The Magdalene Heist
by Anselmo J. Alliegro
Parts I-II appear
in this issue.
III: The Destination
A crescent moon hung over the Port of Miami. Two Haitian crewmen kept watch from the deck of the cargo ship Polestar. Captain Reggie, a middle-aged Haitian with a captain’s cap, greeted Joe on the dock below. Joe carried only a backpack hanging from his shoulder.
Together Reggie and Joe walked up a ramp to Polestar’s deck. A crewman neared Joe on the deck. Reggie ushered Joe to his cabin, and the crewman followed at their heels.
As Reggie opened the cabin door for Joe, the crewman lifted his shirt and drew a gun. The crewman pushed Joe into the cabin. Pronzini stood inside with his .40 caliber Glock pointed at Joe.
“Put the backpack down,” ordered Pronzini.
“Pronzini. What’s going on?” said Joe, staring down the barrel of Pronzini’s gun, and still holding the backpack.
“Put the backpack down,” Pronzini repeated forcefully.
“What’s up, Pronzini? I thought we had a deal.” Joe still refused.
Pronzini signaled to the crewman. The crewman hit Joe on the head with his gun.
“Put it down, stupid. And step back,” Pronzini said.
Joe finally put the backpack down. Keeping the gun on his target, Pronzini took the backpack and put it on his shoulder.
“What, you’re robbing me? You scumbag!” Joe snapped.
“Put your hands against the wall.”
Joe complied and Pronzini, gun aimed, began frisking him. He found a pistol hidden under Joe’s jacket and secured it in his belt. Pronzini holstered his gun and removed a flex-cuff from his pocket. “Hands behind your back,” he ordered.
He tied Joe’s hands with the plastic straps and pushed him to a chair. The crewman tied Joe to the chair with a rope, as blood dripped down Joe’s face.
“Good job. Leave us now,” said Reggie to the crewman.
When the crewman left, Pronzini opened the backpack on a table. The golden statuette lay inside. He and Reggie glanced at each other in amazement. Pronzini closed the bag, drew his gun, and started to interrogate Joe.
“Remember what I said about trust? Here’s what I didn’t say: People are guilty until proven innocent,” began Pronzini, circling Joe. “Tell me Joe, why is the FBI after you? I thought you were running after your former partner in the loan shark and extortion business nearly killed you for an unpaid debt. I thought you wanted to leave that life. You know, a clean slate.”
“Who told you about the FBI?” asked Joe.
“The feds paid me a visit. I had connections to Stefano and so do you.”
“I told you the truth, Pronzini. After my own people beat me with a bat... what can I say, I wanted out of the business. The feds thought I’d go soft and turn snitch. No damn way — I’m no rat.”
“Is that why you robbed and killed Frank Stefano, your own boss? Thought you’d run away with the loot, escape the mob and the feds.”
“You’re delusional, Pronzini.”
“That chunk of gold in the bag, I suppose that’s a delusion.”
“Who you been talking to?” Joe jerked in the chair, trying to free himself.
“What can a beautiful girl see in a degenerate like you?”
“Maggie? You talked to Maggie, that bitch!”
“You killed her father. Too bad she’s not here to see you walk the plank.”
Pronzini grabbed the backpack. He and Reggie started towards the door.
“C’mon Pronzini, no hard feelings. You got the statue, now let me go. It’s yours, it’s all yours,” Joe pleaded.
Pronzini turned to Joe from the cabin door. “You’re walking the plank, Joe.” He shut the door, and left Joe strapped to the chair.
“You’re as crooked as they come!” shouted Joe.
Pronzini seized much of Joe’s itinerary, since it was part of the documents he had given Joe at their meeting in the Museum of Natural History. Digging through Joe’s bag yielded other valuable intelligence.
A mysterious art collector named Simon Quinn was the buyer. He lived on the Caribbean island of Anguilla and owned a gallery named Venue Gallery. With some additional PI work, Pronzini found that Quinn had a warrant out for his arrest. He was guilty of fraud but couldn’t be extradited.
Mr. Simon Quinn could willingly pay a fortune for the precious golden statuette. However, if negotiations failed, Pronzini could use blackmail to his advantage. Mr. Quinn had a long and tainted history.
Polestar had found her destination and was ready to set sail.
IV: Dark Secrets
Robert and Maggie stood on a Persian rug in Maggie’s living room. Robert insisted on answers and Maggie searched for them. She kept him at a distance.
“I’ve told you. Joe is in my past,” said Maggie.
“Then why did the FBI tie him to you?” Robert wasn’t satisfied.
“Because that’s what the FBI do. They investigate, that’s why there’s an I in FBI.” She turned away and paced the room. “I don’t know, maybe they questioned someone who saw us together... found my name in his phone...”
“Who was this guy, really?”
