That night Van put together the section of the piece that captured Bill’s stream of consciousness monologue about his sister. Van began to get a sense of who she was, at least from her much-younger brother’s perspective. But there was still a lot missing that he began to want to understand more as his work on the piece progressed.
He ate out that night – at the Queen Italian Restaurant on Court Street, a 20 minute subway ride away. He always ate from the Prix Fixe menu, a whole lot of food for about $30, not including the wine. “A little glass of chianti on the house for an old friend and customer?” It was Van’s traditional greeting, that always got him a shot glass-size quantity of wine. Tonight he had a full glass of the house red, along with homemade Mozzarella alla caprese, veal baked with baby eggplant and fontina cheese, a potato croquette that he chose not to eat, chocolate tortino for dessert, and six cups of coffee. Total bill, including tax – $48.50. Van left a generous tip, and enjoyed the walk back to the subway station, reveling in his two days’ straight worth of good work. While he was on the train, he considered the best way to find Mary Ann. He thought about contacting Bill’s production company, but thought better of it since Bill had such strong feelings of antipathy towards the woman. As he entered his apartment, his cell phone began to buzz in his pocket. He’d muted it, hoping to have a quiet dinner with no telephone interruptions from anyone, especially from his mother. Instead, he heard an unfamiliar woman’s voice. “Is this Van?” the voice inquired. He responded, “Yes, who is this, please?” She answered, “This is Catherine – from the other day – night – from the Starbucks. Do you remember me?” Van closed the door behind him, and set down the leather binder that contained his working papers. “Catherine – of course I remember. I had a great time talking with you.” Catherine said, “I know you said you were working on that article for The New Republic, and I wanted you to know I’d found some more material that you might find useful. It was sort of indexed in a weird way, so it didn’t come up with the key words you entered. Would you like for me to mail them to you?”
Van said, “I have a different idea. How about we meet for lunch tomorrow? I would love to see you again, and that way we can talk about the stuff you found.” Catherine appeared to hesitate, but finally said “I only get an hour for lunch. Do you mind if we go back to that Starbucks? It’s close and their ham & swiss on a baguette is actually decent.” Van chuckled, and said “Frankly ham and swiss is always my sandwich of choice. What time do you usually go to lunch? Catherine said “I go at 1 so Mary Louise can run home to walk her dog. Will that work for you?” Van said, “Yes, it will, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.” Catherine hung up before Van could ask if he was to meet her at the restaurant or at her job. He decided to go a little early and meet her at the NY Post – maybe she could help him figure out how to contact Mary Ann Zielonko. After all, she worked for a Rupert Murdoch tabloid – they knew how to hack into dead people’s phones, so surely one woman in New York would not be hard for them to find. Van felt bad about that thought shortly after he had it, but then got back to the business of polishing up his notes from the Bill interview.
He arrived at the Post at 12:30, with his binder full of notes. Catherine appeared pleased to see him, but Van was still wary about being too friendly, so she wouldn’t get the wrong idea. Right now, he was interested in getting her help on the piece. She seemed smart, and certainly had some resources to bring to bear on the subject. Van wondered momentarily if it was a conflict of interest for one news organization to assist with a piece that was going to another, but quickly dismissed the thought. He looked through the material Catherine handed him, and it turned out to be fairly repetitive with what he had. There were a couple of details that were new. One piece from the New York Journal American had the names of the police detectives that worked on the case. Van thought that list would come in handy when he got to those interviews.
They left the building a little after 1, and went to the Starbucks. They both ordered the ham and swiss on baguette, and two cafe mochas. They sat talking for most of the hour about other topics. Just before it was time for Catherine to go back to work, Van explained his dilemma about finding Mary Ann. Catherine said, “Oh, I can probably help you with that. We have a database with the names and contact information for just about anybody that was ever anybody going back at least 60 years.” Van said, “I’d appreciate your help with that.”
They walked back to the NY Post office. Catherine sat at her desk, and opened a database on her computer. She asked Van, “How do you spell her last name?” Van told her, and Catherine typed it in. She said, “Here it is – Mary Ann Zielonko. Last address listed is in Queens.” Catherine clicked on the name, and a small amount of information came up. “Yes – here’s a telephone number for her – it says it came from the New York City telephone directory, so there shouldn’t be any problem with you talking with her.” Van took the printout she’d sent to the adjacent printer, thanked Catherine for her help, and said he’d give her a call, now that he had her number in his phone. Naturally, he had little to no intent to do so, unless of course he needed additional help on the piece. He just didn’t want her getting the wrong idea.
Out on the sidewalk, Van pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number. After three rings, a woman answered. She sounded old and frail. “Is this Mary Ann Zielonko?” The woman answered, “Yes, who wants to know?” Van identified himself and told her he was writing a piece about Kitty Genovese for The New Republic‘s October issue. There was silence on the other end. Van was afraid she’d hung up, but he could still hear her breathing. “Is that really necessary?” the woman asked. Van sensed he’d have only one shot at talking with her. “I spoke with Bill, and he assured me that Kitty was in no way romantically involved with you. I thought you might like to set the record straight about that, and maybe give me some insight into who she really was. I don’t think anyone else has done that, in spite of everything that’s been written. Don’t you think Kitty deserves that?” Van was afraid that last sentence was going to be too much, and alienate the woman he desperately wanted to speak with. After another long pause, the woman said, “She was the best thing that ever happened to me. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about her. Did you know she wrote poetry? Yeah, she wrote some great stuff.” There was another long pause. The woman spoke again. “Have you ever lost the one thing that made your life worth living?” Van hesitated and then responded, “No.” She said, “There’s this song – I forgot that guy’s name that wrote it, but it was in some really crazy movie I saw late at night. It was just a little piece of the song, but I really liked it. So I bought the CD. And when I heard the whole song, I just fell apart. It was called “Most of the Time” … anyway, you don’t care about all that shit. You just want the dirt about Kitty and me so you can make us look stupid – like that Kevin Cook did.” Van hesitated before he said, “I had a dream about Kitty. She spoke to me and told me to tell her story by talking to everybody, especially you. I want to do that. Can I meet you somewhere for coffee or something? The woman said, “She talks to me sometimes in my dreams. So I guess you and I have that in common. Come by tomorrow and I’ll talk with you. But no bullshit this time, OK?” Van agreed, and they set the time for 11 am at her apartment, three and a half miles away from where Kitty met her end.