Wednesday, February 04, 2015

An Excerpt from Justice Comes Home, a Crime Novel by Michael Giorgio

Omnimystery News: An Excerpt courtesy of Michael Giorgio
Justice Comes Home
by Michael Giorgio

We are delighted to welcome author Michael Giorgio to Omnimystery News today.

Michael's new crime novel is Justice Comes Home (Black Rose Writing; August 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we are pleased to introduce you to it with an excerpt, the first two chapters.

And remember to stop by tomorrow when Michael will be our guest and we have a chance to discuss the book with him.

— ♦ —

Justice Comes Home by Michael Giorgio

Saturday, September 1, 1945

THE SOLDIER RAN DOWN THE STREET, white panties draped over his head. I didn't even give him a second glance. He was just another fun-lover running amok on the craziest Saturday night I'd seen in my twenty-seven years with the police department.
  According to the Golden Panther Lodge's 'Welcome to Devlin's Crossing, Wisconsin' sign at the city limits, we had 19,247 residents. Seemingly all of them, plus the entire military population of nearby Camp Greyson, were on the streets tonight. The evening's agenda included everything from bingo at the Shady Oaks Home for the Aged to a military salute at the Paradise Burlesque to the Golden Panthers' beer bash. My townspeople joyously soaked it all up.
  Tomorrow would be a much more somber day. The second of three days set aside by the town council to celebrate the end of the war, Sunday promised longer than normal church services, an endless array of speeches and remembrances, and a high volume of free-flowing tears. Monday's traditional Labor Day parade and dance at the county fairgrounds pavilion rounded out the program.
  I wanted to skip it all. For me, the war was over on April 29th, the day my only son was gunned down by some desperate Nazi bastard in a small German village I never heard of. I didn't need a big wild party or self-important speeches. I needed my son to come home, to take his place with my wife and daughter, to make our family whole again. But Chuck wasn't ever coming home. A gold star on a banner hanging in our living room window replaced him. And his hometown celebrated.
  The soldier I saw earlier popped up in front of me again, underwear still in place of his army cap. Now he strolled peacefully down Grand Street with a young lady clasped to his left arm. Judging from their laughter and expressions, they'd soon take their party somewhere private. Beyond them was the intersection of Main Street and Grand, the town's busiest, which was closed to automobile traffic to allow the revelers to revel freely.
  As I approached the corner, a distant explosion briefly filled the far-off sky with sparkling lights. Since the official fireworks show was scheduled for Monday night, there was only one conclusion. Somewhere beyond the fringes of Devlin's Crossing, a private illegal celebration was in progress.
  I paused on the corner outside of Brewster's Rexall. Across the street, Doc Redburn's All-Star Oompa Band was in front of Craddock's Furniture Emporium. There were no wallflowers on that corner as couples danced and swayed to the frantic polka beat. Diagonally opposite, the Razor-Sharp Rhythm Boys serenaded from a platform erected at the main entrance of Halliwell's Department Store. From my position, I couldn't hear their song, so I crossed the street to give a listen.
  Red, white, and blue celebration banners flapped lazily in the night air, accentuating the Rhythm Boys' rendition of Grand Old Flag. As they sang, I scanned the crowd beyond Halliwell's to the Paradise Burlesque next door. If there was going to be trouble tonight, more than likely it would originate at the Paradise.
  As if thinking evil thoughts called forth the devil incarnate, Carter Fairfax, owner of the burlesque, slithered to my side. "Well, well, well, well, well," his voice weaseled into my ear. "If it isn't our illustrious Chief of Police. Great party, huh? Too bad you have to work on such a special night. I'd extend the military special to our beloved men in blue if I thought you could spare the time." He puffed on a massive cigar. I wondered which of his black market connections obtained it for him.
  I glanced down Grand Street toward the burlesque. "Looks like you're doing a big business without us."
  "Oh, we are, Morgan, we are. Profits have never been bigger. You might just want to come around by my office Tuesday morning, escort me to the First National with all of the dough I'm raking in tonight." His rasping laugh emerged from a cloud of bluish cigar smoke.
  "You'll be safe enough." I tried to return my attention to the quartet, now vocalizing on Yankee Doodle Dandy.
  "I don't know, Morgan. This is going to be our best weekend ever. Especially tonight. Lots of healthy boys wanting to see the tits and ass show my girls put on." I knew for a fact that the only skin his 'girls' showed was legs and arms, but I kept quiet. Fairfax clapped me on the back. "If you get a few minutes, you might want to come in and enjoy the show. Plenty of glorious femininity on display tonight."
  I had to restrain myself from pulling my gun and shooting him on sight. Fairfax knew how to get my goat faster than any other man in town. One of his star attractions, 'Glorious' Gloria Lundy, was my son's fiancée. Fairfax trapped Gloria into an ironclad contract to work at the Paradise and never missed a chance to let me forget it. Bastard.
  "It's somewhat sad that the war's over," he continued, oblivious of my hand curling into a vengeful fist. "I'm going to be sorry when the government closes Camp Greyson. My business will suffer when the soldiers go home again."
  I turned on him. "Lots of those soldiers and sailors aren't going home again. You might do well to remember that."
  Fairfax hooted loudly, drawing an irate look from a well-dressed woman in front of us. "So I did my patriotic duty and gave them a worthwhile memory to take with them."
  I thought about Chuck. The day the telegraph arrived. The look on Millie's face when she gave me the Western Union man's message. The uncontrolled tears and the unspoken words when we broke the news to our daughter, Janey. The gold star in place of my son. "Fairfax," I said as evenly as I could manage, "if you have any bit of brain in that head of yours, you'll get far out of my sight just as fast as your stumpy little legs will carry you before I rip you apart with my bare hands."