“Someone I ran away from. His lifestyle, his abuse.... I left that dismal world behind.”
“Are those the dark secrets you mentioned a while back?”
“Good guess. Why are they looking for Joe?”
Robert thought about telling Maggie his own secret. That he had watched her from his bedroom window, night after night, performing sexy yoga poses on the same Persian rug on which he now stood. However, that was a luxury he could not afford to lose.
“They wouldn’t say,” Robert answered.
“Are you sure?”
“What am I, lying now? You’re the one with the secrets. Tell you one thing, it’s no misdemeanor. Same people who caught Hannibal Lecter.”
“My God, they’re probably listening to us now.”
Maggie’s cellular phone began to ring on a nearby table. She ignored it.
“Your phone is ringing,” said Robert.
“Let it ring,” she said.
“Get it. It’s okay.”
Maggie rushed to the phone. She angrily swept it from the table.
“Yes?” She listened for a moment. “I can’t talk now.” She listened again. “I’m busy now. Later, please.” She ended the call and threw the phone on the table.
Robert had moved close to her. He surprised her. “Take it easy. A kiss before I leave.”
She had never kissed him; she had always been reluctant, evasive, unwilling to be more than friends. Robert sensed she was not telling him the truth.
She looked away but Robert held her tight and kissed her tender lips. Her breasts began heaving upon his chest, and her heart beating fast and strong. Now she was kissing him back and melting in his arms. She stopped and they looked into each other. Her face turned flush, and lips ripe and red. This was the reliable truth Robert wanted. Maggie’s physiology was refreshingly honest.
V: Voyage of the Polestar
The Polestar ascended giant waves in the murky night, amidst a fierce tropical storm. Lightning illuminated the Caribbean Sea and the wave-battered freighter. The pelting rain washed over Polestar mixed with the blasting sea spray.
Pronzini stood in his cabin, unsteady in the swaying ship. He held a cell phone against his ear, and in his other hand the golden Magdalene statuette. Reggie sat at a table and poured himself some whisky.
Maggie finally answered her phone. “Yes?” came her voice laced with static.
“I’m out at sea. I found Joe; it’s safe to say he’s out of commission,” reported Pronzini.
“I can’t talk now,” she said.
“About the item you mentioned, Joe must have ditched it.”
“I’m busy now. Later, please.”
“Hello? Ms. Stefano, can you hear me?” Pronzini hung the phone and exclaimed to Reggie, “We’re gonna be rich!”
Reggie sat at the table hugging his whisky bottle and sipping from his glass. He watched as Pronzini’s glass slid across the table with the rolling waves.
Reggie lifted his glass and toasted, “A drink to rich.”
Pronzini lifted the golden statuette, looked at it lovingly, and kissed the Magdalene. He went to join Reggie at the table. He sat, grabbed his glass, and placed the statuette on the table. Reggie poured him a drink.
“Tell me, what will you do with all that money?” Pronzini asked.
“Find my Esperanza, the girl that got lost from me,” replied Reggie in his thick Haitian accent. “Buy her a big house. Marry her, make family.”
“A family man. That’s good, Reggie.”
“Smuggling business too risky. Sick of DEA on my back.”
“We sure ran circles around them.”
Reggie lifted his glass. “A drink to circles.”
“With the seasickness and the whisky.... I’m finding some good reasons to throw up,” remarked Pronzini.
Reggie struggled to his feet. “My navigator needs me. I go now. Bon voyage, Paul.”
“Bon voyage, Reggie. Watch your step. It’s rough weather out there.”
Reggie went out into the storm. Then a gunshot resonated through the cabin and jolted Pronzini’s heart. Pronzini reached for his gun.
Reggie shouted a warning, “Paul!”
Another gunshot and Reggie staggered in and dropped dead inside the cabin.
The door was open but Pronzini only saw the rain and the sporadic flashes of lightning in the night. He took cover in a corner of the cabin, and snuffed out the light bulb with a bullet.
Somewhere outside he heard Joe saying, “See what a little bribing can do, Pronzini? It can set you free.”
Pronzini heard some voices from the crew. “Get back, he shot Captain Reggie,” said Joe to the crew. “Pronzini, give me what you stole from me, and I’ll go easy on you.”
Pronzini responded with rapid gunshots, aimed at the cabin’s bulkhead, with his .40 caliber Glock and his armor piercing bullets. He heard screaming and moaning as the crewmen were struck with shrapnel and bullets.
Pronzini crouched behind the table, hidden in the darkness, with the statuette clasped under his arm and covered by his trench coat. Suddenly, having stirred up a hornets’ nest, crewmen stood at the doorway with guns blazing into the dark cabin. Pronzini was hit on the left shoulder but sent a gunman flying back dead into the violent storm.
There came a pause in the gunfire. Lightning exposed a crewman, looming with a shotgun outside the cabin window. Pronzini aimed his pistol and opened fire. He hit his target.
