Opportunity KnocksBy Luckymama
The club went dark one more time as the last,
youngest comedian finally took the stage, just after midnight. He was tall for his age, his build that of an occasional football
player and dancer, with skin a light bronze hue which spoke of his mixed heritage. His perfectly-groomed hair was full and
dark, and he ran his right hand over the back of it as he grabbed the mic with his left. Huge black eyes scanned the packed
house, shining in the spotlight with a mixture of nerves and anticipation. Above the upper of his femininely full lips there
was the hint of a mustache that curved as his smile lit up the room. "Good evening everyone! Loooking Gooood!," he began his
routine in a markedly Hispanic accent, as he had done on dozens of nights before. After a ten minute set of several old jokes
and a few new ones--his laughter at his own cleverness infectious--he left the stage to the applause of the patrons of the
comedy club. It had been a good night--he felt it in his gut and smiled with self-satisfaction.
As he made his way back to the tiny dressing
room he shared with a handful of would-be comedians, his friend Nat called to him from the darkness. "Fred, my man, shes here
"Really? You arent putting me on?" Freddie looked
at his friend as he went past him into the dressing room, wondering if Nat was pulling his leg as he so often did.
"For real, man. Would I lie to you? You need
to go out and see what she wants. She has been here every night for the past month. She always arrives just before midnight,
then gets up and leaves as soon as you have done your set--so I know she is coming here to see you in action. I bet she has
it bad for you! She is a fine fox." Nat winked and gave a low wolf whistle.
Freddie shook his head at Nat. "Is all you think
"Like you dont? Are you forgetting who you are
talking to? Man, I have seen your moves too many times-I know what is on your mind. I can read you like a book, my man."
"Whatever you say." Freddie thought for a minute
and then added, "I would like to know why she is here every night, though. I wonder if she has left yet?"
"Well you arent going to find out hanging around
back here." Nat gave Freddie a push toward the door. "Go on and see what she wants."
"Ok, ok, no need to be pushy!" Freddie gave his
friend a friendly punch in the arm and headed back into the club. Looking through the curtain that separated the backstage
hallway from the club, he peered through the still-glaring spotlights to see if she was sitting in her usual seat, a table
near the back of the room. Yes, Im in luckat least maybe, he thought.
Freddie screwed up his courage and strutted with
mock confidence out toward her table. Even though he was outgoing when onstage, meeting a new person--especially a girl--wasnt
as easy for him as he let on to others. He thought of a thousand opening lines as he strode in her direction, but by the time
he got to the table, all he could say was, "Hi."
The woman looked slowly up at him. She was an
average sort, with medium length straight honey blond hair parted neatly in the middle. Her complexion was fair with her facial
features in proportion to the rest of her face. Except for her eyes, Freddie noted with the first glimmer of interest. They
were enormous, brown like his, and with a lot of expression in them. Right now they looked somewhat puzzled and even a bit
embarrassed at his stare. "Hello yourself."
Freddie stuck his hand out to her. "My name is
"I know, I have heard you introduced on stage."
She wasnt making this easy for him.
"Oh, yeah...um, right," Freddie stuttered with
an embarrassed laugh. "I guess you are wondering why I came to your table."
"Not really," she answered with a voice obviously
struggling to sound nonchalant. "I suppose you have seen me here before."
"Well yes, I have been wondering about you. I
see you here every night, coming in around midnight and leaving after my set. Why?"
It looked to Freddie as if her confidence was
starting to fade. Fumbling for the right words, she finally said, "You have a lot of talent. You make me laugh and forget
Freddie felt comfortable enough now to sit down
across from her at the small table. "What problems could a pretty lady like you have?" Charm had always been his crutch in
awkward situations, and he fell naturally into it now.
"Well before you analyze me, dont you think I
should introduce myself?"
Freddie nervously laughed again. "She sure has
a way of disarming me," he thought to himself. "Uh, sure, that would be good."
"My name is Anna dAngelo, and I am looking for
my place in this world."
Freddie extended his hand to her once again.
"Nice to meet you, Anna. And arent we all."
"This is very true, but I have a problem. I guess
listening to you joke every night about the tough times in your life makes me think there might be a solution to my situation."
"I am glad I am able to make you laugh, but you
arent making much sense." To fill the awkward silence that followed as his new friend seemed to be searching for words once
again, Freddie glanced at the clock over the bar. "Oh, shit. I have to go. I didnt realize it was this late. I have school
in the morning. My teachers are always getting on my case for being late, and I have a long way to go to get home."
When he turned back to Anna, Freddie saw she
was looking at him intensely. Finally finding her voice, she asked, "Where do you live?"
"Washington Heights.... remember? The slums with
trees," he replied with a chuckle, recalling one of his longest-standing jokes.
Anna laughed. "Thats right."
Freddie smiled at her. "Where do you live?"
"Actually right around the corner from here."
Anna got up and gathered her purse and jacket. Freddie could see he had at least 9 inches on her as far as height. That was
fine by him. He liked his women a bit on the short side-he especially loved the way they would lay their heads on his chest
while slow dancing. Anna looked to be about the right height for that.
"Can I walk you home before I have to go?" The
thought of dancing with her made Freddie realize he was hoping to get to know this lady better. Something about her made him
think she might be too old for him--but many of the women he dated were a bit older. He liked them that way, too. Continuing
to make his pitch, he admitted a bit shyly, "I would like to get to know you a bit more. I have a zillion questions to ask
Anna smiled just as shyly. "Sure. I would like
to get to know you too."
"Alriiiiiight," Freddie exclaimed to himself.
Outwardly, he just gave Anna one of his sexiest smiles and extended his arm to her.
Anna paid her check and the two exited the small
club. "Which direction?" Freddie asked her.
Anna pointed. "This way." The two headed up the
block, talking as they walked.
"So," Freddie ventured, "will you please satisfy
my burning curiosity and tell me why you have been coming to catch my act? I know you said I make you laugh, but you must
know all of my jokes by now. Yet you still come back. Why?" He was walking backwards in front of Anna, almost pleading with
"Well, I do have another reason. I have been
trying to get up the courage to introduce myself and ask YOU a question."
Freddie smiled. "Well the first part is over.
Whaddaya wanna know?"
"Do you have someone managing your career yet?"
Freddie stopped dead in his tracks. She certainly
didnt look like an agent. Maybe she knew one. He had been hoping an agent would come into the club and discover him for months
now. "No, as a matter of fact, no one has asked me before this."
She looked at him incredulously. "I find that
hard to believe, with all of your talent." Freddie looked down in embarrassment for a moment and she continued, "I would like
the opportunity to manage your career, if you will have me."
"Youre an agent?" Freddie asked, trying not to
act surprised but failing.
Now it was Annas turn to look down in embarrassment.
After a long pause they resumed their walk, side by side once again as she continued, "I know it is hard to believe. That
is the trouble I was alluding to in the clubI am not given much of a chance, since I am a woman. People in this business tend
not to take me very seriously. You would be taking a big risk with me, but I know with your talent, I could get you better
gigs and your face more recognition. What do you say?" They had stopped by the front steps of a brownstone building.
"Well I would have to give it some thought, but
the offer does intrigue me," Freddie answered as he looked up at the building. "This your place?"
"Such as it is."
Freddie looked around at the street sign. "This
isnt far from my school," he remarked.
Anna looked at him. "Where do you go to school?"
"The school for the performing arts."
"I should have known," Anna smiled. "You have
the talent to be accepted there."
Freddie looked at his watch, mostly to cover
the blush he could feel rising in his face. "Well, if I dont get home so I can get back here in time tomorrow, I wont be enrolled
there much longer."
As if the discussion of her becoming Freddies
agent were not enough, now Anna really surprised him. "It would be real convenient for you, if you stayed in my spare bedroom.
You would be so close to school and the club."
"Are you asking me to stay with you?" asked Freddie.
"If you like. It would sure make it easier for
me to contact you if I get gigs lined up." Anna looked up at him with eyes pleading even as she giggled at her own small joke.
"Well I havent said yes to your being my agent
Anna answered calmly, "But I have a feeling you
Freddie shrugged his shoulders, "I might. But
since it is late, maybe I will take you up on your offer of the room for tonight at least. Can I call my ma and let her know,
so she doesnt worry about me?"
"Sure." Anna suddenly remembered something. "By
the way, how old are you?"
"Seventeen.... but I will be eighteen at the
end of this school year. Why?"
Anna smiled, "Just wanted to know before I took
it into my head to seduce you." She winked at him when he looked at her in shock. "Im joking. It is just that I have seen
how you operate with the ladies. I have observed quite a bit about you over the past month, not just your talent." She giggled
Freddie chuckled in reply and shook his head
at her. "I see Im not the only one with a sense of humor."
"Nope." Anna made her way up the steps to her
second floor apartment. After fumbling with her keys, she opened the door and pointed to the right. "The phone is on the wall
in the kitchen. Help yourself. When you are done, Ill show you to your room."
Freddie nodded and made his way over to the telephone.
Dialing the number of his familys apartment, he got his mother on the line. She wasnt too happy about Freddie not coming home,
but he managed to sweet talk her into seeing it his way. When he hung up he went in search of Anna. She was waiting for him
in the living room.
"This isnt a big place, but it is adequate for
me," she told him as she showed him around. She led him down the hall and opened a door. "This is the spare room. You can
sleep here. The bathroom is across the hall, there." She pointed and went on, "I put out an extra toothbrush on the sink,
and feel free to use any of the soap and shampoo." Turning back to the bedroom, she said, "Help yourself to any of the clothes
in the closet and drawers. They were my brothers, and you look to be about his height and build." With a smile, Anna concluded,
"I hope you find the bed comfortable."
"I am sure it will be fine." Freddie smiled back
at her. She turned and headed toward a door at the far end of the hall. "What time do you need to get up?"
Freddie thought a moment. "I should be up around
6 if I am going to be ready for my eight o clock class."
"OK, Ill give you a six oclock wake up call."
She turned and opened the door to her room. "By the way, I will lock my door at night, just in case you get any ideas." She
giggled one more time and wished him a good night before closing her door.
"Wow," thought Freddie to himself. "She sure
is hard to figurequite awhats the word? Oh yeah, quite an enigma." He was chuckling again as he started getting ready for
bed, yet by the time he closed his eyes he felt apprehensive, wondering where all of this could lead him.
The next morning Freddie awoke to soft knocking.
Forgetting where he was for the moment, he looked around in puzzlement at his surroundings. Finally, as his head cleared and
he became more awake, he remembered the events of last night. "Freddie, its six," he heard a female voice call to him softly
from the other side of the door.
"Thanks. Im up," he called back to Anna. He heard
her footsteps retreat back down the hall and heard a door close. Swinging his feet over the side of the bed, he sat up, yawning.
The bed had been comfortable and he wished he could spend a few more hours in it. Turning on the light on the stand next to
the bed, he stood and stretched his full length of six feet two inches. Then he grabbed the towel and face cloth that was
placed over the back of a desk chair and headed toward the bathroom.
When Freddie was finished showering and dressed
in clothes he found in the room, he came out to the kitchen to find Anna fixing breakfast. Smelling coffee, he grabbed a cup
from the counter and squeezed past her over to the pot to pour himself a cup. "Good morning," he said to the top of her head.
"Good morning, yourself. How did you sleep?"
she asked him as she turned and looked at his attire with a critical eye.
"Like a baby. The bed is very comfortable." Freddie
saw she was looking at the clothes he had chosen out of the closet. "Your brother and I must wear the same size. These fit
like a glove. I hope he wont mind me borrowing them."
Anna looked quickly away to the eggs frying in
the pan on the stove, but not before Freddie saw the sadness that fell over her face. "He wont mind. He was killed six months
ago," she explained him in barely a whisper.
"Oh, mami, I am sorry. I didnt know." Freddie
looked down at her, shifting his feet awkwardly.
Anna braved a small smile as she turned back
to face him. She took the frying pan and spooned the eggs out on to two waiting plates on the table. "Its ok. How could you
know? He used to share this apartment with me. Its been very lonely here since.... well..." her voice trailed off as she invited
Freddie to sit down with a wave of her hand. They both sat in silence as they began to eat. After a few minutes, she said,
"You remind me of him, you know?"
Freddie looked at her puzzled. Seeing his expression,
she went on to explain. "It isnt your looks so much as your sense of humor. You see, Arthur, my brother, was a comedian too."
Freddie thought for a moment. He remembered something
in the papers about six months ago regarding a comedian by the name of Artie Harris being murdered. He knew Artie from the
clubs--never personally, but Artie was becoming a legend in the clubs for being a white comic doing ethnic humor. In fact,
some of Freddies newer material was patterned after Arties style. "Youre Artie Harris sister?"
Anna smiled. "Yes, Artie Harris was my brother.
The best brother a sister could ever have. He was the one who encouraged me to go into the talent agency business. He wanted
me to manage his career. He... " She choked up and Freddie went over to her, knelt down, and put his arm around her. She accepted
it, but only for a moment before shaking him off. "Im sorry for that. I should be over this by now."
"Only if you have ice water flowing in those
veins of yours. Its ok to still be grieving, you know."
"Well my tears arent going to bring him back.
I only hope I can honor his memory by helping other young comedians get the break that was snatched from him." Anna got up,
got a tissue and wiped her eyes. She started to clear the breakfast dishes. Freddie gulped down one last bite in a rush to
"Is that why you wanted to manage me?" He asked
as he stacked the plates in the sink.
"Partly, if you will have me."
Freddie smiled. Now he knew he wanted her to
be his agent. "You got it. Just draw up the contract and I will sign it."
"Great," Anna answered as she filled the sink
with water and a squirt of dish soap. She glanced at the clock over the stove. "You had better get going, young man, or you
will be late for school. That would defeat the whole purpose of you staying here last night." She hesitated and then added,
"You know you are welcome to that room on a permanent basis if you like."
"It is a tempting offer, if I decide to finish
school. Right now I am thinking of ditching it and going into show business full time. What do you think, manager?"
"I think you should stay in school and finish.
You are almost done, and that diploma will take you further in this life than if you dont have it. That is my expert advice
as your manager." She rolled up the dish towel she had draped over her left shoulder and snapped it at his bottom. Freddie
thought how good it was to see her smile again, and returned a grin as she admonished, "Now scoot! Let me know after school
what you decide about the room. Ill have the contract drawn up by then so you and your parents can look it over."
"Sounds good," Freddie said as he headed for
the door. "Have a good day, Anna, and thanks for last night." He saw her turn back to the sink, chuckle and shake her head
as he closed the door, so he knew she had understood the innuendo in his remark. More than understanding his humor, he thought,
she was the one person who seemed to really understand what drove him. This might turn out to be a great relationship, he
said to himself, as he walked outside and started the four blocks to his school.
Bounding up the stairs to the second floor two
at a time, Freddie ran into Nat at the top. He slapped his friend on the back and the two of them headed for their first class
of the day.
"You are sure smokin this morning, bro," Nat
said to Freddie with a wink "What did you do last night after you left the club, as if I didnt know?"
"Hey man, it wasnt like that at all! Anna is
a really nice lady. Didja know that her brother was Artie Harris?" asked Freddie.
"No jive?" Nat exclaimed. "Wow, that musta been
tough on her. He was a cool dude. Shame how he was wasted. He had it goin on."
Freddie looked contemplative. "I know. She wants
to manage me and get me the breaks her brother was denied. That is why she has been coming to the club every night. She was
getting up the nerve to ask me if I had an agent."
"So what did you tell her?"
Freddie shrugged, "What could I tell her? I know
having a woman agent is a big risk, but hell, I believe in her. She told me I reminded her of her brother--his sense of humor,
that is. Seems I am the same size he was too. These threads are his." Freddie pulled at the shirt he was wearing."
"Whered ya get his clothes?" Nat asked.
"Anna let me borrow them. She asked me to spend
the night at her place because it was so late. She only lives a few blocks from here."
"So thats how it is," Nat joked. "Alright, my
Freddie shook his head. "No, Nat-I told you,
it isnt like that at all. Her brother used to share the apartment with her, and I slept in his room last night." He shuddered
a moment at the thought of sleeping in a dead mans bed and added, "I didnt know that at the time last night. I only found
out she was Arties sister this morning over breakfast. She asked if I wanted to stay with her regularly, cause it would be
closer to school and the club."
"Sounds like a sweet set up. I hope you took
her up on it," Nat said.
"Well, I havent given her an answer. I dont know....."
Freddies voice trailed off as they got to the classroom and sat down.
"Well," Nat mimicked Freddies slow way of saying
the word, "I think you would be a fool to turn down shackin up with a fine lady like that." He winked again and Freddie decided
it wasnt worth the breath trying to make Nat see that Anna wasnt the kind of woman you bed and forget. Anyway, it seemed to
Freddie that Nat was finished with that topic, because he leaned over and asked, "You still gonna be able to make band practice
after school?" Nat and Freddie were in a band they had formed the year before. They played in small clubs and some of the
local high schools. Freddie knew the band was small potatoes compared to his comedy gigs, but he enjoyed playing the drums
with the guys. "Sure, I can be there for about an hour, but then I need to go by Annas and pick up that contract and have
my parents look at it. I think Anna could actually get me more work. But she wants me to stick school out to the end. I hope
she is right. School isnt giving me one thing these days. But if she says its important, I guess Ill finish." Freddie got
a far away look in his eyes. "But I cant wait till I get out to Hollywood and Vegas. That is where the big money is."
"Well big man, doncha be forgettin us little
folks back home when you become a STAR." Nat giggled and hit Freddie in the arm. Freddie laughed with Nat until the teacher
came in to start class.
After school and band practice, Freddie took
a cab to his home in Washington Heights. His mom was still at work, but he found his father, who had retired recently, in
front of the TV watching the local news. "Hi, pop," he called out as he slammed the door and headed for the kitchen to fix
himself a snack.
"How was school?" asked his father from the living
"Boring, as usual," answered Freddie as he sat
down on the couch in the living room with a sandwich in one hand and a bottle of soda in another. "I still dont understand
what I am going to do with all that crap they teach me there. If only I could just take the classes I am interested in."
"Well, your mother and I know what value is placed
on a good education, son, so you are staying in school."
"I know, I know..." Freddie trailed off as he
got up to leave. He had heard enough of this lecture in the past and wasnt in the mood to listen to it now. His dad, having
been over forty when Freddie was born, would never understand where he was coming from-especially not about comedy. His mom,
who was much younger than his dad, worked too hard in Freddies opinion, and he couldnt wait to make it big so he could get
both of his parents out of this "slum with trees." Being immigrants, they had come from a whole different world--and because
Freddie realized that, he wondered if they would ever grasp what his dreams were.
Freddie went into his room and turned on the
radio. He laid on the bed finishing his snack and thought about Annas offer of her brothers room. It really wasnt much bigger
than his own, but his moving out would give his parents more space and it would be more convenient for him, not having to
travel uptown every night after the show. He was a big guy, but the streets of New York City were no place for anyone but
the muggers at 3 in the morning. Breaking the news to his mother was his only stumbling block. He was very close to her, due
to the fact that he was her only child. She tended to dote on him, even though she could come off tough as nails. He rehearsed
his little "Im a man now" speech in front of his mirror many times, until it was time for her to be home from work.
Freddie heard his mother close the door to their
apartment. Looking in the mirror one last time, he said to himself, "Well brother, this is it." Exiting his room and bounding
up to his obviously tired mother, he planted a kiss on her cheek and said, "Hi ma, how was work?"
"Hola, mijo," Mrs. Pruetzel replied, sitting
down at the kitchen table, "It was work. I am glad to be home. How was your stay last night? I missed you."
"It was ok. It was nice not to have to go very
far to get to school this morning. I think I shocked the hell out of my English teacher, showing up on time."
"Freddie, watch your language!"
"Sorry ma," he hung his head and give her his
best sad-puppy-dog look. "Let me make dinner for us tonight. You look exhausted."
His mother smiled. "It means tacos and beans
then, because I know how you cook. But I am too tired to argue with you. I think I could stand tacos and beans for one night."
"Good, just sit and relax." He began to bang
around the tiny kitchen, finding the things he needed to make dinner. Mr. Pruetzel came back from the bathroom, kissed his
wife on the cheek and sat down across from her. Freddie saw that now both of his parents were his audience, so he figured
it was as good a time as any to break his news to them. While the beans were heating in the pot, he brought the lettuce and
tomatoes over to the table with the cutting board and knife and started chopping. He stopped long enough to take an envelope
from his jeans pocket and placed it on the table in front of his mother.
"I have some good news for you," he said rapidly,
"There is this lady, her name is Anna dAngelo. It was her house that I stayed at last night. She wants to sign me up and be
my agent and manage my career."
Mrs. Pruetzel extracted a long, legal-looking
document from the envelope and flipped through its many pages. Waiting for her to finish reading it, Freddie glanced at his
father, who shook his head. "What career?" Mr. Pruetzel asked in a stern voice. "You know you are just chasing rainbows with
this dream of making it big in those clubs you stay out till all hours in! I keep telling you that you need to finish school."
Freddie tried to control himself by concentrating
harder on chopping. This was too big an opportunity to lose because of a fight with his dad. He needed both his parents signatures
on that contract. He silently wished he was 18 now and could bypass this part of the deal. Thinking of the conversation with
Anna this morning, he turned on the charm and answered, "Funny you should say that, Pop. That is exactly what Anna was telling
me this morning over breakfast."
"Well," his father grumbled, "at least we agree
"Freddie, mijo," his mother cut in, "what does
all of this mean?"
Freddie stopped chopping and put the knife down.
He had not had the chance to actually look at the contract that closely, spending most of his time trying to figure out what
he would tell his parents about the whole deal. He took it from his mother and said, "Ma, this is just a standard contract
giving Anna permission to legally sign deals for me. I will pay her a percentage of what I make and that is how we will both
get rich. Then I can buy you and pop a house in the country and get you out of this muggerland."
Mrs. Pruetzel got up and kissed him on the cheek.
"You are so sweet to think about us, but your father is right. No plan of a career should have you quitting school in it.
I am willing to sign this for you only if you promise me you will finish school."
Freddie stood up, kissed his mothers cheek and
gave her a hug. "I promise, ma. Like I said, Anna has already insisted that I do that too. She knows that I will go further
with a diploma, but for the life of me, I cant see how. I am hot now, and I need to be making my moves before I am a has-been."
"Let me go wash up for dinner and then after
dinner you can read this to me and help me to understand it." His mother started to leave the kitchen. Freddie blocked her
way. "Ok, but there is one more thing. It isnt in the contract, and I know Anna will still want to manage me if I say no,
but she has asked me to move into her apartment."
Freddie winced as he saw the shocked looks forming
on both of his parents faces. He knew what was going through their minds. "Let me explain this," he went on, trying to head
off the line of questioning he knew was coming. "She has a spare room that used to belong to her brother. He was a comedian
too, but was killed about 6 months ago. She told me that she hoped I would live there to be closer to work and school, and
so that she could get a hold of me sooner if a gig came up. It is a nice place and it is strictly above board. She wants to
meet you, in fact, before you agree to this."
"Well talk about it after dinner," his mom answered
him as she pushed past him and headed to the bathroom. Mr. Pruetzel picked up the evening paper from the table--his wife had
brought for him as she did every evening--and hid behind it. Freddie knew he was in for a long night. Looking up at the clock
above the sink, he hoped he would be able to convince them that this was a good thing before Anna came over at 8. When he
had stopped by her place on his way home from school to retrieve his own clothes and pick up the contract, she had asked to
come and meet his parents tonight, and Freddie had agreed eagerly. Now he wondered if this was too soon.
After dinner, Freddie went silently about cleaning
up. He never did much in the kitchen, but he felt it would put him on the good side of his parents, showing them he could
be responsible. He had everything looking perfect when Anna knocked on their door at 8. "I got it," he yelled to his parents,
who were in the living room watching TV. Freddie opened the door and saw Anna standing there, looking very different from
the last time he had seen her. She had pulled her long straight hair back in a bun and wore small wire framed glasses that
just covered her beautiful dark eyes. "Buenas noches, Freddie," she said to him.
"I didnt know you knew Spanish," Freddie remarked,
Anna smiled, "I dont really, but I have picked
up a few common phrases. I know your mother is Spanish, so I had hoped if I used them, I would make her feel more comfortable."
"You seem to know a bit about me and my family."
"Well I make it my business to get to know the
person I want to manage. I think it is good for our working relationship."
"You look different tonight, with your hair up
and wearing glasses. It makes you look older, if you dont mind me telling you that."
"Not at all," Anna smiled. "I was hoping to look
a bit more mature to impress your parents. I want them to feel comfortable about putting their sons career in the hands of
a capable, responsible manager."
Freddie suddenly felt awkward standing in the
doorway of his parents apartment. "Come on in. My parents are in the living room."
He waved Anna in with his arm and closed the
door behind them, then showed her the way to the living room. "Our apartment isnt much bigger than yours, Im afraid," said
Freddie as they entered. His father started to get up, but Anna stopped him as she walked over and extended her hand. "Buenas
noches, Señor Pruetzel. My name is Anna dAngelo."
"Hola," responded Freddies father. He was Hungarian,
but used to being addressed in and speaking Spanish thanks to his wifes influence.
Anna then went over to his mother and did the
same. "Buenas noches, Señora Pruetzel. Your son has a lot of talent. I would like the opportunity to nourish that talent and
see to it that he gets the opportunities to take his talent to new places. I think he has it in him to go very far in the
entertainment business. I hope you both will allow me to do that on his behalf."
Freddie just stood there in amazement. He had
been all prepared to introduce Anna to his parents, but when she did it herself--and in such a commanding way--he was left
speechless. Mrs. Pruetzel must have seen his mouth hanging open, because she directed her first comment not to the engaging
young woman shaking her hand, but to her son. "Freddie, manners! Show this nice young lady to a seat."
"Oh, sorry. Here, Anna." He took her over to
the sofa and indicated where she should sit, then sat down next to her.
"Señorita dAngelo, I did bring my son up with
better manners, you understand."
Anna smiled. "I am sure you did. He does have
very good manners, really. He has been a perfect gentleman with me, I can assure you." Freddies mother smiled and for the
first time it seemed to him that she was starting to warm up to Anna. His father, Freddie wasnt so sure about-he seemed to
be staring at Anna, sizing her up.
"And by the way, señora, it is Señora dAngelo."
Both Freddie and his parents looked at her puzzled.
"You are married, señora?" asked Mrs. Pruetzel.
"Yes and no, separated really. It is a very sad
story and I hope that it will be over soon. I dont know if Freddie told you about my brother."
"Only that he was un cómico like mjio and that
he was killed. I am so sorry," answered Freddies mom.
"It is ok, señora," Anna fell instantly into
Mrs. Pruetzels habit of mixing English and Spanish as she explained, "It has been six months and el asesino is behind bars
now, paying for his crime. You see, el asesino de mi hermano was mi esposo. I am trying to get a divorce from him, but he
isnt making it easy..." Anna broke off and looked at her feet. Freddie could see she was feeling very awkward talking about
her own situation, so he took her hand and squeezed it. "Ma, now can you see why I want her as my manager? She told me she
wanted to honor her brothers memory by giving other young comedians a chance to make it big."
