Monday, April 11, 2011

"The Package"

"He did what?"

"Lawrence Carpini skipped town. He left a message for you."

I took the phone from Jones and keyed in the repeat code. It was bad.

"Hey, Lieutenant Miles. Carpini here. I've been doing some thinking, and I'm afraid I have some bad news. You see, my analysis has shown that staying around to testify against Malzone would be bad for my health. Sorry to skip out on you, but the seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake, so to speak. At least, that's what Sebastian is always telling me. I thought about heading to Canada, but he had something to say about that, too. You dream about going up there, he says, but that is a big mistake. So maybe Mexico. I know this quaint little spot there where my package and I can be kept safe. Don't come lookin' for me – I ain't givin' it to ya. Only Sebastian knows where I can be found, and he has a way with words."

That was it. The slimy weasel was leaving town less than a week before the trial. His testimony on Malzone's accounts was critical to the DA office's case against Malzone, and the files he had promised to deliver were going to be the nail in the coffin. And now he pulled this.

I slammed the phone back into the cradle. Jones flinched.

"What now, lieutenant?"

"Send out an APB on Carpini. Maybe we'll get lucky."

Jones' expression told me he didn't think that likely. I agreed with him.


As much as I wanted to drown my sorrows at Ditka's, it was my turn to watch Sophie and Jeanine would kill me if I spoiled another one of her nights out with her friends. I normally enjoy the one on one time with my daughter, but tonight I just couldn't get Carpini's message out of my head. It replayed over and over again. My anger had worn off, replaced by a nagging since of doubt. Something
about the message just didn't make any sense.

Sophie handed me a naked DVD and I dutifully put it in the player. She clapped her hands and plopped herself down on the floor as I returned to the lazy boy. This was cheating, I knew. I was supposed to be spending time with her, not letting her sit mindlessly in front of the TV, but I needed the time to think.

What about the message was off? Some of the phrases were strange, but Carpini would turn a strange phrase from time to time. The man considered himself a bit of a poet. I'd always known him to be quite articulate, choosing his words carefully. Maybe that's what he'd done in this case. Maybe he was trying to tell me something beyond what the words conveyed.

I ran through the message again. The seaweed line was something Carpini would say, though he had attributed it to this Sebastian character. I wasn't sure who that was. Maybe Sebastian Porter, one of Malzone's old business partners? What did he have to do with this? If I could figure that out, I might be able to understand what Carpini was saying. The parts about Canada and Mexico where obviously there to throw others off the trail; there was no way Carpini would spill where he was headed. "My package" obviously referred to the financial records he was supposed to provide the DA's office in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The next line was interesting. Carpini had slipped into a Chicago accent as he said it – a far cry from the cultured English and flawless grammar he usually used. "I ain't givin' it to ya," he had said. It was the only line in the whole message spoken that way. Maybe he used the accent to emphasize it. Maybe he pointed it out to let me know he was lying. I ain't givin; it to ya" may have been his way of telling me he still intended to give me the package even though he, himself, was bailing. Malzone surely knew that Carpini had spoken to us. Carpini had to know that he was safer with Malzone behind bars. Even if he ran Malzone would come after him. The financials would ensure Malzone was put away. Maybe Carpini had left them somewhere for me to find. If that was the case, maybe the key to the package's location was hidden in the message.

I thought it over for a while, but nothing came to me. I glanced at my watch. It was 7:35 – time for Sophie to hit the sack.

"Come on, munchkin," I said, "time for bed."

"But Daddy, this is the best part."

Reggae music filled the room as a the red crab in Sophie's favorite movie burst into song.

"The seaweed is always greener, in somebody else's lake. You dream about going up there, but that is a big mistake. Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor. Such wonderful things surround you, what more is you lookin' for?"

My mouth dropped open. Those were the exact lines from Carpini's message.

"Under the sea...Under the sea...darling it's better...."

What was that crab's name? Sebastian, wasn't it? "Sebastian knows where it can be found." My mind made the mental connections and threw out the memory of the headline on yesterday's society page in the Trib. I scrambled for recycling bin where I yanked out the paper. It took a few moments to find the page.

"Under the Sea – New exhibit opens at the Shedd Aquarium."

Bedtime forgotten I tore my cell phone from its holder and dialed the precinct.

"Call the Shedd Aquarium," I said when Jones answered. "We need immediate access."


The director at the Shedd was very accommodating. Within ninety minutes we hada crew at the Aquarium turning the exhibit upside down. The search lasted more than four hours with no results.

I smashed my fist into my open palm. "This can't have been a coincidence. It's got to be here."

"I don't know what to tell you, lieutenant," Jones replied, "There's nothing here. The director wants us out so they can set things up for tomorrow."

I shook my head. This had to be it. The package had to be here. How had I missed it? Had I been wrong about Carpini's intentions?

As we exited the exhibit room my eye fell on the sign. "Under the Sea" was spelled out in large brass letters that practically leapt off the wood base. My mind ran through the message one more time. I had been so certain. The last line echoed in my brain.

"Only Sebastian knows where I can be found, and he has a way with words."

A way with words. I had thought that was a throwaway line – but what if it was significant. A way with WORDS.

On a hunch I approached the sign. My fingers felt around behind the letters. There was a space there. I found the flash drive behind the letter "S."

Under the "Sea."

"Carpini, you are one clever weasel." I stowed the flash drive in my pocket.

Next time I had my alone time with Sophie it was ice cream for sure, and her favorite movie. Maybe I would even sing along.