In his summary reports, Detective Ronald Maglione would often refer to "a solution suggested by a technology consultant," which delighted his superiors and made them feel like they were getting their money's worth. In reality, though, the "technology consultant" was usually just this kid the computer place had sent over to hook up his internet a couple years ago. They'd gotten to talking—Maglione had gone to elementary school with his uncle—and the kid gave him his number. Now the kid ("Doug") helped him out occasionally, and one day in the future when Doug was caught peeing outside of a bar, or holding a dime bag, or just looking at a stressed-out patrolman the wrong way, Maglione would help him out in return.
After that night three weeks ago when Bellecastle and Karlinoff had visited Lucas Budd, Detective Ronald Maglione went to visit Doug at the computer store, asking him if he knew of any sort of sensor you could buy that would detect when a door had been opened. He was imagining a complicated array of light beams and tripwires, the sort of thing you had to order out of the back of a gun magazine and have sent to a P.O. box.
Instead, though, Doug dug around on the shelves and found a little battery-operated wireless doorbell, the kind that rings a separate electronic chime every time someone opened the door. "You see them a lot at small businesses on Magazine Street." Ten bucks and it was his. That night, Lawler and Maglione played around with it and figured out that the chime would still pick up a signal from about a hundred feet away, so Maglione snuck around to the back of the house and just super-glued the little sensor to the back door.
For the past two weeks, then, instead of going home to a beer and SportsCenter, Maglione had ended his days around the corner from Budd’s house, finishing his paperwork by his dome light's weak glow, with the doorbell chime setting on his dash. He knew his Crown Vic would have been too conspicuous, so he confiscated the souped-up white hatchback his step-sister’s kid owned. He'd gotten the kid out of jail when he'd been busted racing it in the street like a fucking loon, and now he was getting paid back.
But the days slouched past, and Budd didn’t have any visitors or try to leave. Maglione was even considering giving up his nightly watch, but tonight the doorbell had finally gone off, scaring the absolute shit out of Maglione. The chime was a lot louder than he thought it was.
Maglione slipped out of his car and peeked between the houses. He saw Lucas Budd, wearing a backpack and with socks on his hand, sneaking through his backyard and climbing awkwardly over his neighbors’ fence.
“For Christ’s sake,” Maglione whispered, then got back into his car.
It had been a little difficult to follow him at first, since Lucas Budd mostly avoided the streets and crept through the backyards of his Garden District neighbors. But Maglione knew what he was doing—he'd tracked guys a lot stealthier than Budd before—and he'd only lost track of him a few times. After a while, he saw the general direction that Budd was headed, and he was able to follow him from a safer distance.
It helped that there was a full moon, and that the July night was deserted. No cars ran through the residential streets, and it seemed like the entire neighborhood was already in bed. He only saw one other person: a young girl jogged past him, eyes straight ahead, as he sat in someone’s driveway with his lights off. She could have been a college student, but she looked younger. He wished he could show her some of the savage shit that went down in the city every single night…she might think twice about doing something as boneheaded as jogging at midnight.
Actually, as she passed him, Maglione had a wild paranoid flash that it was Emily Bellecastle, and that all this time Budd had been watching him. He fell back from pursuing Budd and passed her twice. It wasn't her, of course. This girl was taller and skinnier than the Bellecastle girl, and her hair was long and brown instead of shorter and reddish. He was just tired and excitable, that's all.
Maglione didn’t know why, but his boss hadn’t wanted him to follow-up on the Bellecastle and Karlinoff leads. Maglione had made an attempt to contact each of them—he wanted to give them a little talking-to, maybe scare them away or at least find out what business they had with Budd—but when he told the guy he was working for what he had tried to do, he was told in no uncertain terms to leave them alone. Maglione didn’t understand, but he didn't pursue it. He had realized long ago that the need to understand the motives of his superiors would only hold him back in his line of work.