Then it was quiet again and the silence persisted, unsettling, hanging thick and heavy, lending voice to the pattering rain and the thunder clap and the sloshing of the turbulent sea.
Carrying the golden statuette concealed under his wounded shoulder, Pronzini stealthily reached the door with his gun in alert. He saw a shotgun discarded on the flooded deck. He came closer to the door, and saw various men lying dead and was proud of the wreckage he had caused.
Pronzini stepped out of the cabin. He was shot multiple times and jerked and staggered. The gun fell from his hand. The shooting stopped, and Pronzini turned to face the gunmen. He saw Joe with a heavily armed crew, guns pointed at him, crouched and ready, glistening in the rain.
Pronzini struggled for poise on the bouncing ship. He was dying, drowning in his own blood and aware of the open sea.
At that moment, still gripping the now exposed golden statuette, waves crashing against the hull, sea spray rising, smelling of the sulfurous ocean, the loud thunder scolding his enemies, Pronzini managed a defiant smirk. He toppled onto the ship’s railing, and threw himself with his treasure into the deep surging sea.
VI: The Deadly Bouquet
One evening at her usual time, Maggie started her yoga exercises, stretching in her tight leotard. Robert watched her from across Thompson Street.
She turned to her front door. She went to answer it, and looked through the peephole. Then she unlatched the door, opened it, and Robert saw a man obscured by a large bouquet of roses. The man flung the roses away and pushed Maggie violently. She fell backward onto the floor.
Robert ran from the window. He poked his head into Lou’s study.
“Call the police. Send them across the street, apartment forty-five. Quick, my girlfriend’s in danger!” Robert shouted, gasping for air.
Lou sprang to his feet.
Robert hastened out of the apartment to rescue Maggie. Down the stairs he leapt and dashed across the street into Maggie’s building. He climbed the stairs like an earthquake and hit the fourth floor. He tried catching his breath, and composed himself to prepare for the unexpected.
Robert opened Maggie’s front door, careful not to be heard. He entered and quietly followed the sound of Joe’s hostile voice down a corridor. The voice came from Maggie’s bedroom.
“I’m still here, you lethal bitch. Pronzini botched it, that prick! He took that gold statue with him to the bottom of the ocean,” Joe panted, agitated and irritable.
“The one you stole from my father, before you killed him,” Maggie boldly said.
From a hidden vantage point, Robert saw Maggie sitting on her bed. Joe towered over her, with a pistol modified with a long silencer.
“The old man had insomnia that night — I put him to sleep,” said Joe.
“I thought I’d scraped you off my shoe. Filth has a way of turning up,” snarled Maggie.
“Who else you been talking to? Bet you hit me with a murder rap, with the FBI and Stefano’s crew. Time’s up.”
Joe aimed his pistol to shoot Maggie. Robert suddenly revealed himself at the doorway with hands raised. “Don’t shoot,” Robert said, taking a few steps into the room.
Joe, spooked, swung his gun to Robert.
“No!” cried Maggie. She leapt from the bed to shield Robert.
Joe took aim at them. Then a loud BANG, and the discharge sent a shock wave to the back of Robert’s neck as he held onto Maggie.
The back of Joe’s head exploded, spurting bits of tissue to the furnishings and wall. His body dropped, like a limp bundle of flesh, and crashed on the floor. Blood gushed into a swelling pool.
The smell of gunpowder filled the room. Lou was poised outside the doorway with the smoking barrel of his M-16 rifle.
* * *
The authorities questioned Lou’s ownership of an M-16 rifle in New York City. Regardless, the former firefighter and Vietnam veteran became a hero, even among those that had fueled his paranoid conspiracies.
Maggie broke contact and disappeared in the months that followed. Her parallel window, across Thompson Street, was now dark. She moved or fled without an explanation.
Robert gave much thought to the mystery, and gathered information. That “gold statue” he heard Joe mention was likely his replica. Joe was the thief and murderer, Robert now realized, in the much-reported murder of Frank Stefano, Maggie’s father and head of the Stefano Crime Family.
Maggie had replaced the original golden Magdalene with the replica, thinking her father wouldn’t know. Having connections to art collectors, far and wide, Maggie stood to make a fortune from the bequest of Donatello.
Robert imagined Maggie Stefano as a siren bathed in the silvery moonlight, settled on a rock of a distant shore, luring ships into dangerous waters. He carved scales on her long sinuous tail, molding her in the cold wet clay.
Concealed by the vast ocean, in the pitch-black abyss and realm of the giant squid, rest Paul Pronzini’s discarded shoes. A short distance away, standing on the oceanic regolith, the golden Magdalene looks to the surface, reaching out to heaven with an outstretched hand.
Copyright © 2015 by Anselmo J. Alliegro