|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.35(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Paul A. Lavallee
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Paul A. Lavallee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Bocce Courts
Somebody broke into the bocce court building over at the Italian American War Veterans Post. It happened sometime after last night's highly competitive bocce league play, which ended at approximately 10PM.
Although nothing appeared to be missing, there really wasn't anything in the building worth stealing. The old TV set with its rabbit ears had been donated some time ago by someone who had bought a new one, and it worked quite well for several years until recent changes in television broadcasting, from analog to digital, had outdated the old set. Oddly enough, though, it somehow still commands an eye-catching position up there on the shelf, staring back at you with its gloomy black screen.
The kitchen chairs along the outer sides of the two courts are a mismatch of the 1950's era chrome and multi-colored vinyl seats and backrests. Not so surprisingly, then, with some fifty-plus years having passed since those memorable years, and already well into the next century, that the chrome is now totally pitted with rust, the vinyl cracked and faded, apparently both victims of an unnoticed passage of time, or perhaps an unwavering "not my problem" complacency.
The card tables in the common area are leveled with cardboard coasters taken from the bar in the Post's main building across the parking lot. Maybe not much to steal, but somebody broke in nonetheless.
This was not a matter for the police to solve. In fact this was not the first time that the bocce courts had been broken into. The police would only complicate things, just as they did the last time the courts were broken into almost two years ago now—with no arrests—and they hadn't so much as interrogated any of the likely suspects, either.
And so, decidedly without police intervention, the overall consensus of the mainly retired men who frequent the courts on a daily basis is what matters here more than anything else, except for one man's silent skepticism. Almost totally hidden amid the debris of the broken door and its shattered frame, Fred Graziani notices a small button wedged tightly within the splinters. The other men, too busy offering their varied opinions in trying to figure out who could have done this dastardly deed, don't think anything of it when Fred pretends that he is merely casually running his fingers over the splinters, when in fact he is actually recovering the button, which he slips into his pocket unnoticed.
This particular button obviously comes from the sleeve of a jacket, he decides, one of those common buttons molded of brown plastic that is made to look like leather. It will be interesting for Fred in his secret search for the culprit, and the culprit is very likely to be a member of this Post. All Fred has to do is wait it out for awhile, sort of keep an eye out for someone wearing a jacket with a missing button, both here in the bocce court building as well as over at the ITAM bar. Of course, his motive for identifying the person in question is nothing more than a challenge for him—a game he will play, although he has no desire to confront anyone. He simply wants to know who did it, for curiosity sake, and that will be that. He hasn't felt quite so challenged since he retired from his 37 year career as head of the science department over at Granite Park High School, except perhaps, for some of the many opponents he's faced in his weekly Karate classes.
A few of these elderly gentlemen rarely play bocce anymore, some perhaps physically unable to play. Others seem to have no interest whatsoever in playing, for whatever reason. What the bocce court building has become over the past several years is a clubhouse, a gathering place for the retired elderly. In an ironic twist of things the town had not so long ago built a beautiful four million dollar senior center across town, but many of the senior men as well as a few of the senior women still prefer to gather here at the ITAM bocce courts.
The courts are reserved on Monday mornings into the early afternoon for a ladies league. Several of the women players are as good if not better than their male counterparts. The mixed league of both men and women on Wednesday afternoons, as well as again on Thursday evenings proves that out. There is always activity and excitement at the bocce courts, where good fellowship and heated arguments are commonplace.
Chapter TwoThe Post Quarters
The Post's bar and lounge is located in the basement of the main building. However, due to the building's location in a high water table area because of the nearby river, the basement is actually half in and half out of the ground. A function hall complete with kitchen and service bar occupies the first floor. It is selectively rented out to the public for a variety of occasions.
The Post also schedules its own dinner-dances as well as other post functions. As a matter of fact, plans are currently being discussed by members of the ladies auxiliary regarding having an annual Bocce Championship pasta dinner dance sometime in the fall of the year, once the season ends. Tickets for events like this sell out very quickly, mainly because the Italian sausages and the meatballs are second to none, handmade by a nearby Italian deli.
One flight up from the hall is the office, confined to a fairly small area due to constraints dictated by the building's roofline.
Membership in the Post is open to all veterans, regardless of nationality. This is a relatively recent change in eligibility. Previously, say 10 or so years ago, a veteran had to have at least one parent of Italian descent to be eligible to join. However, new state and federal laws governing discrimination came into effect and that ended the exclusive eligibility requirement. Non-veterans may join as social members and are afforded the same privileges as regular members, except that they cannot vote on Post business or run for office. A card-key is issued to all members, whether regular or social, electronically allowing everyone to gain access to the Post's bar and lounge area, as well as to the rest rooms for the bocce crowd.