Maglione followed Lucas Budd all the way to St. Charles Avenue, where Budd stopped to put on a baseball cap and pull it low over his eyes, then Maglione watched him walk down to the Stop ‘n’ Start on the corner. Maglione couldn’t follow him in, of course, so he sat way back, under the shadow of a giant elm halo'd by the streetlights lost in its branches, and watched him as best he could through the distant store's window.
Later, Budd came out and tried one of the pay phones, but he quickly hung up and moved to another one. Maglione watched Budd talk on the phone for about five minutes, and Budd eventually got a bit animated, glaring at the ground with the phone cord wrapped up carefully around his hand. After hanging up, Budd picked the handset up again and held it in his hand for at least a minute, but put it back without making a second call.
Maglione followed Lucas Budd as he headed back into the Garden District, and in the direction of his house. Budd was lazier on the way back, only cutting through a couple of yards, and Maglione was lazy, too, often just driving a few blocks behind him with the lights off. Finally, anxious to get back to the Stop ‘n’ Shop, Maglione made sure that Budd was home or at least definitely headed that way, then doubled back to the gas station.
The pumps of the Stop ‘n’ Shop were empty, but a green sedan with an Enterprise rental sticker on the bumper was in the parking lot. Maglione got out and, as he locked up the car, patted his pants and jacket for the usual check: keys, wallet, badge, gun. Pat pat pat pat.
Inside, three tourists—clearly back from a night on Bourbon Street—were making a big show of how shocked they were that the Stop ‘n’ Shop didn’t sell alcohol. They stared at each other, open-mouthed. “Dude, I thought every place in New Orleans sold liquor.”
The young Syrian guy behind the counter looked like the sort of guy who always had a bunch of handbags he was trying to sell out of the back of his car. He was wearing a pristine white tracksuit, and on the counter was a pair of chromed sunglasses with lens so lightly tinted they were certainly almost useless. He shrugged in the way that only young immigrants working an overnight shift in their family’s business can shrug. “What can I say?” His voice sounded more Jersey than Middle East.
Maglione pretended to look at an old People magazine while the clerk gave the tourists directions to the Stop ‘n’ Shop up on South Claiborne that sold liquor. The way Maglione understood it, the Stop ‘n’ Shop kingdom was divided among two sides of a large Syrian family. One half of the family was composed of good Muslims who refused to sell alcohol at their stores, and the other half were bad Muslims who didn’t care. As frustrating as it was to go out of his way for a six-pack when his day ended, Maglione had to really respect the good Muslims: just imagine how much money they were missing out on by not selling alcohol in a 24-hour gas stations in New Orleans. He didn’t know much about Islam, but talk about putting your money where your mouth is.
After the tourists left, whooping, in their rented sedan, Maglione set the magazine down and looked over at the kid behind the counter. “You know, I got stabbed at that gas station once. The Stop ‘n’ Shop on Claiborne? Well, it wasn’t a Stop ‘n’ Shop then, I think it was still a Franky’s, but yeah…stabbed right in the gut. No lie.”
“Oh yeah?” The kid looked at him with an almost-perfect stare of total disinterest. He should think about going to the police academy, he’d be perfect.
“Yeah. Hey, you remember that guy with the beard who was in here a few minutes ago, maybe twenty minutes? With the cap pulled down real low on his face?”
"Great. Did you happen to recognize him?"
The kid folded his arms and stared at him. Maglione knew that with jobs like this there were only two kinds of customers: the kind you could ignore, and that kind that would try to fuck with you. He could tell that the clerk was about to place Maglione in the latter category. "No. Why, should I have?"
"Nah, not at all. But hey, listen...you don’t happen to remember what he bought, do you?”
The kid stuck out his lower lip and nodded deeply. “Yeah, I remember. He bought nuna.”
“Yeah, none ‘a your business.”
“Hey! That’s funny. I’ll have to remember that.” Maglione’s laugh was genuine. He really would try to remember that one…he could think of a lot of scenarios where it would come in handy. Still chuckling, he reached into his jacket for his badge. “Here, let me show you what I have in my pocket.”