  The look on my face must have been the clincher. "Uh … no respect … I mean, no disrespect to your boy intended, of course," he mumbled. "Uh … I better be getting back to the Paradise. I was … I was just out here to check the crowds. See you around, Chief. Don't forget, bring your men around when things aren't so hectic. Give you a generous discount." He slunk away before I could answer.
  Damn son-of-a-bitch. Who the hell was Carter Fairfax to poke fun at the boys who gave their lives to protect the likes of him? His family bought Carter's way out of the draft for the First World War the same way they bought whatever they wanted. The advantages of being the only son of the town's wealthiest family were endless.
  I swallowed hard to chase away my recurring vision of Chuck lying cold in the unmarked grave I had never seen. The Rhythm Boys switched to Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. Praise the Lord for what? For passing ammunition to the Nazi bastard who ended my son's life? The hell with that. With the song ringing in my ears, I continued my patrol, walking by the large display windows of Halliwell's Department Store. Though the store closed at six on Saturdays, the loudspeakers under the royal blue awnings were, as usual, blaring the daily broadcast of our only local station, WDCW.
  A rhythmic chiming shook me from my thoughts. The time signal on WDCW. "The time is nine o'clock, Central War — Central Daylight Time. Stay tuned to your Devlin Valley station for Crossing Guard, with Robert Van Drooten, live from atop the Collier Building in downtown Devlin's Crossing. This is WDCW, the voice of the Devlin Valley."
  A brief musical fanfare from the loudspeaker competed temporarily with the Rhythm Boys across the street and then Van Drooten's sleep-inducing monotone came through from the dark recesses of the awning. "Good evening. Collier Brewing, makers of Collier Valley Blend Beer, proudly welcomes you to Crossing Guard, featuring news and views from throughout Devlin's Crossing and the Devlin Valley. This … is Robert Van Drooten." Edward R. Murrow he wasn't.
  "Collier Breweries' All-American brew masters skillfully combine fifteen fine brews into the preferred beer of the Devlin Valley — Collier's Valley Blend Beer — The only choice for discriminating Wisconsinites. Tonight, Collier Breweries and Crossing Guard begin a new series of talks on peacetime life in the Devlin River Valley. The war in the Pacific has come to a swift and just end. It is time for this nation, and this community, to return to the normal, daily activities of a free people, secure in the knowledge that theirs is a free and equal country."
  Van Drooten paused dramatically, warming up for the introduction of his guest. I could almost see him preening in front of the microphone. "An important part of this peace will be the resumption of daily social activities. To this end, we have asked Constance Fairfax Collier, one of Devlin County's community and cultural leaders, to address the important subject of peacetime societal living. Mrs. Collier, thank you for being with us this wonderful evening for Collier Brewing's first peacetime broadcast."
  "My pleasure, Mr. Van Drooten."
  Constance Collier and social mores? This was Van Drooten's idea of a special broadcast? Constance Collier was forever yammering on one program or another about her version of societal living. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why Sloane Collier allowed the station to continue as an independent entity instead of affiliating with one of the national networks. The end of the newest war to end all wars and, instead of giving us news, the station was trying to convince us that drinking tea, or perhaps our local brewery's beer, with one's pinkie extended was the be-all and end-all of importance? My boy was sacrificed for something loftier than that. If Constance Collier wasn't the wife of the station owner —
  "Mrs. Collier, what in your opinion is the most pressing problem facing Devlin's Crossing in the post-war period?"
  "There are many issues we will have to address in order to restore Devlin's Crossing to its once proud position as the most wholesome community in Wisconsin. Now that the unpleasantries have drawn to a close, our first priority will be to rid ourselves of the, shall we say, unsavory elements that have overtaken many of our formerly respectable institutions. A committee of town leaders is being formed to..."
  I resumed my beat as more fireworks exploded in the distance. Great, another committee. Constance Fairfax Collier wasn't happy unless she was creating committees to give herself another public platform for her social chitchat. She was against any form of entertainment that didn't involve serving trays passed by whispering butlers groveling at the whims of the mistress. Idly, I wondered who her targets would be this time — Lester's Rack-'Em-Up Poolroom? The Starlight Dance Hall? Or were her words a threat to her black sheep brother's Paradise Burlesque?
  The crowd turned mostly male as I approached the Paradise. The once-proud showcase of Grand Street, the building's exterior still retained some indications of the glamour the Paradise used to symbolize. Impressive columns and lavish mosaics still adorned the façade, but flashing neon signs were now crudely attached to these stately remnants. Girls! Girls! Girls! Hot Times, Cold Drinks! and the like represented the extent of Carter Fairfax's improvements to the facility. Though no longer a bastion of artistic expression, the Paradise couldn't be missed by the most near-sighted of passersby.
  "Get the hell out of here!" came an angry male voice ahead of me. I looked for the source and saw the Paradise's bouncer shoving a man through the gold gilt door.
  "Not 'til I get my hands on that son-of-a-bitch Fairfax!" was the reply. "I'm gonna kill him!"
  I rushed forward. The bouncer had his hands full with Bill Gresher, one of the meanest members of Devlin's Crossing's most notoriously nasty family. I pulled Gresher away from the door and the bouncer quickly shut it. I shoved Gresher against a glass covered poster. A picture of my almost-daughter-in-law's face peeked out from behind his massive shoulder. "What's the problem?" I demanded, ignoring Gloria's image as best as I could.
