Curse of the Jade Lily (Mac McKenzie #9)
The last time I saw Vincent Donatucci, he handed me a check for $3,128,584.50. My first thought when I found him standing outside my front door—I ain’t giving it back!
“Hello, McKenzie,” he said when I opened the door.
“Mr. Donatucci,” I replied. A man makes you an instant millionaire, you call him mister. I opened the door wide enough to give him room to pass. “Come in.”
He crossed the threshold and stamped the cold from his feet. He unbuttoned his gray trench coat but did not take it off. He looked around. All he saw was a painting I had bought at the Lowertown Arts Festival hanging on the near wall and a lot of empty carpet.
“How long have you lived here?” he asked.
“I moved in not long after I collected the reward on Teachwell.”
Donatucci nodded meaningfully.
“Beer?” I asked. “Coffee?”
He glanced at his watch. It was eleven twenty in the A.M.
“Coffee,” he said.
I led him to the kitchen, deliberately taking the route through the dining room so he could see that I had a table, chairs, and matching buffet. It was a large house and expensive. I bought it for my father and me, but he died soon after we moved in, and I hadn’t done much with it since. Five of the rooms were still empty, although the master bedroom and bath were fully and, I like to think, tastefully decorated. So was what Dad called the family room, a large hall filled with a big-screen HDTV, Blu-ray DVD player, computer, CD stereo, plenty of chairs and sofas, including a two-hundred-year-old rocking chair, a large desk, floor lamps, and shelves filled with music, movies, and books. I was particularly fond of the kitchen where I stored all manner of culinary gadgets—mini-doughnut, sno-cone, and popcorn machines, iced tea maker, ice cream churn, pizza oven, pasta maker, a miniature guillotine used to halve bagels, a couple of toasters, and a $1,300 Jura-Capresso coffee and espresso maker that I snapped up for seven-fifty.
I poured Donatucci a mug of coffee, but none for myself. I watched intently while he sipped.
“Mmm, nice,” he said.
I don’t know why it was important that he be impressed. I guess I didn’t want him to think I squandered the money.
Donatucci settled at the kitchen table, grunting and sighing as if every movement were an effort for him. He was old, with a face so deeply wrinkled that I wondered how he shaved; more wrinkles than when I had first met him six years ago. He stared out the kitchen window into my backyard.
“May I take your coat?” I asked. He didn’t answer, and I wondered for a moment if he had heard me. “Mr. Donatucci?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“I have a boatload of Girl Scout Cookies—Thin Mints, Samoas…”
He shook his head no.
“So tell me,” I said. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“What brings you here?”
“Are those pet turkeys?”
Donatucci was watching the thirteen wild turkeys that gathered around my frozen pond. They were loitering in a large space where I had packed down the snow with a shovel and my boots. In the center of the area was a wooden box. I had piled dry corn and grain on top of the box, and the turkeys were taking turns picking at it.
“No, not pets,” I said. “They showed up last year just before it started to snow. They must have liked it, because they came back again this year. I have a pal with the DNR who says they come into the city during the winter to forage for easy meals—I’m not the only one who feeds them. He says they’ll return to the wild come spring, although I don’t know what he means by the wild. The suburbs, I guess.”
Donatucci nodded, sipped his coffee, and watched the turkeys some more. He seemed to be drifting off, and I called his name.
“I’m not deaf, McKenzie,” he said.
“I’ve been keeping tabs on you.”
“People we make big payouts to, I like to keep an eye on them, see how the money changes them.”
“Does the money change them?”
“Always. Always it changes them. Sometimes for the better. They become philanthropists, you know? Share the wealth. Most of the others, they become prisoners to their money. Not always their fault, though. Suddenly everyone wants a piece. Friends turn on them, usually out of resentment. Most end up wishing they could go back to the way it was before they were rich. And then there’s you. You became Batman.”
Donatucci snorted. “Everything but the cape and the car,” he said. “Tearing around, working with the cops; sometimes working against the cops; doing good for goodness’ sake. Tell me I’m wrong.”
He snorted again.
“Mr. Donatucci, exactly what is it that you want?”
“I need a favor,” he said. “That’s what you do, isn’t it, now that you’re not with the police anymore? Favors for friends.”