Freddie felt Anna squeeze his hand in return
as she straightened up. "Si, señora, my own worries I can put aside. I want to help su hijo become a big star. I know he can
do it too. He is a very talented cómico. Maybe I can help you to understand the contract better. I dont want you or Señor
Pruetzel to sign anything you do not fully understand." Freddie had not even thought about his father sitting there in the
corner, quietly staying out of the conversation. At the sound of his name, Mr. Pruetzel seemed to come to life and said, "Thank
you, Mrs. dAngelo. May I ask one personal question first."
Freddies father sat up straight in his chair.
"How old are you?"
Anna smiled with what, to Freddie, seemed a look
of relief. "I am 22."
"And how many stars have you managed?" his father
asked. Freddie could hear the sarcastic emphasis his father put on the word stars. He cringed, knowing that Anna told him
that he would be her first client.
"Actually, Freddie is the second person I will
have under contract. The first was my brother. I was able to get quite a few jobs for Arthur. He was just about to make it
big, when... when..." Her voice trailed off for a moment. Freddie watched Anna take a big breath, and as he squeezed the hand
he still found he had in his, she seemed to draw courage from him and continued. "I actually had lined up a guest spot on
the Jack Paar show right before he was ... taken from me. I know he would have been a hit on it too. His talent and my contacts
had gotten him that far. I know I can take your son as far--and further as well."
Mr. Pruetzel shook his head, "Twenty-two and
only one contract. I hope you know, Freddies mother and I expect him to graduate from high school before he goes running off
to chase some dream. Then when he is through chasing it, he will have a diploma so he can get a real job and support himself."
Freddie cringed again, but Anna seemed to be
up to the challenge his father placed before her. "Mr. Pruetzel, I have told Freddie that is his number one priority to finish
high school. I know this isnt just a dream he is chasing, but a chance to make it big with his talent. A diploma will carry
him further even in this business. True, he might want to pursue something else one day, and he will need it then too. I am
with you 100% on this, I assure you."
"Good, just so long as that is perfectly clear,"
his father replied.
Anna turned to Freddie, "Do you have the contract
I gave you?"
Freddie finally let go of her hand and got up.
"I left it in the kitchen. Ill get it." He bounded off, found it on the counter where he had left it, and returned to the
living room. Anna and his mother were engaged in a conversation about his living at Annas apartment when he again entered
the living room.
"Señora Pruetzel, my place isnt fancy," Anna
was saying, "but it is close to Freddies school and I will make sure he goes every day. My brothers room is rather small,
but I am sure Freddie will find it comfortable. I will insist that he come to see you frequently. It is not my intention to
take him away from his family, but to make it more convenient for him to both perform and attend school."
"Well, if he will come home to see us often enough,
I guess it will be ok," Mrs. Pruetzel answered reluctantly. Freddie could see what a struggle it was for his mother to give
up the only joy in her life. He handed the contract to Anna and went over to kiss his mother on the cheek. "Ma, I would never
leave you, you know that. And when I make it big, I am going to buy you and Pa a house in the country where you dont have
to live with the muggers and you wont have to work anymore. Thats a promise!"
"I know, mijo. You are un chico bueno. Just remember
to stay good! ¿Entiende?
"¡Entendió!" Freddie knew he could charm his
mother into anything, so he flashed one of his biggest smiles, and could see in her answering smile and nod that she was willing
to accept this arrangement. The rest of the evening was spent going over the contract. Freddie was impressed with how patient
Anna seemed to be with his parents, making sure they understood every part of the contract before they signed. When Freddie
signed it, he knew that he was finally on his way to the top.
Anna left shortly after the contract was signed.
Freddie told her that he would move into her place the next evening. Tomorrow was Friday, so he could sleep late the following
morning, after settling in and doing his stint at the club. Thinking of that reminded Freddie-now that Anna was gone, he needed
to get going himself, if he were to make it to the comedy club in time to be on the list for a shot at the mike. During the
cab ride to the club, his head was full of dreams--of stardom and the things he would do when he made it big. Freddie knew
his routine would be great tonight, because now he had more confidence in his talent. Anna had already given him that much,
making him feel even better about having her manage his career. He thought of how she had tried to get her brother a gig on
the Jack Paar show, and wondered when he would get his turn at a television spot. So many possibilities swam in his pool of
imagination that he totally forgot what Anna had told him and his parents that night about her own problems. He would soon
regret that his fantasies blinded him to her reality.
Nat came bounding into class and practically knocked the sleeping Freddie out of his seat. "My man, I know
its Monday morning, but wake up! The teach will be here and hed better not catch you nappin."
Freddie yawned and stretched, "Thanks, bro. I
gotta stay focused so I can get outta here with that piece of paper my parents and Anna think is sooo damn important." He
practically snarled the words.
"You had a gig this weekend? I tried to call
you, but there was no answer at your pad," said Nat in his easygoing fashion.
"Yea, and this time it was up in the Catskills
for some rich Jews. I didnt think they would like a kid from the slums of New York City--and a Puerto Rican at that--but they
laughed at all of my material. I guess Anna was right that my humor knows no ethnic boundaries, but sometimes I wonder about
some of the gigs she lines up for me. I keep asking her when I am going to get my shot on TV, but all she keeps telling me
is that I have to pay my dues first." Freddie slammed his book on the desk. "I am so tired of doing the circuit! I love the
clubs, but I want a taste of the apple. Its so close, I can smell it."
"Well she must know what shes doin, man. Give
it time. You always want everything yesterday. Your impatience is gonna get you into trouble one day, you know."
Yawning again, Freddie sheepishly replied, "Yeah,
youre right. I just wish I didnt have to keep two sets of hours. Staying up late on the weekends and then having all these
early classes is gonna be the death of me. Maybe next semester I can arrange not to have an 8 oclock class. Wouldnt that be
"Good luck with that." Nat saw the teacher walk
through the door to the classroom, so he lowered his head and whispered to Freddie, "Hey, you feel like another band practice
after school today?" Freddie shook his head almost imperceptibly and whispered back, "Cant...gotta catch up on some sleep.
Nat shrugged. Freddie could tell his friend was
thinking that he would be giving up the band now that his comedy career was getting so busy. Maybe Nat was right, but only
half--he wouldnt stay in the band forever, but it was hard giving it up as well. He hoped Nat would understand that he had
bigger plans for his life now.
Christmas was fast approaching, and Anna had
lined up some holiday gigs in the Pocanos. She did promise Mrs. Pruetzel that he would spend Christmas day with his parents.
Freddie was enjoying all the attention that the better clubs were giving him, yet he knew he was not getting the rest he needed.
One night, after Freddie finally landed an earlier spot at his favorite comedy club downtown, another comedian commented on
how tired he already looked, even after finishing his set by ten. Freddie shrugged off the remark, saying it was the price
of fame. The other comedian then held out his hand--in his palm were four yellow and green pills. "Uppers", he called them.
Freddie shook his head. He had friends who did drugs and a few had died from them. When he talked to Anna about those friends-commiserating
over her loss as best he could, since he had only half-siblings he barely knew--she had told him that her brother had also
had his brush with drugs. Never elaborating, just telling Freddie that she hoped he wouldnt get started. He tried to refuse,
but the guy said, "Look, man, these wont hurt you. They are just to keep you awake when you have to be. Take two and you will
have the energy you need." Freddie, too tired to argue, took the pills and put them in his pocket. He then went back to change
and meet Anna outside the club. It was a Thursday night and since his set was early, Anna had promised to take Freddie shopping
for presents for his parents.
Freddie took Annas hand as he hailed a taxi.
Anna tried to object, saying the bus would be cheaper, but Freddie insisted. "Look, I am making it now, we need to go in style."
Anna was also tired that night-- really too tired to handle a crowded bus, she realized--so she accepted his help as a cab
stopped and he opened the door for her to get in. Once inside, Freddie told the cabby to go to Macys.
"I always wanted to shop there," Freddie told
Anna. "My ma would take me past their windows at Christmas time to look at all the toys. It was just like the North Pole."
"Well, it is a nice store, but it is kind of
expensive," Anna commented as nonchalantly as she could, not wanting to spoil Freddies fun. She knew he would find this out
later and didnt want him to be embarrassed.
"Thats ok, Ive been savin up. I know exactly
what I want to get my Ma. She needs a really nice, warm pair of fuzzy slippers to put her tired feet in at night when she
gets home from work. And I want to get Pop a nice cushion for his easy chair." The upholstery on it was wearing very thin
and Freddie knew he couldnt afford a whole new chair, so he figured this would be the next best thing. "Someday," he mused
to himself, "Ill be able to afford a whole house full of new furniture."
The cab stopped at the front entrance of Macys.
Freddie paid the cabby, giving him a generous tip. He escorted Anna past the crowds that were lined up in front of the windows.
Inside, people bustled to and fro. Anna helped Freddie find the shoe department. It didnt take long for him to find a nice
pair of blue fake fur slippers for his mother. Then they made their way to the furniture department and Freddie found the
perfect cushion for his fathers chair. After he had paid for his purchases, Anna told Freddie that she had some shopping of
her own to do. Freddie didnt let on, but he wanted to get Anna something too. They agreed to meet at the stores front entrance
in an hour.
Once all the gifts had been bought, Freddie hailed
another taxi and he and Anna made their way home. Snow was starting to fall as they stepped out of the cab in front of the
apartment building. Rushing in out of the weather, Freddie and Anna ran breathlessly up the chilly stairway to her apartment.
Inside they hung up their coats--slowly, since the radiator was old and cranky. After they had secreted their packages away
in their rooms, Anna went about making the two of them a late supper. Freddie always felt a bit uneasy about meals at Annas
because she wouldnt allow him to chip in for groceries or rent. "You pay me out of your gig money," she would tell him, but
he knew what she took wasnt nearly enough. Still, his background taught him that he couldnt insult her by offering more. "One
day," he thought, "Ill find a way to pay you back for everything."
When dinner was over, Freddie offered to do up
the dishes. Anna watched the graceful work of his large hands for a while, then went to the living room window and looked
out. "I didnt think the weatherman was calling for much, but it is really putting it down out there." She reached over to
turn a local news station on the television as Freddie came in and sat on the sofa. Anna settled next to him, and they watched
as the meteorologist told viewers that the city was under a winter storm warning for the rest of the evening. "Looks like
I might not have school tomorrow," remarked Freddie. "ALLLRIGHT! A three day weekend."
"I just hope it wont keep you from your gig tomorrow
night," said Anna.
"Where am I playing this weekend?" asked Freddie.
"Well I have you booked into the Improv uptown.
That should get you a lot of recognition. Lots of producers hang out there."
Freddie let out a whoop, grabbed Anna in a big
hug and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Youre the best, you know that. The Improv. That is where its happenin alright. Gracias!"
Anna blushed, partly at his sudden outburst--for
she was a quiet sort who was always embarrassed by rowdiness, even in private--but more so at the display of affection. Over
the past few months since Freddie had come to live with her, their relationship had been one of an older sister and younger
brother. She had thought he could only look at her in that light, because that was what she portrayed to him all the time,
when she wasnt being professional.
Freddie saw Anna blush and wondered if there
wasnt something more to her feelings toward him. In turn, the very fact of his curiosity about this made him think that maybe
his gratitude might be changing into a deeper emotion, too. He looked into her large brown eyes with his own dark, expressive
ones and then slowly tilted his head down so that his full lips would make contact with hers. She seemed to respond to his
advances at first, kissing him as engagingly as he was her--then suddenly she broke it off.
"Freddie, I cant get involved with you this way.
It isnt right and it wont work." Anna disentangled herself from his arms, and Freddie looked at her with hurt in his eyes.
He wanted to object, to tell her that he knew she felt for him the same way he did for her. But she never let him get the
words out. "I know what you are going to say," Anna continued, "but it wouldnt work out. Im still married, for one, and I
am trying to manage your career for another. There would be a major conflict of interest going on here with that. Besides,
youre young--too young to be tying yourself to someone like me."
"But you do care for me, dont you? Please at
least be honest with me about that," said Freddie finally when Anna gave him an opening in the conversation.
Now it was Annas turn to look hurt. "I have always
been honest with you, you know that. But what would it accomplish to tell you that I care for you, Freddie? It would only
make things difficult for the two of us, sharing feelings we can never act upon. Maybe it would be better if I just came out
and told you that I could never love you like you want me to. I know that hurts now, but it will be better in the long run,
Freddie got up from the sofa and started back
toward his bedroom. Turning for one last time, he said, "Forgive me if I dont believe you. I promise I wont say any more about
my feelings for you" he paused and gave her a searching look, "if that is what you really want. But know that I love you and
I would do anything to win your love."
Turning away so Anna wouldnt see the tears forming
in his eyes, Freddie went into his room and shut the door. Even though eventually he could hear her moving around the apartment
after he had left her, he willed himself not to go back out there. He could hear something that sounded like crying, but told
himself he was too busy dealing with his own hurt to comfort her. Laying full length across the bed, he contemplated what
had just happened. Still trying not to cry and not succeeding, his tears finally flowed. "Anna, you are wrong," Freddie told
her silently, "and I will prove it to you somehow. I love you, and you know in your heart that you love me. Youre just confused,
thats all. Youll see, itll work out, and then we can be together forever." In a haze of despair and fatigue, he began thinking
that maybe he was carrying on this one-sided conversation in order to convince himself-that perhaps Anna was right after all.
Freddie woke up the next morning realizing that
he had slept in his clothes on top of the bedspread. After a moment he also remembered he had cried himself to sleep the night
before, and an instant later the reason for that. Getting up stiffly, he looked out the window of his room to see that approximately
6 inches of snow had fallen the night before. He quickly sat back down and turned on the radio, soon finding out-to his delight--that
the schools were closed. Settling against the pillows, he thought it was time to decide what he should do about Anna and their
arrangement. It would be awkward after what happened last night. Would she still want him to live with her and--more importantly--did
she still want to manage his career, knowing how he felt toward her? He didnt think so. Not knowing either the answer or how
to broach the subject was agonizing, so he moved on in his thoughts. Should he apologize for what had happened last night?
After all, he couldnt help how he felt. Maybe he should just offer to move back home
All of this chaos swirling around his head almost
made him miss the small knock on his door. "Freddie, its six o clock," Annas familiar soft voice was saying, just like she
had every morning since he had moved in with her. "Its ok, Anna, theres no school today. I just heard it on the radio. You
can go back to bed," he called out to her. Instead of hearing her footsteps retreat down the hall back to her room, Freddie
saw the doorknob turn and the door opening. "May I come in?" he heard her ask before he could see her.
"Sure, Im decent. Come on in," Freddie answered.
Anna came in and he offered her the chair with a wave of his hand, which he hoped was nonchalant. "Look, Freddie, we need
to talk," Anna started. "I know," was all he could think to answer her.
She seemed to sense his awkwardness and took
control of the conversation. The whole time Freddie had known Anna, he had slowly discovered that this was her way, to take
charge when the situation was uncomfortable. Sometimes he would be just as strong in expressing himself-in fact he enjoyed
being around a woman who was his equal in willingness to argue--but this morning he decided to let her do the talking. He
wasnt too sure what to say anyway. Let me hear what she has to say first, he thought.
"I know you have deep feelings for me, and quite
frankly I am very flattered." Nothing new there, Freddie thought with a forced disdain that he often used to cover his real
feelings, Ive heard that before. Everything she said next surprised him, however. "I might even have them for you, if I let
myself feel like that again. But you have to understand something--I have been through a lot of pain lately. I dont think
I am ready for another relationship. I have too much past to have to deal with"
Anna stopped abruptly, looking as if she were
going to cry, but straightened her shoulders and went on, "I hope you understand that. I wish I could share with you all that
I went through and am still going through, but that is not your worry. You have enough on your plate right now. I hope we
can still be friends, and that you will still allow me to manage your career. I can tell you that I believe in you, Freddie.
You make me laugh, when all I want to do is cry" She broke off again, then added almost as an afterthought, "I hope it wont
be too awkward for you to continue to live here. That, too, has been a blessing for me. Sometimes it is as if I have Prince
Charming himself staying here!"
She tried to smile, and Freddie smiled back,
reaching for her hand. "You have been a good influence on my life as well, Anna. I will stay, and I will respect your feelings.
I hope one day to prove to you that I can help you get over your pain, if you would only open your heart to me, but I will
not force you to do that." He released her hand and said, "It is funny you call me Prince Charming. Some of the girls at school
call me that too, but sometimes I think they do it to make fun of me. I come off as the Latin charmer sometimes, but underneath
that is a scared little boy afraid of getting hurt."
Anna smiled more easily now. "I know, I saw that
in your face the night you so boldly came up to me to introduce yourself. I could tell right away that you are not always
as sure of yourself as you try to seem."
Freddie laughed, "Well my secret is out then!"
Anna grew thoughtful for a minute. "You know
something, that gives me an idea. Remember that conversation we had, back about a week ago, about changing your last name
for the stage?"
"Yeah, I dont want to disrespect my parents,
but Pruetzel is a bit of a mouthful for the MCs to pronounce. Why, do you have a name in mind?"
"Well, since you are always coming off as charming,
why not Freddie Prince?"
Freddie laughed again, but then it was his turn
to be thoughtful. "Humm, maybe... it has potential," he said with a thick Puerto Rican accent. "But it needs to be more Hispanic
sounding, for my ma.... Hummmm... Prince.... Prinze... Thats it. How about Freddie Prinze--with a "z" instead of a "c"?"
Anna thought for a moment and then answered,
"Yeah, thats good. Very Hispanic sounding and catchy besides. You are always joking about wanting to be the King of comedy,
but you are more like the clown prince of comedy!" They both laughed, and Anna tried out the new name, "Freddie PrinzeI love
it! I will have the papers drawn up to have it changed on your contracts with the clubs."
Anna got up to leave the room, but Freddie quickly
placed himself between her and the door. Taking her in his arms, he said, "Look, I know you know how I feel about you, but
that isnt all there is to my feelings. You must know that I have a lot of admiration and gratitude toward you as well. Thank
you for helping this poor kid from the streets get a break. No matter what happens between us, I will always be grateful for
that." He bent down and kissed her gently on the lips. "That is from your number one fan," he told her after the brief kiss
"IIm glad you still want me to help you out,"
she answered, obviously flustered, "We are a team, you and I."
"You got it!" Freddie exclaimed, returning to
his Puerto Rican accent. Anna left his room, giggling. Freddie thought about what had just happened and said to himself, "Im
glad I could still make her laugh. I dont know whats going to happen between us, but I know she will make me a success. Then
maybe I can take her away from all of her pain." He laid back down and decided to get some more sleep since there was no school.
He needed his rest if he were going to have the energy to do the Improv that night. He fell asleep hoping the weather would
improve by then, and dreamed of the MC introducing him on the stage of the infamous Improv Comedy Club, "Ladies and gentleman,
the Improv is proud to welcome New Yorks newest and brightest comedian, Freddie PRINZE!!!!!"
That evening the snow had tapered off, and Freddie
was able to keep the club date Anna had set up for him. Though he knew this was his biggest gig so far and he should stay
focused, Freddie couldnt help himself-wallowing in the excitement and nervousness of it all, he paced while he waited to be
called on stage and wished he had Anna or Nat to help him calm down. Gazing around slack-jawed, he thought how this was among
the most prestigious venues for comics in New York, yet backstage the Improv was just like the other clubs he had played in
New York--there was one dark, dingy dressing room for the male performers.
Another guy was sitting smoking, seeming very
relaxed to Freddie. He decided to go over and introduce himself. Sticking out his large hand and forcing himself to smile,
he said, "Hi, Im Freddie Prinze."
The other comedian looked up with a glazed expression
as they shook hands. "Nice to meet you. Im Buster Lennox. You must be new here."
Freddie looked down at him, surprised. "How can
"Youre pacing like a new father in a maternity
ward." They both laughed at Busters joke. "Yeah" Freddie looked at the floor, embarrassed, but quickly recovered himself the
way he usually could when a joke fell flat. "Well, I noticed youre pretty calm for a guy waiting to go on at the Improv. You
must be an old pro."
"Ive been here performing for about 6 months,
and if that makes me a pro, then wheres all the bread, huh?" He gave a sarcastic chuckle, but Freddie just stared at him,
not knowing what to say. Buster continued. "As for being calm, I cant afford to be nervous--it throws off my whole shtick.
Its isnt experience thats making me calm, thoughI have help."
"Oh?" Freddie said.
Buster held out to Freddie the cigarette that
he was smoking. On closer inspection, it was obvious that it was homemade. Then Freddie realized what was enclosed in the
twisted brown paper. "Weed?" he inquired.
"Yup," Buster answered with a slur, "Want a hit?
Itll calm you right down."
Freddie thought about it. He had tried marijuana
a few times, mostly because the other guys in his high school were doing it. He liked the way it made him feel, but he was
afraid of getting hooked on harder stuff, so he had decided not to make a habit of it. That was why he switched to regular
cigarettes. He smoked those when he was out and about, but never at home or at school--out of respect for his parents and
so he wouldnt get in trouble at school. He didnt smoke at Annas either, because he saw she was a nonsmoker and didnt want
to offend her. Cigarettes did help to calm him sometimes, but he hadnt had the money for them in the last couple of days.
Before taking the plunge on such an important
night, however, Freddie patted his pockets for effect and asked Buster, "Got any regular ones, man? Im fresh out." Buster
shook his head slowly and said he just had joints. With a shrug of his shoulders, Freddie decided to take Buster up on a drag.
After all, he said to himself, I do need something to take the edge off the nervousness. He didnt want to get too high, but
he knew nerves would wreck his act, too, as Buster had said. As Freddie took a long drag on the joint, he could feel his muscles
begin to relax. Remembering to inhale the smoke slowly so as to get the full effect of the drug, he closed his eyes and tried
to get in closer touch with the feeling of euphoria that was taking over his whole system. Exhaling, he thanked Buster. The
other comic just nodded and finished the joint.
Just then the stage manager knocked on the door
and called for Buster to take the stage. Buster handed Freddie another joint and said, "It could be a while yet--if you need
it, its yours." Freddie wanted to refuse, but he was enjoying the moment too much to be rude to his new friend. "Knock em
dead, Buster," he answered as he put the joint in his pocket. He recalled the night when that other comedian had given him
some pills. Having found a hiding place for them in the cigar box on the dresser, now he figured he would put the joint in
the same place when he got home. Laughing to himself he said, "Freddie, my man, youre getting so good you wont have to buy
your drugs. Theyre just handing them to you!"
Freddie shivered at the thought. He didnt want
to become a junkie, like a few of his friends, but he knew that people in the entertainment business did drugs all the time.
These guys who had supplied him didnt seem like junkies to Freddie, so he figured they just did it to cope with the stress
and demands of the business. "I wont use them unless I really need them--this way I wont get hooked. I cant let Anna know,
though--she wouldnt understand. I think her brother was mixed up with drugs." Remembering again the pills in the box on the
dresser, he decided that after he put the joint with them, he needed to set it on the shelf in the closet just to be really
sure Anna wouldnt find them. After all, she was too short to reach that shelf, even standing on a chair, Freddie thought with
a chuckle. The pleasant mental picture this conjured up, thanks to the marijuana-of Annas backside at his eye-level-was interrupted
by the stage manager standing in the doorway, indicating to Freddie that it was his turn to go on. Standing up slowly and
taking a deep breath, he felt more than ready. The nervousness had left him, but his head was still clear enough for him to
be alert and coherent. Freddie went out, confident he would slay em in the aisles.
When his set was over, Freddie came down off
the stage and found the table at which Anna and Nat were sitting. As soon as he joined them, Nat was slapping Freddie on the
back, telling him how great his act had been tonight. Anna beamed at Freddie, assuring him that he would make it big one day
soon--she could just feel it. "You didnt look a bit nervous up there, Freddie," she gushed. Turning to Nat, she continued,
"Remember how he was in the cab? I knew once he got on that stage, those nerves would go away. " Turning back to Freddie,
she went on, "I knew you were a natural! You are so at home up there, it is uncanny. I guess you were just born to perform."
Freddie just laughed at her excitement and nodded
in agreement. Reminding himself that he didnt want Anna to know he had had help in the courage department that night, he was
trying to think of a response when a man approached the table. He looked to be about 35, with thinning hair and a small paunch
barely concealed by a double-breasted gray business suit. He put his hand out to Freddie and said, "Great act you have there,
young man. I think you have real talent." He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, withdrew a card, and handed it
to Freddie. "I have a show on channel 9 every Saturday evening called, "The New York Comedy Hour." I would love for you to
be on sometime. I think you would be a hit."
"Ive seen that show--good stuff," Freddie remarked
as casually as he could manage before handing the card to Anna. The name on the card was Jacob Menz, under which was the title
"Television Producer - The New York Comedy Hour". "You really think I have the talent to be on it?"
"Absolutely, my boy!" Mr. Menz was grinning,
"I think you are going to make it big in this business. I would like to talk to your manager sometime and set up a date."
Freddie pointed to Anna and said, "Well, that
is easily arranged, shes right here."
Jacob Menz looked at Anna with surprise. Freddie
thought that Anna seemed to be used to this reaction, the way she dived right in. He had only watched her from afar, negotiating
with the managers of the clubs--this was his first real business meeting. He looked on silently, more fascinated than ever,
while his manager took charge of the situation.
Anna stuck out her hand to Jacob Menz. "Anna
dAngelo. I am Freddie Prinzes manager. We would be very interested in having Freddie perform on your show. My brother was
on it once. He enjoyed the experience very much."
"Your brother?" Jacob asked.
"Oh, the comedian that was killed a while ago.
He was your brother? I am so sorry. Artie had a lot of talent. It was such a shame, what happened to him."
"Thanks," Anna looked down briefly, clearly gathering
her composure, then continued briskly, "I always thought he had the talent too. In fact, it was after his appearance on your
show that he asked me to manage him and get his career going."
Jacob looked thoughtful. "I remember now. He
told me he didnt have a manager and I told him he would need one if he wanted to go any further in the entertainment business.
I even offered to manage him myself, but he thanked me and said he had someone else in mind for the job."
A small smile played at the corners of Annas
mouth when she heard this. "That would have been me. I lost more than a brother when he was killed. That is why I am managing
Freddie now--he reminds me a lot of Arthur, and I would like to see him get the breaks my brother was denied." She paused
once more to collect herself. "Why dont you stop by my office sometime and we will draw up the necessary paperwork."
"Sounds good. You have my card."
