The prompt for the Chatham Writers Group today was to write about a mystery, either from your life, or a fictional one. In the following story, there are a few kernels of truth in the cornfield of fiction. After my story, I will reveal those kernels of truth.
Bizarre, peculiar, curious, any of these words could be used to describe the series of events that began to unfold in the North Hills of Pittsburgh in 1978. The fact that I now had the title of reporter – community interest for the Manchester Press & Journal, and no longer shared a desk with the janitor, were not part of those curious events. No, the series of events I allude to began with two seemingly unconnected incidents. Events my boss called me into his office to talk about.
“I got a couple of stories I want you to cover. First, that new, upscale restaurant that opened in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood has closed, abruptly. Patrons with reservations arrived to find the doors locked with a hand written note taped to the window declaring “closed until further notice.”
I was startled, “You mean Chadwick’s? Wow! I heard reservatations were being taken 4 weeks out. That is curious indeed. I’ll see what I can find out.”
“This second assignment is even more bizarre. Two guys fishing one of the channels around Neville Island snagged a severed human leg from between a couple of logs floating near the shore…”
“Your kidding,” I interrupted.
“Why would I kid about a severed human leg?” Asked my boss.
“No, I mean guys actually fishing off Neville Island. Between the two chemical plants and the coke making ovens, they’re more likely to catch an incurable disease than a fish.”
“Instead of making sick jokes, reach out to your detective buddies, who d’you call ‘em? Rowan & Martin? Another sick joke. See what they have on this leg.”
“Will do boss!” I got right to work.
The two detective buddies my boss referred to were Jack Rowan and Pat Martin, of the Pittsburgh PD. Friends of mine since college, Jack and Pat had known each other longer and had acquired their sobriquet from the popular comedy show, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In”. They were both busy, but agreed to meet at the Three Deuces for Happy Hour. I arrived at the bar before they did and was immediately hailed by the bars owner, Eddie Stanko. How he spotted me through the cloud of cigarette and fried kielbasa smoke, I don’t know. Eddie spoke in heavily accented Pittsburghese, which had taken me a couple of months to master. The first words out of his mouth caught me by surprise, “Yinz hear abaht Chad Riley’s new place closin’ all sudden like, n’at?”
I admitted all of us at the Press & Journal were surprised to learn of Chadwick’s closing.
Eddie continued, “Chad moved up pretty quickly in the restaurant world. Starting with that dive in the Strip District, then on the Sou’ Side with them college students, to going all snooty n’at with the Chadwick place.” Eddie motioned me to move closer. Looking about to see if anyone was listening he said, “The way I hear it, Chad got involved with some of them Picksburg mafia types. He owed somebody favors he couldn’t do. That leg that got snagged off Neville is rumored to be his. Something needs done about finding its owner.” My jaw bounced off the bar with the realization that my two stories now had a connection. Eddie’s eyes lifted and looked over my shoulder. With a big smile he bellowed into the smoke, “Well! If it isn’t two of Picksburg’s finest! Is this a reunion of sorts for the three of yinz? First round is on me!”
I stood to shake Rowan & Martin’s hands. Eddie set three frosty mugs of Iron City on the bar. Jack Rowan motioned to an empty booth with his beer hand and, batting smoke out of the way, we made our way to it.
After exchanging pleasantries, we got down to the purpose of our meeting. I related what Eddie Stanko had told me. Jack and Pat seemed as surprised as I was to hear of Chad Riley’s connection with the Pittsburgh mob. Pat looked around, softened his tone and said, “You’re hearing it from us first, but you can’t say where you heard this, if you print it. Chad Riley hasn’t been seen for several days now. His staff showed up for work and found the back entry door padlocked shut, with a note saying closed until further notice. No explanation from anybody, especially not Chad.”
Jack jumped into the conversation, “The leg found by the fishermen is from a male and, given its fairly good condition, was recently taken from its owner.” Glancing around, he added, “the pads of the toes were removed, so there is no way to check if there are any prints on record. If there is anything to the rumor Eddie is spreading, Chad’s disappearance and the leg’s appearance take on new meaning.” Jack usually played things close to the vest, it was most curious that he was offering this information ahead of the press conference.
Pat resumed talking, “The department is going to make an announcement about what we know regarding the leg and ask for the public’s help with providing information. Nobody has been reported to be missing in Pittsburgh, or the surrounding area. Not even Chadwick Riley.”
“My boss is expecting two stories, now they appear to be conjoined. Can I write this? How can I write it?” I asked.
Frank and Pat looked at each other and turned to me with broad smiles.
“You’ll figure something out,” said Frank, “you’re a good writer.”
“Just leave us out of it,” Pat chuckled.
I got in early the next morning and wrote about the puzzlement with the closing of Chadwick’s, and the unexplained disappearance of Chadwick Riley. I ran two pieces for the second story past my boss, one with Eddie Stanko’s (identified only as “a source”) unverified rumor, the second about the expected police announcement and their search for help. My boss chose to run the Chadwick closing story and the expected police announcement. “We don’t print rumors and speculation,” he said with pride.
Chadwick Riley was never reported as missing by his family, so the police couldn’t investigate, but he was not seen since before the mysterious closing of his popular eatery. A Tony Roma’s eventually moved into the place Chadwick’s occupied. Thirteen months later, a beaming Chadwick Riley appeared at a press conference to announce the start up of Riley Enterprises. His new endeavor would be providing food services for all three of Pittsburgh’s pro sports teams, also at the Convention Center. His only explanation for his mysterious disappearance was “he needed some time to clear his head and plan his next moves.”
To this day, almost 44 years later, the mystery of the owner of the severed leg, discovered floating among the logs along the shore of Neville Island, has never been solved.
The Background Story
My fictional story is based on true events that occurred in New Haven and Hamden, CT, in the mid-1980’s. The owner of a popular and successful tavern in New Haven decided to open an upscale restaurant in Hamden. This restaurant became immensely popular, reservations had lead times of several weeks. It was the place to be seen and many movers and shakers in New Haven, as well as the State of Connecticut were regular patrons. The restaurant did close abruptly, with no forewarning, stranding many reservation holders. The owner also mysteriously disappeared. A severed leg was discovered by some guys fishing in the salty marsh of New Haven harbor, the pads of the toes sliced away. Speculation and rumors began to swirl that the leg belonged to the missing restaurateur, and that he was the victim of a Mafia hit. Approximately a year after the discovery of the severed leg, said restaurateur astonishingly resurfaced with no explanation for his disappearance. He is very much alive to this day. The severed leg never was connected to its owner. Speculation had changed to it belonging to a cadaver and was a prank originated by Yale Med School students, also never proven. I changed the names of the actual people involved and moved the location of the events to Pittsburgh.
The Chatham Writers Group
4 thoughts on “The Leg”
Hi Ernie, I was thinking of that New Haven/Hamden incident from the past as I was reading your story. The relocation added the colorful Pittsburgh accent. Another great story. Nancy
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Thank you Nancy!
Great story. Testament to imagination… the characters’ in the bar… and yours.
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Thank you John! That was fun to write. Your Howard story was suspenseful! You did a nice job describing Howard’s phobia with the basement stairway.