  "I'm gonna kill the son-of-a-bitch. That's the problem!"
  I kept my arm firmly against Gresher's midsection, holding him to the wall. If he were sober, he would have easily broken away from me. Drunk, I knew I could hold him, at least for a minute. "I figured that much out myself. And I think it's best you just get the hell away from here."
  Bill Gresher's hands balled into fists. "That bastard tried to get my Annie to dance for him! Just for him!"
  Jerry Sturvenant, a tall, wiry policeman, pushed his way through the watching crowd. "Anything I can do to help, Chief?"
  I shoved Gresher toward the sidewalk. "Follow Mr. Gresher," I said. "Make sure he stays away from the Paradise tonight. Any slight infraction of the law, lock him up!"
  "Will do, Chief." Jerry gave Gresher a shove toward Oak Street, which was as effective as a praying mantis trying to roll a log.
  I stood near the Paradise entrance, watching the party crowd go by. A couple of marines thought better of entering the burlesque when they saw me standing there. Carter Fairfax would have blown a gasket if he knew. Another homemade firework exploded, though it must have backfired, as there were no twinkling lights in the sky. I'd have to find the pyrotechnic lover soon or I'd be called on the carpet by the town council. Now that Constance Collier was forming another committee, it would be just a matter of time before her council president husband would call to discuss the 'morality situation' and the inherent danger the criminal element represented. It wouldn't be the first time.
  Once the crowd thinned, I turned back toward Halliwell's. Robert Van Drooten and Constance Collier were still chatting about propriety, so I tuned them out. The window display of the closed department store caught my eye. The store's designer must have worked overtime to get this one up and running. A mechanical reenactment of the bomb dropping on Japan, complete with dead Nips on the floor and patriotic bunting in all the corners. A miniature Enola Gay replica circled around the blue-painted upper part of the display, dropping a tiny A-bomb on an insignificant Hiroshima. The tiny, look-alike Japanese people fell over in large, cardboard groups. Then the whole display reset itself and Japan was bombed all over again. Quite impressive. And frightening.
  A group of soldiers strolled in front of me. "Somebody oughta tell that dame to shut her yap," one of them said, hooking a thumb at the radio station's loudspeaker. "Voice like that kills a good party. She sounds like my dead grandma." The others laughed as they went on to wherever their party would continue.
  Constance Collier's voice barged into my consciousness again. "Devlin's Crossing will become the showplace town of Wisconsin, if we all simply work together toward improving our community's standards." Crossing Guard was winding down and Mrs. Collier was about to be off of her soapbox and back to her pampered world. Almost nine-thirty. About two more hours until the party would dwindle to nothing and life would return to normal. More fireworks exploded in the distance. I looked at the store window again, wondering what 'normal' life we would return to. The little A-bomb leveled Hiroshima again and again as I stared.
  I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Uh … Chief Morgan … can ya come with me? My pop sent me to find ya." Art Dalton looked on the verge of tears instead of like the fifteen-year-old star fullback of the Devlin High Junior Varsity football team. "He said ya'd prob'ly be out here somewhere."
  "What's the matter? Something serious?"
  "I guess … uh … yeah … serious, ya know? We was in the alley behind Halliwell's. There … there's a dead guy back there."
  "A dead guy?"
  "Yeah, uh, I … I think he's dead anyway. There's lots of blood, ya know? We were walking out of the store and going to the Halliwell's for a party and everybody was talking and at first we didn't notice nothin' but then —"
  I held up my hand. "Whoa, Champ, slow down. This was behind Halliwell's?"
  "Yes, sir," his voice cracked. "We weren't doin' nothin' wrong, ya know? Just going to Halliwell's house with our parents and a bunch of other people and we were walkin' down the alley and —"
  I didn't need to hear more. "Show me where," I directed.
  We took off through the crowd. The only entrance to the alley behind the department store was on Oak Street, the cross street at the other end of the block. We ran past the Paradise, where we had to shove soldiers and sailors out of our path. Past the various shops on Grand, all closed up tight for the night, and around the corner. Heading up the alley, I was struck by how poorly lit it was. What little light there was emanated from a pole in back of the burlesque.
  "Chief Morgan! Over here!" John Halliwell called out as we approached. There was a small group of people huddling under the Starlight Dance Hall's fire escape. The body lay before them at the Paradise's back door.
  Art hadn't lied; there was a huge puddle of blood under the presumably dead man. I did a quick check to confirm the victim was truly dead, then looked at the crowd. "Does anyone know what happened here?"
  "We don't know who it even is," Halliwell told me. "We figured it was best not to touch anything until you got here, so we didn't even turn him over."
  Thank goodness for that. "Ladies, you may want to take the kids home. There's no need to expose them to any more of this. I can always talk to you later if I need to."
  The women gathered up their offspring and led them away. I could hear a few of the older boys making tough talk and complaining that they could handle seeing a dead body. I wasn't sure I could, but I didn't have the innocence of youth on my side. I also didn't have any choice.
  The men remaining in the alley circled around, expectant looks on their faces. Time for the show. Slowly, I turned the dead man over. Staring up at me through lifeless eyes was Carter Fairfax. He'd been shot at close range in whatever passed for his heart. I looked away quickly, my only thought that the Golden Panthers would have to change their sign to 19,246 people. In the night, I could hear the flapping of Victory Celebration banners, punctuated by laughter, music, and distant homemade fireworks.
  