"Yes, but you dont have mine. Sorry--I guess
I am not too much on the ball tonight." Freddie knew that this was only because Anna had been obliged to speak of her brother,
so in spite of it he was sure now that he had been right when he chose her to be his manager. Seeing her in action tonight
made him realize she was very good at what she did. And maybe, he mused, in this business there was an advantage to having
a pretty face. He saw the way Jacob looked at her. It actually made him a little jealous, but he knew Anna wasnt going to
be interested in a middle-aged producer. Anna reached in her purse and handed Mr. Menz her business card. He then took leave
of the party, and Anna told Freddie that they should be getting home too. He had other gigs that weekend, so he needed his
rest. Nat made a crack about Anna being just like his mother, and Freddie glared at him. Nat took the hint and the rest of
the ride home was unusually quiet. After dropping Nat off at his house, Freddie snuggled up to Anna on the seat. "I hope you
dont mind me doing this, but you are nothing less than an angel in my eyes right now, and all I want to do is be as close
to you as possible."
"Ooo, new material!" Anna giggled. "You never
quit trying, do you?"
"Never!" Freddie grinned. "I promise to be good,
Anna reached behind him.
"OK, if you promise," she giggled again, letting him put his head on her shoulder as she put her arm around his neck. To her
amusement, she soon heard Freddie give a little snore. "He must be more worn out than I thought," Anna said to herself as
she laid her cheek on the top of his head. Asleep the way he was, snuggled up against her, he looked less the man and more
the little boy that she figured was still inside that good-looking face and well-built body. "If only I could find it in my
heart to love you the way you want me to, bebe," she whispered to Freddies sleeping form. "I could really fall for a guy like
you, if things were different..." Anna gently kissed his forehead, brushing her lips against his full head of dark hair as
she straightened back up. The next thing she knew, the cab had stopped in front of her building.
The holidays came and went, and it was in the middle
of a dreary January day that Anna got the call from Jacob Menz to set up Freddies appearance on his show. Anna had been making
sure Freddie attended class every day, even though he was being asked to perform more and more. She tried to get as many weekend
gigs as she could, to avoid the late weeknights. When this proved almost impossible, Anna worked out a deal with the school
allowing Freddie to come in an hour late the morning after a late evening gig, and to make up any work he missed.
Still, Freddie was frustrated with the thought of finishing
school. Now that he had a real taste of the business of comedy, he was finding formal studies more and more useless (though
he could spend hours in the public library devouring the classics--when his schedule permitted). But he knew Anna and his
parents would pull their support for him if he quit. Only a few more months, he kept saying to himself.
Mr. and Mrs. Pruetzel had come on Freddies holiday tour,
and were very proud of how polished his act had become. He was happy for that, but at the same time wanted to make it big
for them too. Freddie dreamed every night of making it big in Hollywood and getting out of "muggerland"--as he laughingly
called New York City in his act.
He looked forward to a time when he would have enough
money to buy his parents a house out in the country. For himself, though, he thought about the possibility of a move to the
west coast. He had heard a few friends in the clubs talk about the big money to be made in LA-not only in the clubs, but on
TV and in the movies. There were also the nightclubs of Las Vegas and Reno to consider.
The Thursday evening of the call from Jacob Menz, Anna
treated Freddie to dinner out at a nice restaurant, to celebrate the upcoming show. Freddie felt funny having Anna foot the
bill. He still hoped that one day he would be able to wine and dine her, and eventually get her to see how much he really
loved her. But she seemed so excited about this break, he didnt let on that her paying made him feel very uncomfortable. He
tried to see her as his manager, but for some reason, the way she was all dressed up, with her hair fixed extra special for
the occasion, he could only see her as the sensuous woman he was falling for. Trying to focus on what she was telling him
about the show, Freddie kept getting lost in her large brown eyes. It was only when Anna called his name in a tone of exasperation
that he snapped out of the fantasy running in his brain--the two of them walking hand in hand on the beach by the Pacific
"Freddie, did you hear what I asked you?"
"Umm, oh sorry." Freddie blushed.
"You OK? You seem a million miles away," Anna looked
at him with concern written all over her pretty face.
"Close," answered Freddie with a smile, but she just
looked puzzled. He shook his head to clear away the last of his romantic daydream and said, "Im sorry, I have been kinda distracted
these days. What did you ask?"
"I was wondering if you had any new material prepared
for the show. It will be in only a couple of weeks, you know. The second Saturday in February."
Freddie realized that was Valentines Day weekend. He
needed to plan something very special for Anna. Even though she was discouraging him, he was determined to win her over. He
could not help what he felt toward her, but willing himself to forget that for the moment, he answered, "Yeah, I have been
trying out some new material on the guys in the bathroom at school. It is dynamite stuff!"
Anna frowned at him, scolding him like a mother. "Freddie,
how many times have I told you not to do anything to screw up your chances of graduating in the spring? You are so close to
finishing--and I am getting tired of going down to your school to smooth things over when you get in trouble for this kind
of behavior." Seeing how embarrassed Freddie was getting by her scolding tone, she softened her disapproving gaze and added,
"I have an idea, why dont you invite the guys from school over for a party one night and put on a practice show for them?
Ill order pizza and have plenty of soda and munchies."
Freddie tried to force a smile, seeing how Anna just
had his best interests at heart. But sometimes-like now--she treated him like a little kid. "I just hope I dont act like a
kid. Ill never win her over if I dont start acting like a man," he thought. To her he said, "Hey, that is a great idea! I
havent been able to get with the band in a while, so maybe I can tell Nat and the guys to bring their instruments, and we
could jam too."
Anna cringed. She tolerated the band, but their music
wasnt exactly her taste--not bad, just rather loud. Maybe one day (she often said to herself), when his comedy career really
got going for good, he would leave the band behind. But she knew that, at this stage in his life, it was important to Freddie,
too. In addition, Anna felt that he spent too much time alone with her at the apartment--either studying or working on material--and
she did want to encourage him to socialize outside the club scene. So she laughed to lighten the mood and replied, "Sure,
Freddie, that is a great idea. Just tell them that they cant play too loud or we could both be out on the street!" Freddie
laughed with her. "YOU GOT IT, MAMI!!" he told her in his thickest Puerto Rican accent.
They spent the rest of the dinner going over plans for
the show and his other upcoming gigs. By the time they arrived back at the apartment, Anna was ready to retire for the night.
She wished Freddie a good night and as she kissed him on the cheek, he turned his face at the last minute to help the kiss
land on his lips. This startled her a bit, and she broke away rather abruptly. As she looked away and blushed, she murmurred,
"I wish you wouldnt do that."
"I know--but you know me, always trying."
Anna sighed. "Freddie, we have been over this. Its late.
Good night. Dont stay up too late. You have school in the morning, and then a show to do tomorrow night."
Freddie frowned, "Yes mom," he answered sarcastically.
The inflection wasnt lost on Anna, but--too tired to start an argument--she just turned and waved at him over her head as
she walked to her bedroom. When the door closed, Freddie punched the back of the overstuffed sofa with his right fist. "Damn,"
he swore under his breath. "Why does she do that to me all the time? Doesnt she know how much I want her to love me?"
Freddie rubbed his hand where it had made contact with
the sofa. Shaking his head and allowing a tear to form in his eye, he headed back to his bedroom, to lose himself in his dreams
about the day he would finally get her to see that they were meant for each other. He got himself ready for bed and laid down
across the covers. His hand subconsciously turned on the little radio that was beside the bed. Staring into the darkness,
he heard a familiar song come over the airwaves: Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by
I say to myself You're such a lucky guy
To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true
Out of all the fellas in the world she belongs to you
But it was just my imagination running away with me
It was just my imagination running away with me ...
It was the Temptations big hit, Just my Imagination.
Freddie had always loved Motown and the Temptations--but tonight, feeling the way he was about Anna, the words seem to cut
his heart like a knife.
Soon we'll be married and raise a family
A cozy little home Out in the country with two children,
I tell you I can visualize it all
This couldn't be a dream for too real it all seems
But it was just my imagination once again running away
Tell you, it was just my imagination running away with
Yeah, right, thought Freddie. Thats you, bro. Theyre
so right. It is all in my imagination, this love...
Every night, on my knees I pray Dear Lord, hear my plea
Don't ever let another take her love from me or I will
Her love is heavenly when her arms enfold me I hear her
But in reality she doesn't even know me
It was just my imagination once again running away with
Oh, tell you, it was just my imagination Running away
I wonder if she does really know me, thought Freddie.
I wish she would let me tell her how I feel...
I never met her but I can't forget her
Just my imagination running away with me
Oooh, just my imagination running away with me
It was just my imagination...
I met her, alright, and now what do I do? I dont even
know her like I should...
"Damn," cried Freddie under his breath. Reaching around,
he shut off the radio with more force than he normally would have, almost taking off the knob. Getting up to pace, he was
beginning to realize he needed something to help him sleep. He usually didnt smoke in the apartment, but (he thought sadly
at being reminded of his usual consideration for Annas sensitivity to it) a cigarette would taste good right about now. He
opened the window to allow the smoke and the smell to filter out into the cold January night air, then went in search for
his smokes. After a few minutes of fumbling around he found only an empty pack, in the pocket of a sport coat in his closet.
"Damn," he swore again. Then his eyes came to rest on the closet shelf-there he saw the little box into which he had put the
pills and the joint that he had gotten in the clubs.
"I know I shouldnt, but I cant get to sleep without it,"
Freddie whispered to himself as he opened up the box and took the joint out of it. Lighting it up and going to the open window,
he took a long drag and held it in a long time. Soon the tension he had been feeling left his body. Taking a few more drags,
he smoked about half of the joint before putting it out. He carefully waited for the end to cool, then replaced the rest in
the little box next to the pills. "Better save the rest of it for another emergency", he said to himself with sarcasm. Lying
back down on the bed, Freddie enjoyed the relaxation the drug had brought as it allowed him to drift off into a dreamless
Anna and Freddie planned the party for that Friday night.
Freddie got to try out all the material he had prepared for the TV show, and his friends loved it. After they left, he was
feeling very good about the upcoming TV show, but in the days following, he also noticed Anna was becoming more and more distant.
Freddie wondered if she was worried that he would bomb, and he tried to reassure her that he would do his best and make her
proud. She would just smile at him and tell him she knew he would make it big. But if Freddie looked too closely at Anna as
she said such things, her face would become flushed and she would turn away quickly.
The night of the TV show came, and Freddie was even more
nervous than usual. He decided to risk smoking the rest of the joint from the other night, just to calm himself down. Crushing
the end into the ashtray, he took his spot in the wings just as the announcer began to introduce him.
"Now here is the latest young comedian to come out of
our fair city. Give it up for FREDDIE PRINZE!"
Freddie ran to the mike, charged with the applause and
whistles of the studio audience. It was designed to look like a comedy club, but the cameras and the much hotter lights were
all new to Freddie. He tried not to focus on these things, to just play to the audience as if he really were in one of the
clubs. "Hallo, people..." he began in his thick Puerto Rican accent. "Loooooking Goooood!" The crowd went wild. Between this
reaction and the effects of half a joint, Freddie felt himself grinning widely as he went into his first joke. "Its good to
be here! I see there are a lot of my people here tonight." Applause rose from a section of the room where Nat and some of
Freddies other friends sat. "Theres my man, Nat. He invited me to join his gang. I was the first Puerto Rican in his gang.
He told me that he was getting flack lately, about how they werent an equal opportunity gang...." More laughter. Freddie relaxed
and continued. "For the initiation, he had me go up to this one dude, Ralphy, and ask him how his father does the bugaloo.
Me, I didnt know better so I went up and asked him, Ralphy, how does your father do the bugaloo? and he said, My father dont
got no legs, man. Ill kill you. But he didnt. I knew I had been had."
Freddie saw with satisfaction that not only his friends
were laughing at these jokes. He was feeling more and more like he was born for this life, the life of a comedian on stage.
As he continued his set, he pictured himself on the stages of Las Vegas and Reno, telling his jokes to crowds of hundreds
of people, instead of the less than a hundred in this room.When the set was over, Freddie went back to the dressing room and
collapsed into the chair. He had barely had time to catch a breath when the door burst open and Nat and his other friends
came in. "My man, you slay me with those jokes!" Nat howled as they slapped each other a high five. "You were hot tonight!"
The others crowded in the small room obviously agreed with him, nodding vigorously and waiting their turns to slap five with
After patiently watching all this masculine display,
Anna pushed her way through, bent down and gave Freddie a big hug. He thought how it was the most affection he had gotten
from her in a week. "Freddie, you were wonderful, but I knew you would be!" Freddie smiled up at her. "Well I hoped I would
make you proud of me."
"Oh you did--you were terrific! In fact someone else
thinks you were terrific too." She pushed back those of Freddies friends who were blocking the doorway, to allow the entrance
of an older man in a powder blue suit. When he had come to the front of the crowd, he put out his hand. Anna introduced him,
"Freddie, this is Ron Kensington. He is a talent agent out on the west coast. He was in town tonight to catch your act."
Freddie looked in awe at the man standing in front of
him. Anna cleared her throat to get his attention, then inclined her head in the direction of Rons hand. Freddie stood and
shook it, but didnt know what to say. Ron was very willing to start the conversation. "You are a very talented young man,"
he said as they each withdrew their hands, "and I would like to take you to Hollywood for a guest spot on the Tonight Show.
I think the country needs to see your talent, not just New York. What do you say?"
Freddie knew his mouth was hanging open, but the muscles
in it wouldnt do what his brain was telling them to. His friends were exclaiming, "Alllrrriiiggght!" (this time giving each
other high fives) and slapping Freddie on the back. One of the slaps, perhaps from Nat, brought him to his senses and he finally
responded. "Mr. Kensington, I ... Im honored, I... I"
Anna grinned at him, then turned to the agent. "Well,
it seems like my comedian with all the fast comebacks is speechless. I think what he means, Ron, is that he would love to
do it. Right, Freddie?"
Seeing Annas pride in him, Freddie finally got hold of
himself and said, a bit too enthusiastically, "Yes, Mr. Kensington. You kiddin? I would be crazy NOT to be on the Tonight
show! Sign me up!" He suddenly realized that he had grabbed the mans hand again and was shaking not just that hand, but his
entire body. Letting go, Freddie said more quietly, but with just as much sincerity, "Thank you for believing that I have
the talent to perform on national television."
Ron smiled indulgently at Freddie, massaging his right
hand with his left after the force of that last handshake. "Oh, you do, my boy, you do! I have seen natural talent before,
and you have definitely it. Ill just get together with your pretty manager here and we will make all the arrangements."
"OK, thats fine," said Freddie. "And thank you again."
Anna told Freddie she would meet him outside before she
and Ron exited the room. Freddies friends offered their congratulations to him and left as well. Finally it was just Nat and
Freddie alone in the dressing room. Freddie went over and started to change from his stage clothes-a light brown suit and
dark brown striped tie--back into the sweater and jeans he had worn to the studio.
Nat shook his head in amazement. "Well, well, my man
is finally making the big time! I knew you would one day. Just remember us little people back home when you go to tinsel town,
"You know I will, Nat," Freddie punched him playfully
as he finished pulling on the sweater. "I can hardly believe it--Hollywood! Carson! This is better than.... than...." For
the second time in a few minutes, he was at a loss for words.
"Better than sex?," Nat offered, jokingly. Freddie realized
that Nat knew he had a soft spot for the ladies--and a reputation for needing more of their attentions than most guys--so
he just laughed at the personal nature of the question.
"Well maybe not, but just as good!" Abruptly Freddie
turned serious. "Course, I wouldnt knowlately."
"Whaddaya mean by that?" Nat asked, puzzled.
Freddie shook his head. "Oh nothing, forget it. Lets
get Anna and go out and celebrate."
The two young men went out front where Anna was talking
to Jacob Menz. Freddie went up to Jacob and shook his hand. "I guess Anna has been telling you about Mr. Kensington. I want
to thank you for letting me come on your show. If it wasnt for you, he probably wouldnt have seen me and ...." Freddie never
got to finish, Mr. Menz stopping him with a wave of his hand. "Dont think anything of it. That is part of what I do--give
young people a chance at the big time. I get a finders fee, but more than that, I get the satisfaction of saying I helped
get you started. Besides, dont thank me, thank your manager. She set this all up to begin with. She is a great little manager
and I hope I can talk her into taking on more talent. They could use what you got!"
"Well I am just doing my job." Anna blushed. "And a hell
of a job it is! Thanks, mami." Freddie leaned down and planted a kiss on Annas cheek, chuckling to himself at seeing her blush
intensify. Seeming to take no notice of this unusually personal exchange between a manager and her client, Jacob escorted
them to the door and said goodnight.
Once outside of the studio, Freddie suggested that they
go out and celebrate this new turn in his career. Nat begged off, telling his friend he had a date. After he had sped away
in a cab, Freddie turned to Anna and said, "Well, where to? The night is young and we have a lot to celebrate." A look of
sadness momentarily came over Annas face. Freddie didnt fail to notice it, though. He wondered what was getting Anna so down
lately. Things were looking up for both of them. He knew his good fortune would be hers as well, making a name for herself
in the agent business.
All at once, Freddie realized that Anna might be thinking
of her brother, wishing it were him that she was going out with tonight. Putting his arm around her shoulders in a gesture
that-for once--was meant for nothing more than comfort, he offered, "Lets celebrate both of our good fortunes tonight and
I promise we will offer a toast to your brother too." Not resisting his touch, Anna smiled up at him and said, "He would have
liked you alot. You and he are very much alike. You never seem to see the bad side of life." Freddie thought, If only that
were true. He saw a lot of the bad side of life--he had just decided a long time ago to make comedy is defense mechanism against
They walked hand in hand to a little restaurant around
the corner from the TV studio. It wasnt too crowded for late on a Friday night. Still, Freddie asked the host to seat them
in a secluded corner of the room. Seeing her hesitate, he told Anna he wasnt into crowds tonight--he needed some quiet.
After the waiter took their orders, Freddie raised his
glass of Coke and said, "Heres to the best manager in the business."
"No, heres to the brightest talent in the business,"
added Anna as she raised her glass. "Well, then, heres to the best team in the business!" Freddie grinned and took a big gulp
of his soda. Anna nodded her agreement and took a sip of hers. Then Freddie reached into the pocket of his jacket and extracted
a small box. Looking her in the eyes, he began, "I have a lot to be thankful for in you, Anna" This time it was Freddies turn
to be the first to look away. Turning the box in his large hand, he went on, "I got this before I knew what was going to happen
tonight" he paused, searching for the right words, "because when I am with you, magical things always seem to happen to me.
I know you keep telling me that you could never have feelings for me, and I have accepted that, even though it doesnt make
me happy sometimes." He chuckled at his own understatement. "I still think you are a terrific person and you know how else
I feel about you. So I want you to have this as a token of our friendship and partnership." He opened the box and took out
a delicate gold band set with a small ruby.
Forcing himself to meet Annas gaze once again-and seeing
her puzzlement as he did--Freddie handed her the ring and said, "I do wish I could be asking you to marry me, but please accept
this in the friendship in which it is given."
"Freddie, you shouldnt be spending your money like this,
I mean, I ..." Anna was as speechless as Freddie had been earlier that night with Mr. Kensington in his dressing room. "I
know, mami, but you mean a lot to me, and I wanted you to have something to remind you of how much."
Anna kept staring at the ring, at last taking the box
from Freddies hand and placing it back in the cushion. Closing the box, she held on to it tightly and said, "Freddie, you
mean more to me than I could ever tell you, and I will accept this ring in friendship. Perhaps one day I will be free to wear
it. Please understand, though, that I cant right now."
"But why not?" Freddie blurted out.
Anna shook her head. "Not now, I dont want to spoil this
moment. It is special, just like you, and the reasons are too painful." She forced a smile. "Lets talk about your career instead,
Freddie didnt want to let it go, but instead consoled
himself with the thought that least she took the ring. He knew someday she would finally tell him what this was all about,
but he didnt want to spoil the evening either. If the reasons she couldnt wear the ring right now were too painful for her
to talk about, he would let it drop.
They spent the rest of the evening making plans for the
trip to Hollywood. Anna told Freddie she would have to see if she would be free to go with him, but she wasnt too sure right
now. As they walked home from the restaurant (it was a nice night and neither one of them felt like taking a cab home), they
continued dreaming aloud about Freddies big break and what a star he would become. Freddie kept hoping that the positive feelings
they were sharing now might lead to something later--something more intimate. But as they entered the apartment, Anna kissed
him on the cheek and told him, "Thank you for the lovely evening." She then headed for her bedroom and closed her door.
In the silence that followed, Freddie was at first puzzled,
then hurt, when he heard her turn the lock on the knob. As far as he knew, she had never felt the need to lock her door to
him before--even though she had kidded him about doing so the first night he stayed there. Once inside his own room--even
though he felt like slamming it--Freddie closed his door very gently. He didnt want Anna to know he was angry with her. He
got ready for bed and cried himself to sleep, wondering if he would ever truly get to be with the woman he loved.
The next day, Freddie didnt wait for Anna to get up.
He left a note for her saying he wanted to spend the weekend with his parents, telling them the good news about the trip to
California and the Tonight show. He didnt mention the night before at all--he had said loved her and realized that if he really
did, he would need to give her space.
The visit with his parents did Freddie a world of good.
He spent that Saturday and Sunday hanging out not only with them, but with all of his buddies from the old neighborhood. Jamming
with the band and shooting hoops made him realize how much of a toll working in the clubs while going to school had taken
on his friendships. Freddie had been acting the grownup for so long, that the kid in him enjoyed the break. He was only 17,
after all, and as soon as he graduated, he would be off to Hollywood and (hopefully) fame, leaving childhood behind forever.
It did his spirit good to have this weekend--maybe his last--in the freedom of adolescence. He and Nat even took in a movie
on Saturday night with two dates that Nat had so thoughtfully arranged. It felt good to be a simple teenager again, but Freddie
knew that on Sunday he would have to go back to the apartment and face the music with Anna.
Sunday night, Freddie took a cab back to Annas. As he
turned the key in the door and looked around, he wondered if she was back from whatever kept her busy in his absence. He had
finally started to realize that she had had a life before him--maybe she had been glad to resume that for a while, while he
went back to his old life for the weekend. He called her name and was surprised to hear a low, "In here," come from the darkened
living room. Freddie followed the voice and found Anna sitting on the couch, staring off into the darkness.
"How come youre sitting in the dark?" Freddie asked as
he reached for the light switch.
"No, please, dont turn on the light." Freddie did as
she requested, noting the sound of tears in her voice. Instead, he took his place at her side on the couch and put his arm
around her shoulder. "What is it, mami?"
Anna gently but firmly, removed his arm. "Freddie, you
wouldnt understand. I have things in my past that I have to deal with alone. I dont want you involved, OK?"
Freddie looked at her incredulously. "Anna, like it or
not, you got me all involved in your life when you asked to manage me and let me live here with you." In a softer tone he
added, "Wont you let me help you?"
Anna just put her head on his shoulder and started to
cry all over again. "Oh my God, Freddie, if only you could, but there is no help for me, Im afraid!" He instinctively put
his arm around her shoulder once again and this time she allowed it. She continued through her tears, "You have been so sweet
and kind to me--I only wish I had met you before...before...," but she couldnt continue. Freddie softly hushed her sobs and
started to rock her back and forth. "Mami, whatever you need, I am here now." Anna looked up at him and, without warning,
kissed him on the lips. It wasnt a friendly kiss, the ones he had been used to getting from her, but one filled with the passion
of a lover.
Freddie was taken aback for a moment. Then, remembering
how long he had waited for her to open up to him this way, responded to her passion with pent-up passion of his own, his tongue
parting her willing lips. He was startled momentarily by the taste of alcohol in her mouth. He had never known her to drink,
and thought that she might be drunk. His ardor was checked as he wondered what might have driven her to this moment and questioned
how he should respond to her advances, in her obviously impaired state. He backed off, breaking the kiss as lovingly as he
could, given this realization. He looked at her and asked, "Anna, how much have you had to drink?"
"Just a few glasses of wine. 3 or 4 perhaps, I dunno,
I lost count. Why? Im over 21 and youre not my mother!" She looked at him as hard as her obviously bleary eyes could. Freddie
knew now why she didnt want the lights on. He got up and went over to the kitchen table and found an empty bottle and a large
glass, both almost empty of the wine they had held. Picking up the empty bottle, he turned to her. "When did you get this?"
"This afternoon. Why are you giving me the third degree?
I felt like a drink. I had a hard day and I needed something to calm me down. I got home and you werent here and I needed
some comfort..." She started to cry again.
Freddie went back over to her, crouched down and said,
"Im sorry I wasnt here. But I am now. Maybe I need to help you to bed. Youll feel better in the morning when you are thinking
"OK, sweetie." Anna tried to get up from the couch but
swayed. Freddie stood up and put his arm under hers to steady her. "Are you gonna tuck me in?" She smiled and even managed
to wink. Oh, brother, thought Freddie, What a time to get all amorous on me. "Yes, mami," he said as firmly as he could, "I
am going to help you to bed. You need rest right now."
He helped her walk unsteadily back to her room. Once
inside, he turned on the light. Looking around, it dawned on Freddie that he had never been in Annas bedroom. It was a larger
room than his with a queen-sized bed dominating the middle. The dresser with the lamp he had turned was against the wall at
its foot. Pictures of Anna and her brother were all over the top. He carefully sat her down on the end of the bed and was
about to reach down to remove her shoes when she surprised him by putting her arms around his neck and pulling, causing him
to lose his balance and fall on top of her.
"Mmm, you smell nice, love," she said with slightly slurred
speech. She lifted her head to meet his lips once again and started to kiss him.
Freddie wanted to fight her, but her grip was strong
and she started to rub certain areas of his body as she rolled him over on his back. He managed to break the kiss long enough
to protest, "Anna, I dont think this is a good idea."
"Why not," she said. Freddie thought she meant to have
more indignation in her voice, but the words came out very seductively. All the while she kept her hands busy on his body,
effectively arousing him.
Freddie gently took hold of her more active hand to stop
it and said, "You might regret this in the morning, that is why not."
Anna managed to break free and put her arms around his
neck again. She brought her lips to his ear and said, "You have wanted me ever since the first night I invited you to stay
with me. Now I want you as much as you want me. Please, Freddie, I need you. I need you more than I have ever needed anyone.
I dont care about tomorrow. I only know what I need tonight."
Against his better judgment, and since he had to admit
he had dreamed of this for such a long time, Freddie decided to give into his urges and hers as well. They made love for the
better part of an hour, until the effects of the alcohol finally caught up with Anna and she passed out.
Early the next morning, Freddie turned over to see that
Anna was still sound asleep. He got up carefully, showered and dressed and left for school-all as quietly as possible--leaving
her to sleep off the night before. He wondered all day what she would be like when he got home from school. Seeing that he
wasnt his usual happy-go-lucky self, Nat tried to get Freddie to talk, but he was so ashamed about what had happened the night
before, that he wasnt in any mood to discuss it with his girl-crazy friend.
As he made his way to his last class, one of the secretaries
handed Freddie a note in the hall. He saw Annas small, neat handwriting on the front of the envelope. Ducking into the boys
bathroom, he closed a stall and tore open the envelope. Inside, in the same neat handwriting, was a short note from Anna.
