I’m trying something new: posting a chapter of my first PI novel CALL FITZ here on my blog for you to enjoy. Can’t wait to see how it ends? The entire book is available for purchase on my website, www.debragaskillnovels.com.
No gunshot victims showed up at Fawcettville General Hospital.
The sour, middle-aged woman in happy face scrubs at the emergency room desk looked at me over her glasses.
“Why do you need to know?” she asked.
“I was chasing a man down an alley. He turned the corner and I heard a gun shot. When I turned the corner, he was gone—or what was left of him.”
“And you don’t think the staff here wouldn’t call the police if a gunshot victim showed up here?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“If we had a gunshot victim here, this place would be crawling with cops. Do you see any cops here now?”
She rolled her eyes like I was the dumbest asshole she’d seen all day. Maybe I was, but it wasn’t worth my time to explain myself or my case to her. I walked out the door.
I didn’t expect Rivera—or what was left of him—to show up, but I had to ask. If he made it to Akron, or Steubenville alive, I’d be surprised. If he were dead, whoever shot him would most likely dump the body on a slagheap at some abandoned steel mill, where it wouldn’t be found until the skeleton was picked bare.
I returned to my office to think over everything I’d found out.
Mac Brewster wouldn’t talk to me until he’d submitted his retirement papers—but what he wanted to tell me probably led more into the floundering marriage that was infecting Chief Monroe’s professional career. Brewster was too much of a Boy Scout to kill a fly, much less some drunk whore.
Jacob Poole was allegedly at his sister’s house, in a room full of goons, sharing birthday cake with the daughter he’d had with Gina,. The time stamp on the photo proved he didn’t kill Gina, even if he wasn’t in Akron.
Atwater admitted he argued with the victim over her requesting a DNA test, but said his wounds came from a drunken fall, a story that was thin at best.
I needed to talk to Reno Elliot.
It was two in the morning when I opened the door at Puccini’s coffee shop. The long-haired college student, his pony tail corralled in a hair net, looked up from whatever book he was reading and stood up from his seat near the cash register.
The place still looked like a hang out for teenaged girls in poodle skirts, who babbled about Bobby Darin. The red and white striped awning over the front window matched each booth’s upholstery lining up on the other side of the glass. The stools at the counter were patent leather red. Next to the cash register was a display case where rows of Joe Pucca’s famous Italian pastries sat, waiting to be purchased: pizzelles, biscotti, Italian doughnuts called bombalones and ciarduna sicilianos, tiny sweet cookie shells filled with mascarpone or ricotta cheese. Inside the case, a piece of paper clung to the glass by yellow, cracked adhesive tape: “WE DO WEDDING CAKES” was written in fading ink. A huge brass espresso machine, the same one I’d operated as a teenager, sat on the other side of the counter, surrounded by tiny white espresso cups and saucers, bottles of flavored syrup at attention along the mirror behind it.
The only nod to this century was the electronic cash register and the industrial strength coffee machine.
I ordered a decaf and a cannoli.
“So, I’m looking for a cop named Elliot. He works nights. Does he come here at all?” I asked when the kid brought my order.
“Big black guy? Bald? Maybe mid-thirties?”
“That would be him. He come in tonight?”
“Not tonight. I overheard him talking last week about going to see family someplace.”
I nodded and took a sip of decaf. And maybe he’s on the run from a murder.
“He’s popular though.”
“You’re the second person tonight who’s been in looking for him.”
“That so? Who else was looking for him?”
“Some Latino guy in a jacket and black baseball cap.”
“What? What time did he come in?” Rivera was here? He couldn’t have been—he’d been shot. I’d heard it myself. Unless… Rivera had done the shooting and he’d been the one to drag the body off. If that’s the case, who is this latest victim?
“The Latino guy—he come here often?”
The kid shrugged. “Maybe a couple times a week. He and the cop would sit over there and have a cup of coffee.” He pointed at a booth in the corner, one that gave customers a good view of the sidewalk without being seen.
“What did they talk about?”
“I never paid attention. They didn’t argue though. Neither of them ever got loud at any rate. I figured he was an undercover cop or something. They’d talk for maybe half an hour, and then they’d leave, but never at the same time. They were good tippers.”
