The Tale of the Toppled Hurler: A Peter Hartwell Story
Bruce A. Kauffman c 2016 All Rights Reserved.
Last we looked, Peter Hartwell had been hustled into a familiar-looking car at gunpoint in New York City by a man he knew as Russell. Along with a big fat man, Russell had kidnapped Hartwell four years earlier after pop star Harry Hardcore disappeared.
The keening wail of Hartsdale’s grief over the death of star Red Sox hurler and hometown hero Willie Gillante quiets some, allowing Hartwell to take time out from the newsroom. Willie’s collapse on the mound at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 17, 2004, as we know, had cost the Red Sox a World Series bid. We pick up the action now as Russell speeds his captive passenger from New York, where Hartwell attended an Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. convention, toward New England.
For the complete story to date visit the Peter Hartwell Page: http://escondidograpevine.com/a-the-tale-of-the-toppled-hurler-a-peter-hartwell-story/
“You’re out already?” I said, referring to the stretch Russell had pulled in the house of correction at Billerica for the first kidnap caper. “And your pal?”
I presumed they got to know each other well in the joint, making them more than mere business associates now.
There this myth here in Hartsdale of a fat man who was said to run a swath of rackets up and down Cape Cod, using legendary donut shops as cover. The story goes that the shops double as bookie joints. Both shops in Hartsdale alone, the Donut Depot and the Pastry Shell, are said to be under this corpulent character’s total control. He covets the raspberry jelly at the Depot, with the Bavarian crème, as it is spelled, a custard-filled chocolate-covered, a close second. His identity is hidden behind different names on the various official business licenses. There are shell companies within shells, mirrors facing one another at multiple angles, blue smoke. The shops even vary widely in quality to make it appear that one man could not possibly run them all. More and more, I wondered how much of a myth it was. Was Russell’s partner living proof that it wasn’t apocryphal at all?
The fat man had referred to Russell as subcontractor, though I would say surrogate. Last I checked, Russell had been commissioned to handle the jobs the fat man wouldn’t. The reason was the fat man had retired from the business of being a hit man. This, to me, was akin to Charlie Manson not being because he had others carry out his evil deeds.
Russell grabbed the collar of my jacket and ordered me to keep my mouth shut. He spun me around and walked behind me, twisting the gun barrel every so often into the spinal column. We trekked along 42nd Street to the alley. The car sat angled to the curb. Russell opened the passenger door and I climbed in. He settled behind the wheel, bound my wrists together with half a roll of silver duct tape, and peeled away.
“I like your taste in vehicles,” he said. “And radios.”
“Russell, right?” I said.
He nodded. He gunned the car toward the signs for I-95 north and thanked me for keeping the engine so exquisitely tuned.
“What do you all think I know this time that I actually know nothing about, like last time?” I said.
Russell shrugged. “Not for me to say. Ask my friend the fat man. He wants a meeting.”
I tried again. “Just a hint,” I said. “What story is he so sure I have when in truth I have squat?”
“Sorry,” said Russell. He grinned, and then his face took on a look of grim resolution. He was silent as we drove.
In minutes, we were on Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx, speeding past Co-op City, commanding the fast lane. My car sounded throaty and exquisitely tuned. We slowed only when we reached the toll booth in New Rochelle, where Russell brought the car to a stop next to a basket that gobbled up coins.
“You got any quarters?” he said as he rolled down his window.
I thought he had a hell of a nerve asking me to pay the toll. But with the outline of his gun discernible on the right hip pocket of his beautiful buttery soft leather jacket, it looked as if I had little choice.
I held up my bound wrists. “Either you reach in and fish some out of my pants pockets or cut me loose from the tape,” I said. “What’ll it be?”
Russell chose the latter. He pulled a knife from an inside breast pocket of his jacket, flicked his wrist to expose the blade and sliced my hands free. He held his right hand out in front of me, palm up, and I dropped one quarter after another into it. With his left hand, meanwhile, he pulled a fresh roll of tape forth from a trouser pocket.
