Her name was Dorotea Salgado. Our housekeeper called her a friend.
She was sitting in a two-seat booth with her long, crinkled hands folded on the tabletop, and as I approached her she looked blankly at me, then returned to staring into the distance, toward the dappled sunlight and budding trees in Union Square Park. Her hollow, angular face was scored with wrinkles and dark lines, and her skin sagged slightly from the jaw. She wore a modest dress, burgundy with a paisley print, over her thin frame. Strands of gray, standing in contrast to her black hair, rested above her ears. At her side near the window sat a square pocketbook that wasn't new. It matched her brown belt and sensible shoes.
The old, '40s-style clock above the entrance to the kitchen read Diamonds, but if that was the name of the place, no one used it: The red-neon sign out front said coffee shop and nothing more.
At 11 on a Monday morning, black stools waited for customers at the Formica counter, and the small dining room to my right was empty except for a man working a laptop, nursing a mug of coffee.
I was in here once on a Sunday morning at about eight and was the only one who hadn't been out all night.
She looked at me and blinked her sad eyes and said, "Yes."
I told her I was Terry Orr. She slid out of the booth and stood. She was of average height and that made her much shorter than me.
She had a faint accent. Mrs. Maoli had said she was Cuban.
"Please," she said as she gestured to the booth.
I waited for her to sit. When she did, I squeezed in across from her, leaving my legs in the aisle.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
When the waitress appeared, I ordered coffee black.
"An espresso, Mrs. Salgado?" I asked.
In here, espresso was as close as we'd get to café Cubano, which had the viscosity of Brent crude and enough caffeine to jump-start a slug.
I waited for her to doctor her drink with sugar. Her teaspoon clinked the sides of the tiny cup.
She wore her gold wedding band on her right hand.
"You're looking for your daughter," I began.
"Yes," she said, "Sonia."
"Where did you last see her?"
"In Bedford Hills."
"You haven't seen her since her release?"
She shook her head.
"Do you know where she went?"
"I see." I went gently. "You're not close..."
She looked down into the cup. "It is difficult. Mistakes were made, and, no, she didn't want me to come see her."
"I-I was very angry," she said, "and then maybe it was too late." She hesitated. "In time, I visited, but she preferred not. Maybe so I would not see my daughter grow old in prison."
Our housekeeper Mrs. Maoli told me Sonia Salgado had been in Bedford Hills, a maximum-security facility up in Westchester, but between her wobbly English and my poor Italian she hadn't been able to give me much more. Her friend Mrs. Salgado was "a good woman, not young now--she must not work at this age. She has many problems. Her grandson is not well." Urging her to tell me more, I learned that the Italian word for a woman who murdered is assassina.
Mrs. Maoli mimicked downward strokes with a knife.
"Even after thirty years, she is my daughter," the old Cuban woman said.
"Did she have any plans? A job?"
"I don't know," she answered. "I have no information."
I sipped the bland coffee. "Is it possible she wanted to disappear?"
"Is there a reason you need to find her?"
She frowned quizzically. "Did Natalia tell Do you know about Enrique?"
Excerpted from A Well-Known Secret © Copyright 2002 by Jim Fusilli. Reprinted with permission by Putnam. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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