“Did they come in about the same time every week?”
The kid thought a little bit before he answered. “Yeah, kinda. They’d come in anywhere between two and three thirty, usually. Cops on nights get lunch breaks, right? I figured they were on lunch break.”
“Thanks.” I took a bite of my cannoli and the kid walked back to his seat beside the cash register. When I finished, I paid my bill and got back in the Excursion.
As I drove through Fawcettville’s dark streets, some of this shit was starting to fit together. The same thug who was tailing me knew the crooked cop and met with him on a regular basis. That same cop, Reno Elliot, had to be intimidating Gina Cantolini.
Maybe he even killed her. That would explain why nobody wanted me looking into the case, why it would just be easier to let Atwater hang for her murder.
Maybe what Mac Brewster had to tell me was more than just the long sad tale of Chief Nathaniel Monroe ruining his professional career. Maybe I should sit down with him again and listen to what he had to say.
But that still didn’t explain what made Gina a target.
Maybe it was nothing more than covering up the actions of a bad cop to save Chief Monroe’s ass. If his position with the city was as precarious as Brewster told me, and he knew he had a bad apple, along with a sleazy wife, it could spell the end of his time at the helm of the FPD.
I smiled as I drove. What I wouldn’t give to be the one to push Chief Monroe out the door.
I stopped the Excursion at the intersection and realized where I was. Three houses down on the left was the Tudor I’d shared with Grace.
As I pulled up to the curb, a soft light shone from the front bedroom. I knew it was the light on the nightstand beside the brass bed. Gracie was a notorious night owl. She probably couldn’t sleep again and was probably reading or grading papers from her music theory class.
I sat behind the wheel, chewing my thumbnail.
I met Gracie when money went missing from the college music department and the college hired me to do the quiet digging before calling in the cops.
Asked by the college president to interview each member of the department, I stood outside her office door, letting the warm sounds of her cello fill the hallway before I knocked.
The tall beauty answered the door and took my breath away. Long, slim fingers of one hand held her cello’s neck and the bow as she reached out to shake my hand with the other. A loose skirt showed off thin hips and her black curly hair hung around a white boat necked blouse.
Her dark eyes met mine, shooting something I’d never felt deep into my gut and I couldn’t speak.
“Well, you’re either the oldest student I ever had request lessons or you’re the private dick that everybody is bitching about,” she said.
“I’m—I’m the—the,” I stammered. This didn’t happen to a wop like me. I was the one who could coax the panties off any woman in record time. I didn’t stand in anyone’s doorway at a loss for words, but now, here I was, dumb as a boy at his first middle school dance.
“You’re the dick. I get it. Come in. Let’s get this over with.”
The interview went well, not that the beautiful Dr. Darcy was ever a suspect. Eventually, the department secretary, a little old lady who verged on terminal virginity and whose eyes got large as saucers every time I entered the department offices, admitted to forging department checks when her trips to the Wheeling, West Virginia casinos didn’t go as planned. She paid everything back and quietly retired at the end of the academic year. No charges were ever filed.
Meanwhile Dr. Grace Darcy and I met every day for lunch on the college commons. We had dinner at her Tudor style house in the hills after symphony rehearsals and nights… Dear God, the nights. I closed my eyes, as if that could keep away the pain of what I’d lost.
I was truly the frog who’d been kissed by the princess, although our marriage didn’t lead to any magic transformation on my part. Simultaneously elegant and rough-edged, the Julliard-educated doctor of philosophy and the son of a steel town beat cop were the odd couple at faculty events, the subject of gossip at the symphony, but we didn’t care. We were happy.
And, after six years, I ruined it.
If I went to the door and knocked, will she let me in? Will she curse me for coming by at this ungodly hour? Or, if she was alone, will she open the door and welcome me in? Into her arms—or her bed?
Probably not, judging from the conversation we had the other day.
Maybe that Van Hoven asshole was there. Maybe he was in her bed, where I should be.
Maybe she was right. Maybe I should sign the papers and we should move on.
I put the Excursion back in gear and drove back to the office.