I am going to a friends house for a while. I hope, even
now, I havent put you in harms way. I think it would be best if you gather your things after school and head back to your
parents house. I am not sure if the apartment will be safe for either one of us now. Finish school and make me proud. I will
arrange for a friend to manage you when you get out to the west coast. I am going to make a phone call today, setting the
time for your appearance on the Tonight Show to happen after you graduate. I wish I could be there, both at graduation and
at your national debut. I am not sure about either right now. If I cant make it, I will be with you in spirit. I know I will
be able to say that I knew you when. I am sorry that I brought this all on you and pray that you will be safe even now. I
wish I could explain, but the explanation would only make things worse for you.
By the way, last night was the best. I dont want you
to think otherwise.Freddie stared blankly at the note for a while, then re-read it six times before he realized what Anna
was trying to tell him. Gathering his books off the restrooms counter, he stuffed the note into one of his folders and ran
for his last class, tardy. He signaled to his teacher from the doorway that he need to speak to him privately, trying to be
excused from class by claiming he had to deal with a family emergency. The teacher nodded and went back into the classroom
as Freddie headed for the front door of the building. He practically ran the several blocks to the apartment.
He put his books down on the table as he entered and
ran back to Annas bedroom. He knew from the note he wouldnt find her there, but something in his irrational mind drove him
to the last place he had seen her. It took him several seconds to take in the sight when he entered the bedroom. Anna had
always been a neat person, so the complete disarray worried Freddie. He looked around, thinking at first that she must have
packed in a real hurry to cause this mess. Dresser drawers were open and some were actually out on the floor, their contents
spilled all over the place.
Most startling, though, were the smashed glass and twisted
picture frames littering the top of the dresser. Freddie began to realize that none of this was Annas doing. He then remembered
that the door had been ajar when he came in. He had been in such a hurry to get home, that it failed to register this before.
Now when he went back to check it, Freddie saw that the lock had been broken.
Going back into the bedroom, his gaze fell on the bed.
He had not noticed it before, but in the center of the bed lay a note. When he picked it up, there under it was a picture
of Anna and her brother from one of the broken frames, with a knife embedded in the forehead of her image. The note read:
This is for you and your boyfriend. Remember, this is what happens to people who break their wedding vows to a member of the
Freddie stared from the note to the gruesomely ruined
picture for several minutes before he decided what to do. Leaving the apartment, hoping not to disturb anything, he placed
a call to the local police station on the pay phone at the corner of the block. Then needing the fresh air as he fought getting
sick, he sat down on the front stoop to wait for the police to arrive.
It took the police about 15 minutes to get there. Freddie
stood and met them at the curb. "Its in here, officers," he said over his shoulder as he led the way, "I havent touched a
thing, except to open the door and put my books on the table." They silently followed him to the floor the apartment was on,
Freddie taking the stairs two at a time. He allowed the officers to pass by him as he held the door. "I just came home and
found the apartment this way."
Freddie directed them back to Annas bedroom, showing
them the condition of the room and the sickening message left on the bed. The officers milled around the room, lifting things
with gloved fingers and the ends of pencils. "No blood, but it looks like someone was looking for something," remarked one
of the officers. "Where is this woman now?" he asked, pointing to her picture on the bed.
Freddie went into the kitchen and came back with the
letter he had received at school. He handed it to the officer who had asked the question and said as he read it, "I got that
after my second to last period in school today. The secretary handed it to me in the hall. I never got to ask her who gave
it to her or when."
The other officer took the note and after reading it
asked, "How do you know Anna?"
"You know who she is?" asked Freddie, surprised to hear
the police not only knew her but used her first name.
"Yes, she is a former classmate of mine. My question
to you is, how do you know her?" The officer indicated Freddie should go back into the kitchen with his hand outstretched
in that direction. They left the first officer to take pictures of the crime scene after his partner reminded him to call
In the kitchen, Freddie sat down at the table. Putting
his head in his hands, he said, "Anna met me in a night club several months ago. She had been coming to see my standup comedy
act and asked to manage me. Because her apartment was closer to school than my own home, she asked me to live in her brothers
old room. Since you know her, you probably know her brother was killed almost a year ago. She said her husband was convicted
of doing the killing, but she hasnt told me much more about it. Every time I wanted to ask, she clammed up. I guess I was
so wrapped up in my career, I didnt really push the issue."
"Well there is a lot more to the story than she told
you, that is for sure. Did she mention that it had something to do with drugs and the fact that her husband is part of a local
Mafia family?" Freddie shook his head slowly, shocked to hear this. "By the way, my name is Sgt. Eddie Holtz, but just call
me Eddie." He took his hat off and sat down on the opposite side of the table.
"You think Anna was abducted by these creeps? I thought
her husband was in jail" Freddie had a million questions and couldnt think which ones needed answers first.
"No I think shes fine. I bet she went to Beth Daleys
house upstate. They were best friends in school and Anna stayed there during her husbands trial. It looks to me like she just
got out in time." Taking out his notebook and pen as he shook his head, Sgt. Holtz abruptly changed the subject, "Ill talk
to that secretary at your school, if you tell me which one--maybe she knows who delivered the note and when. That might help
place the time of the break-in."
When Freddie had given him the information, Sgt. Holtz
went on, "As for Annas husband, hes still in jail. She has been trying very hard to get a divorce from him. We have another
classmate who is a lawyer, Ted Wilson, and he tells me that hes been working with her to get the divorce even though Alberto
d'Angelo wont go for it. Seems like killing is OK, but divorce is a no-no with these people. Ted says she could get one, no
problem, citing mental cruelty as a reason, without her husbands consent. But she told him that her husband has threatened
her with bodily harm if she attempts to get the divorce."
"Wow," was all Freddie could say. No wonder Anna didnt
want him to know about this. "You said drugs were behind Artie Harris death?"
"Yeah, I was the arresting officer in the Harris murder.
Seems Artie had been into Alberto for a lotta dough because of his drug use. When Anna fell in love with Alberto--he spent
a lotta time at the Harris house--Artie tried to warn her what kind of a guy she was getting involved with. She didnt listen
and married the thug. Well when Artie couldnt pay his tab, Alberto got tired of waiting and shot him. I think Albertos Mafia
family was putting the screws to him to make Artie pay up or else. Alberto did love Anna and I think he was trying to cut
Artie some slack on her account. But the Mafia doesnt do business that way, and Alberto figured he had no choice. Business
"Anna didnt know her brother was doing drugs--she was
a bit sheltered from all of this. Their parents had died in a car wreck when she was 12 and Artie was 13, so they lived with
the grandparents till Artie was 18. When Anna turned 18 a year later, he invited her to live with him. Thats when she met
"You sure have filled in a lot of the missing pieces
to this puzzle, Eddie," said Freddie. "Poor Anna."
"Yeah. Like I said, I was a classmate and a friend of
hers. Shes a good person, and I would hate for anything to happen to her. The dAngelo family is small potatoes in the Mafia
racket, but those can be more dangerous than the big players. They dont see the need for patience, for holding their temper.
Alberto was a favored son, until he married Anna. The family wasnt happy with his choice of an Anglo bride. Now that he is
in jail, they are hell-bent on helping him keep her, though. Would probably have her eighty-sixed if they ever found out she
has been unfaithful." Eddie looked straight at Freddie as he said this, making Freddie shudder. "She didnt testify at the
trial, we thought it was too dangerous. Really didnt need her testimony, though. We had enough evidence to convict without
it. She has been through the wringer. Sounds like she was trying to get her life back together, managing you."
"I think that was partly her brothers influence. She
kept telling me that I reminded her of him." Freddie looked down at his own hands, nervously tapping the table top. "I wonder
if some of this might have kept her from coming right up to me to ask me if I had a manager. She had been coming to the club
for a month--then it was me that approached her. I guess she was scared of all of this even back then."
"Probably. She told me after the conviction that she
wanted to honor her brother in some way and she thought continuing on as a manager of comedic talent would be the way to do
"Yeah, only now hanging around with me might have put
her in further danger."
Eddie hesitated before he asked the next question. "The
letter hinted at this, and I know this is personal, but I have to ask in the light of what we found in the bedroom. Are you
and Anna.... ahem... involved?"
Freddie looked beyond the officers face to the living
room. He recalled what happened in there last night. "Well she tried to keep everything above reproach, no thanks to me and
my Latin charms." Freddie couldnt resist the small joke, in spite of the gravity of the situation--it was his natural coping
mechanism. "That is, until last night. She was drunk when I came home. She was upset too, but wouldnt tell my why. Something
told me not to take advantage of the situation, but she practically begged me.... I mean, she was.... different last night...
I guess I couldnt help myself.... I mean I have been in love with her for a while and well.... one thing..."
Freddie was relieved when Eddie put his hand up. "I gotcha.
No need to explain further. Anna didnt usually drink, but when she did, usually when she was upset, she did to excess. Her
letter tells me that she realized that what you two did last night put you in the same kind of danger she was in. I suspect
she went to see Alberto yesterday and that is what set off the events of last night. He probably suspected that the two of
you were lovers for a lot longer, that is why she was coming to see him, begging him again for a divorce. It is also why his
hirelings came over here today. It is hard to say what they might have done if they found her home. I guess we both should
be glad no one was. She will be safe at Beths, but I think I will call up there later and see." Eddie got up and put his hat
back on. "I think the best thing for you to do is what she told you. Clear all of your stuff out of here and go back home.
I will keep in touch. Let me have your home phone number."
Freddie got out a piece of paper from one of his notebooks
on the table and mechanically wrote his parents phone number on the slip. He handed it to Eddie and thanked him again. Then
Eddie told Freddie to just pack while they were there doing their thing and he would make sure an officer gave him a ride
up to Washington Heights. Freddie did what he was told, wondering the whole time where Anna was. "Mi amor," he whispered to
himself as he packed his few belongings into the suitcase he brought with him a few months ago, "I hope you are safe. I am
so sorry I have gotten you into trouble. I love you." He tried not to cry as he carried his suitcase and belongings out to
the waiting police car. He remained silent for the whole trip home, only speaking to give the officer directions to his house.
Eddie had promised him he would keep him informed, but he refused to give him Beths phone number, telling Freddie that he
and Anna would be safer if he didnt know it. Eddie did promise to tell Anna to call Freddie when she could. Now all he could
do was go home and wait.
Freddies mother and father didnt ask too many questions
of Freddie when he showed up on their doorstep. He just told them that Anna was having some problems with her husband and
his family and needed to get away for a while. He told them she thought it best if he moved back home and finished up school.
He promised his parents that she was continuing to manage his career from her retreat and would be in contact with him as
soon as she could. He only wished that would be true. The truth was, he hadnt heard from her in a week and he was beginning
to get worried.
He was glad, though, of the fact that when Eddie called
him with an update on the case, he got the phone before his parents did. He was even more grateful that his ma was at work
and his dad had decided to take a walk to the corner store for some groceries. He had some time to chat with Eddie and try
to find out what was going on.
"Look, Freddie, she told me she would contact you when
she could, but I was not to give you her friends number under any circumstances. As much as I know it is killing you not to
hear from her, she is right. The dAngelo family doesnt know where Beth lives--as far as the police know--and it is safer for
Beth and Anna that this info stays out of their hands. Besides, if they were to get to you--and I am not sure they know who
you are yet--you couldnt tell them anything either, which would be safer for you and Anna."
Freddie heard Eddies answer to his plea for the phone
number, and it angered him that his heart wouldnt let his brain make sense of it. Fighting the urge to slam the receiver down
and hang upon a cop, Freddie took a deep breath and got his nerves under control. "Alright, alright. I guess you have a point,
but I am going crazy not knowing what is happening!" Freddie could tell, from the long silence that followed, that Eddie was
trying to find the words to appease him.
When he came back on, Eddie changed the subject. "I do
have some info that might make you feel a bit better. Seems Anna has herself a person delivering messages. That note you got
at the school didnt come by way of her personally. The secretary told me some black guy with a large afro delivered the note
around 10 am and told the secretary that she wasnt to give it to you until near the end of the school day. He told the secretary
that the person who wrote the message was your manager and was very worried that the note would interrupt your school day
and it wasnt that urgent--that it could wait till classes were almost over. So the secretary did as she was told. Seems she
was bothered about it all day, though, and decided not to wait till after your very last class to deliver it, in case it was
"I see," was all Freddie could think to answer. Eddie
continued, "The thinking here is that the break-in took place somewhere between the hours of 10 and 3. It was probably a good
thing that secretary followed instructions and waited. If you had gotten that note any earlier, you might have walked in on
them and who knows what might have happened to you."
Something Eddie had said earlier now nagged at Freddie.
"You said they didnt know where Beth lived and you figured they didnt know where I lived either. I wonder, though. They were
in the apartment, looking for something. What if they were looking for who I was and where I lived? After all, I seemed to
be mixed up in this, too, now. I wonder if Anna kept any of the contracts at the apartment."
"No, I asked her about that and she told me that she
has been in the habit of keeping all the business stuff in a safety deposit box at a local bank. As far as she knew, there
wasnt anything tying you to her in her room. She did ask me if you had any ID in your room, though."
Freddie thought a minute. "I dont think so. I usually
carry all my ID with me. Besides, it didnt look like anything was touched in my room, which I thought was kinda unusual at
the time. I didnt have too much time to dwell on that, though. I was in too big of a hurry to pack and split." Freddie then
thought about Eddies last statement and something dawned on him. "You said you were talking to her?"
"Yes, I did go and see her the night this all happened.
I havent talked to her since. I told you that, though."
Freddie shook his head. So much was going on that he
couldnt keep anything straight. Eddie had started his conversation with the visit he had to Anna the night of the break-in.
That was what had prompted Freddie to beg for her phone number. In the course of the conversation, Freddie had thought the
cop had spoken to her more recently. "Sorry, I thought you meant after that. See how crazy I am going here, worrying about
Eddie let out a little sigh. "I know, man--and if it
is any consolation, she is worried about you too. She told me not to tell you that, but I know you would want to know. She
told me to tell you that she would make all your club arrangements from where she is now and would get word to you through
the club owners and her mystery contact. She wouldnt even divulge his name to me--the guy who delivered the note to your school.
But if you ever find out who he is, please let us know. We need to question him too."
"Sure, Eddie. And thanks, man. I know I havent been too
cool about all of this."
"Hey, no problem. If I were in your shoes, I dont think
I would be acting rationally either. Just hang in there and keep us informed if anything suspicious happens. I still think
you and your folks are fine, but if anything happens to change that, call me ASAP!"
"You know I will, man. I dont want my parents in any
"Right. Keep cool, man, and I will be in touch. Bye."
"Bye," echoed Freddie mechanically, then gently hung
the receiver up. He said a quiet little prayer. "God, you know I am not very religious, but help Anna. She doesnt deserve
this, and if I did anything to put her in more danger, Im sorry. Watch over my angel."
The weeks went past and nothing more was said about the
break-in. Freddie went through the motions of school, feeling alive--and away from the nightmare-only when he was up on stage.
He started to take an upper to help him be sharp for his performances and smoke a joint when he had to relax after it was
over. He told himself that this wasnt a habit, but a way of coping with the stress of working without a manager.
Freddie knew Anna was still calling the shots, but he
hadnt seen her or heard from her in weeks. Every booking was called in to him by the club owner, and dealing with them directly
made him feel like he was back at square one. He thought about trying to find another manager on his own, but he was more
worried about Annas safety than his career.
One day at the end of May, months after the break-in,
Freddie was stopped on the street after school. The guy looked just like what Eddie had described to Freddie over the phone-the
one who had delivered Annas last note to him.
"Hold up, dude."
Freddie turned around and was shocked to see him there.
"Hey, man, are you from Anna? Is she alright? Where is she, man?" Freddie was practically all over the guy with questions.
The guy just looked around in a suspicious way and said in a low tone, "Not so loud, bro. Geez, you want to get us both killed?!
Come with me a minute."
Freddie followed him for a few blocks to the small park
near the school. It was a hangout for drug dealers at night, and that reputation kept most everyone else out--even in the
daytime. He didnt dare venture there at night, either, but had the habit of cutting through it on his way home from school,
so it felt somewhat familiar and comfortable.
Not entirely, however. The guy led him to a gazebo near
the entrance, sat down on one of the benches, and invited Freddie to do the same. But Freddie was too nervous to take him
up on the offer, pacing around in a circle instead.
"Chill, dude, before you blow a gasket and our cover,"
said the guy.
"Look," answered Freddie in a whisper that sounded like
a shout in his own ears, "I havent heard from Anna in months and I have been worried sick about her. She sent you, that much
I know. How is she?"
"Shes chillin, bro. Dont worry. I think she is more concerned
with you--and I can see why." He took a large envelope from his jacket and handed it to Freddie. "She told me to give this
to you. Sumpthin about a gig out west."
Freddie tore open the top of the envelope and saw a plane
ticket inside as well as a letter in her neat, small handwriting. He forgot about where he was and who he was with and took
the time to read the note quickly, drinking in her words like a man who had been in the desert for days searching for a source
I am so sorry I havent been able to contact you before
this. My friend here has been instructed to give this to you. It is all you will need for your Tonight Show gig. It is scheduled
for June 22. I dont know if I will be able to make it, or your graduation next week, but I will try. I would tell you more,
more of what I know you want to hear, but I dont want to risk anyones life by doing so. If there is anything to telepathy,
then think of me and my thoughts about this will come to you.
Anna dAngeloFreddie read the note again and looked
at the guy sitting on the bench. Remembering what Eddie told him he should do if he ever encountered this guy, he ventured,
"Hey, thanks, man. I really appreciate you delivering this to me. By the way, my names Freddie." He stuck out his hand in
friendship, hoping the introduction would lead to a name.
The guy just stood. "Yeah, I know. Anna tells me you
are going to be big time real soon. Good luck with that. Ill tell Anna you said hi." He started to walk away.
Freddie cantered up behind him. "Dude, I dont know who
you are, but any friend of Annas..."
"Cant. I promised her. No names. But I know what you
mean. Maybe one day, huh?" He stuck his hand out and shook Freddies, then sauntered off, inconspicuously. Freddie just stared--somehow
knowing it was best not to pursue this guy.
Freddie prepared for graduation day the best he could. He was just happy that school would finally
be over and done with. Then in a few weeks he would be on that big bird, winging his way west to fame and fortune. He only
wished he knew whether or not Anna would be with him. He missed her more than he was even willing to admit to himself, but
not only because he loved her. He felt that his big break was hers too and she should be there to enjoy it with him.
Lately, he had been having long conversations with Nat about what had transpired months ago.
He hadnt said anything as it was happening, afraid of getting someone else into the danger he still felt around himself. (The
image of Annas photo with a knife stuck in her forehead and the chilling words of the note were not easily erased from his
mind.) But Nat was a curious sort, and Freddie had always found it easy to confide in him. After a few weeks of not hearing
from Anna--and having nightmares about the situation--he broke down and let his best friend in on the secret.
Nat reassured him that things would be OK. His gang, which had taken Freddie in as a brother,
would be there to protect him--if it ever came to that. Freddie knew that Nat and the guys had a gang "just to have a gang";
they never really fought anyone. Still, Freddie suspected Nat knew a few people who would provide protection for him and his
family if he should need it.
Graduation day finally arrived and Freddie looked nervously out over the crowd, hoping to see
Annas familiar face. But he could only see his parents, looking at him with pride in their faces. He was glad to make them
so happy. If this little piece of paper meant so much to them, then he knew it was worth getting, even if he didnt feel the
same way. As he sat on stage, listening to the valedictorian speech, his eyes continued to scan the people seated in the large
auditorium. Finally, after searching nearly every row, he caught sight of a woman with a dark headscarf and sunglasses, sitting
near the back of the room. The disguise was complete with a little padding to make her look heavier than Freddie remembered
Anna. Good idea, Freddie thought to himself, not knowing if this was really her, but believing it was, because he needed to.
When it was his turn to go up to receive his diploma, Freddie looked out and smiled at his parents,
then subtly glanced at the mystery woman. She seemed to nod in recognition, a small smile breaking out on her face. Seeing
it, Freddie knew in his heart it must be Anna. He couldnt wait to get down off the stage and go talk to her. It could be dangerous,
but hell, he had waited months to see her and he felt like he might not get another opportunity.
After the ceremony, Freddie bounded off the stage. After a quick congratulatory hug from his
mom and stiff handshake with his dad, he excused himself and ran to the back of the auditorium, as fast as the milling crowd
would allow him. He prayed the whole way that Anna wouldnt disappear before he had a chance to talk to her. Considering that
she had probably chosen the seat in the back for a quick getaway, he knew his chances were slim to none, but the way she smiled
at him gave him hope that his prayer would be answered.
She was still in the back, but was now standing in a dark corner. Her quick glancing around
told Freddie she was trying hard not to be seen. He approached her slowly, like a hunter stalking a deer-afraid that if he
came up to her too quickly, she might change her mind and bolt. "Anna?" he cautiously whispered when he thought he was within
earshot. She nodded and signaled for him to follow her. Hurrying out of the auditorium, she led him down to his old haunt,
the boys bathroom. "How fitting," he thought. Once inside, he locked the door, making sure first that no one else was there.
As soon as he turned the lock, Anna took off the scarf and glasses, threw her arms around him, and kissed him long and hard.
Freddie knew she had taken a big risk coming to his graduation, but by the feel of the kiss,
he also knew she had done it because she missed him as much as he had missed her. He had the notion to try something more
and reached for the top button on her blouse, but she stopped him by breaking the kiss and backing away just at that moment.
"Freddie, I am so proud of you. I knew you would graduate. I couldnt stay away. I know I shouldnt
be here, but...." Anna trailed off, catching her breath.
"Mami, I am so glad you came! Are you kidding?! It wouldnt have been the same without you. I
missed you so much!" Freddie leaned down and kissed her again. This time Anna allowed only a much more subdued kiss. He tried
not to show surprise at this, so happy to be with her that he didnt want to spoil the moment.
"Freddie, a lot has happened and I dont have much time. Eddie told me he had talked to you the
day of the break-in, when I ran away." She lowered her head. "Im sorry I didnt tell you all about this sooner, but I didnt
want you involved in this. But now that you are, you must know now why we can never be together."
"I know now why I want you more than ever," answered Freddie. "But I wont do anything to endanger
you." He turned and walked away so she wouldnt see the tears that had started to course down his cheeks. "Anna, it is so unfair.
You have worked as hard as I have to get me where I am going, and now it looks like you wont be able to share in the glory."
Anna didnt approach him, just allowed him this private moment, saying, "I know, but knowing
that you have made it big is all the satisfaction I need. Was that all you were worried about?"
The words stung Freddie. He knew she was trying to get him to admit his feelings for her. His
kisses and embraces had betrayed them, so why was it so hard to admit it in words now? Still looking away from her, he replied
a bit too strongly, "You know that isnt all, but, damnit, the rest is harder still. Anna, I want you for mine more than I
can tell you, but I cant have you. You belong to... to... that cabrón!" Freddie wasnt sure if he should call Annas husband
a bastard to her face, considering she had married the man, so he felt he would be alright to do so in Spanish, figuring she
wouldnt know exactly what he meant.
If she did know, Anna didnt let on. She just went over to Freddie and lifted his chin, looked
into his tear-stained eyes and said, "Freddie, I know this is tough, but I needed to know that right now, how you really feel.
Selfish of me, but I had to hear it so I would have the courage to tell you this next thing. Time is short and I need to leave,
but you need to hear this."
Freddie dried his tears with his sleeve, looking at her puzzled. "What is it, bebe? You know
you can tell me anything. I am sorry I got all emotional on you."
"Thats OK. I think this is an emotional time for both of us. Freddie, I have some news for you.
It could have been good news, but considering the circumstances, I dont think it will be." Anna looked down and rubbed her
belly. The padding Freddie had thought he saw there--he realized now--wasnt padding. It looked too much a part of her, especially
as she caressed it. Oh my God!, was all he could think. Before Anna had the nerve to get the words out, Freddie took her hand
and just looked at her, wanting to blurt out what he knew she was trying to tell him--but he also knew that women liked to
tell men these things in their own way. Finally, after what seemed like agonizing hours, she continued,
"I can see by the look on your face that you have guessed my news. Im pregnant with your baby."
Freddie wanted to scoop her up in his arms and tell her how wonderful that was, but managed to hesitate long enough to let
her finish. "Freddie, I want this child more than you could know, but I cant keep it. If Antonio ever found out I was pregnant,
he would have me and the baby killed" She faltered, her voice breaking, "and somehow, some way track you down as well. Antonio
is a bitter man. He blames all of his problems on me right now. I have already made arrangements to secretly have the baby
and put it up for adoption. I dont believe in abortion. Promise me, right now, that you will not try to find out about these
Freddie felt like someone had kicked him in the stomach. He tried very hard not to go into a
stall and get sick in front of Anna, knowing that she needed him to be strong for her. Thousands of alternatives to her plans
raced through his spinning brain. He realized that if Antonio and his family were as dangerous as he had been led to believe,
Annas solution to their "problem" was the only way out. Still
After several minutes of trying to calm and convince himself, Freddie sighed and shook his head-as
much to stop the dizziness as to disagree with her. "Anna, I am sorry. I am not the kind of guy who would get a girl in trouble
and abandon her, you have to know that."
"Freddie, I know that. Believe me, if you had your way, we would be on the next plane to Reno
and in a wedding chapel, verdad?"
Freddie smiled, the first time he had since all of this came crashing down on him. "You know
me too well, Anna dAngelo. You know my heart wants to change that wretched last name of yours and give you mine." He patted
her belly. "This child would only be icing on the top of that cake." Growing solemn again, Freddie concluded, "But you are
right. You always are."
Anna stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek this time, holding both his hands. "Freddie,
I have to go. I only hope I havent been away too long. Beth isnt safe either. I took a big chance coming here to see you and
to tell you these things. I felt it was only right that you know, though, and from my own lips too. Messengers wouldnt do
in this case."
"Thanks," Freddie said softly. After a moment, he took Anna in his arms again, his words--right
in her ear--beginning to come faster as he hurried to say everything, "I do appreciate you letting me know in person. I wont
keep you any longer. I will pray you make it to your friends house safely again. I do appreciate the danger you went through
for me. I would not forgive myself if anything happened to you because of it. Get back safely and send word, if you can, that
you did. You know how I worry about you."
"I will, through our mutual friend with the big afro!" She gave him one last squeeze before
letting go, then smiled and turned to leave. "Freddie, one more thing."
"Knock em dead in LA... for me."
Freddie smiled and said, "All for you, mami." He unlocked the door and checked to see that the
coast was clear. After a short embrace and kiss, Anna headed for the front entrance of the school. Freddie stayed in the bathroom
a few more minutes, to collect himself and think of a plausible excuse for his long absence. It was never easy telling his
parents why he had disappeared like he sometimes did.