TWO

Saturday, September 1/Sunday, September 2, 1945

Once news of Carter Fairfax's murder got out to the V-J Day party crowd, curious onlookers jammed the only entrance to the alley. Some probably wanted to get a close-up look at their police force at work, others to ensure that the town was rid of Fairfax. Though the coroner confirmed that Carter Fairfax was dead from a gunshot wound and commanded the body be brought in for examination, I found no hint of a gun or shells during my preliminary search.
  A quick interview with those who discovered the corpse gave me a fair idea of the time of the killing. John Halliwell confirmed that his party entered the store through the alley entrance at nine o'clock. He was sure of the time, he said, because Crossing Guard was starting on the internal store speakers. They came out of the store at nine-twenty, again using the alley doors, and happened upon Fairfax's body. A twenty minute window of time. Twenty minutes in which most of Devlin's Crossing passed before me on Grand Street, half a block from the alley entrance.
  I sorted through the litter under the Starlight Dance Hall fire escape, looking for whatever the hell I could find. Jerry Sturvenant rushed up to join me. "Chief Morgan?" He hopped from one foot to the other so fast, I expected him to ask permission to use the lavatory.
  "What?"
  "I found Mrs. Collier like you asked. She's down by the back entrance of the Collier Building with her husband. You want me to go get them?"
  "No, I don't think we need the Colliers traipsing through the murder scene. Besides, this isn't a sight Mrs. Collier needs to see. I'll go talk with them. You stay here and sort through this garbage."
  "For what?"
  "For anything related to the murder," I said, pointing him toward the pile of trash. He began sorting the garbage into neat piles as I walked away.
  I saw the Colliers waiting at the far end of the alley, where it dead-ended at the rear entrances of the Collier Building and Halliwell's Department Store, and deliberately slowed my pace a hair. Though I told Jerry I didn't want Constance and Sloane Collier brought to the scene of Fairfax's death in order to keep Mrs. Collier from having to see it, the truth was that I didn't want to deal with them there. Constance Fairfax Collier had her hackles up twenty-four hours a day as it was. I didn't need to meet with her just outside of the theater that represented everything she was against.
  The Paradise was a serious bone of contention between the Fairfax siblings. The burlesque thrust the fundamental differences between brother and sister into the spotlight. The Fairfax family lorded its wealth over the valley for more than fifty years by the time Constance was born. They controlled the largest quarry, the biggest lumber company, and a host of other businesses. Societal living fit Constance Fairfax like a custom-tailored mink. When she married Sloane Collier, youngest scion of a Milwaukee freight millionaire, Devlin's Crossing's upper echelon buzzed with excitement and jealousy. After her parents died in a Chicago hotel fire, Constance became the queen bee of the Devlin's Crossing society hive, while her husband commanded the family businesses with an iron hand.
  In the meantime, little brother Carter started down the path to black sheep status at a young age. He left the most prestigious boys' academy in the upper Midwest after a rash of gambling incidents came to light at the school. Though plenty of family money kept any charges from being leveled against Carter, the younger Fairfax sibling finished the 1914 term with the rest of the common rabble at Devlin High. Though he managed to graduate with us the following year, most of us wondered if the new athletic equipment donated by the Fairfax family might not have pushed Carter's grades up to the passing level.
  From that point on, Carter fancied himself an average Joe. His marriage during the depression to divorcee Betty Wishawski did little to enhance his reputation at the family manor, but it did bring control of her father's lavish theatre into his grasping hands. The Paradise, failing in its ongoing quest to provide high quality stage drama to a budget-minded populace lucky to afford movies, was converted to burlesque shortly before Pearl Harbor. Though Carter retained a token position in Collier-Fairfax Enterprises, his soul, such as it was, belonged to the burlesque.
  It was an unfortunately short walk between the Paradise's back door and the Collier Building's, so I soon found myself face-to-face with the city's wealthiest couple.
  "Morgan, do you have no control over this situation?" Sloane Collier demanded as I approached. "As president of the town council, I am not accustomed to meeting with public officials in back alleys. Especially at a time like this. I'll have you know, Mrs. Collier is beside herself with grief."
  "Mrs. Collier," I said softly, "I —"
  She held up her gloved hand. "Don't say it, Chief Morgan. Please."
  "Mrs. Collier, rest assured we will get to the bottom of this terrible tragedy."
  She took my hand in hers. "Thank you, Chief Morgan. Your reassurances mean so much at a time like this. Naturally, Sloane and I will be at your disposal for whatever you may need."
  "Unfortunately, there will have to be questions," I informed her as I reclaimed my hand. "But they can wait until later, when you're up to it."
  Constance smiled benevolently. "That is so very kind of you, Chief. I feel much better knowing that you personally will be investigating. I know I can count on you for discretion."
  Discretion? "Uh … Of course you can, Mrs. Collier. Of course you can." Tears rolled in a perfect track down Constance Collier's cheeks.
  Sloane dutifully handed his wife a monogrammed handkerchief. "Glad to hear you say so, Morgan." Sloane puffed up, a pillar of emotional detachment. "As my wife says, you can depend on us for any assistance we can lend. Your professionalism and discretion are most important and reassuring to our family."
  "Thank you," I responded automatically. "You'll be hearing from me soon."
  "Of course." Sloane nodded and led the sniffling Constance back inside.
  The remainder of Saturday night and the first hours of Sunday morning were spent carefully combing the crime scene. We turned up nothing useful in the litter-strewn alley. Throughout the search, Jerry was at my side like an enthusiastic pup. "Any clue who did it?" he asked a short time after sunrise.
  "Nope. Could have been anybody. Carter Fairfax wasn't the most popular man in town." There was an understatement. "Where did Bill Gresher go after he left the theater?"
  "Uh … I don't know," Jerry stammered. Though I could barely see him in the dim alley light, I knew his freckled face was as red as his hair.
