Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Alchemy, chap 3, cont

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Don Pasquale and Ernesto were sitting on her big stuffed couch, her old teddy-bear nestled between them, its big black eyes staring at me pathetically.


I was frozen for an instant, and then I tried to push Petra away, out the door, onto the floor, anywhere not in a potential line of fire.

“It’s not like that, Warshawski,” Ernesto rumbled. “Girl’s free to come, go, do whatever she wants. She can even go squealing to the feds once we’ve left, if that suits her. We needed to talk to you cleanly, and when we learned about your cousin, the don figured you’d come out for her, which you did.”

Everyone’s life is spread out on the Web for anyone to read, including mine. All the time I was looking for Cardozo, the don’s IT pro was looking for me, probing for the weak places in my bio, and finding my cousin.

“You rang the bell and Petra buzzed you in?” I asked.

“Vic, I’m not that stupid,” Petra protested. “Ernesto was waiting in the alley when I parked my car tonight. He said he and Don Pasquale needed to talk to you privately, that he was being tailed. So of course, I figured he was a client of yours, and I called you! And I was right, wasn’t I?”

“Yeah, sugar, you were right,” I agreed sardonically.

Qui sono,” I added to the don. “What do you want?”

La sua cugine parle italiano? No? Bene.”

We continued in Italian. The don wanted to know exactly what I’d found in Cardozo’s home this afternoon.

“I didn’t have the time or the resources for a thorough search. I looked in all the obvious places, and didn’t find a single scrap of paper, except for his subscription to Pre-War Car. He could easily have a dozen safes in that place: have you been there? It’s the size of a hotel, you know. “

“I know, I know. He was very proud of his house. He designed everything personally, so perhaps you are right, perhaps there is a safe concealed very cleverly. But in that case, the FBI may not find it, either.”

“Depends on how bad they want it.”

“And the woman you say was-–co-habiting with Cardozo?” Pasquale asked.

I shook my head. “The FBI may find fingerprints—I didn’t have equipment to search at that level. But I didn’t see any personal effects, except her clothes. Who is she? Cardozo wasn’t married, at least not under his name.”

“Charlie liked women,” Ernesto said, indifferent. “There’s always another one, who isn’t important, unless she saw his murderer, in which case, her own life is pretty fragile right now.”

“How long was he dead, do you think?” the don asked. I shrugged. “You can call the Du Page County ME, but he was in good shape, no obvious decay. He can’t have been in the water long, maybe two or three days. When did you last hear from him?”

“Weeks ago. Maybe a month,” Ernesto said after a pause. “

What was Cardozo doing for you, Don Pasquale?   Why did you really send me looking for him?”

The don studied his fingertips. “Money is missing from my organization. He claimed to be on the track of finding it. And he claimed it made his quest easier if the world believed he and I had parted company.”  

“Had you?”

Don Pasquale flashed a wintry smile. “That is a good question, Signora Victoria. Had we or hadn’t we? In order to find out where money in my organization had vanished, he took other money with him. Two hundred million dollars has now vanished as if it were the snows of yesteryear.”

“Money is melting all over the globe these days, don,” I said.

“Yes,” the don agreed. “But this was in cash.”


And the answers

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

1 & 2: Loveleen Tandan is listed as co-director for Slumdog Millionaire, but her name was not mentioned once in these reviews.  Whether it should be is a minor controversy in the movie review world; the producer said the decision to include her name was made over a drink, which somehow implies that she is so negligible that she shouldn’t have been a co-director.

3.  Anne Bancroft was 6 years older than Hoffman–31  and 37 when The Graduate was filmed.  Hoffman was 22 years older than Thompson; 71 and 49 for Harvey.  Roberts was 36 when Mona Lisa Smile was filmed.

4.  Ella Baker helped found SNCC; Fammie Lou Hamer the Mississippi Freedom Party; Dorothy Height headed the National Council of Negro Women; Doris Nash the Nashville-Jackson Freedom Ride.  Baker started the SNCC when the SCLC refused to hire her as the full-time director because of her sex.  Nash got the Freedom Rides underway despite opposition from white mobs, the White House (JFK and RFK), and black male leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.  John Lewis, now a senior congressman from Georgia (not the UMW leader) was one of the courageous freedom riders.