He decided to put off the real explanation till they were home alone later--for the moment,
all he told them was he had spotted a long lost friend from the stage and needed to talk to them for a few minutes. Freddie
never did share with her what had transpired the day he moved back home, but he suspected his mother knew more than she was
letting on. He knew she had been concerned about Anna, for she had asked after her several times. She seemed to have a sixth
sense about her only sons relationships with women, yet loved him enough not to pry into his private life. It was another
part of the bond between them that made Freddie love his mother more and more each day.
His parents treated him to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Nat and his parents had been invited
as well. It was a big day for the two friends, but a sad one as well. Nat was going to stay in New York to see what he could
do with the band, and maybe pursue more music education. Freddie was leaving for LA in a few weeks, and hoped that he wouldnt
be coming back to New York. He would miss Nat and the others, but he had experienced enough of New York City to feel like
he never wanted to return once he left.
Over dinner he talked about the Carson show and how he hoped to make it big in Hollywood. It
would be uncharted territory for him in more ways than one: traveling to a new city, telling all his usual standup fare to
a new audience-on TV!--and having to come up with new material, if he lasted that long. Everyone laughed at both Freddies
enthusiasm and self-doubt, assuring him that he would.
Then his mother expressed concern about where Freddie would be living. He told her that another
comedian friend of his, Alan, who had already gone out to LA and had an apartment there, had invited him to stay with him
while he was doing the spot on the Carson show. This was a real blessing, Freddie admitted, because he hadnt saved up all
that much from his comedy gigs in New York. Nat gave him a knowing look-all those extravagant gifts for all those girls!--and
promised to come out and visit Freddie once he got established in his own place.
At one point in the evening, Freddie felt he would burst if he didnt share Annas news with someone.
"Would you all mind going home without me?" he asked his mother as he kissed her on the cheek. "I dont know when Nat and I
will have more time alone, and we have a lot to talk about."
"Sure, mijo, your father and I can get a cab home. Dont stay out too late." Freddie could see
the concern in his mothers eyes, but he also saw something else. She was beginning to see him as a man, and that made him
really proud of her at that moment. He put his arms around her and hugged her hard, whispering in her ear, "Ma, you are the
best. You know that no matter how old I get, I will always be your little boy!"
His mother broke the embrace and gave him a playful punch on the arm. "Go on now, enough of
that. Go have fun with Nat, and we will see you tomorrow."
After the parents had said their good-byes to the guys and headed home, Nat turned to Freddie
and said, "OK, bro, where to?"
"Anywhere. It doesnt matter. Someplace private, though. I got something to tell you."
"Oooo, mysterious." Nat thought a moment. "Lets go to that jazz club I been to in Harlem. All
the privacy we need, plus good music."
"OK, but can you get me in? Im not 18 yet, you know."
"No problem, my man. I know the owner." Nat grinned.
Freddie smiled. "OK, lead on."
The two walked into a small hole in the wall club that only held about 50 patrons. It was dark
and run down, but the music coming from the stage was HOT! Freddie followed Nat to a table in a corner, away from the stage.
After they had ordered a couple of malt liquors, Nat said, "OK, bro, spill."
Freddie took a deep breath. "I saw Anna today."
"No shit?!" Nat exclaimed.
"She was in the back at graduation. I spotted her while we were listening to that Godawful speech.
After the ceremony was over, I bolted and found her waiting for me in the back. She and I went to the boys room to talk."
"She tell you where she been all this time?"
Freddie shook his head. "I knew from that cop friend of hers that she was at her friends house,
but she didnt tell me where. She is in a lot of deep shit with her old man right now. I am worried about her."
"She say why she came to graduation?"
"Well it seems she was willing to risk it. She was in disguisestill afraid of Antonio. I guess
he has his goons out looking for her."
Nat shook his head. "Someone should waste that guy."
Freddie looked down as the waitress brought their bottles of beer. When she left he continued,
"She has something else to be worried about now too.... " Freddie hesitated. Even though he had told Nat almost immediately
what had happened that night before Anna disappeared, he had not mentioned it since. Maybe Nat thought Freddie had even forgotten,
considering how many girls he had already loved and left. But he needed to tell someone about the baby. "Nat, shes pregnant."
Nat didnt say anything for a long time, just looked at Freddie like he was sizing up the situation.
"You gonna marry her?" was all he could say, in a low tone, when he found his voice again.
"I cant, but you know and God knows I would if I could." Freddie tried to hold back the tears
that were forming in his eyes.
"Nat, you know she is already married to that goon and he wont let her go."
"Didnt you tell me her lawyer told her she could get a divorce without his consent?"
"Yeah, but if she does that, he would have her killed. These people dont mess around."
Nat grew thoughtful once again. Freddie took a joint out of his pocket. He started to light
it up when Nat raised his hand, stopping him. "Man, this place is cool, but that wouldnt be. Not here. You want to light up,
lets go elsewhere."
"No, I can wait. I kinda like it here. The music is soothing and this," he raised his bottle,
"is calming me down for the moment. I guess it was just a reflex."
"Reflex?" Nat looked puzzled. The two had smoked pot before, but this seemed different to Nat.
"How long have you been smoking shit, that it is a reflex action to light up?"
"A couple of months. It relaxes me when I am uptight, man." Freddie took another tug on the
beer. "Whats the problem? You smoke."
"Yeah, now and again. But you sound like you are making a habit of it."
"Nah, I can quit, it is just that I dont want to right now. I need something for my nerves.
I just wish they would legalize it so I dont have to be so cautious all the time."
Nat chuckled, "Yeah, well dont hold your breath, you might die first. The day they legalize
shit is the day I turn into a whitey!"
Freddie laughed out loud. "Thats what I like about you, bro, you always see the funny side of
Nat shook his head. "No, man, that is your bag, mine is making music." They both sat in silence
for a while, listening to a tall, thin, good-looking black woman sing in low, sultry alto tones. Nat said, "Mmmnow that is
one bird I would love to fly the coop with."
"Uh huh," Freddie grunted in concurrence. Nat looked at him. "Youre thinking about Anna, though--I
can tell by that far away look in your eyes."
"Why is life so unfair?!" Freddie cried in the stage whisper he had learned in acting classes.
"I meet the woman of my dreams and she turns out to have a lunatic husband."
"Well it seems to me, Fred, that the solution to your little dilemma is to have the guy eighty-sixed."
Freddie frowned at Nat. "Yeah, like I have a hit squad in my back pocket just waiting for my
order. Get real!"
Nat moved his chair closer to Freddie and said in a similar whisper, "How bad you want her?"
Freddie leaned away from his friend and looked back at him incredulously. "Whatcha mean?"
Nat looked around, like he was making sure no one else was listening, and then leaned back to
Freddie and went on in an even lower voice, "Well I dont talk about this much, but I have connections...."
Freddie backed up, more slowly this time, and contemplated what Nat had just revealed. He knew
a lot about Nat, but not everything. What if what Nat was implying were true--would he dare have a man killed just because
he loved Anna? Plus it would possibly mean the implication of his best friend in the crime. No, as much as he wanted Anna
for himself, he couldnt have anyone getting into trouble on his account. Slowly, Freddie shook his head. "Man, I appreciate
the offer, but I couldnt have that on my conscience. No, there has to be another way."
Nat sat back and smiled knowingly. "Its OK, bro. That isnt an easy decision. But just so you
know, anytime you want, just say the word."
"OK," was all Freddie could say. Uncomfortable all of a sudden, he looked at his watch and blurted,
"Look, man, its getting late and I have a gig tomorrow night. Thanks for the ear."
"Hey that is what hermanos are for--and I have two, you know! Ears that is." Nat laughed. "Anytime."
Freddie hailed a cab to Washington Heights. He hated to walk even a few blocks. He thought about
how he had so often walked with Anna, though. She hated wasting money on a cab. "Maybe that is why she was good for me. I
bet when I make it big, I will be burning money like matchsticks. I should think about getting someone to manage my finances
when I get to LA." At that thought, it hit him even harder that she wouldnt be with him. "Damn", he exclaimed out loud.
He leaned forward and asked the cabby to drop him off a block from his apartment. He got out
and paid the man, then went into the alley that separated his building and the one on the corner. Checking quickly to see
that there werent any winos or muggers hanging around, he reached into his jacket pocket for the joint he had tried to light
up in the jazz club.
Freddie stood smoking for the longest time, allowing the drug to take his mind off his problems
for a little while. A light rain started to fall, but he was too buzzed to notice. By the time he finished the whole joint,
he was damp all over and unsteady on his feet. Crushing the butt under the sole of his foot, he staggered into his building
and up the stairs to his apartment.
He tried not to make noise, not wanting to explain his condition to his mother and especially
his father. He reeled back and forth between the walls of the hallway and carefully opened the door to his bedroom. Quietly
closing it behind him, he collapsed on the bed and went to sleep.
The next evening, after he did his first set at the Improv, he was greeted in the hall to the
dressing room by the man with the afro. "Dude, your bebe made it to her crib without a hitch. She wanted me to let you know."
"Thanks, man. If you see her, tell her Im glad."
The guy looked nervously around, then--seeing the hallway momentarily deserted--reached into
the pocket of his jacket and handed Freddie an envelope. "Not nowlater," he said, then disappeared through the door that led
to the alley in back of the club. Freddie put the letter in his pocket and headed for the small bathroom at the end of the
hall. Locking the door, he sat down on the edge of the commode. He tore open the envelope and drew from it several sheets
of cream-colored paper. In Annas small, neat writing, he read:
I know it has only been hours since I left you, but my heart is breaking already. Every time
our baby kicks me in the ribs, he reminds me of you. You might wonder how I know it will be a son--I dont know, I just have
this feeling. He will be handsome like his father, I am sure. I only wish we could be together raising our son. But that would
not be fair to him, to live his life in fear. It is hard to think of giving up one of the two things I love more than anything
in the world, but I have to think his welfare. I am forced to give up both of the things I love, really, because I have to
give you up also.
My heart is breaking, knowing I can never hold you in my arms again, to have you do all the
things you did with me and to me that glorious night. You might think I was too drunk to remember the things we did, but I
remember everything. It all plays in my dreams every night. At least I have the memory of your love. That was why it was important
to me to hear you say that you loved me today. A dream is only a dream, unless you know that the person of your dreams feels
the same way you do. I know I am not making much sense, but I think you know what I mean.
Freddie blushed a little, aching in a different way as Anna went on to describe in detail every
aspect of their night of lovemaking. She proved to Freddie that she did remember it and relished the memory of it. It was
all Freddie could do to keep reading and not relieve himself of the tension building in his body. She spoke of every detail
so lovingly that Freddie couldnt help but cry, knowing he couldnt have her that way ever again. This helped to put his desires
in check for the moment. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he continued to the last page of the long letter.
I want you to know that it isnt just your love and loving ways that I will miss. We have grown
together in your career, and it tears me up inside that I wont be able to be there when you finally show the world what you
can do. I want you to know that I will be watching, though. I will be glued to Beths TV the night you are on. You will be
fantastic, I know. Just promise me you will remember your little Anna when you make it big. One day you will find a girl to
make your own, and she will be the luckiest woman on the face of the earth, because she will have the best guy in the whole
On a note of business, I have enclosed the card of an agent out in LA. He is a good man and
has agreed to take you on as a client. I know he will help you to go far. I am giving up this business. Beth is trying to
find me work around here--probably as a secretary, since I have some secretarial skills. It isnt as glamorous as show business,
but I have to eat!
I know I torture myself with thoughts of "what if". Please know that if there were any way I
could be with you, I would. Who knows what the future may bring, but I dont want you to be waiting around. You are destined
for greatness, and I dont want to tie you down. Reach for the stars, Freddie. You are half way there.
Well I reluctantly end this letter, knowing it could be my last to you. Take care of yourself
and dont let the Hollywood machine eat you up.
All my love,
Anna Freddie took the business card enclosed in the letter
and put it in his wallet--he knew he would need that in LA and didnt want to lose it. The letter was another matter; he would
have to find a special place for that. In the mean time, he carefully replaced the pages in the torn envelope and put it in
the inside breast pocket of his jacket.
Straightening himself up, Freddie left the stall, went to the sink and washed the tearstains
from his face with cold water. Every part of him wanted to tell the owner that he needed to cancel his second set that night,
but he knew Anna would be angry with and disappointed in him if he did. So screwing his nerves together, he exited the bathroom
and went to the dressing room to wait for his call to the stage.co
Freddie prepared for graduation day the best he could.
He was just happy that school would finally be over and done with. Then in a few weeks he would be on that big bird, winging
his way west to fame and fortune. He only wished he knew whether or not Anna would be with him. He missed her more than he
was even willing to admit to himself, but not only because he loved her. He felt that his big break was hers too and she should
be there to enjoy it with him.
Lately, he had been having long conversations with
Nat about what had transpired months ago. He hadnt said anything as it was happening, afraid of getting someone else into
the danger he still felt around himself. (The image of Annas photo with a knife stuck in her forehead and the chilling words
of the note were not easily erased from his mind.) But Nat was a curious sort, and Freddie had always found it easy to confide
in him. After a few weeks of not hearing from Anna--and having nightmares about the situation--he broke down and let his best
friend in on the secret.
Nat reassured him that things would be OK. His gang,
which had taken Freddie in as a brother, would be there to protect him--if it ever came to that. Freddie knew that Nat and
the guys had a gang "just to have a gang"; they never really fought anyone. Still, Freddie suspected Nat knew a few people
who would provide protection for him and his family if he should need it.
Graduation day finally arrived and Freddie looked
nervously out over the crowd, hoping to see Annas familiar face. But he could only see his parents, looking at him with pride
in their faces. He was glad to make them so happy. If this little piece of paper meant so much to them, then he knew it was
worth getting, even if he didnt feel the same way. As he sat on stage, listening to the valedictorian speech, his eyes continued
to scan the people seated in the large auditorium. Finally, after searching nearly every row, he caught sight of a woman with
a dark headscarf and sunglasses, sitting near the back of the room. The disguise was complete with a little padding to make
her look heavier than Freddie remembered Anna. Good idea, Freddie thought to himself, not knowing if this was really her,
but believing it was, because he needed to.
When it was his turn to go up to receive his diploma,
Freddie looked out and smiled at his parents, then subtly glanced at the mystery woman. She seemed to nod in recognition,
a small smile breaking out on her face. Seeing it, Freddie knew in his heart it must be Anna. He couldnt wait to get down
off the stage and go talk to her. It could be dangerous, but hell, he had waited months to see her and he felt like he might
not get another opportunity.
After the ceremony, Freddie bounded off the stage.
After a quick congratulatory hug from his mom and stiff handshake with his dad, he excused himself and ran to the back of
the auditorium, as fast as the milling crowd would allow him. He prayed the whole way that Anna wouldnt disappear before he
had a chance to talk to her. Considering that she had probably chosen the seat in the back for a quick getaway, he knew his
chances were slim to none, but the way she smiled at him gave him hope that his prayer would be answered.
She was still in the back, but was now standing in
a dark corner. Her quick glancing around told Freddie she was trying hard not to be seen. He approached her slowly, like a
hunter stalking a deer-afraid that if he came up to her too quickly, she might change her mind and bolt. "Anna?" he cautiously
whispered when he thought he was within earshot. She nodded and signaled for him to follow her. Hurrying out of the auditorium,
she led him down to his old haunt, the boys bathroom. "How fitting," he thought. Once inside, he locked the door, making sure
first that no one else was there. As soon as he turned the lock, Anna took off the scarf and glasses, threw her arms around
him, and kissed him long and hard.
Freddie knew she had taken a big risk coming to his
graduation, but by the feel of the kiss, he also knew she had done it because she missed him as much as he had missed her.
He had the notion to try something more and reached for the top button on her blouse, but she stopped him by breaking the
kiss and backing away just at that moment.
"Freddie, I am so proud of you. I knew you would
graduate. I couldnt stay away. I know I shouldnt be here, but...." Anna trailed off, catching her breath.
"Mami, I am so glad you came! Are you kidding?! It
wouldnt have been the same without you. I missed you so much!" Freddie leaned down and kissed her again. This time Anna allowed
only a much more subdued kiss. He tried not to show surprise at this, so happy to be with her that he didnt want to spoil
"Freddie, a lot has happened and I dont have much
time. Eddie told me he had talked to you the day of the break-in, when I ran away." She lowered her head. "Im sorry I didnt
tell you all about this sooner, but I didnt want you involved in this. But now that you are, you must know now why we can
never be together."
"I know now why I want you more than ever," answered
Freddie. "But I wont do anything to endanger you." He turned and walked away so she wouldnt see the tears that had started
to course down his cheeks. "Anna, it is so unfair. You have worked as hard as I have to get me where I am going, and now it
looks like you wont be able to share in the glory."
Anna didnt approach him, just allowed him this private
moment, saying, "I know, but knowing that you have made it big is all the satisfaction I need. Was that all you were worried
The words stung Freddie. He knew she was trying to
get him to admit his feelings for her. His kisses and embraces had betrayed them, so why was it so hard to admit it in words
now? Still looking away from her, he replied a bit too strongly, "You know that isnt all, but, damnit, the rest is harder
still. Anna, I want you for mine more than I can tell you, but I cant have you. You belong to... to... that cabrón!" Freddie
wasnt sure if he should call Annas husband a bastard to her face, considering she had married the man, so he felt he would
be alright to do so in Spanish, figuring she wouldnt know exactly what he meant.
If she did know, Anna didnt let on. She just went
over to Freddie and lifted his chin, looked into his tear-stained eyes and said, "Freddie, I know this is tough, but I needed
to know that right now, how you really feel. Selfish of me, but I had to hear it so I would have the courage to tell you this
next thing. Time is short and I need to leave, but you need to hear this."
Freddie dried his tears with his sleeve, looking
at her puzzled. "What is it, bebe? You know you can tell me anything. I am sorry I got all emotional on you."
"Thats OK. I think this is an emotional time for
both of us. Freddie, I have some news for you. It could have been good news, but considering the circumstances, I dont think
it will be." Anna looked down and rubbed her belly. The padding Freddie had thought he saw there--he realized now--wasnt padding.
It looked too much a part of her, especially as she caressed it. Oh my God!, was all he could think. Before Anna had the nerve
to get the words out, Freddie took her hand and just looked at her, wanting to blurt out what he knew she was trying to tell
him--but he also knew that women liked to tell men these things in their own way. Finally, after what seemed like agonizing
hours, she continued,
"I can see by the look on your face that you have
guessed my news. Im pregnant with your baby." Freddie wanted to scoop her up in his arms and tell her how wonderful that was,
but managed to hesitate long enough to let her finish. "Freddie, I want this child more than you could know, but I cant keep
it. If Antonio ever found out I was pregnant, he would have me and the baby killed" She faltered, her voice breaking, "and
somehow, some way track you down as well. Antonio is a bitter man. He blames all of his problems on me right now. I have already
made arrangements to secretly have the baby and put it up for adoption. I dont believe in abortion. Promise me, right now,
that you will not try to find out about these arrangements, EVER!"
Freddie felt like someone had kicked him in the stomach.
He tried very hard not to go into a stall and get sick in front of Anna, knowing that she needed him to be strong for her.
Thousands of alternatives to her plans raced through his spinning brain. He realized that if Antonio and his family were as
dangerous as he had been led to believe, Annas solution to their "problem" was the only way out. Still
After several minutes of trying to calm and convince
himself, Freddie sighed and shook his head-as much to stop the dizziness as to disagree with her. "Anna, I am sorry. I am
not the kind of guy who would get a girl in trouble and abandon her, you have to know that."
"Freddie, I know that. Believe me, if you had your
way, we would be on the next plane to Reno and in a wedding chapel, verdad?"
Freddie smiled, the first time he had since all of
this came crashing down on him. "You know me too well, Anna dAngelo. You know my heart wants to change that wretched last
name of yours and give you mine." He patted her belly. "This child would only be icing on the top of that cake." Growing solemn
again, Freddie concluded, "But you are right. You always are."
Anna stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek
this time, holding both his hands. "Freddie, I have to go. I only hope I havent been away too long. Beth isnt safe either.
I took a big chance coming here to see you and to tell you these things. I felt it was only right that you know, though, and
from my own lips too. Messengers wouldnt do in this case."
"Thanks," Freddie said softly. After a moment, he
took Anna in his arms again, his words--right in her ear--beginning to come faster as he hurried to say everything, "I do
appreciate you letting me know in person. I wont keep you any longer. I will pray you make it to your friends house safely
again. I do appreciate the danger you went through for me. I would not forgive myself if anything happened to you because
of it. Get back safely and send word, if you can, that you did. You know how I worry about you."
"I will, through our mutual friend with the big afro!"
She gave him one last squeeze before letting go, then smiled and turned to leave. "Freddie, one more thing."
"Knock em dead in LA... for me."
Freddie smiled and said, "All for you, mami." He
unlocked the door and checked to see that the coast was clear. After a short embrace and kiss, Anna headed for the front entrance
of the school. Freddie stayed in the bathroom a few more minutes, to collect himself and think of a plausible excuse for his
long absence. It was never easy telling his parents why he had disappeared like he sometimes did.
He decided to put off the real explanation till they
were home alone later--for the moment, all he told them was he had spotted a long lost friend from the stage and needed to
talk to them for a few minutes. Freddie never did share with her what had transpired the day he moved back home, but he suspected
his mother knew more than she was letting on. He knew she had been concerned about Anna, for she had asked after her several
times. She seemed to have a sixth sense about her only sons relationships with women, yet loved him enough not to pry into
his private life. It was another part of the bond between them that made Freddie love his mother more and more each day.
His parents treated him to dinner at a fancy restaurant.
Nat and his parents had been invited as well. It was a big day for the two friends, but a sad one as well. Nat was going to
stay in New York to see what he could do with the band, and maybe pursue more music education. Freddie was leaving for LA
in a few weeks, and hoped that he wouldnt be coming back to New York. He would miss Nat and the others, but he had experienced
enough of New York City to feel like he never wanted to return once he left.
Over dinner he talked about the Carson show and how
he hoped to make it big in Hollywood. It would be uncharted territory for him in more ways than one: traveling to a new city,
telling all his usual standup fare to a new audience-on TV!--and having to come up with new material, if he lasted that long.
Everyone laughed at both Freddies enthusiasm and self-doubt, assuring him that he would.
Then his mother expressed concern about where Freddie
would be living. He told her that another comedian friend of his, Alan, who had already gone out to LA and had an apartment
there, had invited him to stay with him while he was doing the spot on the Carson show. This was a real blessing, Freddie
admitted, because he hadnt saved up all that much from his comedy gigs in New York. Nat gave him a knowing look-all those
extravagant gifts for all those girls!--and promised to come out and visit Freddie once he got established in his own place.
At one point in the evening, Freddie felt he would
burst if he didnt share Annas news with someone. "Would you all mind going home without me?" he asked his mother as he kissed
her on the cheek. "I dont know when Nat and I will have more time alone, and we have a lot to talk about."
"Sure, mijo, your father and I can get a cab home.
Dont stay out too late." Freddie could see the concern in his mothers eyes, but he also saw something else. She was beginning
to see him as a man, and that made him really proud of her at that moment. He put his arms around her and hugged her hard,
whispering in her ear, "Ma, you are the best. You know that no matter how old I get, I will always be your little boy!"
His mother broke the embrace and gave him a playful
punch on the arm. "Go on now, enough of that. Go have fun with Nat, and we will see you tomorrow."
After the parents had said their good-byes to the
guys and headed home, Nat turned to Freddie and said, "OK, bro, where to?"
"Anywhere. It doesnt matter. Someplace private, though.
I got something to tell you."
"Oooo, mysterious." Nat thought a moment. "Lets go
to that jazz club I been to in Harlem. All the privacy we need, plus good music."
"OK, but can you get me in? Im not 18 yet, you know."
"No problem, my man. I know the owner." Nat grinned.
Freddie smiled. "OK, lead on."
The two walked into a small hole in the wall club
that only held about 50 patrons. It was dark and run down, but the music coming from the stage was HOT! Freddie followed Nat
to a table in a corner, away from the stage. After they had ordered a couple of malt liquors, Nat said, "OK, bro, spill."
Freddie took a deep breath. "I saw Anna today."
"No shit?!" Nat exclaimed.
"She was in the back at graduation. I spotted her
while we were listening to that Godawful speech. After the ceremony was over, I bolted and found her waiting for me in the
back. She and I went to the boys room to talk."
"She tell you where she been all this time?"
Freddie shook his head. "I knew from that cop friend
of hers that she was at her friends house, but she didnt tell me where. She is in a lot of deep shit with her old man right
now. I am worried about her."
"She say why she came to graduation?"
"Well it seems she was willing to risk it. She was
in disguisestill afraid of Antonio. I guess he has his goons out looking for her."
Nat shook his head. "Someone should waste that guy."
Freddie looked down as the waitress brought their
bottles of beer. When she left he continued, "She has something else to be worried about now too.... " Freddie hesitated.
Even though he had told Nat almost immediately what had happened that night before Anna disappeared, he had not mentioned
it since. Maybe Nat thought Freddie had even forgotten, considering how many girls he had already loved and left. But he needed
to tell someone about the baby. "Nat, shes pregnant."
Nat didnt say anything for a long time, just looked
at Freddie like he was sizing up the situation. "You gonna marry her?" was all he could say, in a low tone, when he found
his voice again.
"I cant, but you know and God knows I would if I
could." Freddie tried to hold back the tears that were forming in his eyes.
"Nat, you know she is already married to that goon
and he wont let her go."
"Didnt you tell me her lawyer told her she could
get a divorce without his consent?"
"Yeah, but if she does that, he would have her killed.
These people dont mess around."
Nat grew thoughtful once again. Freddie took a joint
out of his pocket. He started to light it up when Nat raised his hand, stopping him. "Man, this place is cool, but that wouldnt
be. Not here. You want to light up, lets go elsewhere."
"No, I can wait. I kinda like it here. The music
is soothing and this," he raised his bottle, "is calming me down for the moment. I guess it was just a reflex."
"Reflex?" Nat looked puzzled. The two had smoked
pot before, but this seemed different to Nat. "How long have you been smoking shit, that it is a reflex action to light up?"
"A couple of months. It relaxes me when I am uptight,
man." Freddie took another tug on the beer. "Whats the problem? You smoke."
"Yeah, now and again. But you sound like you are
making a habit of it."
"Nah, I can quit, it is just that I dont want to
right now. I need something for my nerves. I just wish they would legalize it so I dont have to be so cautious all the time."
Nat chuckled, "Yeah, well dont hold your breath,
you might die first. The day they legalize shit is the day I turn into a whitey!"
Freddie laughed out loud. "Thats what I like about
you, bro, you always see the funny side of life."
Nat shook his head. "No, man, that is your bag, mine
is making music." They both sat in silence for a while, listening to a tall, thin, good-looking black woman sing in low, sultry
alto tones. Nat said, "Mmmnow that is one bird I would love to fly the coop with."
"Uh huh," Freddie grunted in concurrence. Nat looked
at him. "Youre thinking about Anna, though--I can tell by that far away look in your eyes."