  "You don't know?"
  "I … um … I lost track of him, Chief. There were … um … there were a lot of people —"
  "Damn it!"
  "I'm … I'm sorry, Chief Morgan. Everybody was out on the streets and he was rushing and pushing people out of his way." Jerry sounded as if he would burst into tears at any moment.
  "Damn it. After all, Bill Gresher has to be considered a prime suspect in this murder. After what Carter expected of Ann, Gresher was justifiably angry. And with his temper …" I let my words trail off.
  "Chief —"
  "I know you did your best to follow him in the crowd. Which way was he going when you lost him?"
  "East, toward Oak Street on Grand."
  Great, Jerry managed to lose track of Gresher within half a block. "So, he was heading toward the end of the block that opens into this alley?"
  "Right." Jerry snapped his fingers. "You think maybe he was heading toward here to shoot Mr. Fairfax?" Eagerness replaced despair in his voice.
  I inhaled deeply. "Well, the way I see it, someone lured Fairfax out here, got close enough to be sure to do damage, and pulled the trigger. I'll be damned if I have any definite ideas who it was though."
  "It had to be somebody who knew him pretty good."
  "Why?"
  "Because he was shot at such close range." Jerry looked pleased with his conclusion.
  "As loud as the streets were last night, anyone who wanted to have a conversation outside had to stand close together," I explained. "It didn't necessarily have to be someone who knew Fairfax well."
  "And the body was right over there?" Jerry pointed at the back door of the Paradise Burlesque.
  I sat down on the steps leading to the second floor of the Starlight Dance Hall building, gesturing for Jerry to join me. "The door from the theater was locked when I got here. Fairfax had his keys in his pocket. So either the killer came from the theater, shot Fairfax, and left through the alley toward Oak Street, or —"
  "Or one of these other buildings," Jerry contributed.
  "The Paradise and the Starlight were the only businesses open on the block. Even the Tas-Tee Diner closed so Frank Hemmings could peddle food out on the street. If the killer came from one of these buildings, it was most likely the Paradise. Fairfax has no connection to anyone at the dance hall that I know of. What I was going to say was, the other possibility is that the murderer has his or her own keys to the theater."
  Jerry looked puzzled. "But why lock the door?"
  "The door can be locked from either the inside or the outside with the key. If the killer had it, he or she could have gone into the Paradise and locked the door to throw suspicion."
  "That makes sense. Who else do you think has the key?
  "Anyone in the family, probably," I sighed. "Betty, Ann, Bill possibly. Even Chet Wishawski could have gotten it from Ann."
  "Why would Mr. Wishawski —"
  "Betty was married to Chet first. Maybe he was jealous of Betty's marriage to Fairfax. Hell, I don't know." I shook my head. "I don't know. Too many suspects and too many people on the streets to be sure of anything right now. I'm going back to the station, puzzle this thing through." I stood and brushed the seat of my trousers. "There's nothing more we can do here."
  We walked the three blocks to the station in silence. The Victory Celebration banners flapped above our heads, the brisk wind snapping them sharply in the otherwise still morning sky. The banners and the littered streets were the only remnants of the goings-on the night before.
  Elwood Longacre, our elderly desk sergeant, growled at me as soon as I walked in the door. "Pat, got a slew of messages for ya here." It was a toss-up as to which was more wrinkled, the slips of paper in Elwood's hand or the hand itself. "Phone's been ringing off the damn hook too."
  "Tell me later, Elwood, okay?"
  He shook his head. "They all said they was 'urgent,'" he grumbled. "Mayor's done called four times already, and it ain't much past eight a.m. Said he ain't gonna wait too much longer for a call."
  "Not now, Elwood."
  "Reporters been calling too. The guy from over at the Dispatch, that Van Drooten idiot from WDCW. Hell, we even got calls from Milwaukee and Madison papers —"
  "Enough." I snatched the slips from Elwood's outstretched hand, tore them up and threw the scraps into the 'Lend-A-Hand-for-Victory' paper drive bin. "Tell anybody who calls that there's no comment on the ongoing investigation into the death of Carter Fairfax. Say it just like that, Sergeant. There is no comment on the ongoing investigation into the death of Carter Fairfax. Got it?"
  "Yeah, Pat, I got it. I ain't stupid. You don't gotta bite my head off, ya know."
  "If they don't like it, it's too damn bad for them," I added.
  The telephone rang. "Devlin's Crossing Police, Sergeant Longacre …. No, we ain't saying nothing about the Fairfax murder yet … Ya don't like it? Too damn bad, Chief Morgan says. When we got something to say, we'll say it." He slammed down the phone.
  "Elwood …"
  "What?"
  "Never mind," I muttered. "Any messages not from reporters or Mayor Rittenour?"
  "Nope, but it was a crazy damn night," Elwood said. "We got a buncha drunks locked up in the tanks and a whole slew of army boys. Lotsa fights and shit goin' on out there. Guess everybody's sleeping it off now," he added. His forehead wrinkles rearranged themselves, signaling a subject change. "You got any idea who done in that son-of-a-bitch Fairfax?
  "Nope." I pulled a sheet of paper from the front desk. "I need to narrow down the suspects. Figure out who would want to kill him."
  "It might be easier to just use this." He tossed the Devlin County phone directory at me as Jerry joined us.
  "Very funny." I pushed the book aside and picked up my pen, slowly filling it with ink as I pondered. "I was patrolling outside of the Paradise about the time the murder occurred. Now that I think about it, I must have heard the shot."
  Jerry's face registered his astonishment. "You did? Why didn't you —"
  "I thought it was one of those homemade fireworks that were going off all night," I interrupted. "But I remember there was one that seemed like a misfire. About quarter past nine, if I had to hazard a guess." I tapped my pen against the paper. "Let's get started on this list."
  "Don't forget to list the family, Pat," Elwood said. "There's all them rumors about Mr. and Mrs. Fairfax's marriage, and Mrs. Fairfax's messin' around with Rob Van Drooten."
