I’m going to try something new—I’m going to post chapters each Saturday night of my first Fitz novel, CALL FITZ. If you’d like to read more, the complete book is for sale on Amazon.com as both an Ebook and a paperback book. This is the first book in a series that will include three books—so far. The second book is called HOLY FITZ and is also available on Amazon. The third book, LOVE FITZ, will come out in late May. Enjoy!
Gina Cantolini was a whore, but she didn’t deserve to die like that. I mean, the girl had a lot of friends.
It was Fawcettville’s annual Italian Fest, where they closed down four city blocks and the scent of marinara, cannoli and cheap Chianti hung like a fog around the stone Civil War soldier standing at attention in the center of the square. Every wop or wannabe in town was there.
Which was amazing because nobody ever saw Gina’s bloody body underneath the bandstand set up in the middle of the street. Her one sandal-clad foot must have stuck out from beneath the canvas skirt at the back of the stage for hours.
It doesn’t say much for me that I, the only PI in town, didn’t see it either, even as I leaned out the office window to look out over the crowd, a bottle of Jack and a glass sitting on the sill.
My office is up above Grundy’s Fine Watches and Jewelers on the town square. It’s not much to look at, all dark wood, used furniture and bad paint straight out of a film noir. Since my wife dumped me, I’ve been sleeping on the waiting room couch at night, eating at a variety of downtown diners and showering at the YMCA after my morning workout.
That night, blue, flashing lights woke me up about 1 a.m. I looked out the window to see a couple cruisers and the coroner’s van behind what was left of the bandstand. I wasn’t on that payroll anymore, so I didn’t give a shit. I’d made it through the requisite twenty years it took to get a cop’s pension. I went back to sleep.
Police picked up the suspect, Michael Atwater, within a few hours after finding the body, according to the TV news the next morning. I knew Atwater from my days on the force. A kid from a decent, hardworking family who was known for making really stupid choices, Atwater wasn’t the type to kill anybody, but you never know. Maybe he tried to steal Gina’s purse and she fought back. Maybe he wanted something that wasn’t on Gina’s usual menu, or maybe he just refused to pay and things got out of hand. Either way, a twenty-five-year-old hooker was dead and a small time thug was behind bars for her murder.
Seemed pretty cut and dried.
And, again, not my problem.
So, two days later, I was surprised when his attorney, James Ambrosi, Esquire, was waiting in the hall at my office door when I got back from the Y. He was leaning against the wall, reading email on his smart phone.
“So, Jimbo,” I said, pulling the office key from my hoodie pocket and sliding it into the lock. “What brings you here?”
Ambrosi was closer to the end of his mediocre legal career than the beginning. He was a slob, like his clients, and his breath smelled like convenience store cigars. His suits were cheap and what was left of his comb-over was gray. He was on the lower rungs on the town’s legal ladder, the kind of lawyer who could get a halfway decent plea agreement negotiated for you, but probably couldn’t be counted on to provide a stellar defense.
In all my years on the force, I spent a lot of time in courtrooms, explaining how or why the asshole at the defense table ended up there. I don’t think Ambrosi cross-examined me more than a handful of times and every time his client ended up doing hard time.
Me, I didn’t do a lot of defense work in my newest profession.
Most of my clients were suburban wives with enough money to pay me to verify what they knew in their hearts: hubby had a little something on the side. If it wasn’t the wives themselves that called me, it was their lawyers.
Most of the wives wanted to pay me back the same way their husbands had betrayed them.
It’s why I’m sleeping on the waiting room couch.
Ambrosi didn’t speak as we walked through the door. I tossed my gym bag into the corner, next to an end table filled with old Field and Stream magazines.
“Coffee?” I asked. As he followed me into the office, I shoved a cup his direction, so as to keep his cigar breath at arm’s length.
“Sure.” Ambrosi accepted my offering and sank into one of the ratty chairs in front of my desk.
I poured myself a cup and seated myself.
“So, what brings you here?” I repeated.
“Mike Atwater, the kid they picked up for Gina Cantolini’s murder.”
“You representing him?” Poor kid. You’d think his parents would find a real lawyer.
“Uh huh.” Ambrosi took a sip of his coffee. “You know me, Fitz, I don’t give a shit one way or the other if my client is guilty or innocent. I just want him to get a decent defense.”
I nodded. “Of course. I understand.” With the least amount of effort on your part, I’m sure.
“And we both know that most of the clients that troop through my office probably did it. This time, though, I think this guy’s innocent. I need somebody to look into what’s going on. Naturally, your esteemed firm of Fitzhugh Investigations came to mind immediately.”
“You know most of my stuff is matrimonial, right?”
“You could do this, Fitz. I know you could, you being a retired cop and all.”
I flipped the daily pages on my desktop calendar. Cases were a little thin right now—the blank pages confirmed that. I could use the money, especially if I needed to pay for my own divorce lawyer.
“Why do you think this kid is innocent?” I asked.
Ambrosi sank into the shoulders of his cheap suit and sighed.
“He wouldn’t kill Gina. He’s the father of two of her three children.”
“He is? I did not know that. But, sad to say, it happens all the time.” I shrugged.
“But my client was crazy about Gina and crazy about those two kids.”