Soon enough, he had not only a list of what Budd bought, he had an actual photocopy of the receipt. Nothing too exciting: a carton of smokes, some Kool-aid mix, a bottle of tonic water. A chili dog. A packet of shoelaces. Oh, and some ephedra pills. That was slightly interesting.
Maglione hadn't wanted to pull out his badge, it always ruined whatever sort of rapport he'd developed. He hated all those TV shows where the cops are interviewing some guy who's still working away at his job, even ignoring them, like he gets questioned by homicide detectives every day. In the real world, as soon as the badge comes out, people either get really defensive and start lying for no reason that they can understand, or they become overly-cooperative and willing to turn in their own family if they thought it would help.
The clerk wasn't that bad...working overnight at a convenience store, he was probably around cops about six hours a day, and had gotten pretty used to them. But still, Maglione hated to make the conversation official like that. The guy had a tough job, and it was stressful enough already without Maglione messing him around.
"Did he buy anything that wasn't on this receipt?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, for example, I got this neighbor from Guatemala...good guy, real good guy. Sometimes when I'm going to the store, he has me buy him a calling card. I noticed the other day that calling cards aren't rung up on the register, they're written down and the money is put in a cigar box under the counter."
"Oh. No, he didn't get a calling card. He asked me to give him change for a dollar, though. Four quarters."
"Of course, for the pay phones. Right." Maglione dug into his pocket and came out with a handful of scribbled-on index cards and a few of his official business cards. "Hey, thanks for your help. I mean it. Here, keep one these cards. Give me a call if you ever need me—you know what I'm saying?—and I'll see what I can do."
The Syrian held the card in both hands and looked down at the business card. "Thank you. Thank you, I will. I hope you catch the guy," he called, with a nervous laugh.
Outside, Maglione dug around in his step-nephew's car until he found a couple of quarters, then went over to the pay phone. He paused for a second, trying to remember his own cell phone number, then dialed himself. A few seconds later, his phone was ringing in his jacket, and he hung up, pocketing the two quarters again.
Back in the car, Maglione jotted down the pay phone's number on one of his index cards. He pulled out onto St. Charles with his cell phone up to his ear. The phone answered on the third ring.
"Is this Pat? Leslie?" All the women who worked overnight in the communications room sounded identical: like they'd stayed up all night smoking cigarettes instead of sleeping.
"Hey Leslie, it's Detective Maglione."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Leslie, it's Ron The Baptist."
"Oh, hey Ronny, I didn’t recognize your voice...how you been?"
"Leslie, honey, if I felt any better they’d have to lock me up. Listen, I got a favor to ask you."
"Let me guess: it’s the kind of favor that doesn’t come with paperwork."
"Leslie, I promise, as soon as you get to work tomorrow night, all the paperwork will be right there on your desk, all of it back-dated and signed, and on top of it will be a heaping bag of Angelo Brocato's cannolis."
"Well, you really know the way to a woman's heart, Ron, I'll give you that. What do you need?"
Maglione tried to stay in his lane as he fished around on the passenger seat for the index card. "I need the last twenty or so calls made from this number. It's a pay phone, you ready?"
"I'm ready." She typed in the digits as he gave them to her, then was quiet for a second. "All right, you got them."
"Okay, I'm ready." Maglione got up on the interstate, headed towards his townhouse in the Metairie suburbs.
"No, I mean you got them. I just emailed the list to you."
"You gotta get with the 21st century, boy. I tell you what." She coughed out a laugh. "You got names and billing addresses on most of them. It's not perfect, but it'll do."
"Thank you, darling. I really appreciate it."
"Thank me with the Brocato's. I want one for each of the girls ‘cause they’ll squawk when I bring them out, and I want two for me."
"You got it.” Keeping one eye on the road, he scribbled brocato's on the index card on his lap. “But I'm disappointed in you…I thought the knowledge that you’re helping me keep the streets of your beloved city safe from the criminal element would be thanks enough."
On the other end, Leslie whooped with laughter. "Maybe they should lock you up, Ronny. You gettin’ delusional."