Special Agent Roslyn Moore knew that it would be indefensibly unoriginal to think that Steve Longo had hands like a bear’s, but it was also undeniably a fact. Steve Longo’s upper extremities—oversized (like the rest of him, for that matter; she didn’t know Italian, but Roslyn suspected that in the old tongue, Steve was more largo than longo), olive, covered in black hair—reminded her of a joke she liked: A bear walks into a bar and orders a gin...
The bartender asks, “Sure. But why the big pause?”
“Better for catching fish,” says the bear.
Roslyn Moore hadn’t sat down with Steve Longo to tell jokes, though. She was there—in a questioning room of the Bureau’s Brooklyn-Queens satellite office (officially, a “resident agency”) in Kew Gardens—to catch fish, as it were. She wanted—she needed—Steve Longo to tell her where to cast her net.
“I’m sure this won’t be the first time you’ve heard this,” he was saying, “but you can’t protect me. I know you’d like to think you can, and it would be great if you could, believe me, but you just can’t. I do appreciate the offer, though.”
Agent Moore’s offer had been simple: to persuade the Assistant U.S. Attorney who would be prosecuting Steve Longo for violations of federal racketeering laws (in connection with his construction business) to reduce the charges against him from felonies to misdemeanors if he would provide information about the real racketeers who’d been leaning on him to get the project they were funding completed as expeditiously as possible, even if it meant submitting fraudulent applications for building certifications. Roslyn Moore wasn’t asking Longo to testify against the mob, just to point her in their direction. But he wouldn’t even do that. He said he just couldn’t. He had a family to look out for. He meant his actual family—his wife and kids, who needed their husband and father.
“I’ll be safer in prison if I don’t talk,” Longo said, “than on the outside if I do.”
So Longo wasn’t saying much, even when he did speak. And when he spoke... well, Roslyn Moore was as loath to stereotype as she was to fall back on clichés, but Steve Longo really did use his hands, those dark, meaty mitts, an awful lot when he talked—though he didn’t seem to her to be gesticulating to emphasize his words, numbered as those were. Steve Longo’s gestures came across more like repetitive nervous tics than directed motions—a series of tugs on his ear here, brushes of his nose there. Agent Moore figured that Steve Longo was nervous. As far as he knew, he might be looking at serious jail time.
“Besides,” he said, “you and I both know that false certs aren’t worth prosecution. Not by the feds, anyway.”
So he’s not actually worried about going away, Roslyn thought. And he’s right: The U.S. Attorney isn’t going to bother with this.
Of course, she didn’t need to confess as much to Steve Longo. “You really think so?” she bluffed. “Maybe we should review just how many federal laws you actually broke. Are you very busy this morning, Steve…?”
Roslyn Moore smiled inwardly at her own snarky remark as she pressed a button on the remote control to stop the playback and stood up from her sofa. For she was not just then in the questioning room of the satellite Bureau office with Steve Longo. That had been a morning almost a year earlier. She was at home, watching a tape of the exchange, late at night. She was watching the tape—and she’d had to drag a VCR up from the basement to do it, for they had only DVD players hooked up to the TV sets in the house now—in the first-floor den, so she wouldn’t keep up her husband, who was already in bed upstairs and, she presumed, asleep. The Girls, too. (Roslyn and Brian often joked that because he had wanted two kids but she’d only wanted to be pregnant once, they’d compromised and had twins.)
Roslyn was watching the recording of her meeting with Steve Longo of almost a year earlier because of something he had said to her just that morning, when she’d spoken to him for the first time since that first time. She’d learned that he’d been arrested by the N.Y.P.D. and charged with attempting to bribe a city buildings inspector—in a sting operation, Roslyn knew. Because any self-respecting actual city buildings inspector would have just pocketed the money, signed off on the forms, and kept his mouth shut. Cynical of me, maybe, Roslyn had thought, but accurate.
She had also thought that perhaps Steve Longo’s predicament could be her good fortune. So she’d visited him in lockup. As he had approached the chair opposite hers, on the other side of the thick translucent wall that kept the pinched and their visitors apart, Roslyn Moore had thought that Steve Longo looked even larger than she’d remembered him being. As he’d taken a seat and lifted the black telephone handset from the wall and brought it to his ear, she’d thought that he seemed less fidgety. Odd, she’d thought, that he’d be more at ease now.
“Agent Moore,” Steve Longo had said pleasantly enough.
“Mr. Longo——” Roslyn Moore had begun, but he’d immediately interrupted her.
“I don’t mean to be rude, Agent Moore, but I know why you’re here, and I’m afraid I can’t say more than I could last time.”
“I could intercede with the D.A.’s office, Steve….”
“I appreciate that… but I’ll be better off if you don’t. Word gets around, and quickly. Last time, inside of a week after we spoke, I got beaten up and my boat was burned. I told you nothing, but I still got a stern warning.”
A pun? Roslyn had wondered. It hadn’t seemed likely under the circumstances, but otherwise perhaps. Steve Longo was a bright man with a sense of humor and much more articulate than one could be forgiven for assuming he was based on his looks alone. Because he looked like he should have been playing defensive tackle. For Chicago, of course.
“So I’m sure you’ll understand,” he had continued, “if I ask you not to come to see me again. As it is, this brief visit is probably going to earn me at least some broken ribs.”
Roslyn Moore had wanted not to be horrified by the prospect, but she hadn’t been able to help it. Who was strong enough to bruise Steve Longo? Not many, at least not many without a metal pipe…. Or, she’d supposed, anyone he’d be afraid to fight back against, for fear that even worse would come of it.
