A Matter of Honor
Steve, his well-manicured hand already outstretched to pick up a plate from the conglomeration of wooden trenchers and cracked china, looked Artie up and down as if he were some specimen of insect. "What rock did you crawl out from under, Dale? Tired of playing craps behind the bars in Darktown? Besides, I thought you'd skipped. Something about an ill relative?"
The final two words were said with such a superior smugness that Betty doubled her fists and had she been a boy she might have tackled him. But Artie merely drawled, "Well, her illness was greatly exaggerated. My aunt's like that sometimes. You'd probably get along with her just fine."
"Perhaps that's 'ill' as in 'ill-mannered,'" Steve retorted. "Can't you see you're holding up the line, Dale?"
Artie appeared to be measuring off the crowd that was beginning to gather, whether due to a desire for second helpings or simply out of curiosity at the sound of loud voices at the formerly pleasant gathering. When he saw Rory Madison approaching, his father behind him removing goggles and driving gloves, he added mockingly, "What do you think, Tonio? Is this fellow ill-mannered?"
"He certainly was to me," the stout man responded with a decisive jut of his jaw.
Now the tall, thin man moved out of the shadows as well. He had a long narrow face with a sharp nose, and in the leaping firelight his red hair glowed like the coals of a dying fire. "Is this the young man, Mr. Cataldo?"
When he received an answer in the affirmative, the tall man stepped forward to confront Steven. "You are Steven Carlisle?"
The young man's brow had crinkled slightly at the sight of the stout man, as if he were familiar, but his face cleared as he told the other with studied patience, "I don't believe we've been introduced."
In a moment his face had paled visibly, for the jacketed man withdrew a brass badge from the inside of his clothing, revealing a service revolver in a shoulder holster for an instant. "I'm Tom Sullavan, Providence Police force, detective division."
His firm, slightly loud voice carried, for both Mr. and Mrs. Carlisle turned their attention away from Miss Diana Davis of the Newport Daily News, whose pale, bored face also suddenly sparked with interest.
Steven asked, courteously, if in a slightly cheeky manner, "Isn't Newport out of your jurisdiction, Detective Sullavan?"
Sullavan responded, voice level but deadly, "Feel free to call the Newport police, young man. In fact, I'm expecting Chief Morrison any minute now."
Now the elder Carlisle moved forward to stand beside his son.
"May I help you, detective?" he asked politely. Betty had not seen him before tonight; he was a tall man like her father, with dark golden hair that had thinned at his forehead with age and an aristocratic face with a long slim nose and square chin.
"Are you the boy's father?" Sullavan asked abruptly.
"That's correct, Detective."
"And you're the same Thomas S. Carlisle who reported the theft," and here Sullavan withdrew a small notepad from his shirt pocket, which he consulted before finishing, "of a $15,000 diamond and pearl shell pendant necklace on May 10 of this year?"
"That is also correct," Carlisle responded. Steven, disinterested, began to turn toward the food, when he was arrested by Sullavan's deceptively quiet voice. "I wouldn't try to leave."
Now Steven's mother, her patrician face crossed with a forbidding frown, spoke up. "Excuse me...Officer," with a pointed ignorance of his rank, "but is there some reason for confronting my son at a gathering of this sort? He certainly has nothing to do with the police."
Sullavan ignored the insult for the moment, turning instead to the stout man in the ill-fitting suit. "Was what you just said a positive identification, Mr. Cataldo? Make certain of what you're saying now. The boys back at the station house would hate to catch you in a lie."
"You got me dead to rights," Cataldo growled back, restraining himself. Now that he was fully illuminated by the firelight, it was not difficult to see healing bruises traced on his chin. "That's him, awright. I'm not about to forget him after the names he called me 'cause he claimed I didn't give him enough cash."
"Ma'am," Sullavan responded quietly, "Mr. Cataldo has made positive identification of your son as the person who came into his establishment on North Main Street in Providence and pawned this."
With a fluid movement he withdrew a flannel-wrapped object from his jacket pocket. Someone had evidently tossed more wood on the fire because the light blazed anew, illuminating what Sullavan so carefully unwrapped, the glimmering, brilliant reddish gold of the lushly expensive shell pendant with its crust of dazzling, winking diamonds and tiny pink pearls set along the curved edge of the shell.
Betty drew in a deep breath just as a warm, comfortable hand fell on her shoulder. "Chickadee," David Roberts murmured, for all his instincts as a journalist were now aroused, "let's give them some room."
For what might have been the first time in her life, she protested with a hissed. "No!" Then, softly, "Please, Dad."
He remained behind her protectively as Steven let out a short, sardonic laugh. "Are you telling me this...man is saying I pawned my own mother's necklace? Really, Detective, don't the Providence police have better things to do than perpetuate the lies of shopkeepers?"
"And why on earth," Aletha Carlisle added reasonably, "would my own son be stealing my jewelry to," and her voice curved about the word with distaste, "pawn? You can't think we're penniless indigents. My husband operates one of the country's largest paper corporations and Steven receives a liberal allowance."