  "There's no proof of any of that," I reminded Elwood as I wrote Betty and Ann's names on the list. "Betty Fairfax is interested in the legitimate theater, so's Van Drooten. After all, the Paradise belonged to Betty's father back when it still had regular plays. Betty grew up in that environment. Van Drooten came here from a Chicago acting company. It's natural in a place as small as Devlin's Crossing that they would cross paths. This isn't exactly New York."
  "That don't explain his car parked at her house most every night," Elwood said. "You'd think there wasn't never no gas rationing at all, as often as he's out there."
  Jerry scratched at his arm, as if he could dig through his skin for a solution to our mystery. "Could Mr. Van Drooten have done it? Get Mr. Fairfax out of the way so that Betty'd have the Paradise again? Maybe close the burlesque and open whatever it is that they want in its place?"
  "If the rumors about Betty and Van Drooten are true, and that's a big if, he would be an excellent suspect. Unfortunately, he couldn't have done it. He was on the air, live, from nine to nine-thirty. I heard him myself on Crossing Guard."
  "At least we can eliminate one person in town then." Jerry grinned.
  "Two," I corrected. "He was interviewing Constance Collier at the time."
  "Well, as much as that Van Drooten likes the sound of his own voice," Elwood said, "Mrs. Collier probably had time to run downstairs, shoot her brother, whip 'round the corner to Oak Street, double back to the Tas-Tee Diner for a sandwich and coffee, get back to the studio, freshen her make-up, and be at the microphone in time to answer the next question."
  I practically choked on my coffee at the image of prim and proper Constance doing all of that. "I can almost see it. Of course, Mrs. Collier would use a freshly polished bullet and have her pinkie extended as she pulled the trigger. But it wasn't her. The murder scene was much too messy. She'd throw a doily over the wound before trotting off, so as not to offend."
  Our laughter was echoing in the office when the street door opened. "Well, I'm glad to see our police force in action," Millie said as she entered, a basket in hand. "What's so funny?" My wife came around to my side of the desk and gave me a kiss.
  "Nothing much," I explained. "We're just tired and slap-happy. Picturing Constance Collier shooting her brother in a socially acceptable manner."
  Millie's brow scrunched. "God forgive me for saying so, but any manner in which the likes of Carter Fairfax is disposed of is socially acceptable."
  "Look at her, Jerry," I said with a flourish. "My wife, Millicent. Five feet two inches of pure Catholic charity. Always sees the best in her fellow man. Always —"
  My words were cut off by a sharp smack on the top of my head. "Good thing you're sitting so I could reach you," she said. "Now, if you investigators aren't too terribly busy, I brought you a snack. Fresh apple turnovers."
  "I'll go get us some coffee," Elwood said. "You look like you could use some, Pat."
  "Thanks, Elwood."
  "Want a cup, Millie?"
  "Thank you, Elwood, no. I can only stay a minute."
  Elwood shuffled out to the station lobby to get the coffee as Millie placed the basket on the desk. Jerry's hands were in the basket before Millie could remove the cover. In a few seconds, there was a turnover in each of his bony paws. "I love your baking, Mrs. Morgan. Your stuff is always so good. A lot better than Krindhoff's Bakery. Old Mr. Krindhoff could learn a thing or two from you." He stuffed a third of one of the large turnovers in his mouth and grinned contentedly.
  "The secret is choosing the best ingredients," Millie told him, directing a wink at me. I was with her Saturday afternoon when she bought the turnovers at Krindhoff's. Millie and I both knew she couldn't bake if her life depended on it, but she didn't have the heart, or the lack of vanity, to tell Jerry that. She'd rather bask in the compliments than shatter his illusions, she told me time and again.
  I helped myself to a turnover, taking a small bite. "You've outdone yourself this time, Mil. This may be your best batch yet," I smiled wide.
  "Have you made any progress on Carter's murder?" she asked, not daring to make eye contact with me. Instead, she looked down at my desk, catching sight of the list. "How can you possibly call Ann Wishawski or Betty Fairfax suspects?" Millie crossed her arms over her chest. I knew the stance well. "We went to school with Betty. She's been a close friend for years. Why, she even babysat for us from time to time before she married Carter. Poor thing had such a tough time making ends meet before her divorce."
  I took a deep breath. "We're listing everyone who might have reason to want Fairfax dead. That's all. We aren't convicting anyone. Looking at everyone's motive and opportunity is standard procedure and the family is always automatically suspect."
  "If that's so, then why aren't the Colliers on your list?"
  "Because, my love, I was interrupted by a beautiful woman bearing a basket of homemade baked goods." I wrote Sloane Collier's name on the paper. "No point in listing Mrs. Collier. I know she was in the WDCW studios at the time of the killing. We don't know where Betty was yet and Ann was actually in the theater."
  "From what I was told, so were a lot of other people," she answered.
  I rested my head in my cupped hands. "That's the problem. Too many people with too many motives."
  "Well, that's why he was killed. He deserved it. God's way of correcting a mistake." Millie headed for the door. "Call me if you need anything else. I'm going to go to Mass, then home for a nap before seeing to Sunday dinner. All this baking has worn me to a frazzle. Excuse me, Your Honor," she said to the mayor, who entered as she stepped out.
  Alexander Rittenour waited for the door to close before speaking. "In for the day, Chief Morgan?"
  "Yes I am." My head started to throb. I knew this visit was coming.
  "Shouldn't you be out investigating? Making an arrest?" His silver caterpillar eyebrows crawled into accusing question marks.
  I yawned. "We've been investigating. Right now there's no one to arrest. It's not like someone has stepped forward and asked to be locked up. Are you volunteering?" It would have been my pleasure to slap cuffs on the arrogant windbag and throw him in jail.
  "There's no reason for flippancy, Chief Morgan. Especially in front of your subordinates," Rittenour said. Elwood looked around the room as if the mayor couldn't have possibly meant him. Jerry grabbed two more turnovers and slunk off to the corner. "I'm merely suggesting that a quick end to this case would be for the good of the community."
  "Before Mrs. Collier and her new committee start making waves?" Elwood asked, reading my mind.