"Why is life so unfair?!" Freddie cried in the stage
whisper he had learned in acting classes. "I meet the woman of my dreams and she turns out to have a lunatic husband."
"Well it seems to me, Fred, that the solution to
your little dilemma is to have the guy eighty-sixed."
Freddie frowned at Nat. "Yeah, like I have a hit
squad in my back pocket just waiting for my order. Get real!"
Nat moved his chair closer to Freddie and said in
a similar whisper, "How bad you want her?"
Freddie leaned away from his friend and looked back
at him incredulously. "Whatcha mean?"
Nat looked around, like he was making sure no one
else was listening, and then leaned back to Freddie and went on in an even lower voice, "Well I dont talk about this much,
but I have connections...."
Freddie backed up, more slowly this time, and contemplated
what Nat had just revealed. He knew a lot about Nat, but not everything. What if what Nat was implying were true--would he
dare have a man killed just because he loved Anna? Plus it would possibly mean the implication of his best friend in the crime.
No, as much as he wanted Anna for himself, he couldnt have anyone getting into trouble on his account. Slowly, Freddie shook
his head. "Man, I appreciate the offer, but I couldnt have that on my conscience. No, there has to be another way."
Nat sat back and smiled knowingly. "Its OK, bro.
That isnt an easy decision. But just so you know, anytime you want, just say the word."
"OK," was all Freddie could say. Uncomfortable all
of a sudden, he looked at his watch and blurted, "Look, man, its getting late and I have a gig tomorrow night. Thanks for
"Hey that is what hermanos are for--and I have two,
you know! Ears that is." Nat laughed. "Anytime."
Freddie hailed a cab to Washington Heights. He hated
to walk even a few blocks. He thought about how he had so often walked with Anna, though. She hated wasting money on a cab.
"Maybe that is why she was good for me. I bet when I make it big, I will be burning money like matchsticks. I should think
about getting someone to manage my finances when I get to LA." At that thought, it hit him even harder that she wouldnt be
with him. "Damn", he exclaimed out loud.
He leaned forward and asked the cabby to drop him
off a block from his apartment. He got out and paid the man, then went into the alley that separated his building and the
one on the corner. Checking quickly to see that there werent any winos or muggers hanging around, he reached into his jacket
pocket for the joint he had tried to light up in the jazz club.
Freddie stood smoking for the longest time, allowing
the drug to take his mind off his problems for a little while. A light rain started to fall, but he was too buzzed to notice.
By the time he finished the whole joint, he was damp all over and unsteady on his feet. Crushing the butt under the sole of
his foot, he staggered into his building and up the stairs to his apartment.
He tried not to make noise, not wanting to explain
his condition to his mother and especially his father. He reeled back and forth between the walls of the hallway and carefully
opened the door to his bedroom. Quietly closing it behind him, he collapsed on the bed and went to sleep.
The next evening, after he did his first set at the
Improv, he was greeted in the hall to the dressing room by the man with the afro. "Dude, your bebe made it to her crib without
a hitch. She wanted me to let you know."
"Thanks, man. If you see her, tell her Im glad."
The guy looked nervously around, then--seeing the
hallway momentarily deserted--reached into the pocket of his jacket and handed Freddie an envelope. "Not nowlater," he said,
then disappeared through the door that led to the alley in back of the club. Freddie put the letter in his pocket and headed
for the small bathroom at the end of the hall. Locking the door, he sat down on the edge of the commode. He tore open the
envelope and drew from it several sheets of cream-colored paper. In Annas small, neat writing, he read:
I know it has only been hours since I left you, but
my heart is breaking already. Every time our baby kicks me in the ribs, he reminds me of you. You might wonder how I know
it will be a son--I dont know, I just have this feeling. He will be handsome like his father, I am sure. I only wish we could
be together raising our son. But that would not be fair to him, to live his life in fear. It is hard to think of giving up
one of the two things I love more than anything in the world, but I have to think his welfare. I am forced to give up both
of the things I love, really, because I have to give you up also.
My heart is breaking, knowing I can never hold you
in my arms again, to have you do all the things you did with me and to me that glorious night. You might think I was too drunk
to remember the things we did, but I remember everything. It all plays in my dreams every night. At least I have the memory
of your love. That was why it was important to me to hear you say that you loved me today. A dream is only a dream, unless
you know that the person of your dreams feels the same way you do. I know I am not making much sense, but I think you know
what I mean.
Freddie blushed a little, aching in a different way
as Anna went on to describe in detail every aspect of their night of lovemaking. She proved to Freddie that she did remember
it and relished the memory of it. It was all Freddie could do to keep reading and not relieve himself of the tension building
in his body. She spoke of every detail so lovingly that Freddie couldnt help but cry, knowing he couldnt have her that way
ever again. This helped to put his desires in check for the moment. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he continued to the last
page of the long letter.
I want you to know that it isnt just your love and
loving ways that I will miss. We have grown together in your career, and it tears me up inside that I wont be able to be there
when you finally show the world what you can do. I want you to know that I will be watching, though. I will be glued to Beths
TV the night you are on. You will be fantastic, I know. Just promise me you will remember your little Anna when you make it
big. One day you will find a girl to make your own, and she will be the luckiest woman on the face of the earth, because she
will have the best guy in the whole world.
On a note of business, I have enclosed the card of
an agent out in LA. He is a good man and has agreed to take you on as a client. I know he will help you to go far. I am giving
up this business. Beth is trying to find me work around here--probably as a secretary, since I have some secretarial skills.
It isnt as glamorous as show business, but I have to eat!
I know I torture myself with thoughts of "what if".
Please know that if there were any way I could be with you, I would. Who knows what the future may bring, but I dont want
you to be waiting around. You are destined for greatness, and I dont want to tie you down. Reach for the stars, Freddie. You
are half way there.
Well I reluctantly end this letter, knowing it could
be my last to you. Take care of yourself and dont let the Hollywood machine eat you up.
All my love,
Anna Freddie took the business card enclosed in the
letter and put it in his wallet--he knew he would need that in LA and didnt want to lose it. The letter was another matter;
he would have to find a special place for that. In the mean time, he carefully replaced the pages in the torn envelope and
put it in the inside breast pocket of his jacket.
Straightening himself up, Freddie left the stall,
went to the sink and washed the tearstains from his face with cold water. Every part of him wanted to tell the owner that
he needed to cancel his second set that night, but he knew Anna would be angry with and disappointed in him if he did. So
screwing his nerves together, he exited the bathroom and went to the dressing room to wait for his call to the stage.
My head felt groggy and there was a fire
on my chest as I slowly woke from my drug induced nap. The lights overhead were very bright, hurting my eyes. I let out a
little moan as I tried to raise my head. I must have disturbed who ever was in the room with me, because at that moment a
shadow came between me and the bright light. With this shade, I was able to open my eyes a little more. At first the face
staring back at me was fuzzy, but slowly it came into focus and I saw it was the worried expression of my partner. His identity
was confirmed to me moments later when I heard him call out, "Nurse, Detective Grieg is awake." A nurse came in and I looked
at her and then back at Muff and asked, "Am I in a hospital?"
"Yeah, and we thought you were never going
to wake up."
"But how," I asked weakly. I tried to
sit up, but my head felt like a lead balloon. I collapsed against the soft hospital pillow as the nurse said, "Let’s
not try that again, honey. You had quite an ordeal. Just rest and I will call the doctor."
She hurried out of the room and I looked
at Muff. "What happened?"
"I was just about to ask you that same
question. You remember anything?"
I closed my eyes in an effort to try to
make sense of the thoughts swimming in my brain. "Where should I start?"
"How about after you called me," Muff
said, trying to help.
"OK, well I went back to the apartment
to shower, change and get a bite to eat. I typed up the interview I had with Mr. Beckman on my PC. Then I took a shower and
changed. I was heating some soup on the stove when someone suddenly put his hands around my arms and mouth. He gave me just
enough leeway to shut the stove off when the next thing I knew I was breathing in something noxious and I passed out. Then
I woke up here." I kept my eyes closed the whole time I was relating this to Muff, hoping that I could concentrate better.
But when I thought about where I was I opened my eyes full and looked at Muff and asked, "And how did I get here?"
"Well that was our doing," Muff said,
pointing to the other two detectives in the room. Up until now I was not cognoscente of their presence. Mike smiled at me
weakly and Larry just nodded. Muff continued. "When several hours went by since I had heard from you I got worried. I tried
calling you. The phone picked up on the first try, but when I tried to talk to you, there was no answer and then we were cut
off. When I tried to call back, the line was busy. I tried several times in the next few minutes, but all I got was the same
busy signal. I knew something was wrong, so I told Mike and Larry what was up and the three of us went to your apartment.
We found you on the floor, unconscious. The doctor said you were drugged with something pretty powerful. The tox screen hasn’t
come back yet."
A horrible thought crossed my mind. I
looked at Muff with more fear in my eyes than I had intended and he looked knowingly back at me. His uncanny ability to read
my mind was working overtime. "The rape kit came back negative. He didn’t assault you that way," he whispered. I breathed
a sigh of relief but winced when the fire on my chest intensified with the effort of my lungs. "Yeah, I bet it hurts like
hell," Muff said.
"What is wrong with my chest that it hurts
like this?" I asked as I looked down to see it had been well bandaged. I tried to touch it, but that only set up new waves
"Don’t mess with it, Jan. The doctor
said it was cut pretty deep. Not that it won’t heal, but you can’t touch it for a while."
"Cut?" A tear started to form in the corner
of my eye. The pain was increasing. Muff must have known what was going on, because he asked Mike to get the nurse and ask
for more pain medicine for me. He then looked back at me, but avoided my eyes as he tried to explain. "Janice, this case has
I thought about the envelope with the
picture of Muff and I and the accompanying note and said, "I know, I got something in the mail today."
"You mean yesterday. I know; we found
it when we searched your place looking for clues to your attack."
"YESTERDAY??? How long have I been in
here?" I practically yelled, with the only strength I had, which didn’t amount to more than a loud whisper.
"Well it is almost 24 hours since we found
you," Larry answered. "Muff, you have to tell her," he added, addressing Muff. "Would it be better if we left you alone with
her to tell her?" The nurse came back in with Mike at this point and without a word, stuck a needle in my IV. Seeing the puzzled
look on my face, she said, "Just something for the pain." Turning to the other gentlemen in the room she added, "Detective
Greig needs to rest. It might be best to finish this interrogation at another time."
I knew the nurse was right, but now my
curiosity was piqued. "Can Muff… I mean Detective Kovack, stay for a few more minutes. I promise to kick him out after
"OK, but the doctor wants to talk to your
friends in a few minutes anyway, so don’t be long. You need to rest. Your body has been traumatized and will only heal
if you let it."
She and Mike and Larry left the room and
Muff went over to the light switch and shut off the brightest of the lights. One small night light remained on by the bathroom
door. In the near darkness, he pulled up a chair near the head of the bed and sat down. I could feel the pain meds starting
to take effect, but I fought the sleepiness they induced so I could hear what Muff had to tell me.
Muff let out a large sigh. I could barely
make out his features in the near darkness, but somehow I could see his big brown eyes starting to swell with tears. "Janice,"
he began, almost choking on the words. "The picture and the letter weren’t the only things your assailant left in the
"He didn’t leave them; I got them
in the mail. I went down after my shower, remembering I hadn’t checked my mailbox on the way up. The package was in
the mail. I used gloves this time when I opened it, to preserve the evidence…." my head was swimming again with the
effects of the medicine. It suddenly dawned on me what Muff was trying to tell me. "What do you mean? What did he leave in
"Janice, the nearest we can ascertain,
your perp musta been in your apartment for at least two to three hours before he left and we got there."
"Two to three hours?!?!" None of this
was making sense. An overwhelming sense of violation set into my psyche. Muff had told me I wasn’t sexually assaulted,
but knowing that my assailant had been with me for so long made me wonder what lie under the bandages, what cause my chest
to burn with hellfire. Looking at the way Muff’s silhouetted figure slouched in his chair, I knew this wasn’t
going to be easy for him to tell me. I reached over and took his hand and said, "Please, these pain meds are starting to work
and I might not be able to stay awake much longer. What did he do to me?"
I think Muff took some courage from my
hand and words, because he took another deep breath and said, "Jan, this guy is sick, you have to understand that. He must
have given you something pretty powerful, because you were out of it the whole time he cut you."
I took my hand out of his and put it back
on my chest. "What did he do to me?" I whispered.
"He took a very sharp scalpel, probably
similar to the one he used on those boys, and carved some letters on the top of your chest."
"Letters? What does it say?" I said, groggily.
I was starting to lose the battle with the pain medicine.
"Maybe I should show you the picture we
took when we were processing the crime scene… I mean your apartment," he added apologetically.
"OK," I said weakly.
He took a photo from his briefcase and
held it up to my face. Even though there wasn’t much light in the room, I could make out some writing. The thing of
it was I couldn’t make out the words. There were two, one over each of my breasts. But in the darkness, it looked as
if the letters were backwards. I looked at Muff with puzzlement in my languid eyes.
"You are right, they are backwards," he
said, knowingly. "Seems this nut used a mirror to carve this. When it didn’t make sense, I held the photo up to a mirror."
He took a mirror out of his case and held it up to the picture. In bloody letters, I read with horror, "SPIC LOVER." I am
not sure if it was shock, the effects of the pain meds or a combination of both, but I passed out. Right before I did, my
last thought was that he wanted me to see this every time I looked at myself in the mirror.
I am not sure how long I had been out
this time, but when I started to drift back into reality, I heard the voices of my partners talking in quiet, but intense,
whispers around my bed. I knew how hard it had been for Muff to show me the picture of my chest carvings, and I knew that
he did it because he couldn’t come out and say it in words. I tried not to resent this. I realized they were just trying
to be chivalrous and protect me from the worst that had been done to me. Still, knowing this, I knew that I would probably
hear more of the truth pretending to still be asleep and allowing them to talk around me then to wake at this moment and beg
to hear it all. I was glad I did.
The first think I could make out was Muff’s
voice. "Well it wasn’t something I could just blurt out, could I?"
"Jeez, Muff, but to show her?" That was
Mike’s voice. "What were you thinking?"
"She has seen worse, I am sure," answered
Muff, with a bit of resentment in his voice.
"You never did explain the picture," added
Larry, matter-of-factly. I wondered how Muff was going to explain it.
"Oh that, it was nothing really, very
innocent, Muff said, offhandedly. "This guy is making more of it than is there. We just went for a ride on our day off, to
try to clear our heads of this whole matter. You have to admit, it is getting to us. And in that shot, Jan was getting a bit
seasick and laid her head on me in an attempt to feel better." Muff paused and added, "It creeps me out to think that this
guy was and still is stalking us."
I thought about Muff’s last statement.
I hadn’t had the time to think about this angle, but he was right, it was creepy. And on top of it, I didn’t have
a clue why he would be targeting us, besides the fact that we were the lead investigators on the case. My mind wasn’t
working as fast as I wanted it to, so it didn’t dawn on me till later that the picture our perp took was before we had
been officially assigned to oversee this set of cases. In fact it was before we knew what we were really dealing with. So
the angle about us being the leads wasn’t a viable one. I felt bad for Muff, getting the third degree from the other
guys, so I decided it was time to "wake up" and get him off the hook.
I moaned slightly, trying to be convincing.
I hoped they would buy it and not realize I had been eavesdropping on their conversation. "Nurse...," I whispered, searching
for the call button, but keeping my eyes closed. I felt someone fumbling around on my left side, digging in the covers, I
supposed, for the call button. I could hear Mike call out for the nurse and I slowly opened my eyes to find Muff the one trying
to assist me. "You in pain again?"
"A little," I answered weakly, putting
my hand on the bandage covering that cursed phrase carved on me. "I am really thirsty too."
The nurse showed up at this point and
gently maneuvered Muff out of her way by my side. "What can I get for you?"
"I am really thirsty. Can I have something
She looked at my chart and said, "No restrictions
on food or drink. I will get you something. Do you want soda, water or juice?"
"Water would be fine for now," I answered.
She left to retrieve it. Muff moved right back to my side, taking her place. "Can I help you with anything?" I couldn’t
be one hundred percent certain, but I was beginning to sense that Muff was feeling guilty for what happened to me. His hovering
was a big clue. I smiled at him and said, "Could you help me to sit up a little?"
"Sure thing," he answered. He found the
mechanism that operated the bed and I could hear the motors grind as the top of the bed rose behind my back. It was a good
thing that it moved slowly, cause I could feel the blood rush out of my brain. I started to get dizzy and waved for him to
"What’s wrong?" Muff asked, with
very obvious worry in his voice.
"Nothing serious," I managed to answer.
After another moment of silence, I was able to add, "my head is still a little dizzy from the attack. This is probably as
far as I should have it for now. It is enough."
Muff nodded and I could see he was a bit
relieved it wasn’t serious, but worry still resided on his face. I couldn’t see the other detectives very well
from my vantage point, Muff was blocking most of my view of that side of the room. I wondered what they were making of all
of this fuss.
"Can you bring me a mirror?" I knew he
would think this was a strange request, but I wanted to see how bad I looked. If it was half as bad as I felt, I must have
looked a fright.
"You think that is such a good idea?"
Muff answered. "You are banged up pretty bad.
"Yes, I have to know. This is still an
open investigation and I am still one of the lead detectives on the case. I am just collecting evidence." I said, trying to
sound professional, even in my weakened state.
Muff grinned, the first one I had seen
since I had woke up in the hospital, and shook his head. "Hard headed as always." He left my bedside and went out into the
hall, I presumed in search of the mirror I had requested. I took the opportunity of his not being with me to call Mike over.
"Whacha need Jan," Mike responded as he
came to my side.
"Is he all right?" I asked him, meaning
Muff. He caught on and answered, "Yeah, I guess. He has been a wreck since we found you, but he processed your apartment like
a pro. He tries not to let on, but I think he is kicking himself for not being there to prevent this."
"I kinda figured that one out myself.
I don’t know what he thinks he could have done, I mean, I don’t need a baby-sitter..." I realized how that sounded.
"I mean, well, he can’t be at my side 24-7 you know. I have a life outside of police work. It isn’t much of one,
but..." I realized I was digging myself deeper and not making much sense.
"Hey, don’t worry about it. I know
what you mean. And I am sure he knows he isn’t going to be there for you all the time. It is a partner thing, you know."
Boy did I ever, thinking of Jim. "Yeah,
that is what I figured. I hope you don’t think that there is anything between...." I couldn’t finish the sentence,
the words stuck in my throat.
"No, no, I mean, we wondered, but Muff
assured us it is strictly all business between you two. Partners can get closer than most, it is the nature of needing each
other in moments of danger. Sometimes I wonder if we are married to our wives or our partners more. And with you two being
opposite genders, well, people can get the wrong idea. I think that is what this perp has done, cause I dunno why he would
I shook my head and said, "I haven’t
a clue about that one myself."
The nurse came back in with a tray containing
a plastic pitcher, a plastic cup and a straw. She put it on the table beside my bed and looked at the other people in the
room and left. I guess she figured I had plenty of help getting the drink I requested. She did remark to Larry on the way
out that if I needed anything else, they could call her.
Mike removed the plastic wrapper from
the straw and placed it in the cup. He then poured a little water from the pitcher into the cup. I was able to push myself
up a little more in the bed and reached for the cup as he handed it to me. I could feel the coolness on the sides of the cup
and I tried to maneuver the straw to my mouth. Mike moved it into position so I could get it. I only had enough energy for
a few sips before I gave it back to him. Muff came in while Mike was putting the cup back on the table. Mike moved back to
the chair he was sitting in as Muff took his place once again by my side.
"I got one, it wasn’t easy. I guess
people don’t like to look at themselves around here. All the mirrors are on the walls. But one of the nurses had a compact.
I hope this will be big enough." He opened the compact and handed it to me. I took it and closed my eyes as I raised it to
my face. I braced myself for what I was about to see. When I opened my eyes, I saw that the perp had left some bruises around
my eyes and cheeks. My hair was matted, but that was probably from being in the hospital bed. Other than that, I didn’t
look too bad.
"He musta been pretty sore at me to hit
me like this." I remarked, trying not to sound too upset.
"Yeah, I dunno why he would want to mess
up a pretty face like that." Mike said, trying to lighten the mood.
I smiled, "Thanks, Mike. I could always
count on you for a complement." I looked at my face again and said. "This isn’t too bad. I wonder why my head feels
like he took a baseball bat to it or something."
Muff explained, " Well that isn’t
because of the beating, but a combination of the drug he used and the fact that you lost a lot of blood."
Now I was confused, "Lost blood?"
Muff continued. "The doctor said that
the bruising around the cheeks was probably from a hand slap, probably several, but the bruising around your eyes was from
the loss of blood and the drugs. When he carved you, you bled out pretty bad. We thought you were going to die from that alone.
They gave you several pints in the operating room when they stitched you up.
"Oh," I said, realizing some more the
trama I went through when I was unconscious. Wondering how I could have ‘slept’ through all of that I asked, "Did
the doctor find out what he gave me to knock me out?"
"Well the tox screen wasn’t very
conclusive, but the doctor’s opinion is that the perp might have used Isoflurane or Enflurane to initially knock you
I looked at him like he was speaking Greek.
He saw and said, "The doc said these are animal anesthetics used by vets that work pretty quick. But they don’t last
very long and they don’t have the level of pain killers needed to do what he did to your chest." Muff spoke slowly.
I realized it wasn’t easy for him to talk to me about what happened to me. "And because they are breathed in, they don’t
last long in the body. The doc also found traces of cocaine in your system. He did find a small puncture wound near where
he -- used the scalpel on you. He figured that it musta been injected before he worked on you as a local anesthetic. I didn’t
know this, but apparently they used to use cocaine as an anesthetic back when they were first learning to do surgery. No respectable
doctor uses it now, cause it is addictive, but I guess with cocaine so readily available illegally, our guy musta thought
it was the best thing to use. We have always thought that he has some background in medicine. Look at the way he handles a
scalpel." I wince when he said that and put my hand to my chest again, remembering the picture Muff had shown me earlier.
He immediately fell all over himself apologizing to me.
"Oh man, I am soooo sorry, Jan. It is
hard to know when to be professional about this and to know when it is personal."
"Don’t worry about it. I was the
one who wanted to discuss it like a case. It is hard not to think of it personally happening to me though."
"I know," Muff said in a low voice. "It
is hard enough seeing what some people will do to others, but when it is someone you know and well..." he didn’t finish,
but looked around and must have remembered he wasn’t alone with me. I knew what he was trying to say. It was like Mike
was saying to me earlier. Partners, by the nature of the job, are closer to you than most people.
I started to grow tired again. I laid
my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes. "Did the doctor say when I could get out of here?"
I heard Muff’s voice as he answered.
"As soon as you feel like you are ready to. He said that the pain might be kinda intense for a few days, but overall you are
OK. I think it might be good if you spent at least another day in here to rest and recover."
I opened my eyes and smiled weakly. The
pain was growing more intense. "Yes, Dr. Kovack." Muff started to smile and then concern replaced the smile. He reached for
the call button and pressed it. The voice squawked through the speaker "Yes, can I help you?"
"Detective Grieg might be in need of more
medicine for her pain. She is having some distress," Muff responded. He wasn’t wrong, the fire in my chest had come
back with a vengeance and I clutched it and breathed heavy.
"I’ll be right there," the voice
A few minutes went by and the nurse came
in with a syringe. She placed it on the table next to my bed and checked my vital signs. She asked me about my pain and then
injected the contents of the syringe into my IV line. Soon the pain started to subside and I felt groggy again. The nurse
told the guys that it was time for me to rest and Mike and Larry took the hint and left the room. Muff stayed behind long
enough to take my hand again and put his mouth next to my left ear. As I drifted into a drug induced sleep I heard him whisper,
"We will get the guy who did this to you, Jan. I swear on my parents’ grave we will." Then I felt his lips press against
my left cheek as he placed a kiss upon it. I guess he left after that, cause I don’t remember much else.
The next day the doctor signed the release
forms and I was able to go home. In the last twenty four hours, the guys had been over my apartment with a fine toothed comb,
collecting all the evidence they could and getting it to the lab. Muff came to visit me a few more times, but didn’t
stay too long, just long enough to keep me up on what they were doing. I was needing the pain medication less frequently,
so I was itching to get out with them and find this guy. Like Muff said when told me about what had happened to my chest,
it was now personal.
Muff helped me with the few things they
had brought to me while I was in the hospital. He had brought me some clothes so I could change. I had been in the hospital
gown the whole time and was glad to get some regular clothes on. I had him bring me an old sweat shirt and pants, figuring
that these would be the easiest to put on. It was kinda embarrassing to think he went through my underwear draw to get me
pair of clean panties, I didn’t bother with the bra since I was still bandaged up in that area. He brought his car around
to the entrance of the hospital and then helped me out of the wheel chair the hospital staff insists you must use to get to
your car. I was never so grateful to get away from that place. I never liked hospitals, but I guess most people don’t.
Muff drove me to the apartment, filling
me in on the preliminary things the crime lab found. I knew I would have to look through my things to see what had been disturbed.
I just laid back and closed my eyes and listened to what he had to tell me. "There were no finger prints in the whole place
except the ones we expect to find there. Seems this guy used gloves."
"I think I remember his hands covered
with gloves, but the memories are still a little fuzzy," I answered.
"We did find some stuff on your computer.
We had it dusted for fingerprints, but I fought to have it left it at the apartment. I didn’t bring it up before ‘cause
I wanted you to get your rest. It isn’t pleasant. Seems this guy might know you, from the note he left. Funny thing
is, I don’t think he erased anything. But one thing is for certain, I think he knows all we know about the cases, if
not from first hand knowledge, then from reading your files. I thought we could go over what he wrote together, since you
have a better idea what was on your computer than I do."
I tried not to think about him touching
my things. I felt so violated, even if I knew he didn’t rape me. I thought about the last two days in the hospital and
what my body had gone through. All of a sudden another thought entered my mind, one that had nothing to do with the case.
"Muff, did anyone phone my mother about this?"
"Your family was contacted. We decided
that it would be better to talk to your brother first. He was going to fly east, but we told him that you were OK. He asked
us to let him phone your mother. She did phone me once asking about you, I was able to reassure her that you were OK," Muff
I had to smile a little through my pain.
I could imagine how that conversation went. I was surprised my mother wasn’t banging down the doors of the hospital
trying to see me. "Didn’t she ask to see me?"
A huge grin broke out on Muff’s
face. "Ask wouldn’t be the exact work I would have called it. More like demanded. But I was able to assure her that
you were fine and that you would call her the minute you were released." He handed me his cell phone. I knew exactly what
he wanted me to do. I dialed the number.
"Hello?" I heard on the other end. There
was an anxiousness in my mother’s frail voice. I felt bad I hadn’t thought to call her before this. All the morphine
on top of what the perp had given me made my mind too cloudy to think straight. I took a deep breath and said, "It’s
"Oh my God, baby, are you OK? The cops
wouldn’t tell me anything!" she practically shouted in my ear. I could see from the expression on Muff’s face
that he heard every word she was saying, or more to the point, shouting. I tried to concentrate on my mother and let Muff
"I’m fine, mom. You know me, hard
to keep a soldier down," I chuckled, trying to deflect some of my mother’s obvious worry.
