[EXCERPT, THE ARSONIST’S LAST WORDS]
Jaysukh Chaudhary, Owner, The Clean Team, Monday, April 13, 7:45 p.m.
Mr. Chaudhary, I’m sorry to bother you at home.
Who is this?
My name is Juni Bruder. I work for the Herald. I’m trying to get some background on Mauro Abissi, your employee—
How did you get this number?
You had the cleaning contract with the Plaza. You’re one of the few people who knew anything about him—
My lawyer said not to talk.
I understand, and I’m not asking for confidential information. I’m only trying to find out what kind of person he was, whatever you might—
He worked for me three months. Call his family. They knew him better than I.
Frankly, they’re not answering the phone.
Can you blame them?
No, and I wouldn’t either. That’s why, when something bad like this happens, we end up talking to people on the fringes, people like you who get thrust into the news through no fault of their own—
Thrust? What do you mean by this, thrust?
It’s a matter of public record that Mr. Abissi worked for you. It’ll be in all the papers tomorrow.
He wasn’t working for me! I fired him!
Mr. Chaudhary, do you mind if I record this? It’s very important, what you’re saying. When did you fire Mr. Abissi?
Five days ago. Write this down: I fired him on Thursday. He was not working for me when this terrible thing occurred. I have—I had his signature: Marko Abissi. Terminated as of Thursday, April 9. Five days ago.
He signed it “Marko”?
That is his name.
Not his real one.
My real name is Jaysukh. Nobody calls me that but my mother. It’s Jay. Do you want to see my driver’s license?
I’m sorry, Mr. Chaudhary. It’s just that the details might
well, anyway. You fired Mr. Abissi—Marko—on Thursday. Why?
Let’s just say they weren’t too pleased with him, where he was. Three years I had that account. I could not afford any trouble.
How many people worked there for you?
Uh, fifteen, actually. Six on the day shift, nine at night.
All accounted for?
Yes. A miracle, truly. All of them, late for work. I should dock their pay.
Did you have any problems with Marko before, any other complaints?
No, only the one. He was a good worker. A hard worker.
So let me understand this. Someone at the Plaza complained about Marko on Thursday, and you had to let him go.
Did he argue about it?
No. He left the building quietly. He came to my office to pick up his check. He asked me who complained, but I couldn’t tell him.
Can you tell me?
What was the complaint about?
When it’s the owner of the building, you don’t ask. You say, “Yes, sir. Anything you say, sir.”
Mr. Costas? He called you himself?
No, I didn’t mean—
Had you dealt with him before? I mean, I would have expected someone from his office to handle the day-to-day details.
Mr. Arnaud usually called, but I didn’t—
Mr. Chaudhary, this is very important. You’re saying Dante Costas called you on Thursday and told you to fire Marko Abissi?
I’m not saying anything of the kind. I need to go.
Did Mr. Abissi give you any indication that he meant to do someone harm?
Oh, yes, of course! He told me he was going down to that building on Monday morning to blow it up! What do you think? Of course not! He shook my hand. He said he was sorry. He took his check and left. That’s it!
What was he sorry for?
Losing his job? I don’t know. It’s what a person says.
I’m just trying to understand—
You think I don’t know? I keep asking myself, how could I not see? What did I miss? If you ask me, I’d say it’s impossible! I looked him square in the eye. I saw nothing! Nothing like this! If I did, I would have strangled him with my bare hands!
Did you think he was capable of violence?
No! He was a nice young man, quiet, too good to be washing windows, but he worked hard, so what did I care? I didn’t ask why he lost his other job. Now, I wonder if I should have—
Can you tell me where he worked before?
I don’t know. Construction. It’s on his application. Mick vouched for him, so I didn’t care.
Do you mind if I swing by your office tomorrow for a copy?
Too late. The FBI took it.
The FBI? Already?
My files, my computer, everything, gone. How am I supposed to work without a computer? They looked like accountants, these guys. No guns, no vests. Suits.
Did they ask for anything specific?
Do burglars give you a list before they ransack the house?
So any information you have on Marko is gone.
They left the phone book. I can look up his number for you.
Why didn’t I think of that?
Mr. Chaudhary, I’m sorry to put you through this.
It’s okay. You are only the messenger.
I hope your business doesn’t suffer too much.
You mean, other than bankruptcy?
Why do you say that?
Miss—what was your name?
Miss Bruder, you cannot imagine this is what they call “good” publicity.
No, I suppose not.
And the lawsuits will bury me besides.
But as you said, Marko wasn’t your employee at the time.
That won’t stop the lawyers.
How long have you been in business, Mr. Chaudhary?
Eighteen years. My wife was nagging me to retire.
Well, you know what they say—
Please don’t tell me “everything happens for a reason.”
You don’t think so?
I don’t think these people died so I could join the AARP, no.
Did you know anything about Mr. Abissi’s military record?
No. Only the cough.
What do you mean?
He had a cough. I asked. It came from the Gulf, he said. He took medicine for it. That’s all.
Did he talk about his divorce?
Miss Bruder, you seem to be under the misapprehension that we sat around discussing life. I run a business. I saw Marko once a week on payday. We spoke five minutes, maybe. He showed me pictures of his little girl. I bragged about my grandson. We debated the merits of an arranged marriage.
You believe in that sort of thing?
No. The Methodist Church frowns upon it. I am a U.S. citizen, Miss Bruder. I met my wife at a drive-in movie. My daughters found husbands quite well on their own.
I didn’t mean—
No, this is good, Miss Bruder. Good practice. This is America. Innocent until proven guilty. But when the people decide who is good or bad, there is no argument. If they say Marko did this thing, he is a bad man. And he worked for me, Jay Chaudhary, so I must be a bad man, too.
Not if you did nothing wrong.
Tell that to the FBI.
Copyright © 2012 by Alison R. Lockwood. All rights reserved.