  Rittenour glared at him. "No, Sergeant. Waves need to be made. Big crashing waves sweeping out the undercurrent of violence and immorality in our city." The mayor bore down at me. "Perhaps changes will have to occur at the very top levels of responsibility if this murder isn't untangled quickly. Do I make myself clear?"
  I stood up, shoving my chair back a little harder than necessary for the sheer pleasure of watching the mayor jump. "Mayor Rittenour, there is no need for threats. The corpse is barely twelve hours old. We'll find the killer and bring him to justice."
  "See that you do," he said. "Mrs. Rittenour and I don't feel safe in our beds knowing there's a murderer loose on our streets."
  "Your beds?" Elwood drawled, emphasizing the 's.'
  I shot Elwood a 'this isn't the time for that' look and he shuffled away. "Alex, this thing will be solved. But there are laws to follow. Citizens' rights to protect. That's what the war was about, remember? Democracy?"
  "You don't have to remind me about the purpose of the late, unlamented war. I am unequaled in my love of this country. But I am also unequaled in my love of this community, and I have a duty to see it is protected!"
  "And I don't?"
  "Then I suggest you do your duty, Chief Morgan. And quickly. If there had been enough men on the streets last night, perhaps this killing wouldn't have happened."
  "I had every available man out there. We're a little short staffed around here, in case you hadn't noticed."
  "Everyone made sacrifices during the war, but that's no reason —"
  I wanted to throttle him. "Everyone made sacrifices? My best men went overseas. My budget didn't increase a dime. I lost a son in the goddamned war, for Christ's sake! What sacrifices did you make, Your Honor? A few less steak dinners at the taxpayers' expense? One less pair of shoes for Sylvia? What exactly did you give up, Alex?" I turned away from the mayor, afraid that if I didn't I'd kill him.
  Inhaling loudly, Rittenour came around the desk and put a hand on my shoulder. "Pat, I'm sorry. We're allowing this situation to become personal. Coming on top of such a joyful occurrence, the shock has everyone a little on edge."
  I didn't turn around to face him or acknowledge his apology. "An arrest will be made when one is warranted and not before," I said flatly. "We have quite a few facets to look into before we can draw any definite conclusions."
  "Have you asked Sister Bartholomew over at St. Matthew's Mission House if she's seen Chet Wishawski?"
  "Why would I?"
  "Why would you —? So you can go pick him up, of course. Arrest him for the murder."
  "There's no reason to believe that Chet Wishawski was within five miles of the burlesque."
  "When I was county prosecutor, you and I built cases on less hard evidence than you have right now."
  "There's no motive."
  "No motive! Please, Pat. There's plenty of motive. Jealous first husband who's not quite right in the head to begin with. Wishawski's drunk, sees the man who asked his daughter to degrade herself, and goes over the edge. Logical suspect. Easy conviction. End of case. We move on."
  How did Rittenour know about the incident with Ann? "Easy conviction based on what evidence, Your Honor? Did I miss a change in the city charter that appointed you judge, jury, and executioner?"
  Rittenour steepled his hands in front of his chest and spoke very calmly. "All I'm saying is that with such an obvious suspect, you should be out there making an arrest. On suspicion, if nothing else."
  "Mayor Rittenour, there is absolutely nothing to connect Wishawski to that alley. I was in the immediate vicinity all night and never saw the man."
  "Chief Morgan, the influential people of this town do not want prolonged publicity of this case under any circumstances. Am I making myself clear?"
  "Abundantly." In my mind, I saw the Colliers thanking me for my 'discretion.' I made a mental note to find out where Sloane Collier was at the time of the killing.
  "Good. If you can't manage to tie it to Wishawski, I'd bet on one of those no-account dancers at the burlesque house. There's enough of those little tramps that you should be able to pick and choose a good suspect from the lot. If I was a gambling man, I'd put my money on that Simmons girl. There couldn't have been much love lost between her and Fairfax after that incident with her worthless brother. One of the easiest cases I ever prosecuted."
  I forced down an urge to defend Gloria and the other dancers at the Paradise, even though I wasn't so naïve as to think all of the girls there were as innocent as my almost-daughter-in-law. "I've already included the employees of the Paradise on the suspect list. Is there anything more I can do for you, Alex?" I waved my hand over a pile of paperwork. "We're awfully busy here this morning."
  The mayor smiled benignly and opened the door. "You concentrate your efforts on Wishawski and at that theater, and you'll find your answer, I'm sure." He headed for the door, unaware of Elwood's gesture made just out of Rittenour's field of vision. "There is a meeting of Constance Collier's new committee in my office on Friday afternoon. Feel free to join us — if you have a solution by then." He left, letting the door slam behind him.
  "Going to that clean-up committee's meeting?" Elwood asked when he and Jerry came back into the office.
  "Only if Hitler comes back to life," I answered.
  "Ya know, Pat, old Sourbritches Rittenour had a good idea about that Simmons dame," Elwood said.
  "What's that all about, Chief?" Jerry asked. "I never heard about Miss Simmons' brother."
  I underlined Cindy Simmons' name on my list. "It was before you were on the force. Back about three years ago now, when we conducted the first raid on the Paradise. We found paperwork that showed a warehouse was leased in Milwaukee in the burlesque's name. Cindy's brother, Luke Holhman, was the stage manager at the Paradise back then. He signed the lease on the warehouse. The bills were sent to his attention. Everything pointed at Holhman being involved in the black market."
  Jerry shook his head. "But if the lease was in the Paradise's name, why didn't Mr. Fairfax get arrested?"
  "He was out of town on the night of the raid and, by the time he got back, Hohlman was already arrested. The conviction was a foregone conclusion. The Feds didn't even look in Fairfax's direction."
  "'Course, that's 'cause Sloane Collier's fancy lawyers made sure nobody looked at Fairfax," Elwood said.
  "No doubt."
  "What was in the warehouse?"
  "Tires, counterfeit ration books, sugar, coffee, shoes. All sorts of rationed goods. Holhman went up on a stolen property rap."
  Jerry let out a low whistle and reached for another turnover, disappointed to find them all gone. "Your wife should bake more often," he said sadly as he peered into the empty basket.

