(Well a bit of time has passed, so let’s give you another chunk to chew on.  If you have no idea what’s going on here, you’ve dropped into a crime novel that’s a work in progress, and you can get to the beginning by clicking on the Archives section, back to the July 16th post, They Had the Right to Remain Silent (1).  In the next few posts, let’s learn a little bit more about our Detectives.  And maybe you’ll get a recipe mixed in to boot!)
They Had the Right to Remain Silent
Richard S. Jachimecki
Chapter ( xxxiv ) continues…
     The streets were becoming populated as Becker traveled northeast to St. Mark’s Place, off 2nd Avenue. He resisted the urge to turn on his police radio and listen to chatter. Take the day off, Mason.
     Parking was already tougher to find, and he squeezed into a spot, leaving about a foot of space between bumpers, from the cars in front and to the rear. Stores and bistros were operating or in the process of starting their day, and some of the vendors were setting up tables on the sidewalks, to peddle their wares street- side, taking advantage of the crystal blue skies above. The ambient temperature was now pleasant enough for Becker to leave his leather jacket in the car. He opened the trunk and placed the jacket inside, then retrieved a nylon shell to replace it. He slid his arms through the sleeves and adjusted the coat. He was comfortable, and his 9 millimeter was once more concealed.
     He approached a florist shoppe which was just opening for business, and reasoned that flowers would be a safe gift for Lana, but the essence of toasted beans that emanated from the café directly across the street diverted his attention. He went over to the restaurant, ordered an espresso, then took it outside and sat at one of the small round tables in the front courtyard.
      Becker watched a petite young woman on the other side of the street with her flowers, hurrying in and out of the shoppe’s propped open door, as she set up different arrangements on the tabletop, or placed wrapped bouquets into water- filled, five- gallon buckets located on the sidewalk just below it. She wore a light, earth- toned tan peasant shirt and a pair of bluejeans, faded to white in several spots. The straps of her leather sandals were fastened over brown and yellow socks, striped in bumblebee- fashion, with individual toes knitted in the ends. Her long, silky black hair was drawn upward and tied with bands, on the left and right sides of the crown of her head, resulting in symmetrically feathered plumes cascading outward. Her coif and cheerful greetings to all passersby gave Becker the impression of a Yorkshire Terrier, or better yet a Papillon, excited by their master’s arrival home at the end of the workday.
     Below street level, practically hidden next to the café behind clinging ivy, was a walk- down cubbyhole of a store, selling new and used books. Becker finished his coffee, checked his watch, and decided to peruse the shop’s interior, to pass time and wait for the perky florist to complete her setup. He took the four concrete steps to basement level, then pushed the door open.
      The store ran through the entire length of the building and a small handwritten sign, taped to a rack filled with Cliff Notes, beckoned customers to visit the garden patio in the back for more selections. Yellowed pine shelving covered most of the exposed brick walls on the left and right, interrupted only by plumbing. The four- inch, cast iron waste drains were like black tree trunks sprouting out of the floor, their branches the smaller diameter pipelines that weaved their way outward, spreading along their paths an inch below the ceiling, elbowing ninety- or forty five- degree turns here and there, to avoid the bare- bulb light sockets. The conduit was painted the same glossy white as the plywood above it, in an effort to camouflage what looked like a freeway conjured in the mind of Dr. Seuss. Three more cases of bookshelves stood floor- to- ceiling, parallel to the long walls, across the rear half of the room. They were shimmied with pieces of two- by- fours on their top planks, to compensate for occasional dips in the warped plywood above them. Box fans hung from chains and circulated the air within. Becker noted a musty scent mixed in with those of paper and ink. The two- inch strip oak floor creaked with every step taken, its varnish long since worn away by customer traffic, and was as gray as the pavement outside.
      There were four other browsers scattered amidst the narrow aisles, and a well- preened man sat behind the counter to Becker’s right, carefully finishing his McMuffin breakfast, alternating his bites with napkin wipes, while reading The Village Voice. A small radio sat on the countertop next to him, a commentary on NPR crackling through its lone speaker, the reception hampered by interference from the pipes.
      Becker scanned the shelves, with sections identified by sheets of paper thumbtacked to the edges of the soft pine. Established subject matter was displayed in stenciled block lettering, while newer additions had the same uneven cursive of the placard he saw on the rack when he first entered.
     Large portions were occupied under the genres of Philosophy, New York Culture, Politics, History, and The Arts. Becker chuckled to himself when he noticed a shelf labeled War, Guns, and Ammo squeezed in amongst the other groupings, and contemplated the correlation. He took his time going up and down all the aisles, reading the jacket blurbs off several selections in each genre, hoping for something to pique his interest. He noticed the man at the counter – finished with the breakfast, the man folded his paper bag and wrapper, then aggressively wiped his beard and shirt front for crumbs. Satisfied, he placed the refuse into a nearby wastebasket, rather than tossing it, then went back to his reading. Becker mused there should be a sign pinned near the clerk marked Anal Retentive.
      On the back wall, next to the door leading to the patio, was a shelf marked Word Games and Brain- Teasers. Becker’s index finger glided horizontally along the spines, as he read the titles. It came to rest when he reached a paperback standing seven inches tall, two inches thick, snuggled between the larger softcovers of Crosswords and Suduko. Becker wrestled the book from its tight squeeze, then smiled as he flipped through the pages.
      Perfect, he thought. He made his way to the front checkout counter, now having to side- step other patrons through the close quarters, as the store had filled considerably since he first entered. He placed the book on the countertop and pulled out his wallet from his back trousers pocket. The clerk winced as he read the title, then looked up at Becker with a disapproving expression.
