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.
The Fawcettville cop was picked up in Akron after a half-dressed woman, bleeding from facial wounds, ran screaming from a cheap motel, into the street where a passing cruiser picked her up, according to the story.
The officer made an attempt to flee in his vehicle; a short chase ended when he hit a parked car six blocks away. He had scratches on his face and arms, and was carrying his badge.
The cop was identified as Reno Elliot. The paper didn’t have a mug shot but ran his FPD shot from the department web site instead.
The victim was a known drug addict and a prostitute with an extensive record; Elliot met her at the corner and allegedly beat her after sex. She suffered facial fractures and two broken ribs, the story said.
I looked over at Ambrosi.
“This doesn’t look good for Elliot, but it looks good for our case,” I said.
“You think Elliot killed Gina?” he asked.
“I think there’s too many things which could tie him to the murder at least circumstantially.” I filled him in on what I’d found out. “He’s got a checkered career at best and now he’s been arrested for beating the shit out of some working girl,” I finished.
“We’ll be stirring up a hornet’s nest if we accuse a cop of murder. You know that, don’t you?” Ambrosi didn’t look like he had the backbone.
“What are you afraid of?” I asked. There’s nothing I want more than to hang Monroe over a dirty cop. If you’re too afraid to do it, you don’t need to be in this business.
Or is this why you’re paying me?
“You don’t think Jacob Poole has anything to do with this?”
“I’m not sure. He showed me a picture on his phone. He said he was at a birthday party for his daughter, supposedly at his sister’s house. If I were you, I’d subpoena that sucker as fast as I could and see if somebody could find where that photo was taken and if the time stamp is accurate. If it turns out that he’s telling the truth, then he’s off the hook.”
“So what happened to your face?”
I filled him in on Rivera, including the shooting in the alley, his alleged post-mortem appearance at Puccini’s coffee shop, along with his previous acquaintance with Elliot.
“What does he have to do with this case?”
“Maybe a lot. I think that the word went out from the jail straight to Chief Monroe that I was investigating this case. Monroe’s out to get me—he has for a long time.”
“It’s a long story—one that doesn’t make either of us look very good. Anyway, I think Monroe heard I’m on the case and he panicked. He’s terrified our investigation will uncover he’s hired a bad cop. With everything going on with his wife, that could end his career.”
“Ah yes. Mrs. Monroe. I’ve heard quite a bit about her. Not a good situation for a man like the Chief.”
“I’m betting he thinks Rivera’s intimidation will shake me off the case.”
Ambrosi exhaled the smoke from his acrid cigar toward the ceiling and nodded.
“The grand jury meets next week. If we want to present evidence to clear my client, you need to talk to Elliot.”
Elliot was being held at the East Crosier Street Jail, about an hour from Fawcettville. Males and females were held in the five interconnected diamond-shaped pods surrounded by razor wire and a neighborhood that had seen better days. Because he was a cop, Elliot was being held in isolation for his own protection.
He sat across from me, separated by bulletproof glass.
He looked like he’d had the shit beat out of him. His angular brown face had long fingernail scratches down each cheek. There were abrasions on his muscular arms and on the side of his shaved head. His knuckles were bloody.
I wondered how much of the damage came from the hooker and how much of it came from the crash and his apprehension.
If he hadn’t been so roughed up, I guess I could have seen while someone—Alicia Linnerman, for example—might even think he was handsome.
We picked up the receivers to talk.
“Who the fuck are you?” he asked.
“They didn’t tell you my name before they brought me back here?”
“Yeah. I don’t know any Nick Fitzhugh.”
“I’m a PI. I’m looking into what happened to Gina Cantolini and your name keeps coming up.”
“How’s that?” His lip curled sarcastically.
“You broke up a fight between the victim and her boyfriend Sunday night at the Italian Festival.”
“You were also heard demanding a blow job from the victim before she died.”
Elliot smirked but didn’t answer.
“Another thing, Officer Elliot, I’m a retired cop. One thing I and my other brothers and sisters don’t take too kindly to is assholes like you who tarnish the badge.”
Reno leaned into the glass, his fist tightly clutching the phone receiver that linked us.
“Listen, I don’t know why you are here and frankly I don’t care—”
“I’m here because I’ve put some things together about you—and they could make you a pretty likely murder suspect. I know what kind of cop you are. I know you’ve bounced from department to department because you’re either too stupid to do what you’re told or you’re one of those dicks who things a gun and a badge is a license to break all the rules.” I leaned in closer, too. I knew the conversation was being recorded and I wanted the jailers to catch every word. “I think this girl who got away from you wasn’t your first. I think you like hitting women, particularly powerless ones who won’t or can’t fight back. I think you found a sad drunk whore in Gina Cantolini and you made her your target.”
I waited for him to say something, but he didn’t, so I kept going.
“You think you have a built-in alibi for the night she died when you were seen breaking up a fight between her and Atwater, but you were overhead giving your opinion on her worthiness to walk this earth. Atwater may be an asshole and a loser, too, but he’s got as much right to oxygen as Gina did.”
Elliot leaned back slightly, but his expression didn’t change.
“I think you wanted something from the victim and you went looking for her that night. Only this time, what you wanted from her was something she got tired of giving you and she fought back. When she fought back, it pissed you off, like it does anytime someone stands up to you, so you killed her. To cover your tracks, you dumped her body back at the festival, where enough people saw her arguing with Michael Atwater to hang him for the crime.”
Elliot leaned back toward the glass.
“You think you can make that stick? Talk to my lawyer.”
“And could that lawyer be Alicia Linnerman? You got her conned, too, Reno? You hit on her?”
“You keep Alicia out of this.”
