a corner and entered a narrow hallway, Molly’s bounteous handbag caromed off a water cooler and nearly bowled over a uniformed officer who was walking in the opposite direction.
Without breaking stride, the lieutenant glanced back and said, “She’s with me.”
The officer, who was doubled over with pain and holding his midsection, said in a strained voice. “You’re welcome to her, sir, but I’d suggest you disarm her before letting her back out on the streets.”
Molly looked straight ahead and continued walking. “Is it my imagination, or is the stationhouse more crowded than usual?” she asked.
“The chaos you observed is the result of a hastily-called meeting of the organized crime task force,” the lieutenant said.
“Organized chaos. Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
“I don’t know about that, but I think the meeting is a waste of time. That’s why I asked you to come in for a private briefing.” He lowered his voice. “What I’m going to tell you is strictly unofficial and off-the-record. You can say no at any time.”
He ushered his civilian guest into a small room with a bare incandescent lightbulb in an overhead fixture.
The lieutenant showed Molly a photograph of a dapper man in a pinstriped suit. His hair was slicked down with a generous amount of pomade. “Do you recognize this gent?”
“No,” Molly said. “Should I?”
“Perhaps not. As the patriarch of the Mellon crime family, he’s adept at avoiding publicity. Word on the street is he’s ‘gone to the mattresses.’ ”
“Do crooks still do that?”
“Not usually, but apparently the old man has some old-fashioned notions and perhaps a tendency toward paranoia. There’s even some concern he may be losing control over his subordinates. If there’s a power vacuum, the ripple effects of internal squabbles or a takeover attempt by outsiders could spill out into the streets and adversely affect public safety.”
“Are there any ethnicity issues I should be aware of?” Molly asked.
“What do you mean?”
“At some point, are you going to tell me Mr. Mellon is as American as pizza pie?”
“Oh, I get you. No, he’s not affiliated with the Cosa Nostra. He does his own thing. His immigrant great-grandpappy got his start peddling fruit from a pushcart. Supposedly, as he became more and more successful, the peddler got tired of people mispronouncing his surname and he started calling himself the melon man. Later on, he dropped the ‘man’ and added an extra ell. The name stuck and was passed down to succeeding generations.”
“What’s your interest?”
“Officially, my concerns coincide with those of the task force.”
“I hear you, Lieutenant, but your tone of voice suggests you have a personal interest as well.”
“My daughter does. She’s friends with the daughter of a younger sister of Charles Mellon. His niece is worried about him. She wants someone to do a welfare check. Lucinda’s the one who took this photo.”
“At a costume party?”
“No, it was just an ordinary family gathering for Thanksgiving. Mellon told his niece, in confidence, he wants out of the crime business.”
“Do you realize the significance of his old-timey getup?” Molly asked.
“I’ve thought about it,” the lieutenant said. “He’s reliving his past, wouldn’t you say? Harking back to simpler times?”
Molly nodded her head. “If he’s being nostalgic. Otherwise, he’s actually living in the past, or thinks he is.”
“Whoa! That’s quite a leap, but if you’re right, do you think you could tell the difference if you met him face-to-face?”