At that the man Cataldo broke out laughing. "Lady, you ain't been around college boys much, have ya? Them rich boys at Brown come sniffing around my place for money just as much as the greenhorns do. You oughtta see the junk they pawn: tennis equipment, Swiss watches, ski poleshell, even their expensive Brooks Brothers suits. Get 'em away from their mumsies and popsies and they go in for gambling and pleasure houses until they're in debt up to their blue-blooded eyeballs. Why-"
His diatribe was halted by a smart smack across one wrist from Sullavan's truncheon, now pulled from its place at his belt. "You weren't asked to talk, Cataldo."
Had Betty been more in a position to enjoy the scene, she might have thought it was better than the detective stories she saw at the picture show. But as her eyes darted from Steven's now strained face to Artie's fierce, scarred one to Sullavan's offensive posture and Cataldo nursing his rapidly swelling hand, she was afraid. It wasn't a storyor an adventureany longer, but all too real.
"You see, ma'am," Sullavan continued briskly to Mrs. Carlisle as if the stout man had never spoken, "the theft of your necklace doesn't matter to me much. My job's catching the crime bosses in the city of Providence. The other night we had a very successful raid on a tap down on Atwells Avenue. Operating on a tip, we caught two big fish, Anthony Grimaldi and Pasquale Formi, otherwise known to their compatriots as 'Fat Tony' and 'Patsy.'"
Now Carlisle said in a deadly serious voice, "I don't see what this has to do with my boy, Detective Sullavan."
"Mobsters like this Fat Tony," Sullavan said with a slow smile, giving Cataldo a sarcastic glance, "they're meticulous with their records. They pay their accountants a good salary to keep two sets of booksand their mouths shut. But let's say there are certain types of persuasion even well-paid bookkeepers can't resist. So we found Fat Tony's booksone with a whole list of the men and women in hock to Fat Tony. Names, addresses, amounts, the lot.
"Your 'boy,' Mr. Carlisle, owes Fat Tony Grimaldi fifteen big ones. Fifteen thousand two hundred dollars, to be exact, minus the $2002 he paid up, presumably by pawning your wife's necklace and foisting off the blame on someone else."
"That's a lie," Steven retorted, his face tense.
"Is it?" Sullavan asked, his stolid expression a mask. "Mr. Dale tells me that somewhere in this crowd is a witness who can be producedif necessary and only if necessary as I understand that witness is a minorwho will swear that on Friday, July 6, you were threatened by both Fat Tony and Patsy outside the Gents at the Majestic Theatre."
Betty shivered under her father's hand, stiffening. He could not see her face grow pale, but suddenly his grip on her shoulder tightened.
"Really, Detective," Mrs. Carlisle responded. "You go from bad to worse. First pawnbrokers and now itinerant workers and children. Why," and here she first glanced apologetically at the stout society reporter beside her, and then stepped forward to squint at the piece of jewelry Sullavan still held out accusingly. "this might not even be my pendant. Mine was in perfect condition, and this piece has a pearl missing. This might even be a paste copy."
Quick as a flash Sullavan reached into the pocket of his white shirt, producing a small sphere of lustrous pink. "Such as this, ma'am?"
"Why...y-yes," she stammered.
"Mr. Dale turned this up," the police detective laughed. "Apparently he fancies himself a private eye. He told me the accused in this crime is a pal of his and he's been trying to clear him." Dick, having retreated with Priscilla to stand next to Betty when the police detective had come forward, started. His eyes flashed to the black-capped man still posed aggressively near Steven Carlisle, then he looked the figure up and down, eyes wide, but nevertheless he kept silent. "And he tells me that this pearl was found in the boat locker of Rory Madison's sailboat-"
Horace Madison gasped audibly.
"I understand there was a bit of a brawl a few days back about Mr. Dale going into one of the sailboat lockers, and that while young master Madison didn't seem perturbed about that fact, your son became extremely agitated, Mr. Carlisle. Violently agitated, in fact. Despite Mr. Madison's protests, your son grabbed Mr. Dale by the arm and practically accused him of thievery. This act was witnessed by at least four other people."
David Roberts said aloud, evenly but firmly, "It was."
"So perhaps," Sullavan finished, "your 'boy' might explain why he, and not the owner of the property, became angry."
Betty thought she had never seen anyone look as hunted as Steven did at that moment. His face was ashen, perspiration gathering on his forehead and plastering down his fair hair, his light eyes wide in shock. But he did not speak.
"Steven," Carlisle said, his face nearly as pale as his son's.
And then the young man burst out, words tumbling out savagely, "Well, what did you expect, Pop? I run with an expensive crowd. I met all the best people, like Motherdear wanted. Their allowances make mine look like peanuts. So when 'the best people' treat a fellow to this and that, he's obliged to pay it back, isn't he? It's a matter of honor."
The Shell Pendant Mystery is ©2002 by Linda M. Young