The break-in had been discussed all morning long and well into the afternoon by the old timers over in the bocce courts. It would be difficult for a stranger to tell for sure if the afternoon old timers are the same ones who gather there in the morning. There are so many gray-haired elderly retirees dropping by everyday that they seem to blend into the environment, coming and going almost unnoticed.
Most of these folks are retirees from the now defunct local sweat shops, where piece-work working conditions determined your pay. If you went over your quota for the day, management would re-time your job. If you couldn't keep up the pace, they would tolerate you for one shift, or maybe two, before threatening you with "Or else!" And they meant it, despite the fact that many of these retirees are honorably discharged war vets.
Many of these elderly came from a time when there was plenty of production work around—the 1940's, 50's, 60's and well into the 1970's and '80's. For example, the local shoe shops, three right here in Granite Park, produced some 200 pair a day, 300 during WWII, of which 150 pair were combat boots for the military. The nearby rubber shop produced rubber-coated ponchos and rubber soles and heels for the military, wading boots for fisherman, as well as many other rubber-based products. The hat shop in a nearby town produced hundreds upon hundreds of ladies hats, many to become Easter bonnets for New York City's Easter Parade back during those more formal years when ladies hats were in vogue.
Then there is that huge factory just over the hill in the next village, priding itself on once being the largest manufacturer of textile machinery in the world. It is said that some four thousand men and women worked there during WWII, when the loom building business was converted to building weapons of war.
Sadly, all that remains there now from that memorable era is the haunting shell of a once-vibrant, now abandoned brick building. Also gone is the huge General Motors plant a few miles down the highway. It once provided work for human robots on its challenging and ulcer-causing assembly lines. Oh, the building is still there, massive in its footprint, yet haunted by its past, a stark reminder perhaps that several thousand workers once made their living there. The property is currently occupied by a used-car auction house with comparatively few employees.
And last but certainly not least is the business for which the town is named: the pink granite quarries that produced footings cornerstones and building blocks for many of Manhattan's skyscrapers, Washington, D.C.'s monumental structures, as well as for untold numbers of projects in locations throughout the world.
Many of those jobs still exist, but not here in the Granite Park area, or perhaps not even here in this country. Maybe in China or Taiwan or Mexico—who knows? Only the rubber shop still operates here, with questionable, perhaps undocumented help, or so the rumor has it. As one congressional candidate said recently during his re-election campaign, "There are no more jobs in America for Americans. Our sated leaders and greedy CEO's have sold us out. Unless we make a drastic turn-around, and soon, we are doomed. If I'm re-elected ..." Blah, blah, blah!!
Fortunately, at least for many of these bocce court folks, they made it into their retirement years before our politicians and CEO's let their jobs slip away. Many others are not so fortunate. Apparently the American manufacturing industry is alive and well, although living in foreign lands.
The nine granite quarries of Granite Park have been idle and abandoned for well over sixty years now. Huge slabs of granite lie scattered askew atop one another on the fringes of the vast, seemingly bottomless abysses of the quarries, as though frozen in time. The narrow access roads leading into each of these deserted quarries have been blocked off with cables for safety reasons. Without the cables, a stranger to the area could inadvertently drive right over the edge of the chasm and plunge into the water-filled and fathomless depths, with little chance of survival.
Every now and then the Granite Park safety officer inspects the quarry sites, often finding to his exasperation that the cables he'd had strung across the access roads have been cut, leaving a very, very dangerous pathway to the unsuspecting.
And so, other than providing precarious swimming holes for local teenagers over the many years, the quarries are often used as illegal dumping sites for unwanted appliances—stoves, lawn mowers, refrigerators, etc, etc. Untold numbers of automobiles, too! On one particular weekend not so long ago, seventeen autos were hauled up from the depths of just one of the quarries. The dangerous recovery was sponsored mainly by several insurance companies, and performed by local and state police scuba diving associations. Some cars had been listed by the police as having been stolen, while other owners also claimed to have been victimized, despite having been three and four months behind in their payments. There are many reasons why the safety cables get snipped every so often.
