It was Saturday morning and I was sitting at the Mexican restaurant, enjoying Lupe’s huevos rancheros and searching the Internet on my laptop.
Lupe came by and draped her arm around my shoulders. She leaned over me to pour another cup of her strong coffee.
“Qué estás haciendo?” she asked, sliding into the booth beside me. “What are you doing?”
“Working a case,” I said, squinting at the screen. I needed reading glasses, but was too vain to go get them. It would mean I’d have to admit I was middle aged. Ma’s comments that I was old enough to be someone’s grandfather didn’t help. Fuck this getting old shit. “I’m looking into my murder victim’s past.”
I hadn’t found much, except Alberto and Adele’s death records in Pennsylvania, where Alberto found work with US Steel. Both died in Pittsburgh about the time Gina would have been in kindergarten. The trick was finding out where the hell their children went —and whether Gina was Brian’s daughter or Tina’s.
Most of what I needed—death and birth certificates, divorce or marriage records—I could order online, but Michael Atwater only had a week before the grand jury convened and I couldn’t wait for the mailman to solve my case.
Driving the ninety minutes to Pittsburgh to see Alberto and Adele’s old neighborhood might or might not have gotten me the information I needed. People in their age group were probably already dead or retired to Florida. There might not be anyone around who knew them.
My chances were a little better with the Internet and any court records I could dig up. Hopefully they would be in the surrounding counties. Most every county around here was considerate enough to archive every damned piece of paper connected to recent court cases, from original appearances, to media requests to have cameras in the courtroom, verdicts and sentencing hearings. All I needed was to find what I needed, then click the ‘download’ button and I was good to go. The catch could be if the court records went back further than twenty years. If they were, they’d be archived someplace, maybe off site, away from the courthouse, which could cause additional delays. I’d have to drive to the courthouse to pick up the documents, more time wasted.
“If you need anything else, cariño, you just call,” Lupe said, sliding out of my booth, and running her hand familiarly along my shoulders.
I waved absently as she left. I was running out of time and needed to find something to jumpstart this case, not the sweet, warm smell of a woman.
Using my index fingers, I typed “Tina Cantolini + Ohio” into the computer, hoping for enough of a news record to start my search. I hit pay dirt: the results located a Tina Cantolini outside of Cleveland in Shaker Heights. I flipped through a few newspaper entries: She married a businessman named Jones, hyphenated her last name and was active in all the right social climbing crap. She organized the bake sales at her children’s private school, was active in the Junior League and even had an exhibit of her photography at a local gallery. All Shaker Heights references of her stopped, then picked up a couple years later with another photography exhibit in San Francisco.
That’s a hell of a long way to move. Why leave Ohio? Was this the right Tina Cantolini-Jones? A little further down I got my confirmation with Alberto’s obituary: “… He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Adele, and a daughter, Tina Cantolini-Jones (Sam) of San Francisco, six grandchildren, Louis, Lena, James and Jennifer Cantolini-Jones, and Gina and Mariella Cantolini. A son, Brian, preceded him in death. Services will be held…”
So Gina was Brian’s daughter, huh? Looks like we’re making progress, I thought as I took a sip of my cooling coffee. I punched in “Brian Cantolini + Ohio” and gasped.
Four pages of archived newspaper stories filled my screen: “Local teacher charged with sex crimes,” “Jury hears graphic testimony in teacher sex-crime case,” and finally, “Teacher charged with sex abuse commits suicide.”
The news stories in the Akron Beacon-Journal were ten years old. I would have been at the end of my police career and too wrapped up in my own life to pay attention to anything that happened out of town; Gina would have been fifteen. When I picked her up seven years ago for shoplifting, she was eighteen and already had a drinking problem, and probably a drug problem as well. Maybe her problems started when Daddy Brian thought he’d visit her bedroom late at night. Maybe that bastard was the one who started her down her destructive road. Maybe getting to know Gina a little better, even post-mortem, might lead me to her killer.
I skimmed one of the stories: Brian had been a beloved English teacher at one of Akron’s most elite private schools, introducing his students to Whitman, Keats, and Shakespeare. Then his wife, Sharon, filed for divorce—along with filing a Department of Family Services complaint that Brian had sexually abused their daughter. The school administration was notified, which triggered a long and loud school board meeting, filled with acrimonious comments by supporters on both sides. Brian’s suspension, along with his vehement denials, was front-page news and so was the trial.
A few more clicks and I found video from an Akron TV station. The reporter stood outside the Summit County courthouse, interviewing a black-haired man in a trench coat. The crawl at the bottom of the screen said it was Brian Cantolini.
