Mystery! Mayhem! At the Market! Part 1: the silver dollar
Janine patted the brass pig on the nose for good luck, then hurried through the crowd jamming the aisles of the Market. She edged past a trio of matrons leisurely examining a pyramid of California avocados as though they were diamonds, nodded a polite refusal to Pao, the Hmong flower seller holding up bouquets of dahlias and sunflowers. Just once it would be nice to not have to buy her own flowers. Keep hope alive, Janine. First step in the process would be to dump Jack and find a new boyfriend. Not much chance of that though. She was a pretty, lightly freckled redhead with no self-confidence and better taste in shampoo than men. She smiled at the turn of phrase. It was true, but a good shampoo was hard to find.
A couple approached, with matching eyebrow piercings, deep in conversation, sharing licks from a tofutti ice cream cone. Jack would have said it was unhygienic, but they looked so happy. The Market smelled of ripe peaches, echoed with vendors shouting "blackberries!" and "strawberries!" and she wished she was barefoot somewhere, walking through cool grass instead of stuck in sensible shoes. Janine pushed open a side door of the main concourse, her hair fiery in the sunlight as she cut across the cobblestones to make better time. She was supposed to meet Jack for lunch at noon on the sunny café balcony at Copacabana, the Bolivian restaurant, and he hated to be kept waiting. A rusty pickup loaded with cases of fresh greens edged past, and she pulled out her apartment keys, arms swinging, moving in time to the metallic rhythm, imagining herself dancing. She was a fine dancer: loose and free. Sometimes when she was scared or nervous, she pretended there was music playing, and felt immediately in control.
Janine checked her watch and increased her pace. A paralegal at Dietrich-Cole, scored 164 on her LSAT, 91st percentile, maybe a year from having enough money saved to hit the UW law school, and, look at her, moving faster, hurrying like she was going to be late for her own trial. Pathetic. Let Jack wait for a change.
"What's the rush, Janine?" called Kevin, throwing a bucket of crushed ice across the row of whole salmon laid out on display, their eyes watching her pass.
About the author
Robert Ferrigno is the Kirkland-based author of several critically acclaimed Southern California-based mysteries, including "The Horse Latitudes," "The Cheshire Moon," "Heartbreaker," "Flinch," "Scavenger Hunt" and "The Wake-up." He was the first editor of the legendary Northwest music tabloid, "The Rocket," where his pay was so low he had to supplement his wages by playing professional poker.
His most recent novel, "Prayers for the Assassin," imagines America as an Islamic republic with Seattle as the capital. It was a New York Times best-seller and recently won Mystery Ink's 2007 Gumshoe Award for Best Thriller. Ferrigno is working on the second and third volumes in the "Assassin" trilogy.
The Seattle Times commissioned Ferrigno to write "Double Strike" to commemorate the Market's centennial.
Janine waved at him but didn't slow down. Kevin was cute. He had asked her out once, but she was already involved with Jack, and she didn't like taking emotional risks. A bird in the hand and all that crap. She angled through Post Alley, but the cobblestones were still in shadow, still damp and she slipped, her keys flying as she regained her balance. She watched the keys skid along the stones, then drop out of sight through a crack. Perfect. Cursing, she bent over and looked into the gap — barely enough room to get in a few fingers.
She got down on one knee, putting a tissue between her slacks and the filthy stones. Then carefully ... very carefully, she slipped her fingers into the gap. She felt something metallic with her fingertips, reached in further. Touched her keys ... and something else. She hooked her key ring with her pinky, pinched the other something between her index and middle finger, pulled out her keys ... and a silver dollar. An old silver dollar, Lady Liberty looking serene ... but strange too. Her face shadowed where the coin had been double-struck at the mint. Dated 1899, but it looked brand-new. She wondered how long it had been down there in the dark, how it had ended up in that crack in the cobblestones.
"Watch it, lady!"
Janine looked up as a runner blew past her, knocked her aside. She cried out as her head hit the brick wall — she bent down, dizzy, as the sounds around her changed, the stones looking freshly laid, the brick wall now covered with an advertisement for Cathcart Liniment, Cures All Yer Ills. She blinked, as her vision blurred.
* * *
Henry tracked the man in the bright-yellow suit through the market, a tall, skinny swell with a homburg tilted back like James Cagney in his new movie, "The Public Enemy." Not that Henry has seen "Public Enemy." Movies cost a nickel. The swell kept flipping a silver dollar as he walked past the fresh produce, strolling along like he didn't have a care in the world. Must be nice. Henry hadn't eaten today and the only thing he ate yesterday was an overripe banana he swiped and a bowl of watery soup his mama made from vegetables he scavenged from the gutter. Depression banquet, she called it.
Henry followed the swell in the yellow suit, watching the silver dollar tumble through the air, the swell not even looking at it, he just put out his hand and let it fall into his palm, like things always went his way. Henry's own sodden moccasins flapped with every step, but this guy's fancy patent-leather shoes flashed like mirrors in the sunshine. Practically asking to be robbed.
The swell stopped in front of the counter of the German's butcher shop and pointed at a thick sirloin. The old German ripped off a strip of waxed white paper and wrapped it up lickety-split. Henry moved closer, dodging elbows — he was small for 14 and you could play his ribs like a xylophone, but he was quick. As the swell flipped the silver dollar, Henry darted past, grabbed the coin in midair and took off running.
Henry sprinted past shoppers, ignoring their startled looks, ducking under their outstretched arms, clutching the silver dollar. Ma could buy groceries, real groceries for a week now. He started up Post Alley, breathing hard, the swell's cries fading in the distance. He had to stop as he reached First Avenue, his side aching, the silver dollar still safely lodged in his clenched fist. He was just about to start running again when a burly man grabbed him from behind and dragged him back to the Market while Henry punched and kicked at him.
The swell waited for them at the bottom of the alley. He took in the boy with the dirty face and angry eyes. "Let him go."
The burly man reluctantly released his hold on the back of Henry's neck.
"You've got quick hands, kid." The swell pushed back his hat with a thumb. "I'm impressed."
Henry clutched the silver dollar even tighter. "I didn't take nothing."
"That's the spirit." The swell rocked on his heels like he was in on a joke that nobody else knew about. "Never admit to anything."
Henry held his head high, eyed the swell's bright yellow suit. "You look like a canary, mister."
The swell smiled. "No, kid, I'm the cat that ate the canary."
Henry saw a policeman making his way toward them and started to shake.
"There a problem?" said the policeman.
"No problem, officer," said the swell, still smiling. "This young gentleman and I were just discussing the terms of his future employment. I agreed to pay him a dollar a week." He handed Henry the sirloin. "Plus a steak to seal the deal."
The policeman's eyes were hard as bricks. "That right, boy?"
Henry stared at the swell. Tucked the silver dollar into his pocket. "Yeah, I'm working for him."
* * *
Part 2 will appear tomorrow in The Seattle Times. Henry becomes Hank, and sees his life and his luck change — and then change again.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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