Chapter ThreeThe Post Bar and Lounge
But it is now 3 PM, the usual weekday opening time for the ITAM Post's bar and lounge, and the first arrivals of the day are beginning to buzz themselves in with their card-key and head for their favorite bar stool. Most of these bar regulars do not play bocce. Many haven't even seen the inside of the bocce building, but then many of the bocce court clubhouse folks hardly ever step foot inside the main building, either, other than to pee. Spend a buck for a mug of Bud? Forget it. But then, even Budweiser, the great Anheuser-Busch all-American beer company got greedy, and like many other greedy American companies either sold out to foreigners or shifted some of their operations to foreign lands, companies such as Coors and Hershey, as well as many other well known and once proud American companies. Some folks are said to be weaning themselves off of Hershey chocolate since the company's recent announcement that it is shifting ten percent of its operations to Mexico, which probably is just a beginning.
Four bar regulars greet each other as Mike Conti, the weekday afternoon bartender, unlocks the large beer cooler and slides the glass door open. He glances back over his shoulder, and from this he automatically selects four bottles of beer: two Buds, one Coors Light and one Miller Light. It is this kind of a bar, where most of the twelve part-time bartenders know who drinks what.
"I've got this round," insists Jake Manning, the town's plumbing inspector, slapping a ten spot down on the bar. "I won twenty-five bucks on Keno yesterday."
"Ya!" chuckles his pal Henry Gallo of the water department, "How much did it cost you to win that?"
"Okay, okay," shrugs Jake. "So I ended up winning only five bucks. So what?"
Eddie Giancola is sitting by himself at the other end of the bar quietly watching TV. He has his eyes glued to ESPN, the sports channel, but he is also talking to somebody on his cell phone—likely taking a bet. Everybody knows.
Just then, Mario Ridolfi buzzes himself into the bar area with his card key and hurries across the lounge area towards the restrooms, predictably without so much as a glance over to the bar. He is one of the more elderly gents out there in the bocce courts who has never spent one red cent in the Post bar area—or likely anywhere else for that matter. His children and grand-children will have a picnic with his money when he goes, some say. When he returns from the men's room moments later, he walks even more rapidly across the lounge area towards the door, as though if he slowed down someone might suggest that he buy a round of beer. Fat chance! Or slim chance! Whatever.
Mike the bartender hollers over to him, "Hey, Mario, what's happening out there in the bocce courts? Any arguments today?"
Hesitating briefly, Mario turns and replies in slightly broken English, "Somebody broke the back door."
"Who would do that?" asks Mike, thinking that one of the bocce people might have slammed the door shut and accidentally broke it.
"We don't know," shrugs Mario. "It was like that early this morning. The door was on the floor when we got here. The door frame is, how you say, shattered, too." And he turns quickly and scampers up the few steps to the door.
"Sounds to me like deja vu all over again," suggests Jake Manning. "Didn't somebody break in there last winter—or was it maybe the winter before?"
Henry Gallo nods and replies, "I remember that. They never caught anybody, but some say that it was likely one of our own members going through a bad time. I could name you a couple of suspects right now, but I won't. Too much drinking and too much Keno will do that to you. You go home half drunk night after night, you gamble your pay on Keno, you get kicked out of the house by your frustrated wife, and then you have the nerve to wonder why. Christ Almighty!"
Everyone mumbles agreement just as Big Joe Rivello and George Ryan buzz themselves in and head for the bar.
"Hey, guys," greets bartender Mike, pleasantly. "Bud and Miller Light?"
"Right on, Mike," says Big Joe, before continuing with, "What's everybody doing out there behind the bocce courts?"
"Probably trying to fix the back door," replies Al Gallo. "Somebody broke in last night. Knocked the door right off its hinges."
Al shrugs, "What's there to steal other than bocce balls? No, we think that some guy just needed a place to sleep for the night, somebody down and out; somebody going through a bad time."
Big Joe questions that. "But the temperature was down in the low thirties last night, and when you consider the wind-chill factor, Christ, it must have been somewhere in the high teens. They don't heat that place at night, do they?"
"No," replies Al Gallo, "but to this poor bastard, the building probably seemed like heaven compared to the outside. At least he got away from that wild wind that came up in the middle of the night."
Mike the bartender asks, "But why'd he have to knock the door down?"
"Maybe he didn't mean to," ponders Jake Manning. "He probably took a running start and knocked that door down with his shoulder. I'll bet it surprised the hell outta him when the whole thing fell in, frame and all."
Excerpted from FireWatch by Paul A. Lavallee Copyright © 2011 by Paul A. Lavallee. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.