— ♦ —

Michael Giorgio
Photo provided courtesy of
Michael Giorgio

Michael Giorgio lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin with his wife, author Kathie Giorgio, daughter Olivia, and an assortment of dogs, cats, and fish. His short fiction has appeared in The Strand, Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road, Tales from the Cash Register and many magazines and anthologies. In addition to writing, he is also a creative writing instructor for AllWriters' Workplace and Workshop, both in their Waukesha studio and online, and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at MichaelGiorgio.org and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook.

— ♦ —

Justice Comes Home by Michael Giorgio

Justice Comes Home
Michael Giorgio
A Crime Novel

After nearly four years of war, the citizens of Devlin's Crossing, Wisconsin, are grateful for a chance to celebrate peace, but police chief Patrick Morgan wants nothing to do with the city's massive street party. He can't understand how people can celebrate while his son lies dead in a grave somewhere in Europe, never to return home.

During the jubilee, Carter Fairfax, the black sheep of the city's wealthiest family, is found shot to death behind his burlesque. Chief Morgan, who has his own reasons for wishing Fairfax dead, has the responsibility of finding his murderer. Secrets are revealed that cause him to rethink everything in his life, from the city he calls home to his relationship with his daughter, who he's ignored while grieving his son. Immersed in murder and mourning, Patrick doubts justice will ever come home.

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