5.  No women were permitted to speak at the  1963 Lincoln Memorial gathering, despite the urging of many women within the movement

6.  I hate Hottie, chick and babe as terms for any woman, and I don’t know of any comparably degrading terms for men.

7.  75 percent

8. 62 percent

9.  Rogers headed North Shore Gas, People’s Gas, and the Illinois State Lottery

10.  Concerned Women for America picked “a” as their lobbying slogan (a.  Women need to have more babies to pay for the stimulus package down the road)

The National Right to Life Committee frequently uses the language of c (Women who decide when and whether to get pregnant are “playing God” with their bodies and need men in government or religion to tell them “how to live their lives right.” )

b (Babies require women to spend more money on health care and diapers which will further stimulate the economy) is something I threw in–it makes as little sense as Concerned Women for America or the National Right to Life Committee’s views on women and pregnancy.

11.  I don’t know the answer to this.  It seems to me that almost every movie relegates women to these roles–look at The Wrestler, to name the most recent.

And the winner is…

Monday, February 16th, 2009

 It’s that time of year, winter bleeding into spring, when we celebrate Black History, Women’s History, and the Oscars.  So here’s a little quiz to get  you in the mood.

Note: I post twice a month on a blog called the Chicago Outfit Collective, and this is what I plan to put up on February 18, when it’s my turn to post there again.  I realize that many of you are international readers and that this quiz is totally US-centric–but if you have some international questions you think I should add, let me know.  I’ll post the answers next week. 

 1.  Who is Loveleen Tandan? 

2.  Recent reviews of the work Tandan co-created appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The New Yorker, and Time-Out Chicago.  Plus or minus two, how many times was Tandan’s name mentioned in total in all these reviews?

 3.   Age cannot wither her 

a. What was the age difference between Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate?

b.  What is the age difference between Hoffman and Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey?

c.  How old was Julia Roberts when the studios decided she was no longer the sexy young love interest, but was now the quirky aging feminist, Katherine Watson, in Mona Lisa Smile?

Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts






(Note: Roberts may be making a glamour queen comeback for studios desperate for star power) 

4.  Match the person to the organization or movement they founded or led.

            i. Ella Baker  ii. James Bevel  iii.  John Lewis  iv. Doris Nash  v.  Fannie Lou Hamer    vi. Dorothy Height vii.  Martin Luther King

            a.   SNCC (Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee)

            b.   Mississippi Freedom Party

            c.   National Council of Negro Women

            d.   Nashville-Jackson Freedom Ride 

Ella Baker

Ella Baker

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

5.  Of the women leaders listed, which were invited to speak at the Lincoln Memorial when King made his famous “I have a dream” speech? 

6.  Sticks and stones

            “Hottie,” “chick,” and “babe” are often used as synonyms for “woman,” including sometimes in the Chicago Outfit blog.

            a.  What images or feelings do these synonyms elicit?

            b.  List three synonyms for “man” that elicit the same images or feelings

7.  Three years after graduating from university, U.S. women’s salaries are what percentage of men who are doing the same work, with both working full-time?

a. 100 (i.e., equal)

b. 127

c. 75

d. 62 

8.  Thirty years after graduating from university, women’s salaries are what percentage of men who are doing the same work, with both working full-time?

a.  100

b.  127

 c.  75

d.  62

  9.  Before becoming White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers headed:

Desiree Rogers

Desiree Rogers

a. The Social Register

b. North Shore Gas

c. The Illinois State Lottery

d. The North Shore Gourmet Club

e. People’s Gas 

10.  Support for contraceptives for low-income women was removed from the economic stimulus bill because:

a.  Women need to have more babies to pay for the stimulus package down the road

b.  Babies require women to spend more money on health care and diapers which will further stimulate the economy

c. Women who decide when and whether to get pregnant are “playing God” with their bodies and need men in government or religion to tell them “how to live their lives right.” 

11.  What percentage of movies released between 2004 and 2008 depict the female lead as a stripper or a hooker or both?

a. 7

b. 27

c. 67

d.  87


Alchemy, chap 3, cont

Thursday, February 5th, 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 didn’t know,” Ernesto said.  “You think I haven’t been questioned before?  I didn’t know, and no threats or sarcasm 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 muttering in reply.  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 tollroad before calling the don. I had bought a disposable phone to use in calling the don or Ernesto, but even so, if the FBI were monitoring their calls, they’d be able to get a bead on me if they wanted to.  I could only hope that their 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.

