Obviously he was expecting someone else. “Who the hell are you?” he wanted to know. I told him I wasn’t a cop and let him in on basically everything his wife told me about the letter she got. He wasn’t surprised. From out of his desk drawer he pulled a stack of similar letters he had received. There were four of them, each sent a week apart, each more insistent than the last. Pallas hadn’t taken them too seriously, but now that he knew his wife was involved he sure as hell was. He was ranting and raving, stomping around the office. “Who do these punks think they’re dealing with!?” He actually said that. It sounds lame, but this guy’s regular speaking voice is like a gunshot at a funeral. When it was raised, you want to get out of his way.

You could tell he was an asshole just by looking at him. I’d say he’s about five foot eight, at least three hundred pounds. Don’t hold me to that, I don’t work at the carnival or anything. His hair is going to grey and his mouth hangs open when he breathes in. And out. His suit jacket was flapping open and I got the idea that it hadn’t been buttoned up for a long time. I did the best I could to calm him down and explain what I wanted to do. These kind of things are pretty much always perpetrated by close acquaintances. I wanted to know about anybody he might have pissed off, who wanted him out of work. The guy wasn’t stupid and wasn’t afraid to be candid. He had made a lot of people angry over the years and was willing to admit what an asshole he could be. He had plenty of competitors who’d like to see him go under.

He focused on Rick Black, of Blackbird Boots. I knew a little of the story from his wife, but wanted more detail. Blackbird was a bigger company than Pallasson and was getting bigger everyday. Rick Black took over the company from his father, had spread it out over 5 or 6 states. He planned on eventually going national. Pallas knew that the man most responsible for Blackbird’s success was Randy Oldemeyer. So a few years ago, Pallas arranged to be at a cocktail party he knew Oldemeyer would be at. The man can be pretty persuasive. Within four months, Oldemeyer had left Blackbird and was working at Pallasson. Blackbird has been struggling ever since. To make matters worse, the day Oldemeyer started work, Pallas sent Rick Black a bottle of champagne and a smart-ass thank you note.

Then he got a little quieter. Like he was worried someone would hear. He had a few connections with organized crime. Anybody who does business, unionized or not, gets involved at least a little with criminals. They always want to shake down anybody who is making a bit of money. Protection or whatever. Some business owners fear the mob, some hate them. Others, like Pallas, love them. He pays his monthly “dues” plus a little bit more. He invites them to his parties. He gives out free shoes. Whatever he can do to make his friends happy. Then when he needs a little help with something, he knows right who to talk to. His connection was a pair of crooked cops working both sides. These guys aren’t that unusual. Detective Scott Benedict and Detective Arnold Arnold. I know. Arnold Arnold. That guy’s parents must have been real comedians. His friend call him Doctor cause his middle name is Michael. Think about it.

Pallas was expecting one of these guys when I walked through his door. I guess he’d been taking their advice concerning the threatening letters. But now Pallas was thinking they might be involved somehow. I wasn’t going for that because the mob doesn’t usually work in anonymous threats. If they want something, they just make it happen. And, anyway, Pallas seemed to be in pretty good standing with them. I was putting my bets on Rick Black.

The next thing I wanted was free reign to talk to Pallasson employees. Pallas gave his consent but asked me not to make any of them nervous or let on to any of them what was really going on. I assured him that I’d do my best not to stir things up. The guy was trying to run a business after all. I got Xerox copies of the letters from his desk and excused myself from the inner sanctum. As I shut the door, Pallas was leaning back in his chair, loosening is tie, and sweating like a bastard.

I hate walking over my own footsteps, it’s a quirk I have, like talking on the phone, so I started at one end of the hall and worked my way to the other, stopping at each office along the way to speak with whoever was inside. The first door I knocked on was marked Ruth Bunis.

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