“Then… why did you come out to see me?” He could have refused, she knew.
“I didn’t want to be rude,” Steve Longo had confessed. “But from now on, if you miss me, maybe you could just watch the tape.” And with that, Steve Longo had decisively, meaningfully replaced the handset in the cradle and gotten up from his chair to return to his cell to await arraignment.
Something in Steve Longo’s demeanor had suggested to Roslyn Moore—eventually, later in the day—that he hadn’t been merely being flip. Something had made Special Agent Moore want to requisition the recording of her original meeting with Longo at the Bureau office and review it. By the time the tape had been located and delivered to her, though, it had been too late for her to watch it before she’d needed to head home if she was to have dinner with her husband and the Girls—something she tried to do as often as was possible—so she’d taken the tape with her and turned it on when she was the only one in the house still awake. Or so she’d thought.
When she returned to the den with a bowl of rum raisin ice cream—which she’d not yet started eating, preferring to be comfortably seated again first—she found someone sprawled out on the sofa.
“Sounds like,” Roslyn thought she heard her say, “hair.”
“Honey,” Roslyn asked six-year-old Sophie, the girl who looked more like Brian but had a personality closer to Roslyn’s own, “what are you doing out of bed?”
“Nose,” the girl said, without looking at her mother. She was staring intently at the television, which, Roslyn noticed, was playing her meeting with Steven Longo. Had Sophie restarted it? Or… had Roslyn pressed MUTE rather than PAUSE? The sound was off, she realized. So she must have hit the wrong button. Nose? Had Sophie said “nose”…?
“Nose…,” Sophie repeated. “Hair.”
Roslyn chuckled despite herself. Steven Longo was, indeed, a hirsute man, but there was no way that her daughter could see into his nostrils. The camera in the room had been mounted in a corner of the ceiling; the angle of the shot was a very wide one. What was Sophie talking about, then? Was she even awake, Roslyn wondered. Had she gotten out of her bed and walked downstairs to the den in her sleep?
“Nose… sounds like hair,” Sophie said. “Arm? Skin…?”
“Sweetie, what are you doing?”
Her daughter pointed to the television and said, “He’s playing charades.” She meant Steve Longo. Her 6-year-old daughter thought that the recorded Steve Longo, who was making random gestures on the screen as he spoke to the recorded Roslyn Moore, was…
Random gestures… that Roslyn Moore now remembered had seemed unrelated to what the man had been saying, which had not been much…
“Honey, what did he… What do you have so far?”
“Nose,” Sophie catalogued, “sounds like hair, skin, and now fingers….”
If Steve Longo had been trying to tell Roslyn Moore something after all, was it simply that he had all his body parts? Roslyn saw that Steve Longo was now rubbing the thumb and forefingers of his right hand together, slowly… in the common way that one might to convey the notion of…
“Money,” Roslyn said aloud. “Not fingers, Sophie. Money.”
“Nose, sounds like hair, arm… money,” the girl revised, even if she might not have understood why.
Roslyn paused the tape, properly this time. On the screen, Steve Longo was mid-finger rub. She began to repeat after her daughter: “Nose, sounds like hair…”
Air, she thought. Bare. Care. Dare…
Eventually, she got to ware. Nose wear…? Knows where…!
Knows where… arm… money.
She backed up the tape to when Steve Longo was indeed touching his nose. She let it play again from there, without bringing the sound back up. After touching his nose for a few seconds, slowly and (now it seemed) quite obviously deliberately, Steve Longo tugged on his ear several times, then ran his hand through his hair over and over, back and forth. Sounds like hair. Sure.
Then, finished with his hair, Steve Longo rolled up his sleeves and began pinching the skin on one of his arms—and as with the other gestures, he did this slowly, repeatedly, almost but not quite subtly. And in view of the camera that he’d known was in the room, in the corner of the ceiling, taking in everything he did.
Arm. Pinch. Twist…? No, she was on the wrong track and she knew it even without having to think about it. Skin? Knows where skin money? Knows where… bare skin money? Knows where bear skin money…. She laughed to herself, still amused by the thought that Steve Longo was such an ursine man. Wait. Bear skin. Pelt? Hide?
Knows where hide money.
He’s telling me that someone knows where money is being hidden…! Steve Longo would have known full well that Special Agent Roslyn Moore would appreciate that turning up secreted money would almost certainly reveal evidence of a criminal enterprise and the persons behind it. It was just the information she’d be asking him for—just the information he’d been saying aloud he could not give her. Oh my God…! She had to watch the whole tape, and she had to do it now. She had already wasted months.
“Honey,” she said to Sophie, “it’s very late, and you’ve got school tomorrow. Go back to bed, okay?”
“Good girl. I’ll see you in the morning.” She kissed her daughter on the forehead.
Sophie Moore, age 6, she thought, smiling, exceedingly proud of her little girl—even if she hadn’t wanted to tell her as much just then. Sleuth extraordinaire! Roslyn was going to buy her (and her sister, of course) the entire series of Encyclopedia Brown books, which she herself had enjoyed immensely as a girl (and to which she gave some credit for inspiring her to consider becoming a federal investigator). She wouldn’t even wait for an occasion.
And when the Girls were much older, she’d tell them how Sophie had helped her mother put some bad men behind bars. If that’s indeed what Special Agent Roslyn Moore was going to be able to do with the information Steve Longo had intended to give her.
Steve Longo. She wanted to kiss him on the mouth. Almost, anyway.
She rewound the tape and started it playing from the very beginning, after she’d traded her bowl of melted, neglected ice cream and spoon for a pad and pen.