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.
“So you’re saying that Reno Elliot couldn’t possibly be Gina Cantolini’s killer because at the time of her death, he was beating you up?”
Alicia Linnerman was no shrinking violet—and from the size of Sadie, no crazy cat lady either. She looked me straight in the eye and nodded.
“He tried to at any rate. He grabbed me by the arm as you can see and slapped me a couple times, but Sadie put an end to that real quick—she had him cornered in bathroom by the time the police responded. Didn’t you, girl?” Alicia pulled her sleeve back down and patted the panting mastiff on the head. “I’m too nearsighted to be a good shot, so as a woman living alone, Sadie is the next best thing. She proved that Sunday night. Elliot was taken in and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, but they let him go, ROR.”
“Released on his own recognizance.” I nodded. “I’m surprised that didn’t show up in the paper.”
Alicia shrugged. “I can’t comment on how the police do or do not handle press inquiries on one of their own. There’s an awful lot of ugly going on at the FPD right now. I’m sure you could get a copy of the report, though.”
I sighed. “If they filed one. I don’t believe, and Jim Ambrosi doesn’t believe, that his client Michael Atwater is guilty. I hoped I was onto something with Reno Elliot, but I guess not.”
“I hate to disappoint you, Mr. Fitzhugh. I’d like to hang the bastard as much as you would, but I think a murder charge won’t stick.” Alicia picked up her glass of wine and walked toward to kitchen. “Can I get you something to drink? A glass of wine? A beer? It might take the sting off a bit.”
“Call me Fitz,” I said, following her into a small kitchen that was just as trendy as the living room. “Sure. A beer sounds great.”
Alicia opened the fridge and leaned over to pull a beer from the bottom shelf. I liked the look of her round behind, still in the conservative navy work skirt he’d had on when she walked out of the courthouse.
She stood quickly, catching my stare and blushed as she handed me the beer. She pulled a pilsner glass from a cabinet and sat it on the kitchen table, across from her wine glass.
“Have a seat, Fitz. Tell me about yourself.”
I twisted the cap off the beer bottle.
“What do you want to know?” I turned to toss the bottle cap into the trashcan behind me. “Or should I ask, what have you heard?”
Alicia smiled and took a sip from her wine.
“A couple friends over in domestic court that mentioned you one or two times. I know you do a lot of work for the divorce lawyers in town.”
I nodded. “That’s true. I retired from the police force about seven years ago and got my PI license. It pays the rent.”
She looked down at her wine glass and spun it in between her fingers. She looked up over her glasses. Her eyes were cornflower blue, ringed with thick black lashes and sucked me in with their intensity.
“What’s that mean?”
She smiled and shrugged. “Just asking.”
“So let me ask you a question. How’d you end up in Fawcettville? And with Reno Elliot?”
Her smile turned a little sad. “I came to Fawcettville basically so I could be a big fish in a small pond, maybe make my name on a big case or two. As for my personal life, I was just out of Cleveland Marshall College of Law and tired of working in Akron when I met Reno on a case.”
“As a defendant or as a witness for the state?” I took a sip of my beer. I liked this girl. I liked her a lot. Why did she get involved with a scumbag like Elliot?
“Aren’t you snarky? I was in the prosecutor’s office then, too. So he was a witness, when I met him, of course,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of his background then and over the last year as I learned more about him, defended him to everyone I knew, like anybody involved with a jerk does.”
“Was this the first time he hit you?”
“He was never the calmest guy I ever dated. But in the last six months or so, I saw a lot more anger, I don’t know why. We had more arguments and they escalated pretty quickly. I never understood that dynamic with the DV cases I’d handled before. Let’s just say I’ve become a little more sympathetic.”
“Mind if I ask why you and your wife separated?” She looked at me again with those fierce cornflower blue eyes.
“It was a bit of a compromising situation. Let’s just say that.”
“I’ve heard that about you, too.” Her eyes didn’t move from my face. She may have just split up with a boyfriend, but this girl wasn’t letting any grass grow under her feet. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair.
“I was always faithful to my wife, OK?”
“I thought you said you were caught in a compromising position.”
“It wasn’t what it looked like, but unfortunately I can’t convince her of that.”
“I understand.” She didn’t look like she believed me.