"I knew this would happen to you one day,
damn fool daughter wanting to be a cop. I want you to come home and spend some time here resting," she said.
Muff pulled the Impala into a parking
spot in front of my building and cut the engine. He got out and came around the other side of the car to open the door for
me. I didn’t mind this act of chivalry, I was hurting too much to protest if I had minded. I continued to reassure my
mother that I was OK and that I would come to visit her real soon, but I was needed to help my partner find out who did this
to me. She wasn’t real happy about that. As we climbed the stairs in front of my building, Muff signaled to me to let
him have the phone. I reluctantly gave it to him, not knowing what to expect.
"Mother Greig? This is Detective Kovack.
Remember I spoke to you on the phone a couple of days ago?" Silence for a few minutes as we entered the building and slowly
made our way up to my apartment. Then he said, "Yes, she is fine. I have brought her back to her place and I will make sure
she has round the clock protection and care. She wasn’t hurt that badly." Again silence. I could hear her talking on
the other end, but the words were too garbled to understand. I took my key out and opened the door and we entered. "No, Mother
Greig, I will make sure she isn’t alone. And we will come out to see you tomorrow. I hope you don’t mind having
another person for Sunday dinner?" I could hear that her voice had gotten lower. I was amazed at the way my partner was charming
my mother. His slow, soothing voice was having an effect on her. "Yes, Mother Grieg, 11 A.M. sharp. We will be there. Rest
easy. She is in good hands."
He listened a few more minutes and then
said, "Yes, here she is," and handed the phone back to me. I sat down on my sofa to finish my conversation with her as Muff
went into the kitchen to put on a kettle of hot water for tea.
"Mom?" I said.
"Honey, your nice partner said he would
make sure you are safe. He seems like a nice young man. Are you going to be well enough to come tomorrow for dinner?"
"Yes, mom, I keep telling you I am fine,
just a little banged up. And we will be there, like Muff told you."
"Uh, there is one more thing...." my mom
said in a lower voice, hesitantly.
"Uh..mm.. the man who did this, he didn’t...
um... you know..." I could hear in her voice that she was uncomfortable asking the question that I knew she was trying to
ask. I had to smile a bit, thinking of how her generation couldn’t talk about such unpleasant things in polite company.
"No, mom," I said in my most soothing
voice. "The doctors told me that he didn’t violate me that way."
"Well that is a good thing anyway," she
answered. I could tell by her voice she was beginning to cry. I didn’t want to upset her anymore, and I was tired, so
I told her I loved her and said my good-byes. It took a few more minutes to get her to hang up, but she finally did. By the
time I pressed the end button on the cell phone and put it down on the end table by the sofa, Muff was bringing in my tea.
"She going to be OK?" Muff asked me.
I took the cup from his hands and took
a sip and allowed the soothing liquid to relax me. "I think so, as much as she can be. I know seeing her tomorrow will go
a long way to set her mind at ease." I took another sip and added, "I think she likes you, you know."
Muff raised one eyebrow as he sat beside
me on the sofa with his cup of tea in his hand. "Oh, really? What makes you think that?"
"Oh I wouldn’t know," I teased.
"Maybe it was that Latin charm of yours."
Muff grinned, but acted astonished. He
was about to throw a quip my direction but I cut him off. "Seriously though, thank you for talking to her. I guess I am too
close to her to really be effective in helping her not to worry."
"No problem. Glad to help. What’s
a partner for!"
We sat in silence, drinking our tea for
a few minutes. Something about the conversation came back to me. "What did you mean when you told her that I would be having
round the clock protection and care?"
"Well, we talked to the captain and he
is in agreement that you should have someone here to stay with you for a while."
"I hope that you don’t think I can’t
take care of myself! One little incident and...."
Muff sensed I was on the defensive about
what had happened. "No, I know you are tough and will be over this soon. We just thought that it might be wise to wait a few
days before having you stay here by yourself. I would have had you come and stay at my place, honestly it might be safer,
but I knew you wouldn’t agree to that. I know you are out of the hospital, but your body is still getting over the trama
this guy put it through. Until you are 100% better and can fend off attackers, I thought it might be better to have someone
I knew he was right, but the thought of
some strange police woman spending the night in my place didn’t appeal to me. "Who is going to be here?"
"That’s up to you. It’s your
life and your place. The NYPD is ready to assign a uniform policewoman to the job, if you want that."
"Actually, no I don’t." But I didn’t
know what else would be acceptable either, so I didn’t add any suggestions of my own.
Muff sensed that the conversation was
beginning to become awkward. He took our empty mugs into the kitchen and put them in the sink. "There is another suggestion,
but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea if I suggest it."
I laid back against the soft cushions
of the couch and closed my eyes. The trip home and the conversation with my mother had worn me out more than I realized. "What
is that?" I asked him weakly. He came back into the living room and sat beside me once again. "Are you all right?" he asked
with much concern in his voice.
I opened my eyes and looked at him. "I’m
fine, just tired, I guess."
"Maybe you should take a nap for a while.
I’ll be here till you decide on what you want. I have my stuff here and I can even get Mike and Larry to stop by and
we can work on things from here. I am sure they have the final forensics report on the attack back by now."
I was too weak to argue. I let him take
me to my room and turn down the covers on my bed. I hadn’t had someone tuck me in since I was very little. He kissed
me gently on the forehead and I drifted off to sleep.
It was dark when I woke up. I rolled over
and looked at the digits on my alarm clock. They glowed a crimson 8:30. Groggily I rolled back on my back and stared at the
ceiling for a few minutes. I thought back on the past several days and wondered if I would ever be myself again. Everyone
had assured me I would be OK, but when you are in the middle of recovery, you never seem to see the end of it.
I wondered if Muff was still around, and
what he had been up to the many hours while I had been sleeping. The pain in my chest wasn’t as bad as it had been,
but the meds I took before I went to sleep had definitely worn off. I actually welcomed a little of the pain, it helped shake
the cobwebs from my mind. All I could think about was how badly I wanted a shower.
While I was in the hospital, all they
would do was give me sponge baths, carefully avoiding my bandaged chest. They don’t bother with your hair unless you
specifically ask them, and I was in no shape to do that. Now the matted locks felt nasty and my scalp began to itch. I wondered
how much I could do without doing harm to my wounds. I searched my memory for all the information the doctor gave me when
he was checking me out. I did remember that I was OK to bathe, so long as I kept the bandaged area dry. That meant a shower
was out unless I could find a way to waterproof the bandages. While I was contemplating how I would be able to manage it,
a quiet knock sounded on my door. "I guess that answered my question about Muff," I thought to myself as I answered the knock
with a, "I’m awake."
Muff slowly entered the room and asked
if he could turn on a light. I told him it would be OK and shielded my eyes to the brightness, waiting for them to adjust.
He came over to the bed and reached out his hand as if to silently ask if I needed help getting up. I put my hands in his
and slowly lifted myself into a sitting position. It is amazing to discover how much you depend on those mechanical beds in
the hospital when you are without them at home. I smiled a grateful smile at him and said, "I feel like I have been through
the trenches in Iraq. I need a shower, badly!"
Muff sat down next to me on the bed and
replied, "Well the doc said it was OK, but you can’t get that bandage wet."
"I know, I have been laying here thinking
of a way to get around that."
Muff thought a minute and said, "Sounds
like the only way is another GI bath, like they gave you in the hospital. You think you can manage that?"
I looked at him and smiled, "I guess I
have to, I mean there isn’t anyone else here to help me!"
For the first time since I had known my
partner, he blushed. He had been so sweet and worried about me that he didn’t even have time to think of me in that
regard. There was an awkward silence that I finally broke. "I’ll be fine, but I wish I could get my hair washed. I dunno
if I can do that by myself yet."
"Oh I can help you with that if you like,"
Muff answered, his face noticeably relieved. "Why don’t you go and clean up the rest of you and when you are done come
into the kitchen. Bring your shampoo and a towel and I will wash it at the kitchen sink where there is a sprayer."
"Sounds like a plan," I answered. "Thanks."
"De nada," he said as he got up and left
the room. I was able to make my way to the bathroom with a little difficulty. The pain was low level and constant. I knew
when I was finished making myself more presentable I would have to take my pain meds, but I was holding off. Even with the
pain, it was good to be alert again.
Even a GI bath was a bit of an ordeal,
only because I was being meticulous, especially around the bandage. After I was done, I dressed in clean clothes and took
a few towels from the linen closet along with my shampoo and conditioner and made my way out to the kitchen.
Muff had the stool I kept by refrigerator
set up by the sink. It was one of those old fashioned type step stools that had a seat at the top with a back. The seat and
back were covered with a red vinyl seat and there were two steps that collapsed underneath its aluminum frame. I had picked
it up at a yard sale years ago. I was able to sit on it and lean my head back over my sink. I had draped my upper body with
a few towels and even had put a plastic bag over my bandage under the towels to make sure no water would get on it. Muff tested
the temperature of the water and asked me to feel it as well. It seemed fine to me. He lifted the sprayer from the side of
the sink and wet my hair down. Helping himself to a generous portion of the shampoo he began to lather it in my hair, massaging
my scalp. It felt wonderful. I asked him if he had ever had occasion to do this, because he would have made a terrific hair
dresser. He laughed and said that his mother used to ask him to wash her hair from time to time. She had arthritis really
bad and had a hard time lifting her arms up to wash her own hair. He added that he was glad I was enjoying it, cause he wasn’t
sure if he was doing it right. I told him it felt wonderful and he kept massaging my scalp for a few more minutes. Finally
he rinsed my hair and applied the rinse out conditioner. After a final rinse he put a towel around my wet locks and helped
me to sit up.
I took the twisted towel and hair from
him and began to rub the excess water from my hair. He asked me if I wanted him to comb and blow dry it. I was in an amiable
mood and said sure. I dunno what had gotten into me, because I am fiercely self sufficient. I told him where I kept the blow
dryer and my brush and comb. My hair wasn’t too long, but I knew that raising my arms to manipulate the dryer and comb
would put too much strain on the muscles leading to my injured chest. I fought hard against the need I had to take the pain
meds. The throbbing was increasing, but I didn’t want to go back to sleep for a while, and I knew the meds would make
me sleepy again.
Muff returned with the blow dryer and
I went into the living room on a chair near an outlet. He was very gentle, not only making sure my hair was dry, but even
styling it up a bit for me. I thanked him for taking the time to do this, and he said that he knew what it was like to feel
miserable, and he hoped his little efforts would ease some of that misery for me. I smiled, knowing he was still feeling guilty
for not being there for me. I knew there was nothing he could have done to prevent the attack, but I also knew that he wouldn’t
listen if I pleaded a case against his guilty feelings. I decided it was best to just let it drop.
When he was done he returned the hair
stuff to the bathroom and I moved over to the couch where it was more comfortable. Muff came back out and asked me if I was
hungry. I told him a little and he went into the kitchen to fix me a sandwich. While he was busy with that I asked him what
he had been doing all afternoon while I was asleep. He filled me in on the investigation. He said that the other two members
on our team had been over with the forensics report on my attack and they had put their heads together over it and the other
evidence trying to make some sense out of it, but to be honest, they hadn’t really been able to get very far. There
had been no new developments, and to the relief of the whole team, there had been no new cases either.
Muff brought my sandwich and a Coke out
to me and set up the TV tray table I kept by the side of the sofa. As I ate, he continued telling me what they found.
"The perp left no prints that we could
find. No DNA either. This guy knew exactly what he was doing. The only evidence he left was the letter on your computer. I
printed out a copy of it for you to read when you were feeling better. We didn’t seem to get the full significance from
it. We were hoping you would be able to understand it better."
He handed me a printout of the letter
from my computer. He told me they left the file on my computer in case the tech boys might be able to find any other trace
evidence on it. He told me that they wanted my PC as soon as I would be willing to release it to them. I told them that it
would be OK, but I should check all my files to see if anything was added or missing. I took the letter and quietly read it
while he paced the floor.
My dearest Jan,
Sorry if this seems a bit informal, but
you see, I feel I really know you
enough to call you dearest. I have admired
you for so long that I know
if you knew my feelings you would feel
the same way. I have followed
your career and especially these cases
with much interest. You know
I have only done what I have for you,
my dearest. I want you so bad,
that when I see you around other guys
it makes my blood boil. It is a
shame you have elected to be with those
of inferior races. You are
too beautiful to be with that spic partner
of yours. If I had any influence
in the NYPD I would have you assigned
someplace safe with people
of your own kind. I didn’t want
to mark you up like that, but you made
me so mad. I have kept all my love tokens
and hope to show them to
you one day, to show you how much I love
you. Those subhumans had
no business being with the likes of you,
or anyone that looked like you.
That is why I had to kill them. But I
only did it for you, my darling.
Promise me you will give up this madness
and get away from that spic
as soon as you can. Then the killing can
stop. I will be in touch as soon
as I know you will not give me up. I am
counting on your love to keep
me safe from prosecution. Then we can
go away together and be happy
If you don’t agree to this, there
will be more killings. If I could get my
hands on that spic, he would be next,
but he would be a hard one to get.
What a trophy he would be, though, the
ultimate token of my love for
you. I look at the others and think what
his would look like sitting side
by side with my other specimens. They
are a poor lot compared to me.
Call off the police and I will give myself
up to you, and you alone. I
know you wouldn’t let them touch
me. I know you would see my tokens
as the symbols of my love I meant them
to be. You can’t really care about
these subhumans. I know you are the true
beauty of our superior race.
I will take care of you and make sure
you have the care you need. I can
reverse what I did to you if you will
just come to me. I have skill.
Let me know what your answer is, my love.
When you quit the investigation
I will know your answer and come to you
Your Aryan Lover
I let out a shudder as I read the letter.
"Oh my God," I exclaimed. Muff took the letter from me as I held it out to him. "This nut seems to know me. Why me?" I said
as I finally broke down and cried. I had tried to be strong during this whole ordeal, but the knowledge that somehow I was
the reason this guy killed those innocent men and mutilate them overwhelmed me to the point of a break down.
Muff came over to my side and let me put
my head on his shoulder as the tears came pouring out. "Jan, this guy is a nut. It isn’t your fault. You didn’t
ask him to kill. You have to believe me when I tell you that he is totally to blame."
"Yes, but what if he is sincere about
it stopping if I call off the investigation. If one more person dies because I didn’t do what he asked, I don’t
know if I could live with that person’s death on my head."
Muff took my chin firmly in his hand and
put my head directly in front of his. His large dark eyes riveted themselves directly at mine, so hypnotic was his serious
stare I couldn’t help but look directly into them. He was all business as he spoke. "Detective Greig, we will catch
this nut. There will be no talk of quitting. If he kills again, he does. It is not our place to let him get off. The blood
of his other victims cries out for justice, and we will bring him to justice. Please promise me you will not do anything foolish
to put yourself in harm’s way again. Who knows what he would do if he had you."
Muff was right and I knew it. Still I
knew the key to catching this guy might rest in my hands. I had to form a plan of action and I knew that finding a weakness
in this man might be the way to catch him. But right now I knew I was too spent emotionally to formulate a plan right now.
I asked him to help me over to the computer so I could check my files. He helped me to the computer chair and then went back
to the sofa. I told him to help himself to the TV that I might be a while looking through all my files.
As I perused my hard drive, Muff flipped
channels, seeing what was on. He finally settled on the last innings of the Yankee game. It was good that he was watching
baseball, the drone of it kept my mind focused on what I was doing. After about 45 minutes, I told him that it looked like
everything was there and nothing besides the letter had been added, at least to my weary eyes. The crime lab could have my
PC in the morning and see what they could find.
When I was done, I knew I would have to
have those pain meds. I was now several hours overdue and the pain was becoming unbearable. Muff might have seen me wince
when I got up and he asked me if I needed something for the pain. I said yes and he quickly got up and got them for me, with
a glass of water. I took them and went to the bathroom to take care of other things. While I was in there, Muff had cleared
up the remains of the dinner he had fixed me and straightened out my bed. When I came out of the bathroom he pointed to the
bed and said, "It would be a good idea if you got more rest. Unless something develops between now and then, we will go to
your mom’s tomorrow. You will need your rest for that."
The meds were starting to work and I felt
my muscles start to feel like jelly. "Well I am in no position to argue with you. Are you planning on spending the night?"
"Yes, but only because you never gave
me directions to the contrary. Larry and Mike stayed with you for a bit this afternoon so I could go to my place, freshen
up and get some things. I can sleep on your couch. I’ll be fine."
"OK. There is a blanket and pillow in
the closet in the hall. I hope you get some sleep." I collapsed on the bed and Muff helped me get tucked in.
"I’ll be fine. You just rest. I’ll
see you in the morning."
I smiled weakly. "Thanks, Muff. I appreciate
your taking care of me."
"Shh, mi socia. Buenas noches." He kissed
me on the cheek and I fell asleep.
Muff must have slept in late, cause he
didn’t come in to wake me till it was almost 11. It had been well after midnight before I had gone to bed, so I felt
really rested from the long sleep.
The doctor had instructed me to change
the bandage the day after I had gotten out of the hospital. He had given me some medicine to spread on the stitches so that
the wounds would heal and it would lessen the chance of scarring. The doctor said he would look at some plastic surgery in
the future to take care of any leftover scarring. Some of the cuts had been deep, but he was convinced that I would heal.
He only had to put a few stitches in them, opting to butterfly the parts that weren’t as deep. I didn’t tell Muff
I was going to take the bandage off, thinking that the less he knew about what I saw the better.
I prepared myself for the worse, remembering
the picture Muff had shown me in the hospital. That picture was taken before the stitching. When I removed the bandage in
front of the bathroom mirror, no small feat since the medical tape hurt like hell as I pealed it away from my bruised skin,
I could make out the general outline of the words but they were obscured by some of the work the doctors had done on them.
I gently cleansed the wounds as the doctor instructed only using some warm water and cotton swabs. Then I applied the salve
I was given using some more swabs. I tried to clean some of the adhesive off my skin where the tape had left it, but it proved
too tough for right now. Not wanting to accidentally pop my stitches and do more damage, I left them and dried the whole area
with the lint free cloth the hospital had give me. Then I re-bandaged the whole area with a fresh bandage and went about my
morning hygiene routine.
After another GI bath, I felt as fresh
as I could. My hair seemed to respond to my attention, to my amazement. Muff had done a great job styling it last night. I
wonder if my mother would notice how nice it looked and ask me how I got it to look that way. I got dressed and exited my
bedroom. Muff looked at me and said, "Mami, you look great."
"Well it is amazing how a good night’s
sleep will help a person feel their best. And having a great hairdresser helps too!" I gave him a little wink.
Muff smiled. "Just trying to help." Then
he picked up his shaving kit and his clothes and asked if he could avail himself of my shower. I told him to help himself,
that the towels were in the linen closet.
While he showered and got ready, I fixed
us some breakfast. It felt good to get back to as normal a life as I was allowed. I had the eggs and sausage on the table
and was pouring the coffee when he entered the kitchen, looking very handsome in his light blue golf style shirt and tan chinos.
His hair glistened from the dampness that was still in it from the shower. I gathered that he let it air dry. That might have
been what made it so soft looking all the time. He told me he was glad I was starting to feel better, owning to the breakfast
that sat on the table. I said that I felt like I had to get back into a more normal routine.
We sat and ate in relative silence. I
am not sure what was going through his mind, but all I kept thinking was how natural this felt, having him in my kitchen sharing
a meal. A small shot of pain in my chest brought me back to the reality of why he was here and I kicked myself for thinking
the thoughts that had been going through my mind. Maybe it was the anticipation of my mother’s reaction to Muff that
had me thinking about what life would be like if Muff was more than my partner in crime. But I knew that I had to stay focused
on work, or we would never catch this guy.
Muff offered to do the dishes and I went
in to take more medication. I decided I should only take half a dose, in order to keep my wits about me. The doctor told me
I could start backing off the meds as I felt I needed to. There was no minimum dosage, only a maximum. I was determined to
wean myself off of them as soon as I could. Over the counter pain meds would be good enough after a while. The quicker I could
get to that place, the better it would be for me to concentrate on my job.
I found myself rambling on about my mom
and my youth as we drove out to Queens. I didn’t own a car, so traveling out in one felt strange. It also brought back
memories of when my dad was alive. He insisted on picking me up on Sundays, not liking me to take public transportation. After
his death, I had no choice, although my mother worried about me using the train all the time.
I was telling Muff all about the trips
my dad and I would take out to the end of the Island when he was alive. I said the eastern end of Long Island was sorta like
the Cloisters were for him. It was an escape from the real world. I had not been out there since my dad passed on. Muff promised
we would take a drive out there someday.
My mom was waiting by the door when we
drove up. Muff had called her on his cell phone, telling her what his car looked like so she wouldn’t be alarmed when
it pulled into her driveway. She still had the garage, but my dad’s old Buick was sold when he died. I had contemplated
taking it, but decided I really didn’t need the expense of a car.
We greeted her by the door and she led
us into the kitchen. She asked us to sit down at the table and proceeded to pour us each a cup of coffee. She asked Muff a
ton of questions about himself and asked me how I was getting along. We must have talked for a couple of hours while she finished
My mother loved to cook, but in recent
years kept her fare simple, owing to the fact that it was just the two of us. She really outdid herself this day, I guess
because we had company. She fixed a pot roast with all the trimmings. As always, she made too much and tried to get Muff to
eat more than he could hold. He was polite and tried to please her. I felt bad for him, knowing how uncomfortable he would
be feeling later.
When dinner was over, Muff insisted on
helping with the dishes. I wanted to help as well, but my mother wouldn’t let me. I normally did the dishes on Sundays,
but she was still fussing over me about my attack. I tried to tell her that I was feeling much better, but she was able to
get Muff on her side and the two of them insisted that I remain seated. I did convince them to let me dry some dishes as I
sat at the table. This she let me do.
I told my mother that I wanted to take
Muff back to see my dad’s den, if it would be OK with her. She said it would be fine, that she needed to call my brother
while we were back there. I lead Muff down the long hall to the back of the house. My dad’s den had been a bedroom on
the original house plans. There were two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. My parents decided that since they only had
two children, the spare bedroom would be better used as his den.
Muff looked around while I told him about
my father. There were pictures of the two of us on our various travels over the years. Muff asked me why my mother wasn’t
in the pictures and I told him my mother hated long car rides. I showed him my dad’s pipe and related how on Sunday
afternoons I would spend hours in this room thinking about my dad. Muff nodded when I told him that I felt like my dad was
with me when I was in here. "I sometimes feel like that when I am at the park near my apartment. My mother used to take me
there as a child and sometimes I go there and sit on the bench looking at the moms and kids on the playground equipment and
think about her."
I had offered Muff my dad’s old
lounge chair and I sat on the other chair in the room. We reminisced some more about our childhood’s and then sat in
silence for a while. Finally Muff said we should go and see where my mother was, that she might wonder why we were back there
so long. I grinned and told him that I suspected my mother would be pleased, she was so hell bent on getting me hitched. I
felt the blood rise to my face and with a blush I said, "She wants grandkids."
"Doesn’t your brother have children?"
"Yes, two, but it isn’t the same
for her, they are 3000 miles away."
"I gotcha." He got up and took my hand
and led me back to the kitchen.
"You two were back there a long time,"
my mom said. I deflected her inquiries with a question about my brother. "How’s Tad?"
"Your brother is fine, and the kids are
fine, but he is worried about you. He still wants to come and see you. You need to call him."
"I know, I will. Did you tell him I am
"Yes, but I know he would believe it more
coming from you."
I kissed my mom on the cheek, "OK, mom,
I will call him on my cell phone on the way back to the city."
"You heading back now?" my mom asked,
knowing what I was going to tell her and not wanting to hear it.
"Yes, I’m afraid we have to head
back. Lots to do Monday morning and I need to rest," I answered her firmly, but gently.
"I hope someone is staying with you. I
can’t bear to think of you all alone there with that nut still on the loose."
"She is in good hands, Mother Greig. I
am personally taking charge of her protection."
"Good," she said giving him a hug. "You
know, Jan, he is a good man..."
"I know, mom." And I kissed her on the
cheek cutting off her next remark. "I will call you when I get home."
She handed me a large bag full of containers
of food. "You will need more in the house if you have two to feed." I wondered if she suspected it was Muff who had been staying
with me. I know it wouldn’t have set too well, but on the other hand, she had taken a shine to him. After all, he met
her major qualifications, he was alive and single. I guess it didn’t hurt that he was charming and good looking as well.
I shook my head a little thinking about this as we got in the car.
On the way back to the city I called my
brother Tad. He was still very concerned, but knowing that my mother was fine with the arrangements that had been made on
behalf of my safety went a long way in convincing him I would be OK. Muff even talked to him a bit to reassure him. Tad said
he would try to get some time off soon and bring the whole family east for a visit. It had been almost a year since my mother
had seen her babies and he knew that his presence was long overdue. It is amazing how a crisis in a family helps to remind
us of how important we all are to each other.
Muff said very little to me about the
visit, except to say my mother seemed really nice and was a great cook. To prove it, he helped himself to some of the leftovers
my mother had sent home with us when we got back to my place. I was too tired and too stuffed to think about eating anymore,
so I told Muff I was going to take a full dose of pain meds and lay down. He said he would be watching some TV while I rested,
and that if I felt like just calling it a night, it was OK with him. I decide that his suggestion was a good one, so I got
my PJ’s on before I laid down. It turned out to be a good idea, because I didn’t wake up till the next morning.
This time Muff let me put myself to bed. I was glad, but a small part of me missed him giving me that good night
peck on the cheek.
A few days before his scheduled trip to the west coast, Freddie
had his first brush with the unseen threat that had loomed over him for months. He was on his way home from the last gig he
would do in NYC and decided to walk home so he could smoke a joint. While he was passing a small park, two large white men
approached him from either side. He was buzzed enough by this time to be a bit confused by what was transpiring. “Whaaa...the
hell d’you two wan’?” he asked in rather slurred words.
“Are you Freddie Prinze?” said the one on his
right, while he grabbed Freddie’s right arm by the elbow.
“Yeah, who wan’s t’know? Y’some big
time producers?” Freddie wasn’t sure who these guys were. Being that they were white in an ethnic neighborhood
this late at night was a puzzle to him. It wasn’t till the other guy grabbed his left arm in the same fashion and started
to lead him into the park proper that he finally began to sense danger.
“Yeah,” said the first guy. “And do we
have a production for you!” They hustled him to a deserted park bench in the darkest part of the park. “We need
some information from you. And if you know what’s good for you, you will be very cooperative. Or you will be doing your
next stand up act lying down, IN A HOSPITAL BED!”
