Alberto Demarco arrived at an awkward hour, as Deborah and her mother were finishing dinner and arguing about what to watch on television that evening. Since Vincent’s death, Deborah was obsessed with legal procedural programs, like “Law & Order”, while her mother, for the same reason, couldn’t bear to watch blood or violence or death, preferring reality TV. She liked “Survivor” and “Guy’s Grocery Games”.
People didn’t generally come by at that hour of the day, especially unannounced. But there was Vincent’s Uncle Al, on their front porch in the soft twilight, apologizing for disturbing them. There was a car at the curb, engine still purring, the silhouette of a heavy-set man at the wheel. Al explained he was sorry he missed the funeral as he was out of the country, but now wanted to pay his respects to Deborah and perhaps, help in some way.
They invited him in. “Your friend is welcome, too,” said Deborah’s mother.
“No, no,” said Uncle Alberto, and he gestured to the man in the car, who turned the engine off. “That’s ok, he’s good.”
Deborah’s mother put on a pot of decaf coffee, and the smell drifted into the living room, where Alberto sat on a high backed arm chair, facing Deborah across a coffee table stacked high with books. Coffee table books, in fact. Secrets of the Royal Family. A Model’s Life in Pictures. Illustrated Guide to Yoga, Pilates, and Deep Breathing. The Big Book of Astonishing Optical Illusions. Deborah’s mother liked books. Her family always knew what to get her for Christmas.
Uncle Al wore a suit. He looked very formal. Deborah was wearing jeans and one of Vincent’s summer sweaters, a brown pullover.
“Needless to say,” said Alberto, “I’m sorry about Vince.”
Deborah nodded. She’d always been a little intimidated by Uncle Al, by his size mainly, but also the cold serenity of the man. Impenetrable, inscrutable, and immune to Deborah’s or anyone’s perceived charms.
“And the cops have not arrested anyone?” he asked.
“No– well they did, a homeless man, but while he was in custody the killer struck again. Wounded a friend of Vincent’s, actually, when he tried to run away. Stole his wallet and phone.”
Deborah told him. She was surprisingly calm. Uncle Al had an inevitable air about him, too. No point in getting emotional, or curious, or resistant. Let Uncle Al handle it, whatever “it” was.
“It was late,” she said. “Hootie was walking home.”
Her mother put a tray of filled coffee cups and a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table, and passed around milk and sugar.
“There’s too much crime on the street at night,” she said. “People getting robbed and assaulted.”
“But not usually shot,” Deborah said. “Just my Vince, shot in the face–”
Her mother put a hand on Deborah’s wrist, to steady her.
“But Hootie was just wounded. He said the guy told him that he killed Vince.” There was an almost undetectable tremor in Deborah’s voice. Alberto Demarco heard it, though. “Why would he do that?”
“I thought it was all over, when they got that old man.” Deborah’s mother sighed deeply. The tremor in her voice was not subtle. “So this guy, this murderer, is just walking the street, free, it’s not fair, I–”
Now the daughter comforted the mother. Deborah broke a piece of chocolate chip cookie and fed it to her mother as if she were an infant, and then put a warm coffee cup into her hands, urging her mother to drink.
“I was close to Frank,” said Alberto. “I promised him I would look after his family when he passed. I’m sorry. I couldn’t protect Vincent. But I would like to help you now.”
“Thank you,” said Deborah. They did need help, there was no point pretending otherwise. Vince left very little behind. Alone, she couldn’t afford to keep up the mortgage on their little house. She didn’t want to lose it. It was full of Vincent.
Uncle Al understood. He would do everything he could. “And who can I talk to about what happened to Vincent? Is there a lawyer, a cop?”
“The police don’t tell us much,” said Deborah’s mother. “They have been kind, but don’t seem to know any more than we do.” She paused. “There is a friend of Vincent’s who keeps a kind of scrapbook. All the newspaper clippings, the reports, the interviews and so on. He is recording it all in Vincent’s memory, he says, and for us. Would that be helpful?”
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” said Uncle Al. “And to Hootie. And I’ll take you both out for dinner, no argument.” He got to his feet. “What’s the friend’s name?”
“Leep,” said Deborah. “He’s a strange one, Uncle Al, but he means well.”