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.  The body’s in the pond.”

The dispatcher started to ask questions, but I turned the phone off and flipped it out the window, where the traffic behind me quickly reduced it to rubble.  Back in Chicago, I tried to turn my attention to other problems, but I kept the news station on in the background.  Finally, at seven-thirty, while I was making dinner, the story broke: Glen Ellyn police had found a body which the Du Page County ME had tentatively identified as known Mob associate Charlie Cardozo.

Cardozo worked in the Pasquale organization, as a driver and general errand boy.  His father, Bertrando Cardozo, was Don Pasquale’s accountant until his death eight years ago.  Like his father, Charlie Cardozo was a CPA, but it’s not known whether he took over the vast money laundering apparatus that Bertrando ran on the don’s behalf.


“Is that how he afforded that big house and all those fancy cars?” I asked Peppy, who’d decided to spend the evening with me—her gigantic son was downstairs with my neighbor.

She waved her tail slightly: you’re on the right track, V I, go for it.

“Okay.  Right after dinner.”

For a time I’d gotten into the bad habit of working at my computer while I ate, which was bad for the keyboard, and took away my enjoyment of the meal.  I poured myself a glass of Torgiano and sat at the dining room table with my food. 

As soon as I’d finished, I started digging into Cardozo’s life.  It didn’t take me long to find his personal Social Security number, but I didn’t know how many fake ones he might have used.  Under his own name, he hadn’t gotten married in any of the fifty states, so either he had married overseas, or the JilSander size 6 was “just a friend.”

Looking for his bank accounts was a harder job.  On NCIS and some of those other crime shows, they make it look so easy: you don’t have time for a search warrant, so you tell McGee and Abby to hack into the accounts.  But that means you have to know what banks the person is using, and then, when you finally—at eleven-thirty—have found the bank, you have to get through the bank firewall.

I set up some ranges of numbers and words for my program to try and started to get ready for bed: the computer would work all night, seeing if it could slip into Cardozo’s account, and maybe have a lovely surprise for me in the morning.  I was brushing my teeth when my phone rang.

“Vic!  I didn’t wake you, did I?” It was my cousin Petra, her husky vibrant voice as full of energy as if it were eleven in the morning.

“I live for your calls, Peetie.”

“Then can you come over to see me?  Right now, I mean?”

“What’s going on that can’t wait until morning?”

“Right now, Vic—great! I’ll buzz you in.”

She hung up, and didn’t answer when I rang back.  I pulled my jeans on again and went into the safe in the back of my closet for my Smith & Wesson.  Peppy announced she was coming with me.

“You could be a help, or you could get shot, you know,” I told her. 

At midnight, my neighborhood is almost quiet, and  it took a scant ten minutes to drive to Petra’s place.  She was on the look-out for me; she buzzed me in before I even got to the front door. I ran to the fourth floor with my gun in my hand, my finger on the safety.  The dog bounded ahead of me and started squeaking before I reached the landing.  When I got up the last half flight, my cousin was squatting in the doorway, hugging the dog—clearly not in danger of her life.

I put the gun away.  “What’s the fuss, Petra?”

“These guys came, they want to see you,” she explained, stepping back into her apartment.

I followed her inside.  Don Pasquale and Ernesto were sitting on her big stuffed couch.



The iPod and the cellphone and the YouTube that we know

Monday, February 2nd, 2009
May just be passing fancies
And in time may go
But the book is here to stay
Or not.  My editor tells me this is the last time the company will let her send me a marked manuscript.  After this, all corrections will be in an electronic file, and I will have to respond to them electronically.  
I write on a machine, I rewrite on a machine, but until I have a paper copy in front of me, I don’t see the infelicities of style, nor the flaws in the narrative arc.  I need paper to see where I am in a book, either as a reader, or as a writer.  Is this action appropriate at this physical point in the story?  I can’t tell in an electronic universe.
I think the blogosphere and 24 hour web news makes us sloppy as readers and as writers, and that going to a strictly electronic book will make books sloppier, less carefully written, less carefully edited.  
My editor  told me that I needed to learn to live in the present, not in the era of the illuminated manuscript.  
What about you?  Agree?  Disagree?  Am I a dinosaur , or someone with a valid point about the word on the page?
Sara Paretsky


Most recent comments

Recent Comments


February 2009