Before I get into my short term relationship with the Kaperskys, I should probably tell you a little about who I am.
I’m Ben Langford, a 55 year old retired pharmacist and divorced father of two. I was born in the mid west and moved to Seattle with my parents as a teenager. I bought my little house in Sherman Oaks a little over a year ago to be near my children, both married and living in the Los Angeles area.
My life and interests are very mundane by most standards. Most of my time is spent reading, working on my vintage Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, tending to my orchid green house, and writing. I was able to retire early a few years ago shortly after a motorcycle accident. I was broad-sided by the teenage son of a congressman from Kirkland driving a Porsche Carrera. He ran a stop sign. After being in a coma for a month, I underwent several surgeries then physical therapy for a year. My settlement was more than ample though it left me with constant pain, a slight limp and one leg slightly shorter than the other. Oh, and the plastic plate under my skin on the right side of my head will always make my skull a bit numb where it was placed. Despite the accident, I feel fine…most of the time.
Other than several trips to Seattle each year to visit friends and check on my properties, I’m pretty much a home-body. I just don’t go out much, preferring to languish on the computer looking for motorcycle parts and writing a blog about orchids. I find working in my green house provides great solitude and relaxation as well as distraction from the dull ache I always feel in one leg. I have recently begun a new hobby: bistro-type French cooking. My neighbor, Jackie Kapersky, is also a gourmet chef having graduated from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in France before attending Harvard. Quite the renaissance woman, she was teaching me how to cook just before the lawn mower got her.
I first met Phil Kapersky at a neighborhood grocery store called Mineo’s Market and Meat just a few short blocks from my house. Located at an intersection where several old businesses still survive, Mineo’s was a place where many of us “locals” run into each other, exchange pleasantries, and pick up a few grocery items when we aren’t in the mood to drive to one of more of the larger supermarkets farther up the road. Although the prices at Mineo’s aren’t particularly competitive, it is always well stocked and has managed to survive for many years simply because it is convenient.
Mineo’s is owned and run by a pair of unidentical twin brothers named Anthony and Salvatore, a couple of second generation Sicilians whose parents escaped the Fascists in Italy at the start of the war and opened the market with money they stole from the Nazis before they left. Anthony Mineo is a broad-shouldered, tall man while brother Sal is a short, stocky fellow who is often referred to by his larger brother as “the midget in the meat department”. They always manage to maintain a bizarre symbiotic relationship with each other despite the constant verbal barbs thrown across the store at each other, making for great entertainment to patrons. It was obvious to most observers that the little man really ran things here, though Anthony doesn’t outwardly give much ground when Sal tries to order him around.
Anthony says things to me like, “My brother Sal, what an idiot. You know we were both the same size until we were teenagers, then he started smoking our father’s cigars in the basement – stunted his growth!” He would then let out a gruff-voiced chuckle, his wide shoulders moving up and down until the chuckling ended with a few old-smoker like coughs. “Damn!”, he would utter, returning to whatever he was doing at the time.
Sal’s meat counter is typical of something one might find in a small town in Italy. Hanging above the white glass meat case are a few dozen imported salamis, prosciutto hams, and a rubber chicken – the latter priced at $50 a pound, illustrating Sal’s dry sense of humor that punctuated most every conversation with him. Prices by the pound, scribbled on little white cards, hang from the top of each salami and ham. The meat case itself offers beef to pork to veal, ground meats, chickens with the feet still attached, and everything in between. It is well cared for and shows that Sal knows what he is doing. He has a lot of pride in that meat case. It was here I first purchased some beef shanks that Jackie Kapersky would use to teach me how to make Osso Buco.
One unseasonably cool day in June, I decided to walk the three blocks to Mineo’s for a few things. Depending on how my leg felt I would walk as often as possible, it helps keep it from tightening up on cooler days. I was standing in the produce aisle when I noticed a tall, slender man in his late twenties walking toward me pushing one of Mineo’s small grocery carts. He had whispy, short, straight blonde hair hanging out from under a beat up Harvard ball cap, a sleeveless muscle shirt with MTV on the front, cargo shorts, and leather sandals that looked as though they had seen better days. The Rolex watch contrasted with his casual attire and indicated he had a few bucks to toss around. Either that or the Rolex was a knockoff, I never found out for sure if the Rolex was real.
As I looked back down at the lettuce displayed in front of me I heard him say, “Hey, neighbor, how’s it going?”
“Pardon me”, I returned, not recognizing anyone I knew, “Do I know you?”
“Well, not really. Not yet anyway. I’m your neighbor from right next door”.
“Oh, hi. How are you”, I said still not fully realizing who this guy in the Harvard ball cap was”.
“I’m Phil Kapersky”.
“Ah, right right. I’m…”.
“And you’re Ben Langford, right?”
“Afraid so”, I answered, “How’d you know…”
“We got some of your mail by mistake one day. And, I’ve seen you coming to and from your greenhouse in the backyard. Orchids, right?”
“You got it”, I said extending my hand to shake his already outstretched hand, “The newlyweds from next door!”
“Yeah”, he said with a forced laugh while rolling his eyes, “We moved in about a week ago and haven’t been out much or we would have introduced ourselves”
“Ah, I remember being a newlywed”.
Phil’s face flushed a little as he looked away toward the lettuce display, “Yeah, well, the honeymoon’s over”.
Sensing a little trepidation in his voice, I decided not to question him in that direction.
Phil and I engaged in a little small talk for the next few minutes. I found out his wife Jackie already secured an assistant teaching position at a local community college while Phil was still trying to break into the corporate computer industry in L.A., specifically at any start up dot come in need of a recent Harvard grad who could write code in his sleep. I would find out later that he was very good at it and was also working with some friends on a couple of new websites with hopes of making all of them rich in a short amount of time. It hadn’t happened yet.
We exchanged polite “goodbyes for now” and I headed for the check stand with my Romaine and French bread, he walked toward the meat counter. As I was checking out, I could hear Phil and Sal discussing not meat, but politics.
“That godamn Bush!”, I heard Sal blare out, “I used to be a Republican! And Obama? Not much better, I can tell you that.” The remnants of Sal’s Italian accent were all but gone until he got angry and started talking about government and politics.
I left Mineo’s and began the short walk home. It was getting cooler and cloudy. Strange weather for June in Los Angeles. Looked like a thunder storm coming.
As I entered the walk leading to my front door, I noticed the silhouette of someone standing in the front window of the Kapersky’s house next door. I wasn’t able to make out the face, but it appeared to be a woman. Was that Jackie? I couldn’t tell. However, I would meet the newlywed bride of Phil later that afternoon.