We were silent for a moment as each of us sipped on our drinks, both of us trying to figure out what hung in the air was between us, whether it was going to stay professional or veer dangerously, for me anyway, into the personal. It was probably best to change the subject.
“I hear your boss is thinking about running for office.”
“Yes. He wants to be the next Common Pleas judge.”
“Think he’ll be a good one?”
She took a sip of her wine before she answered.
“I think he’ll be pretty good. Dennis is a good guy.”
“That sounds pretty non-committal. I always liked working with him when I was with the PD. You know something I don’t know?”
She shrugged and smiled.
“We’re kind of getting roped into campaigning for him—unofficially of course. He hasn’t got anyone running against him yet but he’s bought us all tickets to some big thing this weekend.”
“The symphony benefit?”
“Yes. He’s aware of current ethics laws, so anyone who didn’t want to go didn’t have to. Everyone in the office has rented tuxedos and we’ll be wearing campaign tee shirts with them: ‘Lance for Judge’ or something like that.”
“My wife plays cello for the symphony. Her name’s Grace Darcy, Dr. Grace Darcy. She teaches music theory at the college—and cello, of course.”
“Oh? So will you be there?” The blue eyes drilled through me again.
“Yes I will. Grace is performing.” It was time to go. I stood, drained my bottle and sat the empty on the counter. “I want to thank you for your time, and the beer. I’m sorry for what happened to you, but it clears Officer Elliot of murder.”
The predatory vibe emanating from her side of the table seemed to diminish. She tossed back what was left of her wine and escorted me to the front door. Sadie jumped off the couch as we passed and, once at the door, stood beside me, pawing my leg. I reached down and scratched her ear.
“She doesn’t do that with just anybody,” Alicia said. “You must be a nice guy, down deep inside.”
“It’s the same story—all I attract is dogs and dangerous women.” I smiled.
Alicia laughed. “And all I fall for is bad boys.”
I leaned in close, close enough to smell the wine on her breath and sense the heat of her skin. I wanted to kiss her, the first time I’d felt that way in a long time. She tipped her chin up; I cupped it with my hand, leaning in for the kiss.
I stopped. I couldn’t do it—not if I wanted to get Gracie back.
“And despite what Sadie believes,” I whispered. “I’d be just another bad boy.”
She stepped back and smiled as she opened the door. “That’s too bad, Fitz. I get the feeling you might just be worth the trouble.”
Back at my office, I sat the cardboard tray holding my fast food on the desk and flopped into my chair. I opened the lower desk drawer and sighed, pulling out my wedding picture from the bottom drawer, where it lived next to its neighbor, the bottle of bourbon.
I held the wooden frame in both hands. We’d gotten married at city hall by the judge. Gracie was wearing an off-white suit and a small veil and carried a bright red bouquet of roses. I wore my best navy blue suit. My mother took the picture of the two of us standing in front of the smiling judge.
Saturday night was the symphony benefit. It generally followed a standard theme: beginning with a cocktail hour, then moving to dinner at themed tables lushly decorated by a group of symphony spouses. Following dinner, there was an auction of items donated by area businesses, then the symphony performed.
If you were in business or in politics, it was a great place for recognition and meeting with your constituents, as Dennis Lance obviously had planned. Anyone who thought they were anything usually attended, along with long-time symphony supporters and music school faculty from the college.
I took my paper dinner napkin and wiped a smear from the glass covering the photo. Gracie and I were a fixture there. Now that we were separated, why did I even decide to go? Would Gracie even acknowledge me there? Could I stand to see her next to Van Hoven all evening?
By the time I’d met Gracie and decided to settle down, the horn dogging I’d done was a thing of the past. Or had Maris Monroe just scared the shit out of me?
Back then I had an apartment in one of the old converted Victorians in New Tivoli, six blocks from my newly widowed mother.
I’d met Maris once or twice for drinks after my shift. I knew I was playing with fire, but I didn’t care. It was all about the hunt, the conquest, not about getting back at my boss for anything although down deep, that was probably why I was really going after his wife.
I didn’t like Nathaniel Monroe when he was assistant chief and I disliked him even more when he made chief. He got conceited and big headed when he pinned on the chief’s badge. He treated the officers below him like dirt and the rank and file’s opinion went downhill even faster when he dumped his long suffering first wife and took up with Maris.
