Reluctantly, he turned his attention back to Matt Daley. “No. I haven’t heard a word from him since I saw him at your place. He’s not there with you?”
“If he were here with me, I wouldn’t be calling, would I?” snapped Claire. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to take it out on you. But I’m worried about him. He left me a voice mail last night that literally made no sense.”
“Did he say where he was?”
“Yeah. He’s in Italy.”
“Uh-huh. The Amalfi coast. He said he had some lead about the man who may have abducted Lisa. To be frank with you, I’m surprised he had the money for a plane ticket. God knows how he’s surviving out there.”
Danny’s heart sank. Matt had sworn to him that he’d let it go, that he wouldn’t go chasing down this maniac on his own. Now that the powers that be at Interpol had officially sanctioned Operation Azrael, the last thing Danny needed was a mentally unstable Matt Daley crashing through his case like a bull elephant, interfering with potential witnesses and, for all he knew, withholding key evidence. He’d made no mention of an Italian “lead” when he and Danny met.
“Did he say anything else?”
“He said a lot of things, but like I said, he was rambling. He said Lisa’s lover wasn’t her lover. He was gay. He said that she knew him before she knew Miles, which for some reason he thought was important, but that he ‘couldn’t be Azrael,’ that you and the other officers were on the wrong track. Who the hell is Azrael?”
“No one,” said Danny. “It’s a code name. Don’t worry about it.”
He too was worried about Matt, personally as well as professionally. “I appreciate your calling me,” he told Claire. “I’m on my way to an important meeting right now, but afterward I’ll try to contact your brother again. In the meantime, if you hear anything else, anything at all…”
“I’ll let you know. He’s not…he’s not in any danger, is he?”
Danny could hear the anxiety in her voice.
“No,” he lied. “I don’t think so. I’ll put a call in to the local police in Amalfi, just in case. Ask them to keep an eye out for him.”
The conversation with Claire Michaels was bothering him. Had Matt Daley really gotten a useful lead on Lisa’s lover? Without talking to him, it was impossible to figure out how much of what he’d told his sister was real, and how much a figment of his fevered, anxiety-racked imagination. By the time Danny reached Dublenko’s apartment, his train of thought was hopelessly muddled.
Lyle Renalto. Frankie Mancini. What connection could the boy in the yearbook photograph possibly have to Italy and Lisa Baring? Why was Danny even here?
Five minutes later Victor Dublenko appeared to be asking himself the same question, glaring at Danny from his grimy, vinyl La-Z-Boy recliner.
“I got nothing to say.”
Dublenko’s living room was disgusting, a fetid dump littered with stained cushions, needles, dead marijuana plants and half-eaten plates of food. Down the hallway, the two bedrooms were cleaner. Clients expected a certain standard of hygiene, and Victor Dublenko made sure he provided it. Bedrooms were for business. But for himself, Victor was quite happy to live in shit.
“I don’t like cops.”
Danny McGuire shrugged amiably. “I don’t like pimps. But hey, what are you gonna do? We’re each an occupational hazard of the other.”
Victor Dublenko laughed, a phlegmy, guttural sound that quickly morphed into a hacking cough. Pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket, he spat something vile into it and stuffed it back into the pocket.
“So we don’t like each other. But we can still do business, right? You pay, I talk.”
Just then a very young, very skinny girl in shorts and a vest wandered into the room looking disoriented. Victor Dublenko snarled at her and she scurried out like a frightened beetle. Poor kid, thought Danny. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen. Scum like Dublenko made him want to puke. But he reminded himself why he was here, how many lives might depend on Dublenko’s information, and bit his tongue. Pulling a wad of fifties out of his jacket pocket, he licked his fingers and made a show of counting them before carefully putting them back.
“I prefer ‘you talk, I pay,’ if it’s all the same to you, Mr. Dublenko.”
Without taking his eyes off the pocket with the money in it, the pimp said flatly, “So whaddaya want to know?”
Danny handed over the yearbook picture. “Do you remember this guy?”
“Jesus!” Dublenko smiled, revealing a crooked collection of mostly gold teeth. “Frankie Mancini, man. Where the fuck you get this?” The coughing was back with a vengeance. Danny McGuire waited for Victor to clear his tobacco-ruined lungs, gasping for breath like a stranded fish.