He leaned out the window and tossed the coins into the basket. I could hear one or two bounce off the pavement. He looked at me for more money and I turned my pockets inside out and came up empty. The gate remained down and the light stayed red. Russell unlatched his seat belt, opened the door and leaned his head toward the ground in search of the errant tosses. A line of cars formed behind us, blasting their horns. Russell climbed out of the Mustang and squatted, peering underneath it for the coins. Outside of his sights now, I opened my door and made a run for it.
“He’s got a gun,” I called out, sprinting along the growing line of vehicles waiting to pay the toll.
Russell abruptly stood up, shoved his hand in the pocket that held the Glock, wheeled around and took aim at me. He fired twice and missed. Then he hustled back into the car. The tires made a high-pitched screech as he sped away, slamming through the gate and shattering it into splinters. Sirens went off and my car careened off into the distance.
I weaved my way through the backed-up traffic like a jay walker until I spotted a cab. I hopped in and asked to be taken to the nearest railroad station. It turned out to be close by in downtown New Rochelle. I would board the first train that came by, no matter what direction it was going.
The 2:27 p.m. Amtrak for Boston was pulling in just as I got there and I ran toward it and squeezed through the doors a scant moment before they sealed shut. I paid the conductor a premium to buy my ticket on board. I closed my eyes, chanted my mantra silently and settled in for the four-hour trek to South Station. From there, the plan was to catch the bus to Sagamore and call Jimmy for a lift home.
As I repeated the mantra – “Ommm, Shanti; Ommm, Shanti” – I submerged. Every thought and feeling became a bubble that floated up from under water and popped into nothingness when it surfaced. Ommm Shanti.
But I could not ignore the banging on the window for long. It was Russell, trotting alongside the train, slapping my window with the palm of his hand and hurling what from the look on his face were words brimming with invective. As the train sped up and Russell lost steam, he flashed his middle finger my way in the ancient sign of defiance. Well, screw him, too, I told myself.
I resumed the meditation, but my fear would not travel up through the depths to vanish on the surface. I was afraid that when I arrived at South Station, Russell would be waiting for me there at the platform.
“No Plymouth and Brockton to Sagamore for you,” he would say, giving me a sadistic grin. He’d stretch the hip pocket of his jacket toward me with a poke of the Glock and beckon me to walk with him, slowly, and not try anything.
“They fished your car out of Provincetown harbor,” Jimmy told me when he arrived ti drive me home. I told him it was the work of Russell, and recounted our adventure in Manhattan and Westchester County. Jimmy whistled low and long.
“He’s working with the other guy, right?” Jimmy said. “That fat doughnut scarfer.”
“The fat man, yes,” I said. “Russell was supposed to deliver me to him for a meeting.”
“The usual, I imagine,” I said. “Kill a story.”
“Which one?” Jimmy said.
“Beats me,” I said.
I asked him to drive to Bobby’s, where I’d buy him a beer.
“We’re rolling by the cop shop first,” Jimmy said. “Moran’s helping P-town sort out the dunked car.”
We passed by the Donut Depot and pulled into the lot in front of the low, red-brick building nearby that served as police headquarters. We were the only car in the lot. Just as we climbed out of Jimmy’s Civic, the double doors flew open and Detective Sergeant John Moran hopped down the front steps to greet us.
“Close shave?” Moran asked me.
“I would say whoever it is is sending you a message,” Moran said.
“I know who it is….our friends, the kingpins of the Cape, patrons of revolving door justice and scarfers of doughnuts. So, just what message do you think is being sent?”
“Simple,” said Moran. “Don’t make waves.”
“Whatever story you’re cooking up now that they’re sure would be their downfall?”
“I wish I knew what it was,” I said. “Sounds like it’d be big.”
Bruce Kauffman was a longtime North County Times editor and writer with emphasis on business and sports. He now operates a writing consultancy and authors creative works. This is is from his latest effort, a work in progress, exclusively at The Grapevine. For more visit Oceanside Scribe.