I shrugged again. “Doesn’t mean they couldn’t have argued and it got violent. Were they living together?”
“No. She’s no a Sunday school teacher—we both know that. She had another boyfriend. Maybe a third, both of them violent.”
“Give me their names.” I pulled pencil out of my desk drawer and found a piece of scrap paper on the desk.
“Poole. Jacob Poole—that’s the one my client told me about. She had a restraining order against him and he’s the father of one of her kids.”
“So who’s the other one?”
“My client claims it’s a cop.”
I arched an eyebrow. Chief Nathaniel Monroe hated my guts—and I hated his.
The reason I’m sleeping on the waiting room couch was the same reason my career at the police force ended. Women and an inability to say no to them at one time were the reason I got discharged from the air force (the wing commander’s wife) and, in college, why I lost my scholarship (the football coach’s wife).
I left the Fawcettville police force after getting caught with the luscious and lonely Mrs. Maris Monroe.
The chief was going to fire me, but I filed my retirement papers twenty minutes before he called me into his office. He’d been gunning for me ever since. It wasn’t my fault he couldn’t keep his wife happy in the sack. I wasn’t the first—I was just the first to get caught.
What if Monroe had a crooked cop on his staff that killed a hooker? I’d love to embarrass that bastard one more time.
“I’ll take the case.”
The next day, I walked the three blocks from my office to meet Ambrosi and my newest client at the county jail.
Fawcettville was one of those eastern Ohio towns that had weathered more than one economic rise and fall and it showed. The first economic wave brought the Irish, along with Eastern European and Italian immigrants, like my ancestors, to work in the potteries, making the dishes that filled kitchens all over the world, making Fawcettville famous—and prosperous. When the potteries shuttered their doors, the wops and the Pollacks, the krauts and the micks all found work in the blast furnaces and the foundries of the steel mills that sprang up in the triangle between Akron, Pittsburgh and Steubenville.
When I was a kid, most people worked in the steel mills. My dad, Sgt. Aidan Fitzhugh was a beat cop, like his dad and his dad before that. We were the only Irish family in the Italian neighborhood everyone called New Tivoli and my Ma, Maria Gallione Fitzhugh made Sunday dinners of pasta, drowning in marinara and meatballs, washed down with gallons of dago red wine.
It was Ma who insisted I carry her father Niccolo’s name. In a tough Italian neighborhood in a tougher Ohio steel town, a kid named Niccolo Fitzhugh got made fun of a lot—“Nick the Mick” was the most common taunt my small, scrawny self endured. Then puberty discovered me and I discovered high school football and the weight room. “Nick the Mick” just became Fitz.
Neighborhoods back then were marked by their ethnicities. The krauts, the Poles and the hunkies lived in the Flats, down by the creek that ran through town. The hillbillies, the blacks and the Mexicans lived further out, toward the edge of town in a ratty neighborhood that edged next to the mills and the industrial area, called Tubman Gardens.
Further away from the creek, up the steep eastern Ohio hills that rose above Fawcettville was where the mills’ executives and middle management lived. The doctors, the lawyers, folks with degrees and letters after their names, lived up those hills in big sprawling houses. It was a symbol that you made it when you could leave the old bricked streets, with their old wooden houses and tiny yards and move to the suburbs on the hills.
Then that light, too, went out when I was in high school. The mills closed and Fawcettville got real ugly real fast. Most everyone began referring to it as “F-Town,” for obvious reasons. It was fucked economically.
It was the dirty windows of empty storefronts, filled with cobwebs, abandoned display cabinets and peeling paint, that I was running from all those years ago when, after losing my Kent State football scholarship, I got on a bus for Lackland Air Force Base and a hitch in the air force. When I came back in the eighties, things were looking up yet again. This time I had my training as a security policeman in my back pocket and, thanks to my dad, a job on the Fawcettville police department waiting on me.
I looked up at what used to be the hometown department store as I strolled toward the jail. Thanks to the latest economic incarnation, the search for natural gas deep in the shale beneath the ground, money was flowing back into Fawcettville. What I knew as Kleinman’s Department Store was now broken down into a series of artist’s studios, where every wannabe Da Vinci and Grandma Moses could set up their easel and paint for a small rental fee. Their art now filled the windows of the first floor gallery, some of it exceptional, most of it crap. I turned the corner and passed the Mexican joint where Lupe, the owner’s daughter, automatically opened a cold Dos XX for me when I walked in the door. Next to the Mexican diner sat a drug store, a tattoo parlor and a cell phone store. There was a coffee shop known for its Hungarian pastries and, across the street, sat the old jail, built shortly before the Civil War soldier in the center of town.
I stopped in front of the old Victorian structure, which was now a four-star restaurant called Ye Olde Gaol. I jammed my hands in my pants pocket and sighed.
Six years ago, I’d asked Dr. Grace Darcy, Ph.D., to marry me there. She was tough talking, tall, with dark cascading hair and brown eyes that shot with fire when I pissed her off, which was often. As the principal cellist in the Fawcettville symphony and a professor of music at the college, she was infinitely a better catch than I was.
I’d married up, no doubt. How could I have fucked it up so badly?
I shook my head and stepped across the bricked street toward the seventies’ era jail, all razor wire and concrete. Michael Atwater and his illustrious legal representative were waiting for me there.