Freddie looked from one face to the other. The second guy
was big, built like a building. He didn’t say anything, but Freddie could read his face well enough that the guy didn’t
need to say anything. Freddie got his message loud and clear. The other guy, who was shorter, seemed to be the spokesperson.
Freddie addressed his next remark to the short one. “Yeah, sounds like y’re trying to muscle your way into my
act. Tha’ joke was lame. ‘Sides, I work alone.” Freddie wasn’t sure where his smug humor was coming
from, in the face of obvious danger. He guessed that the pot was dulling his sense of self- preservation. He swore under his
breath that it was time to give that shit up.
“Hey, Vinnie, this guy doesn’t think I’m
funny.” The short guy addressed his silent friend. All the larger man did was nod. “Maybe you could show him some
of your humor.” Freddie could guess with dead accuracy what that meant. He figured it was time to appease these two
goons. “Hey, man, chill. I was only tryin’ t’break the ice. I’ll cooperate. Whatcha wanna know?”
The first guy loosened his grip on Freddie’s right
arm a little. Vinnie kept his grip firm. “I need to know where I can find a little lady by the name of Anna d’Angelo.
Word has it that you and she have been seeing quite a bit of each other.”
Freddie sized up the situation as fast as his impaired brain
would let him. He chose his answer carefully. “I’m more than willin’ t’let y’know what I know,
but would be nice f’I knew who was askin’.”
Vinnie found his voice. “Hey, Rico, you want I should
just waste this punk?”
Rico let go of Freddie’s arm and put a hand to his
chin, making Freddie look him in the eyes. “A tempting thought, Vinnie, but I think the boss needs us to try to get
some info outta this punk first.”
Vinnie frowned, and as Freddie jerked his head away from
Rico’s beefy hand in time to notice, he realized that these guys’ only joy in life must be to inflict pain. For
Vinnie had quickly grabbed Freddie’s loose right arm and brought both back behind him in a locked position. The pain
helped to clear Freddie’s head.
“Look, man. I’ll cooperate,” he whined,
looking from one to the other, “I don’t want no trouble from you. I don’t know who you are, but whaddaya
want from this poor Puerto Rican kid?”
Rico leaned closer again and growled at Freddie, “Tell
me the truth and Vinnie will let you keep your arms. Where is Anna d’Angelo?”
Freddie knew that it would be no good denying that he even
knew Anna. He surmised that these guys were part of the d’Angelo Mafia family and probably knew something of the relationship
between them already. He only hoped for her sake they didn’t know too much. Freddie took the opportunity to find out
how much they did know.
Vinnie appeared to be a dumb thug, but Rico seemed to have
some brains, so he addressed Rico, “Look man, if I knew I would tell you. I wish I knew. She was my manager and then
did the splits on me. Left me high and dry with no explanation. Last time I trust a woman agent...” Freddie chuckled,
shook his head and tried his best to look pissed at Anna. Rico must have bought part of the little speech, because he silently
indicated to Vinnie to loosen his grip. It was more comfortable, but not by much. “Yeah, well that was the word we got
too, that she was your manager. We thought she was still working for you.”
Freddie was beginning to realize that they didn’t have
much more on him. So-- risking a broken arm--he went on a fishing expedition of his own. “Yeah, well I guess she dumped
me for someone else. I haven’t seen her in months.” It backfired. Rico grew angry and Vinnie tightened his grip
again. “Whaddaya mean by that? IF YOU TOUCHED HER....”
Freddie gulped. These guys weren’t only dangerous,
they were crazy. “No, no, I meant, dumped me to manage someone else. Hell, I’m a kid. What do I want with an old
broad like that? I mean....” Freddie wasn’t sure if he was digging himself out of a bad situation or making the
Rico looked straight into Freddie’s eyes again. “Anna
is spoken for, by the son of my boss. If anyone messes with that, they are history. Antonio could care less what she did for
a living, but no one was to mess with his property. Capeesh?”
“Loud and clear!” Freddie swallowed hard.
Rico started to pace in front of Freddie--he was still being
held in an arm lock Vinnie. “See, the thing of it is, we have word that someone has been messin’ with her. But
we also know that she had been managing you. We thought you might want to cooperate with us to find the bitch and see she
got what was comin’ to her, seein’ how she left you high and dry.” Hearing this, Freddie got a little brave
again, in an effort to convince these guys he was on their side. “Yeah, well this position doesn’t seem to convey
a lot of trust in my willingness to cooperate.” Rico thought about it a minute and then said to Freddie, “Yeah,
well you can’t be too careful these days. Does this mean you’ll help us?”
Rico silently signaled to Vinnie to let go of Freddie. Freddie
rubbed his arms and wrists and said, “I did tell you the truth. I haven’t a clue where she is.” Rico replied,
“Yeah, I am thinking you are being on the up and up with us about that. You know anything about the bastard that was
screwing with her?”
Freddie grew silent for a minute. He hoped the men would
think he was contemplating their question, but he was really trying to think of a clever deception. Finally he answered, “Well
we were only together in the clubs and such. All business, that was Ms. d’Angelo.” Freddie slowly shook his head,
“No, if she had someone like a boyfriend or something, she never let on to me.”
“There were men’s clothes in her apartment,”
said Vinnie. Rico looked hard at his partner, like he had tipped their hand. Freddie now suspected that these two brainiacs
were behind the apartment break-in.
“Well I don’t know anything about her place.
I live on another side of town. Didn’t she have a brother that lived with her? She mentioned something about that, but
my mind is a bit fuzzy.” Freddie knew he was taking a lot of chances now.
“Yeah,” answered Rico. “He did live with
her, but he was eighty-sixed. I suppose it could have been his stuff we saw laying around....Hey, wait a minute! How much
do you know about her?” Vinnie grabbed for Freddie again but he managed to duck.
“Look man, I don’t know anything.” Freddie
said as he tried to escape. He knew he had revealed too much, because Rico silently signaled to Vinnie again. Freddie tried
to fend him off, but all the karate lessons he had taken were of no use against such a brute. He found himself being wailed
upon by these two guys; they beat him up all over the abdomen and face. Freddie tried to defend himself as best as he could,
but they had caught him off guard and his reflexes were not responding the way he wanted. He silently cursed the pot again.
The whole time Rico kept up a barrage of threats on his life.
When the two of them had finished having their fun abusing
Freddie, they left him bloodied on the cement walk and started to walk off. Rico called over his shoulder, “Just remember,
we were easy on you tonight. If we find out you know more than you are telling us, punk, there won’t be anything left
of you to bury.” The two men then left Freddie in a pool of his own blood.
Freddie somehow had managed to crawl home that night. His
parents were appalled by his condition and took him to a local hospital. He discovered he had suffered many contusions to
the stomach and a couple of broken ribs, but worried most about his face, since he was due to perform in a week. The intern
assured him that none of the cuts were deep and that he seemed to have been spared any obvious bruising around his eyes.
On the way home, Freddie kept telling his parents he was
just mugged, but somehow he didn’t think his mother bought that explanation. She kept asking why Freddie hadn’t
taken a taxi, as was his custom. He made the mistake of telling his mother he needed time to walk and think. She didn’t
press him to explain, but made him feel guilty with her silent stares just the same.
Finally, the day before he was to leave, he broke down and
told his parents some of the story. He told them that Anna’s husband was jealous of her--and even though he was in jail,
his family was out to find Anna and hurt her. He told his parents how they had probably broken into her apartment and found
out that Freddie knew her. The beating, he admitted, had been because they thought he knew where she was--but he told his
mom he didn’t. Still, Freddie cautioned his parents, they should be careful when he went out west, since he wasn’t
sure if Anna’s husband knew where he lived. Lastly, he told his mother that Nat should escort her to work and back.
(Freddie had already told Nat all about the events of the
night he was assaulted. He felt he could go to California resting a little easier, knowing that Nat and the gang was keeping
an eye on his folks for him.)
He needed to do one more thing before he left for LA. He
dialed the phone number Eddie the cop had left him. It was answered by a receptionist at the police station. “Sgt. Eddie
Holtz, por favor,” Freddie asked her.
“One moment while I connect you to his desk,”
the receptionist answered.
Freddie waited as the phone rang, thinking how he would never
have bothered with the police otherwise. But since Eddie was a friend of Anna’s and she was in danger, Freddie knew
he needed to keep him informed.
Finally after three rings, Eddie answered. “Sgt. Eddie
Holtz speaking. How can I help you?”
Freddie took a deep breath and said, “Hey Eddie, it’s
me, Freddie Prinze.”
“Hi, Freddie, what’s up?” Eddie answered
Freddie cringed, thinking how Eddie’s demeanor contrasted
with the news Freddie had to share with him. “Well, nothing good, I’m afraid. You see, I was attacked by a couple
of thugs sent by Antonio’s family.”
“You ok?” Eddie’s tone shifted to one of
“Yeah, just a couple of cracked ribs, and bruises.
The doctor says I’ll live. But I am concerned for Anna and my parents.”
“Who were they and what did they want with you?”
Freddie could hear Eddie had shifted into full cop mode,
pictured him taking down everything. After another deep breath, he replied, “Well I didn’t get last names, but
one of them was named Rico--he was the spokesman--and the other was a trained gorilla by the name of Vinnie.”
“I know those two bullies. They are hired strong arms
for the d’Angelo family. Cousins of Antonio’s I think.”
Freddie had figured out that much himself, but didn’t
say this to Eddie. “They were looking for Anna, and maybe figured that I knew where she was, ‘cause she was managing
me. But they didn’t seem to have figured out that I had been living with her. She had been ‘messed with’
as they put it, and they were also looking for the guy who did that. If only they knew!” Freddie choked up for a moment,
then continued, “Since I didn’t know what they wanted, they just wailed on me and left. I, of course, didn’t
tell them I was the one who had ‘messed’ with Anna. My ma didn’t raise no dummy!”
Eddie chuckled. “No, I suppose it would have been fatal
to reveal that. They didn’t seem to think you knew any more?”
“Well, I am not sure, but they seemed satisfied for
the moment. The thing is, I am getting ready to leave for LA, and I don’t want these goons to get to my parents. They
didn’t let on that they knew where I lived, but the park where I was attacked was about ten blocks from my house. I
have my best friend Nat and the gang watching out for them, but I would like it if the cops could kinda keep an eye out too.
And naturally, I am also concerned for Anna--these guys mean business.”
“We’ll keep an eye on your place, and I will
contact Anna. It might be time to move her to a safer location.”
Freddie thought a moment. “Since these guys seem to
be local, would Anna be safer with me in LA?”
“Well you might be safer in LA since these guys don’t
seem to want you for anything other than information. But Anna they would pursue at any expense, putting you both in danger
and out of my reach, I’m afraid. So no…I think I know where I can hide Anna for a while.” Eddie’s
tone softened as he concluded, “Don’t worry. Just leave me a number where you can be reached in LA, and I will
contact you if I hear anything.”
“OK, I’ll call you from my friend’s apartment
where I am staying and give you the number. BTW, if you see Anna, please tell her I love her and I will be doing something
special on Carson just for her. Tell her to look out for it when she watches me.”
Eddie answered, “I will. You are going to be on the
Freddie beamed, “Yup, Monday night. Watch for me.”
He toned down his enthusiasm as he thought out loud, “I only wish Anna would be with me. It is only because of her help
that I am going to be on there at all.”
Eddie answered reassuringly, “Well if I know Anna,
she will be with you in spirit. Lift her spirits and knock ‘em dead!”
“I will…and thanks for watching out for my folks.
I would never forgive myself if anything happened to them.”
“I will, don’t worry about them or Anna. We will
get these goons. Have a good trip and good luck with the show.”
“Good-bye.” And Eddie hung up.
Freddie returned the receiver to the cradle and
went back to his room to finish packing. He was so excited about the trip that he danced down the hallway. He was going out
with Nat and the gang for one last night on the town, then tomorrow night Nat would drive him and his parents to the airport.
He knew saying goodbye to his mom would be an emotional thing, but he thought ahead to the time he would be making a lot of
money and he would buy them a house out in LA so they would be near him again.
Tonight was the night Freddie had been waiting for all his
life. He was in the green room pacing back and forth, smoking one cigarette after another in an effort to calm himself down.
The food on the table in this waiting area didn’t appeal to him--in fact, looking at it made him a little sick on his
stomach. He wished Anna, his mom and Nat were here to help him relax. The cigarettes weren’t doing the job, and he didn’t
want to light up a joint. He had gotten rid of the ones he had, after the attack, swearing he wouldn’t get high again.
It was hard for him to give up pot, though--the thought of the euphoria was very appealing to him right now, agitated as he
was by reliving that beating even as he waited to go onstage. Freddie knew he had been attacked so brutally mainly because
he was not in complete control of his faculties that night. Still, he couldn’t ignore the big thing he had already discovered
about LA--it was the land of the perpetual high. Drugs seemed to be everywhere, especially in the entertainment industry.
It was as if they were legal, the way they were ever present. He knew that if he really wanted one, someone around the studio
could get him a joint, but fought the temptation.
Finally the stage manager came for Freddie and led him out.
He took a deep breath as he stood behind the multicolored curtain waiting for Johnny Carson to introduce him. “This
is for you, Anna,” he said to himself. Then he said a quiet little prayer to God that he would be great tonight.
Freddie bounded forward onto the stage as his name was called.
He went into his routine, honed on many comedy club stages before this night. Though he didn’t look directly into them,
he sensed the cameras trained on him, and noticed that the studio lights were brighter than in the clubs. He was grateful
for that one experience on TV back in New York—because of it, the cameras and audience didn’t seem totally strange
to him. The audience laughed at all of his jokes, and when he glanced over at the dais where Johnny Carson was sitting, Freddie
saw the great man laughing too. This helped him to relax more—he felt himself really getting into the groove.
Finally, at the end of the set, Freddie said, “Thank
you, you have been a great audience. To my family and friends at home, gracias for believing in me. And to one special person,
te amo, mi amor.” Freddie blew a kiss to the camera. He was about to exit the stage when he was surprised by Johnny.
Instead of exiting through the curtain like they had asked him to in rehearsal, Johnny asked him to take a seat next to him
on the dais. Freddie was shocked. He had never known a first time performer to be asked to sit on the dais. He swallowed hard,
slowly made his way over and sat in the chair next to Johnny’s desk. It was a dream come true for the young comedian.
The appearance on the Carson show was to open doors for Freddie
sooner than he expected. When he had first arrived in LA, he had contacted the agent recommended to him by Anna. Charlie Lind
turned out to be a great guy, and was really impressed with Freddie’s performance on the Tonight Show. A few days after
the appearance, he called Freddie at Alan’s apartment and told him that the producer for a new situation comedy had
seen his performance and was interested in having him test for a part on the new show. Freddie was beside himself with excitement.
As he left the apartment to meet with the producer and his agent at the TV studio, Alan told Freddie he planned on taking
him out for his 18th birthday that evening, and hoped to make it a victory celebration as well. When he arrived back at the
apartment several hours later, Alan was waiting anxiously for him. But in his hand was a letter from Nat, so Freddie was immediately
distracted and said nothing about the meeting. (He had called his mother and father the morning after the Carson show, but
other than that he had not heard anything from home until now.)
The envelope, by its shape and size, looked like it could
be a birthday card. Freddie forgot all about the audition as he tore into the envelope. Alan sat on the couch and bided his
time, smiling vaguely--he knew Freddie would share any career news with him when he got this excitement of out of his system.
Freddie opened the card and found a newspaper clipping along
with the birthday greeting. He ignored that and read what Nat had written:
Well, bro, it looks like good things come to those who wait.
Happy Birthday. Let me know how it all works out. You slayed them on TV the other night, you know. My man is now big time!
I’m taking great care of the folks for you, but I guess
we don’t have to worry anymore. Hope I can see you real soon.
Freddie stared at the cryptic note and wondered what Nat
meant by not having to worry anymore. It then dawned on him that the newspaper clipping might hold the answer. Nervously he
opened the paper and read the article Nat had circled for him. It was taken from the front page of the Newsday, dated a few
Local Mafia Boss’ Son dies in Prison Uprising
Antonio d’ Angelo, son of reputed small time mob boss,
Giacomo d’Angelo, died today of knife wounds inflicted by a fellow inmate during a small uprising at Attaca State Penitentiary.
Officials at the prison are still unsure what cause the riot in the cell block where d’ Angelo was housed. No one else
was hurt and the prison has been on lock down pending an investigation. D’ Angelo was serving a life sentence for the
shooting death of his brother in law, Arthur Harris, about a year ago. Services will be announced at a later date.
Freddie walked over to the couch and collapsed in shock.
Alan took the clipping from Freddie’s open hand and read the article to himself. “Freddie, isn’t this the
husband of your former agent?”
“Yeah,” Freddie said in a far away tone. Then
snapping back to reality, he jumped up. “Oh my God, Anna! I have to call someone…be right back.” Freddie
bolted into the bedroom and picked up the phone from the nightstand. He took out his wallet and removed the card Eddie had
given him with his work number. His hand shaking, Freddie dialed the long distance number and waited for the receptionist
at the precinct to answer. He breathlessly asked for Eddie.
“Sgt. Eddie Holtz speaking. How can I help you?”,
finally came the familiar line.
“Eddie, it’s Freddie Prinze. I’m sorry
I didn’t call you before this. It’s been a zoo out here and I haven’t had a moment to myself.”
“FREDDIE!” Eddie shouted into the mouthpiece
so loud that Freddie had to move the receiver away from his ear. “Man I have been trying to reach you for two days!”
“I bet. Nat just sent me the clipping from the newspaper.
What happened?” Freddie was anxious to hear all the details.
“Well, I don’t know much more than the papers
have reported. I guess you got the first accounts. All they have been able to determine was that the death was an inside job---some
around the precinct are speculating it was a hit. It is officially listed as an unsolved homicide.”
Freddie thought back to Nat and his connections.
The way he wrote “Happy Birthday” (which was already printed on the card) in his note--as well as “good
things come to those who wait” (when Freddie really hadn’t waited all that long for his break in show business)--made
him wonder if Nat hadn’t arranged this. Freddie hoped not. He didn’t want his friend to be in trouble on his account.
But the way Eddie made it sound, if it was an arranged hit, no one is in a big hurry to find out who did it and why. I guess
the death of a two-bit mobster isn’t a real priority with the cops, thought Freddie.
His thoughts shifted to his main reason for calling Eddie--Anna.
“Have you been in contact with Anna?” Freddie asked anxiously.
“Yeah, the day it happened. She wondered if she should
come out of hiding for the funeral, but I advised against it. Her condition was sure to cause a riot with the family. I told
her it was best to just forget the d’Angelo’s and move on with her life, because now they won’t bother pursuing
her. I suggested she make arrangements to come out to see you. She told me she had hoped I would tell her that!” Eddie
laughed, then went on, “I gave her my blessing and she is on her way out there now. The thing of it is, we weren’t
sure where you were, because you hadn’t contacted me. Anna told me she would call her agent friend when she got out
there and he would help her find you. She should be arriving this evening at LAX.”
Freddie sat down on the edge of the bed in shock. Alan had
come in to check up on his friend when he hadn’t heard anything for a few minutes. Eddie was getting concerned on the
other end of the phone as well. “You still there, Freddie?”
Freddie snapped out of it. “Yeah, I’m here. Thanks,
Eddie, for everything.”
“No problem. Glad to do it. By the way, I caught your
act on the television the other night. You’re good, my friend. You have real talent. I bet you will be a star really
soon. Good luck…and tell Anna to keep in touch with the old gang every once in a while. Treat her right, my friend.
She deserves it after all she has been through.”
“Yes, she does…I will. You take care--and thanks
Freddie hung up the phone. “What’s up, Freddie?,”
“That was the cop friend I was telling you about. He
told me Anna is on a plane right now on her way out here to see me.”
“Great! I guess from this article, the heat is off.”
“Looks that way. I can’t believe it! Anna will
be here soon, and she doesn’t know where I am staying. Eddie--that’s the cop--told me she would call Charlie when
she got out here. He said that she was flying into LAX. I gotta call Charlie and let him know.”
Freddie picked up the receiver and dialed his agent’s
number. “Charles Lind Talent Agency,” said the secretary.
“This is Freddie Prinze. Is Charlie in? It’s
“He is in his office, Mr. Prinze. I will connect you.”
“Thanks, mami.” Freddie waited impatiently for
Charlie to answer his phone.“Hi, Freddie, what’s up?”
“I need your help. I just found out that Anna is on
her way out here to see me, but doesn’t know where I am. She will be calling you.” Freddie took a second to catch
“Whoa, hold on a minute. Slow down. Who told you this?”
Freddie tried to calm his mind so he would make sense. Still,
his words came tumbling out, “I got home just now and got a card from a friend from my old neighborhood. In it was a
newspaper clipping with an article telling of the death of Anna’s husband in prison. I called the cop who has been working
on the case and he told me Anna would be arriving at LAX this evening. I hadn’t gotten a chance to call the cop with
my phone number out here, so he told me that Anna would call you and have you help her find me. When she calls, call me. I
want to go with you to the airport.”
“Sure, sure. No problem, Freddie. Calm down, though.
It sounds like you are going to bust a gut.”
“Sorry, but you don’t know the whole story. I
don’t think I can go into it now, it is a long one. I promise to fill you in later, though. Right now I want to keep
your line open for her call.” Freddie was out of breath.
“OK, OK. I’ll call you the minute I hear from
her. Take it easy, I don’t want my new star keeling over on me.”
Freddie laughed as he willed himself to get a grip. “Ok,
I promise. Talk to you soon, bye.”
“Bye yourself.” And Charlie hung up.
“So?” Alan asked in anticipation.
Freddie took a really deep breath and walked quickly out
of the bedroom to the kitchen for a glass of water, talking over his shoulder, “He is going to call as soon as Anna
calls him. I guess I will have to take a rain check from you on the party.”
“HELL NO!”, shouted Alan, catching up and slapping
Freddie on the back. “We have even more to celebrate now! Your woman is coming to join you and it’s your birthday.
What more reason to celebrate?”
“Yeah, you’re right.” As Freddie took a
swallow of water, he remembered the interview of a few hours ago. Sputtering, he exclaimed, “Wow, man, I completely
forgot! I’m gonna star in a TV show! The producer liked what he saw and wants to cast me--I can’t wait to tell
“Alllrriiight!” Alan exclaimed and patted Freddie
on the back again. “My friend, the TV star…looks like you will be able to afford the rent now!”
Freddie laughed with his friend. “I dunno. I think
if all goes the way I hope, Anna and I will be setting up residence, permanently.”
Alan looked at Freddie seriously for a minute. “You
think that is wise? Freddie, you are only 18. Why do you want to tie yourself down with a woman just as your career is taking
“You don’t understand, man. Anna is more than
just a woman. Not many people know this, but she is going to be the mother of my baby.”
“Oh,” answered Alan. “I guess that changes
things a bit. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I love the lady, and things will work
out, you’ll see.”
“I just hope you know what you are doing, Freddie,”
said Alan cautiously. You’re young and this is a crazy town. But you know I have your back.”
“Thanks, man, I appreciate that,” said Freddie
Several hours later, Freddie, Alan and Charlie were by gate
6, waiting for Anna’s flight to get in. When the plane landed and the passengers started to disembark, Freddie broke
through the crowd and headed up the ramp looking for Anna. When he spotted her, he raced against the stream of people, grabbed
her and hugged her, lifting her up off her feet. Kissing her with much passion, he put her down and said, “Mami, you
are a sight for these sore eyes. How are you? Are you feeling ok? How’s the baby? Did you have a good flight? I missed
you so much, bebe.”
Anna smiled at his impetuous greeting. “Slow down,
Freddie. I’m fine, the baby’s fine, and I missed you too, bebe.”
The crowd started to dissipate as Freddie and Anna walked
hand in hand down the walkway to the waiting Charlie and Alan. Freddie introduced her to his two friends, and the foursome
headed for the baggage claim to get Anna’s bags. Freddie asked her a thousand questions, until Anna finally told him
she was too tired to talk about her ordeal anymore. “Past is past. I think it is best to bury my dead and move on. After
all, we both have a lot of future ahead of us. So tell me…how are things out here for you?”
“Always my agent, I see,” grinned Freddie. “Did
you see the show?”
“You think I would miss it?” Anna kidded, “You
were dynamite, but I knew you would be. I was in shock, though, when Carson called you over to the chair. You realize that
never happens on a first appearance?”
“I know. I was sooooo nervous.”
“Well you didn’t look it, Freddie. You looked
so natural sitting there talking to Mr. Carson. You did great. I bet you will be getting lots of phone calls now.”
The group had arrived at the limo Charlie had rented for
the occasion. Anna was impressed. As they got in and settled, Freddie pulled Anna close to him on the seat and kissed her.
“I will be able to afford this all the time for you, bebe. You are right about the phone calls. Charlie got one from
a TV producer yesterday. Today I went in for a tryout. You are looking at one of the stars of a new sitcom this fall.”
Freddie smiled, busting with pride.
“Oh, Freddie, that’s wonderful. I knew you would
be a hit out here.”
“We are a hit, mami. You are going to be by my side
from now on. Let’s fly up to Reno this weekend and get hitched.”
Anna got serious for a minute. “Freddie, wait. Look,
I want to be by your side as much as you want me to be there. And I know this baby is part of the reason you want to get married
so soon. But you know, you are just 18 today. You have so much of your life ahead of you. I’m going to have this baby
and keep it. I want you to be a part of his life too. Maybe we should even get a place together…” She paused and
sighed heavily, “But let’s wait for a little bit before we make it official. I just found out I am a widow, and
even though I have no love lost for Antonio, I think it would be good to get used to being Anna Harris again, before I become
Anna Prinze.” She pulled a small box out of her purse. “Remember this?”
Freddie took the box from her hands. He knew it contained
the ruby friendship ring he had given her for Valentine’s day. He opened the box and took the ring from its velvet bed.
“You gave me that ring and I have kept it, waiting
for the day I could wear it. Now I can. Put it on my finger and let’s say it is a pledge of our love--that could lead
to marriage when the time is right and we are both ready, OK?”
Freddie wanted Anna so badly at that moment,
but in a way he knew she was right. At least she still wanted him to be a part of her life and the life of their child. And
maybe she was right about taking things a bit slower. Patience wasn’t something Freddie practiced very well. But so
much was happening to him right now, he figured waiting a bit before they got married wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
“OK, Anna.” He placed the ring on her left ring finger. “Anna Harris, will you be my wife, when the time
“Yes, my Prinze Charming. And I promise it won’t
be too long. Somehow I know things will work out. Now I think we should go someplace and celebrate with your friends. After
all, you’re the birthday boy!”
“That’s right! Today I am a MAN!
Whooppeeee!” As the limo sped through the traffic of LA on its way to Freddie’s birthday celebration, he snuggled
next to Anna, not caring that Charlie and Alan were there to see his affection for the woman he loved. “God,”
Freddie said in the silence of his heart, “Thank you, man. For everything. Help me to make the most of all the opportunities
you have put before me.” And he settled back to think about where his life would lead him now.