“The only thing I haven’t got figured out about this whole thing is where you did it. And I’m not going to stop until I do.”
Elliot slammed the received down and called for a guard to escort him back to his cell.
Back in Fawcettville, I stopped at the prosecutor’s office, which was on the second floor of the county courthouse. The courthouse was across the street from the Civil War monument in the center of town, a block from my office, a big Romanesque limestone building, each of the three public entrances flanked with a pair of carved Neptunes staring blankly at those who came through the door.
The prosecutor’s office entrance faced the white marble staircase. I stepped through the door. The spring sunshine shone through a pair of arched stained glass windows, shining blue, green and purple hues down on a row of clerical workers, kept from the public by a rail and gate moved there from the last courtroom remodel.
Dennis Lance, the prosecutor, had an office to the left of the entrance, behind a big carved mahogany door. I knew from experience the four assistant prosecutors had individual cubicles in the office to the right of the entrance.
A large wooden frame showing a pyramid of each staff member’s photo hung on the door above their names, which were engraved on brass plaques. Lance’s “Look at me, I’m your next judge” face was at the top of the heap. Alicia Linnerman’s photo started at the next row.
Her face wasn’t what I thought she’d be: she was neither the tall, gorgeous, TV lawyer in expensive suits, nor the lonely, overweight woman desperate for a man, but a plain-faced competent-looking brunette with glasses and a welcoming smile.
I pointed at the photo.
“I want to see her.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Linnerman is in meetings for the remainder of the afternoon,” the secretary said.
“It’s four-thirty. Thirty minutes isn’t long. I’ll wait till she comes out,” I said, seating myself.
“The meetings aren’t here,” she said firmly. “They’re off site.”
I stood up and pulled a business card from my sweatshirt pocket. “Got it. Please tell her I stopped by.”
“Will do, Mr. Fitzhugh,” she said accepting my card.
Back outside the courthouse, I leaned against one of the majestic maples on the courthouse lawn, watching the employee entrance. At five o’clock, right on schedule, Alicia Linnerman, wearing a pair of outsized sunglasses, and a very lawyerly navy suit, came out the secured door and walked to her car.
“Off-site” my ass.
I got a good look at her as followed at a safe distance. She was medium height, a little plump, but in a good way. She may have had bad taste in men, but she didn’t look at all like the lonely cat lady I’d first imagined.
Parking wasn’t easy in downtown Fawcettville—most everyone coming to the courthouse, including the employees, had to find a spot in the adjacent lot. Only the judges and other elected officials were lucky enough to have designated curbside parking. Lucky for me, Alicia Linnerman was parked just one row over from my Excursion. Even luckier, her bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle made it easy to follow her through what passed for rush hour traffic.
I followed Alicia to where she lived, the only swank apartment complex in the hills overlooking Fawcettville, a complex was where the muckety-mucks and wannabes lived before they decided to move on to bigger things or put down money on a house.
I parked on the street and watched which apartment she went into before sprinting up the sidewalk and knocking on her door.
She threw the door open, smiling like she was expecting someone else, holding a glass of white wine in her hand. A big grey mastiff ran out from the back of the apartment growling. I reached inside my hoodie, making sure I could touch the Glock in my shoulder holster.
“Down, Sadie, down!” Alicia ordered, her smile gone. “Can I help you?” The mastiff sat obediently. I pulled my hand from inside my jacket and handed her a business card.
“Miss Linnerman? I’m Nick Fitzhugh. I’m a private investigator. I need to ask you a few questions about Reno Elliot. May I come in?”
“Sure. Is this is about the incident in Akron, or… something else?”
I followed her into the living room, furnished in sleek hipster grey and lime furniture.
“Something else, sort of.”
“Mr. Elliot and I are no longer romantically involved, no matter what he might have told you.”
“I’m investigating the murder of Gina Cantolini. Her body was found Sunday night under the stage at the Italian Festival. I’m working for the defendant’s attorney, Jim Ambrosi.”
“I know the case. I’m not handling it, but if I were, I’d have to tell you to talk to Mr. Lance about it. I can’t give you anything, especially not here.”
“I just need to ask a few questions. Were you working at the festival when Officer Elliot broke up the fight between the victim and the defendant? I talked to festival organizers earlier and they said a female was working the police department booth Sunday when the fight occurred.” No they hadn’t, but she didn’t need to know that.
“Yes I was. I was handing out neighborhood watch information. Officer Elliot did break up a fight—I saw that.”
“What time was that fight?”
Alicia shrugged and took a sip of her wine. “The middle of the afternoon— two, three o’clock maybe? The man, who I later learned was Mr. Atwater, was pretty drunk.”
“After Officer Elliot broke up the fight, my client says he fell and injured himself. Did you see him fall?”
“And after that happened, how long did you work at the police booth?”
“Couple hours, then I went home.”
“Did Officer Elliot go with you? Was Officer Elliot with you all Sunday night?”
“You’re not looking at him as a suspect in the Cantolini murder are you?” Her directness took me by surprise.
“I have some information that point to him as a potential suspect, yes.”
“He was here, with me.” She looked a little uncomfortable.
If you’re going to be a lawyer, you’d better develop a better poker face than that.
“You understand, then, when I ask if anyone else was here to verify that?”
“There were others here, yes.”
Alicia sat her wine glass down on a glass-topped table. She pulled up the sleeve of her blouse, exposing her upper arm, which was marred with blue finger-shaped bruises.
“As you know from the incident in Akron, Reno has some issues—with women and with anger. Sunday night he accused me of sleeping with my boss, Dennis Lance, then tried to beat the shit out of me. My neighbors and half the Fawcettville police force were here.”