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Alchemy, Chap 3 (beginning)

Sunday, January 25th, 2009




“You have five minutes to explain why you didn’t tell me that Cardozo is dead.  Because that’s how long I’m going to wait before I call the cops.  And they’ll be with you five minutes after they find Cardozo.”

“I didn’t know,” Ernesto said.

“Yeah, and I’m the rightful Queen of France. Four minutes ten seconds.” I had bought a disposable phone to use in calling the don or Ernesto.  And I hoped the FBI’s surveillance of Cardozo’s place was limited to intermittent drive-bys, that they didn’t have a camera installed somewhere that would have recorded my license plate.

“I didn’t know.  You think I haven’t been questioned before?  I didn’t know, and nothing you say can change that.”

“That’s it, then: we’re done, and don’t come around again, because I don’t want a federal entourage bird-dogging me.”

“Don’t get your undies in a bundle,” Ernesto grumbled.  I heard him muttering in the background, and the don’s lighter, higher baritone.

It was Don Pasquale who came back on the phone.  “Did you see anyone else?”

“You mean, like the female occupant of the house, whose existence you didn’t bother to mention?  No.  And neither of them left as much as an ATM card behind, let alone a passport.  Who was she?”

I thought I heard a faint sigh of relief.  Qualcuna di nessun’importanza.  Molto bene, molto bene e mille grazie.”

Someone of no importance—Pasquale always spoke Italian to me.  He added, as a murmured after-thought, that I could call the police.

Peppy and I had waited until we reached the toll-road before calling the don.  Even though, he, too, had given me the number of a disposable phone to use in calling him, I didn’t think I could be too careful.  Now, driving with one hand on the wheel and the other on the keypad, I did that most reckless act—dialed with one eye on the road and one on the phone.  I got directory assistance to connect me to the Glen Ellyn police department, and, speaking in my falsetto register, reported a dead body in unincorporated Glen Ellyn.  “I don’t know the exact address—it’s one of those mansions off St. Charles Road with a pond out back.”


I turned the phone off and flipped it out the window, where the traffic behind me quickly reduced it to rubble.

Reigns of Terror

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

 I think I spent a good chunk of the last eight years writing letters to W, to his secretary of state, and to my senators, protesting everything from  W’s dismemberment of the environment, to the war in Iraq, the war on women, and the constant threat of attacking Iran.  We Americans have killed a lot of people in Iraq and Afghanistan; we’ve left behind uranium-tipped bullets and other appalling agents of destruction.  

As a direct result of 8 years of W’s iron-fisted Global Gag rule, 43 million women in Asia, Africa and eastern Europe are dead or seriously ill because U. S. policy forced the closure of medical clinics, including not only abortions but pre-natal care and general health care.

I say all this not just because the cloud is beginning to lift with Barack, but because from time to time, someone will write demanding to know why I don’t denounce Israeli behavior in Gaza, the West Bank or elsewhere.  No one ever asks me to denounce any other behavior, not even American.  Only Israeli.

So let me say here: I denounce all slaughter.  I denounce U.S. slaughter in the Middle East and Central Asia.  I denounce Robert Mgabe for the genocide he is committing in Zimbabwe: he is actively allowing cholera to run rampant through his country, on top of the dire starvation he has engineered.  

I denounce honor killings.  I denounce the slaughter of women who have been raped.  I denounce Israeli destruction of families and homes in Gaza.  I denounce Nigerian atrocities, and those committed in China.  I denounce Pakistani atrocities.  I denounce enslavement of girls and women in the brothels of Thailand, and I abhor those men who rape girls.  I denounce throwing acid on girls trying to go to school in Afghanistan. I denounce the enslavement of women and the refusal to allow us to freely choose when and if we will become pregnant.  I denounce Nicaragua for imprisoning women who’ve had abortions.  

 I denounce U.S. torture of suspects.  I denounce those who fire rockets into Israel. I denounce the Chechniyan atrocities, and those in Georgia, and those in Uzbekhistan, and those in Congo.  I denounce those who seduce people into becoming suicide bombers, while hiding safe and sound somewhere else.  And the ongoing genocide in Darfur, which no longer even rates a line on the evening news.

Now, do we all feel better?

What exactly have I accomplished, except to show that I’m another chardonnay, or in my case, cappuccino liberal.  I was at a bookfair in Europe 2 years ago, having dinner with a Lebanese bookseller.  W and Cheney were once again ramping up their war rhetoric against Iran and I was terrified that we would do the unspeakable.  The Lebanese bookseller said that until you have lived through war you have no idea how terrible it is, and I’m sure she’s right, but we were sitting in a private home overlooking a private lake, drinking lovely burgundy–both of us: “This is terrible,” she said, sip.  “Horrible,” I agreed, sip.  I felt nauseated with myself–a parody of a John LeCarre novel.