He had the same kind of John Wayne Gacy face I’d seen thousands of times before: a little plump and starting to sag with age. His beady eyes didn’t match the warm and welcoming smile. I could see where his supporters thought he was just a great English teacher, who opened their child’s minds to the mystery of poetry, and encouraged their love of literature and writing.
As a cop, I knew better.
Brian Cantolini was the same kind of guy who showed up at kid’s parties as a clown, luring young boys and girls over to his house where he’d offer them toys and candy and games and, when they were comfortable enough, made his move to destroy their innocence, their psyches and fuck up their entire lives.
No wonder Gina was a drunk at 18 and dead by 25.
“This whole thing is a vendetta engineered by my ex-wife,” Cantolini told the reporter. “I never did what she accused me of. I never laid a hand on my daughter!”
The reporter leaned in to ask another question, but Brian’s lawyer held up his hand.
“We will not try this case in the court of public opinion,” the lawyer said. “Our case will show that these charges are completely fabricated, engineered to ruin a good man and keep a great teacher from doing what he does best.”
I clicked the video off. Whatever. That’s what all those perverts said. At least I knew where Gina went off the tracks.
I clicked through a few other stories: apparently, Gina’s recorded testimony was shown in closed court; the graphic nature of Brian’s deeds caused one juror to vomit and another to leave crying, according to the story.
Two days later, before Brian even had a chance to present his defense, he blew his brains out.
At least he saved the State of Ohio a lot of money on appeals and prisoner meals.
I clicked back to Tina Cantolini-Jones. Her move to San Francisco looked like it happened about the same time as Brian’s suicide, no doubt out of shame and embarrassment. Can’t blame her—living with the knowledge that your own brother was a pervert and abused your niece must be a bitch.
I pulled a ten-dollar bill out of my wallet, tucked it under my coffee cup and stood, folding my laptop under my arm. Lupe, taking someone’s order at the back of the restaurant, waved as I left.
I wonder where Sharon Cantolini was these days? Maybe she could help me find out some more information.
Like why she didn’t show up at Gina’s funeral?
Or pay for it?
Those questions weren’t appropriate for Lupe’s place on a Saturday morning. Besides, it would take a little longer to chase her down and I needed to get ready for the symphony benefit.
After I left Lupe’s, I got a haircut and a shave at the barber’s down the street from my office. My tuxedo was hanging in the waiting room closet for me—and I should have been thinking about Gracie—but I had a few hours to kill before I slipped into the monkey suit and begged my wife for forgiveness.
I wanted to find Sharon Cantolini first. I plugged in the laptop again and started searching for phone numbers. No luck, at least in Ohio. I went back to the Summit County Clerk of Courts web site and began looking there. Nothing—at least she kept her nose clean after Brian’s suicide.
Maybe she tied the knot again? I searched the Probate Court records for a marriage license. Boom! There it was: Sharon Cantolini got remarried a year after Brian’s suicide to some schmuck named Joe Hansen, a loan officer at a local bank. At the time of her remarriage, she was living at an address in North Canton. Out of curiosity, I jumped back to the Auditor’s web site and checked the property tax records, just to see how—or if—the widow Cantolini spent her soon-to-be ex-husband’s life insurance money.
The house was in a neighborhood of older well-kept homes, built in the 1920s, along a group of streets named after Ivy League colleges. The house, at the corner of Northwest Princeton and East Yale streets, was nothing extravagant, nothing suspicious, well kept in a genteel, upper class sort of way, judging from the photo. She bought the house eight months after Brian’s death. After she tied the knot Joe Hansen, his name was added to the deed and hers was changed to reflect their nuptials.
A few more clicks and I had a home number. Thank God for those of us who still have landlines. I punched the number into my office phone and waited for Sharon Hansen to pick up the phone.
A perky “Hi, you’ve reached the Hansen’s” was the only voice I heard on the other end of the line. Oh, well. I left my name and number and the reason for my call. Hopefully, she’d call me back.
Maybe there were reasons why she didn’t come to Gina’s funeral. Maybe Brian’s abuse just caused too much damage and Sharon lost touch as her daughter fell into her destructive lifestyle. Maybe Sharon didn’t know Gina was dead—or that she had three grandchildren. Maybe Sharon was in ill health and couldn’t come. Maybe she was too ashamed of the life her daughter had adopted—or maybe just too judgmental. Families put up walls over the damnedest things.
Then again, maybe it was Sharon who anonymously paid for Gina’s funeral.
At any rate, what mother wouldn’t want to help in the search for her daughter’s killer?
Can’t wait to see how it ends? The entire book is available for purchase on my website, www.debragaskillnovels.com or come back next week for the next chapter. Holy Fitz, the next book in the Fitz series is also available on my web site.