Alchemy, chap 2, In which the Expected Occurs

Alchemy, chap 2, In which the Expected Occurs

January 10, 2009

Alchemy, chap 2, In which the Expected Occurs


Alchemy, chap 2, In which the Expected Occurs



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.