Like I said, I wasn’t the first notch on Maris Monroe’s bedpost; I was just the first to get caught. She and I found carnal delights for six nights in a row on most of the solid surfaces at my place before everything blew up.
We were on the kitchen floor. She was on top of me when the chief pounded on the door. My hands were exploring the luscious contents of the pink lacey bra bursting out of her shirt as she straddled me; her matching panties were on the floor beside us.
“Open the door, Fitzhugh!” he screamed. “I know you’re in there and I know my wife is with you!”
“Oh my God! Oh my God! He must have followed me here!” Maris jumped up and began buttoning her shirt.
“The door, Fitzhugh! Open the fucking door!” The pounding got louder; it sounded like he was using the butt of his gun. “Maris, I hear you in there! Maris!”
“What do I do? What do I do?” She quickly zipped her skirt and slipped into her shoes.
“Here—” My kitchen window faced the back alley; I opened it and helped her outside onto the fire escape, tossing her purse to her as she ran down the iron stairs.
The hinges on the door gave, splintering the doorframe as Chief Monroe burst in, his weapon drawn. Behind him, my neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Falletti, standing in the hallway in her white muumuu and pink sponge rollers, screamed.
“Where’s my wife? I know she’s in here!” Monroe shoved the barrel of his gun in my face.
I held up my hands. With a quick kick, I tried to send Maris’s underpants beneath the fridge, but Monroe was faster. Keeping the gun trained on me, he bent down and grabbed the pink panties with his free hand.
“Who do these belong to, Fitzhugh? Your sister?”
“So I fucked your wife. I’m not the only one. Go ahead—shoot me. Nobody would blame you,” I said. “You can spin the story however you like. You’ll make certain you come out looking like the hero, I’m sure.”
In the hallway, Mrs. Falletti gasped.
Monroe grabbed me by my shirt and jammed the gun barrel beneath my jaw. I lowered my hands, but didn’t try to resist. Twenty years on the force just went down the shitter. So why be afraid to die? My mother would grieve, as would my brothers and sisters, but the manner of my death wouldn’t surprise anyone. Hell, they probably would think I had it coming.
“Let go of him!” Mrs. Falletti cried. “Don’t shoot him!”
“Here’s how it’s going to go, Fitz,” he hissed into my ear. “You’ve been stalking my wife. You conned her into meeting you for drinks —yes, I know she met you every night this week—and then you abducted her. I followed her phone’s GPS signal here to your apartment, we struggled, and I shot you in self defense as my wife escaped.”
He pulled back the trigger and I closed my eyes. I was going to die over a goddamned piece of ass.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs. Three cops, with their weapons drawn, burst into my apartment. One of them was Lt. Baker.
“Drop the gun, Monroe! Drop it right now!” he commanded, his service revolver trained on the chief.
Monroe lowered his weapon and released me.
“We know what happened here, Nate. Maris called me,” Baker continued, sharply. “If you shoot Fitz, you’re done as a cop. You will spend the rest of your life in prison and you’ll ruin the reputation of this entire police force. You want to ruin your career over some cheap broad like Maris? It’s easier to get divorced.”
Monroe stepped back and holstered his weapon, glaring at Baker. He turned to me.
“You got lucky, Fitzhugh. I had every right to blow your brains all over this wall. I want you in my office at ten thirty tomorrow morning. There will be disciplinary action.”
Monroe and the two other cops left the apartment. Baker waited until the door downstairs closed to speak.
“You’re a good cop, Fitz, even though you’ve pulled a lot of stupid personal shit over the years. I want your retirement papers on my desk half an hour before you’re supposed to meet with Monroe. You’re not going to that meeting with him. This is for your own good and you know it.”
Within six weeks, thanks to some pals at the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, I had my PI license and six months later, I met Gracie.
Had I learned my lesson with Maris Monroe or had I been lucky enough to meet the love of my life? I never could decide which one it was.
I traced Gracie’s face on the photo with my finger. Even though I might not be able to nail Reno Elliot with Gina Cantolini’s murder, and by extension, further tarnish Monroe, I had to get Gracie back.