      “To ward off Alzheimer’s,” Becker said, grinning at the clerk. He handed over a ten- dollar bill.
      “One can only hope,” the clerk said, as he rang up the purchase and gave Becker his change from the sale, then placed the book in a small bag. Becker noticed the clerk’s meticulously groomed facial hair, as he put the money in his jacket side pocket, picked up the book from the countertop, and headed toward the exit. He open the door, then turned back to the clerk.
      “By the way, chief,” Becker said, “you’ve got some egg action going on in that beard.” The clerk’s face was pristine, but his widened eyes gave Becker the satisfaction of knowing the condescending ass would be scrounging for a mirror and comb for the next few minutes.
      The café courtyard tables were now all occupied, and the sidewalks getting crowded; New Yorkers basking in the day’s deliverance of Indian summer warmth, after its chilly start in the wee hours of the morning. Becker crossed the street toward the florist with the striped socks. She was engaged in a lighthearted conversation with an elderly couple; the gentleman presented to his wife a dozen long- stemmed roses he’d just purchased.
      “Sixty years,” the florist said, as Becker approached and overheard, “well, God bless you two.” She drew a red carnation from one of the bouquets in the water buckets, snapped its stem short, then slid the stem into the buttonhole of the gentleman’s sportscoat.
      “That’s for you, Ernie,” she said, then kissed both of them on the cheek. They continued down the sidewalk.
      “Good morning, Sunshine!” she said, looking upward, as Becker, at six- two, stood fifteen inches taller than she. Her head bobbed side- to- side with each syllable uttered, “You look like you could use some beautiful flowers to go with this gorgeous day.” He just grinned, thinking his countenance didn’t much bring to mind the image of flowers.
      The woman’s genuine smile, cheery salutation, and welcoming spirit, in such stark contrast to his experience with the clerk at the bookstore, caught Becker off guard…if she had asked, I’d have probably handed over my wallet, he thought.
      “Do you want something like this bouquet,” she said, holding up red and white roses, “for someone special?”
      “More of a housewarming gift,” he said, “no romance.”
      “Romance is everywhere, doll,” she said, handing him a red rose from the bouquet, “just remember this place, when it comes around for you.”
      She started to look through the assortment on the table. Two men in their thirties slowed down to look at the arrangements.
      “So, for Halloween, what do you want to go as?” one asked the other.
      “Why not do what we did as last year?” his mate said.
      “A horse? No way.”
      “They loved us at the parade, and during the block party!”
      “And why do you know that? What part were you?”
      “Let’s not start this again.”
      “I’ll do it, but I’m the head piece this time.”
      “I have a bad back.”
      “So did I, by the end of the day. Keep on thinking.”
      They walked across the street and were still bickering as they entered the café.
      “Are you having dinner there…at this house?” the woman asked Becker. He nodded.
      “Then,” she said, “we’re talking centerpiece.”
      The woman pursed her lips and tapped at her nose with her pointer finger, as she scanned her dozen or so blooming creations. She picked up an arrangement by its crystalline vase, filled with daffodils, yellow- and peach- colored roses, and calla lilies. Interspersed amongst them stood the brown cylinders of cattails, with their yellow spike tops and their leaves, like large blades of grass jutting out from below. She placed it on the front of the tabletop near Becker.
      “This will give a nice warm feeling,” she said, “to the whole room,” she extended her arms wide for emphasis.
      “Those are interesting,” Becker said, pointing to the paper- thin, bright orange, bulbous husks that accented the bottom portion of the arrangement, “they look like little pumpkins.”
      “The Chinese lanterns?” she said, “Sometimes, they’re called ‘Love in a Cage’.”
      “Oh,” he said. He remembered the Cage he’d seen earlier. Not a lot of love going on there, he thought.
      “Pumpkin!” she said, clapping her hands together, then, “Could you watch everything for a second?” She picked up the vase, “I’ll be right back…promise.”
      “Sure,” he said. She picked up the vase, then turned and went into her shoppe, the hair plumes on her head swayed with every step.
      He checked his watch, then looked over at the café. The two Halloweeners were still in their animated argument, now seated at one of the court tables. The warm air around Becker carried the subtle scents of roses, honeysuckle, mums and gardenia in the gentle breeze of the early afternoon.
      “This’ll do the trick,” she said, bouncing back out to the sidewalk, “whatta ya think?” She had replaced the glass vessel with a ceramic pumpkin to hold the floral cluster. She placed the improved version back on the tabletop.
      “That will do very nicely,” he said, pulled out his wallet and paid her, “I appreciate all your extra efforts.” He picked up the arrangement, waved off the change she offered, then turned to head back to the GT.
      “Don’t forget me, when the love- bug bites,” she said.
      “No chance of forgetting you,” he answered, then switched the vase from his right arm, cradling it in his left, along with the book, and pulled his keyring out of his trousers side pocket.
      He unlocked the car with his remote, then placed the flowers on the passenger seat and secured the seatbelt across the bowl, to avoid tipping during transport. He shoved the bagel bag to the car’s flooring and placed the book for Terrance next to it. He went to the driver side, got strapped in, then turned over the engine. The low rumble perked some ears of pedestrians and courtyard patrons alike, as Becker shimmied the 500 back and forth to move it out of the tight parking spot. He cruised slowly down St. Mark’s Place, and waved to the florist. I won’t be forgetting you too soon either, she thought, as she waved back.
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