The Road to Pine Tree (part 6, conclusion)
Recap of Part 5: Wilcox hops on a train full of GIs that’s headed from New York City to Pine Tree, Vermont. He follows the flow of people to a crowded ski lodge where he finds the Haynes sisters in the middle of an elaborate Christmas-themed stage show. He talks his way back to the green room where he catches them redhanded and alerts the police.
The reporter scribbled furiously on his little pad, but even so Jack was amazed that he seemed to be able to keep up. All the major details of the case had been reported in the Miami Herald the week before; this article would be a personal interest story for the society pages of the Daily News and Jack was glad to do it. The office phone had been ringing off the hook almost since the moment he had gotten back into town and Jack was sure having his picture in the papers again would only help to drum up that much more business.
“So, just one more question, Mr. Wilcox,” the reporter said. “What’s next? Where does Jack Wilcox go from here?”
Jack paused for a moment, taking a long pull on his cigar as he collected his words.
“Well, Lloyd, in a way I guess I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be in this office, ready to help the good folks of Miami whenever I can. But maybe now I can do that just a little bit better and for a few more people.”
“That’s swell, Mr. Wilcox.”
The reporter flipped his notepad closed as he stood.
“Editor says we’ll run it this Sunday. Now I just have to sit down at that typewriter and get it on paper. It was a pleasure talking to you.
After the two men shook hands, the reporter collected his hat and headed out the door. Jack hardly had time to knock the ash off his smoke before there was another knock at the door.
Peering through the frosted glass of the office’s outer door he could tell that this new caller was a dame. The shape of the figure and the silhouette of the hat were unmistakable.
He placed his cigar on the ashtray, waved away some of the smoke that hung over his desk, and said, “Come in, doll.”
The door opened slowly and at the sight of the woman that slid gracefully through the opening his jaw hit the floor.
His ex-wife was the absolute last person Jack had expected to see. She made that little smirk that had always driven him crazy—at first with what he had been sure was love, but toward the end with white-hot rage.
“Good to see you too, Jack,” she said, taking the seat across from him. “I see you haven’t given up the smoking . . . or the drinking.”
Jack snatched his flash from off his desk and stowed it in a drawer. She smoothed the folds of her skirt and ever so slightly adjusted her hat, giving it that flirtatious tilt that she was always trying to maintain. Her tailored suit was light gray wool, accentuating everything that Meg wanted accentuated. It must have been stifling in the Miami humidity, Jack thought, but the woman he had once called the love of his life had always made function take a back seat to fashion.
“What do you want, Meg? And where are the kids?”
“They’re with my sister for the day.”
Digging into her clutch, Meg retrieved a compact and began touching up her makeup almost as if Jack were not there.
“Well, aren’t you going to tell me about this big case of yours?”
“Come on, Meg, I know you didn’t just come by to shoot the breeze.”
She paused, looking up at him over the edge of her handheld mirror, then finished what she was doing. The compact snapped shut and disappeared back inside her purse. At another time Jack might have shuddered to think about how much the tiny purse cost, but he was too preoccupied at the unannounced and unexplained appearance of his former spouse.
“Well?” she repeated.
The face she made was one Jack had seen many times before; it was a face that said “you will do what I want, one way or another.” Before the divorce there was no expression more likely to make him dig in his heels. At that moment, however, the urge to put up his dukes was totally absent. It was a blissful feeling.
“You’ve read all about it in the papers already, I’m sure,” he began. “But the short of it is that one of the Pedrosian brothers came to me for help. I don’t suppose anyone but J. Edgar Hoover and a few of his closest G-men knew that the Pedrosians had been running the biggest art smuggling ring on the entire Eastern Seaboard. So there was no reason for me to suspect it was anything other than a routine ‘go find the thief’ case. Not my typical work, but not way out of left field either.”
“What about Jeffries and those girls?” Meg interjected. She was lapping it up like a kitten with a warm saucer of milk. Ironic, Jack thought, that he couldn’t recall her being this attentive to him in years.
“Jeffries was just the fence for the goods, but he was skimming off the top and the Haynes sisters were helping him. If a piece or two went missing every once in a while, well, those kinds of things can’t be helped, now can they? Or so they thought. But the Pedrosians were on top of them the whole time. They slipped up when they gave that horse thing to those poor fellas that were helping them traipse all the way north to Vermont. Those girls and Jeffries will sit in the clink for a while, but the Pedrosians scattered like the rats that they are.”
Jack picked up his cigar and puffed out a cloud of smoke before continuing. As much as she hated his habit, Meg wasn’t going to go anywhere.
“It’s a good thing Wallace and Davis were clueless about what was really going on. Things like that can ruin a career in show business.”
Jack laced his fingers together behind his head then leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk. The true reason for her visit finally came out. If he had had more than a moment to think about it, Jack might have come up with a real zinger of a response, but before he could, a knock came at the door.
“Sorry, honey, business calls,” he said, rising from his seat.
She protested her pending exit vehemently. She spat out, “You’re a miserable, lonely, unhappy man, Jack Wilcox.”
“Don’t be silly, Meg. I’m a very happy man. Now.”
“Well, you're happy for the wrong reasons. That’s no different than being lonely and miserable, except it's worse.”
Jack grinned at that and only just barely kept from laughing in her face. “Whatever you say, sweetheart. Whatever you say. Kiss the kids goodnight for me and tell ‘em I’ll come by in the morning. With presents.”
Maybe Christmas would come a little later that year for the Wilcox kids, but Jack was going to make sure it was one that they would never forget.