 My acts are puny and singularly ineffectual: letters, op-ed pieces, lectures.  The occasional useless outraged phone call to W’s White House, or to a foreign envoy.  I’m not sure what else I could do, except I know I should do it more.  And turning Israel, or any other country, into the Only Demon, is a convenient way of forgetting what may be happening in one’s own backyard.  Just look at America, the demonization of Iraq–and the 43 million dead women we’ve left in our wake.

The Inauguration

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

We watched with friends.  I won’t add commentary, since we were all in the moment together, and it doesn’t need parsing.  I thought Barack gave a good and forceful speech, an honest look at the problems ahead.  The emotion of the moment–many of us in the room were weeping.  And when the Navy sang the Star Spangled Banner, we all got to our feet and joined in, to our surprise–I hadn’t thought I would ever want to sing the National Anthem with real emotion again.  The invocation seemed truly offensive to me; a young friend of mine who drove to DC to take part also found it offensive, but said many in the crowd around her were moved by it.  The person who did move me was Joseph Lowery.  I had forgotten the old Civil Rights invocation–we used to say it, hear it, back in the sixties.  I feel heartened by Obama’s pledge to restore civil liberties and hope he does so; I feel heartened by his commitment to turning around the culture of mindless greed and consumption that’s brought us down this hard economic road.  I feel heartened by his intelligence and awareness of the massive problems he, and we, face.

Let me know what struck you best/least about the Inauguration.

P.S.  My atheist husband was pleased that Obama acknowledged “non-believers” in his call to people of all faiths; surely a presidential first.

P.P.S.  We sang “Ding-dong, the witch is dead,” as Bush got onto his helicopter and a Dutch friend said that to understand America, you really have to know the Wizard of Oz–that it’s THE iconic American movie.  Wonder if that’s true?

Your copyrights and google

Friday, January 16th, 2009

In 2004, Google made arrangements with the University of Michigan to digitize their entire library, some seven or eight million volumes.  Google planned to make this library available to the public, presumably for some kind of fee.  In exchange, the university would get a copy of the digital library.  And writers and publishers were not considered part of the exchange at all.


The Author’s Guild did heroic battle on all our behalfs and reached a settlement with Google.  The settlement runs to 375 pages so I won’t try to go into details; you can get them at the Author’s Guild website.  In a nutshell, though, the Guild is setting up, with the American Association of Publishers and with Google, a Book Rights Repository (BRR), which will be the legal entity charged with making sure that writers are paid for the use of their  books.  Every writer, whether a member of the Guild or not, should create an account with the BRR.  This account will make it possible for you to manage your books and to submit claims for royalties.


You may also choose whether or not to let your books be sold through Google’s electronic database.  If your book(s) are out of print, the default setting is that you allow their sale.  If your book(s) are in print, the default setting is that you do NOT allow their sale.  You manage all this through your BRR entry.  In-print books include self-published, or electronically published books as well as paper titles released through a publishing company.,


There is no master list of books that Google has digitized; you have to submit a claim through your BRR account, and the BRR staff will see that you get paid if improper use has been made of your material.


There are a lot of details about how royalties are assessed, how you work with your publisher, and so on, that I don’t have at my fingertips, but to set up an account, go to    The site will step you through the process.

Alchemy, chap 2, In which the Expected Occurs

Saturday, January 10th, 2009



Don Pasquale and his cronies lived in River Forest, an old suburb just west of Chicago, where Frank Lloyd Wright houses and a charming little shopping street make it a natural as a Mob hangout.  Cardozo lived a good ten miles further out, in a gated mansion set on five acres in the Glen Ellyn area. 

Ernesto told me they’d gone to see him more than once, and tried to phone him, but he wasn’t answering the door or the phone.    When I asked him for the code to Cardozo’s gate, he’d started to rumble that he didn’t get involved with another man’s private business, but the don cut him off.

“Give her the number, Ernesto.  We’re asking for her help, after all.”

So on a dreary November afternoon, where the last of the leaves hung like grey bats from the trees, I tapped in the code to Charlie Cardozo’s gate.  I closed it after me and drove up to the house.  I’d brought Peppy, my golden retriever, with me, for company. Working for Don Pasquale made me edgy: if I got caught, the feds would show me no sympathy, and my lawyer wouldn’t be too forgiving, either.