“From the Beeches. I was there earlier. A Mrs. Waites mentioned that you and Frankie were both residents of the home between 1986 and 1988 and that you were close. Is that correct?”
Victor Dublenko’s green eyes narrowed. “Mrs. Waites. That old bitch is still alive?”
“Is that correct, Mr. Dublenko?”
Victor nodded. “You know a lot about my past, Detective. I’m flattered.”
Danny didn’t bother to conceal his contempt. “Frankly, I’m not interested in your past. I’m interested in Frankie Mancini. When did you last see him?”
Dublenko shook his head. “A long time ago, man. Years, too many years. Maybe twenty?”
“Right here, in New York. He got transferred to another home the year after this picture was taken and we kept in touch for a while. But then he got a job out west somewhere and that was that.”
Out west. Los Angeles…Where he became Lyle Renalto and met Angela Jakes…Where it all started.
“You never heard from him again?”
“We weren’t exactly the pen-pal types,” Dublenko sneered. “So what are you after him for? He done something wrong? Robbed a bank?”
“Would it surprise you if he had?”
Dublenko reflected for a moment. “Yeah, it would, actually. I always figured he’d do well for himself.”
“Why’d you figure that?”
“Well, for one thing, he was smart. Foreign languages, math, there was nothing that kid couldn’t do. And for another, just look at him. With a face like that, your life is easy.”
The words could have been interpreted as bitter, but there was no resentment in Dublenko’s tone. Quite the opposite in fact. He sounded admiring. Nostalgic. Affectionate, even.
“Easy in what way? You mean he was successful with girls?”
A grin spread across Dublenko’s toadlike features. “Frankie wasn’t interested in girls, Detective. That wasn’t his team, if you know what I mean.”
A shiver ran down Danny’s spine. What had Claire Michaels said to him about Matt Daley’s call from Italy? “Lisa’s lover wasn’t her lover. He was gay. He couldn’t be Azrael. You’re on the wrong track.”
“Now, that’s not to say women weren’t interested in him. The bitches were all over him like flies. And like I say, Frankie was smart. He used that power to his advantage.”
Danny thought of Lyle Renalto, the way that he’d wheedled his way into Angela Jakes’s life, how he’d gotten her to trust him, perhaps even lured her to her death.
“Used it in what way?”
“Oh, you know. He’d get girls to do stuff for him, get him gifts, cover for him when he broke curfew. Little shit like that. But he never really dug women, if you know what I mean.”
Danny was growing tired of Dublenko’s less than subtle euphemisms. “I get it, Dublenko. Frankie was gay.”
“Yeah, he was gay, all right, but it was more than that. I kinda got the feeling that women, like, repulsed him. Not just sexually, but as people. Apart from the princess, of course.”
Dublenko’s expression soured. “Princess Sofia. That’s what he called her. Fuck knows what her real name was. Frankie was totally obsessed by her.”
“You resented their friendship?”
“Ah, whatever.” Dublenko waved a hand dismissively. “It was bullshit, that’s all. I remember Frankie telling me she was descended from the Moroccan royal family. Like, sure. That’s how she wound up dumped on the streets in Brooklyn, right?”
Danny hesitated. Something Dublenko just said had reminded him of something, but he couldn’t think what.
“I left the Beeches before Sofia arrived there, but I met her once, right before Frankie left town, and a precious little bitch she was too. I heard that before she met Frankie, the male staff at her previous home used to pass her around like one of those blowup dolls. Give it to her up her royal ass.” Victor Dublenko laughed lecherously at the memory. “She was just another skank, used goods, but Frankie didn’t want to hear it. ‘My princess,’ he called her. She put some kinda spell on him.”
After satisfying himself that Dublenko had told him all he knew, Danny paid him and caught a cab back to his hotel. It was dark now and bitterly cold outside. Retreating to the warm cocoon of his room, he locked the door, threw his notes, tape recorder and briefcase on the bed and checked his messages. Nothing interesting. After a brief call to Céline—for the third night in a row Danny got to tell his wife’s voice mail how much he loved and missed her—and another failed attempt to reach Matt Daley, he dialed Claire Michaels’s number.