Peppy and I circled the house. Cardozo had been exceptionally well paid for a driver, even the driver for a Mafia boss.  I wondered what his real job description looked like.  Perhaps his day job was as a heart surgeon.

Cardozo was a bachelor, and Ernesto said he’d never seen him with a companion, of either sex, but Cardozo might have been thinking ahead to a large family, with individual nannies for each kid, because the place was big enough for ten people to have separate bedrooms and not crowd each other.  It would be a fun place to be a kid, if you could bring your friends over: the grounds sloped down to a biggish pond.  You could swim there in the summer, skate in the winter.


A charming Glen Ellyn Cottage

A charming Glen Ellyn Cottage



I rang the bells at all the doors I could find, and then keyed in the front door code.  You know as soon as you enter a house that it’s stood empty for quite a while.  Maybe we unconsciously smell a human presence, and our brains register the fact that the smell is missing, but whatever the reason, I walked boldly from room to room, looking for traces of Cardozo.  Peppy’s nails clattered on the polished wood floors.  I hoped she was scratching them—they looked as though they came from the kind of trees that would be extinct in another few years.

In the master suite, overlooking the pond, I detected complete wardrobes for a male and a female.  I’d wondered if Cardozo were gay when Ernesto told me he’d never seen the driver with a companion—the Mob, like the Army, prefers not to know about homosexual employees. The male wardrobe would fit someone about five-eleven, with a thirty-two inch waist.  The female wardrobe was designed for someone four or five inches shorter, with a full bust—the bras fit a 32F.  He liked Armani; she preferred JilSander.  Two classic, classy tailors.

It would have taken me days to search the house properly, and I didn’t want to stay long.  I looked in the obvious drawers, but didn’t find any personal papers.  I couldn’t find a single piece of correspondence, not even a catalog, that had a name on it.  It was as if the house were a stage set for a realtor, with clothes and pots and pans in the kitchens, but nothing genuine and human behind the facade.

The house had an underground level, with a sixty-foot pool and a little putting green.  In the winter you could do laps and practice your swing.  The garage, which opened behind the mechanical room, was completely underground.  Besides the kinds of cars a Mafia don might want his driver to take him around in—a vintage Bentley, a 1938 Jaguar which made my mouth water—and a more day-to-day Mercedes sedan with bullet-proof windows—Cardozo kept a tractor, a snow plow, a Harley, and seven bicycles—trail bikes, racers, and a folding trick bike. Maybe he’d run away to join the circus.  The Mercedes had a set of cash receipts for gas in the glove compartment.  I took those, just to have something—he’d bought most of the gas at a station on St. Charles Road.  I wrote down the plate numbers of all the cars and the Harley—the Web might tell me something about the cars.



A 1938 Jaguar SS100

A 1938 Jaguar SS100



The mechanical room held a NASA-size computer that controlled the house, the security system, the air temperature, the water for the sprinklers, the water in the indoor pool.  A thick manual showing how to work all the controls sat on a table nearby. 

I shook my head, more puzzled than ever.  Who was Cardozo, and why did the don want to find him?  Pasquale’s fortunes were waning in the wake of the big wave of arrests in the last few years, but Cardozo was not part of a collapsing organization, not unless he’d gotten too deep in debt to handle his mortgage and had skipped town with his lady friend.

At the end of two hours, I gave it up.  I’d start asking questions at some of the area restaurants and the gas station, but I wasn’t optimistic. 

Peppy had pattered after me from room to room, worried that we might get separated in the unfamiliar house.  When I finally opened the door, she hesitated to leave until she was sure I was going with her.  And then, to punish me for cooping her up in a strange place all afternoon, she took off at a run.  She’s usually the best behaved dog in Chicago, but she refused to acknowledge my call to come, and ran down the slope to the pond.  She swam all the way to the other side and stood there, grinning wickedly at me, waving her tale, daring me to come after her.  I started to walk away, expecting that she’d run to my side at once if she thought she was going to be left behind.  Instead, after a moment, she started to bark, a loud, insistent noise.

I turned to look.  There was a little dock on the far side, about five yards from where she’d first left the water.  Peppy was standing there, pawing the water, barking furiously.

I jogged back down to the pond and circled around it to the dog.  A man lay underneath the dock’s wood support legs.  He might have been five-eleven, with a thirty-two inch waist.  He might have been about forty years old.  He might have been good-looking, until the bullet took off most of the side of his face.



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January 2009