Friday, August 27, 2010

King of the Empire State--Chapter 6

Chapter 6

As soon as I cleared Eva out of my office, I sat down with the envelope Plain Jane gave me. Like her, there was nothing very flashy about it: plain, white, letter-sized. No monogram or Fitz Roy company symbol. There was no name written across the front. He took great pains to make sure the letter could never be traced to its sender. If he was the guy that wrote it.

I opened it with my index finger after digging my nail into the corner. We weren't the type of operation to have anything as fancy as letter opener.

The pages folded inside matched the envelope. They were plain, white, and neatly typed with inch and a half margins. Such a waste of space. There was no handwriting and no return address. It simply started with: "T.F.," Anyone could have written it. Plain Jane Dillwood herself could have sat down at a typewriter  three hours ago and pounded this thing out to keep me busy while she skipped town and boarded the next steamer across the pond. 

But I gave it a shot.

If you are reading this letter, I presume that I am dead. I wrote this in that event and asked Miss Dillwood to perform a series of tasks to prevent what could be a major catastrophe. The first was to deliver a key to you in secret. The key, I am hoping is in your possession and should be kept as safe as possible. I will not describe what it does for fear that this letter may be intercepted. Instead I will tell you when and where to meet someone who can educate you on exactly how to use it. 

The following I will write so that you know I am the true author of this letter and not some impostor leading you astray. Three days ago I called you to my office after normal business hours with the intention of hiring you to find, what I called, a "valuable collectible." I told you that the stolen item was a quadrant used by surveyors and this particular one was from the early 19th century and used by the legendary surveyor, Simon De Witt. None of this seemed to phase you and why should it? To you I was just a wealthy man looking for an expensive toy. This case was nothing more than a petty theft. And that's exactly what I wanted you to think. I had to try and keep the theft as quiet as possible for fear that my enemies, and they are many, would get wind of it disappearance and act quickly.

Now I will tell you that inside that quadrant ruler is some of the most valuable information about this city. Information that could be used to be its undoing. I know this must sound all very silly to you, but I assure it isn't. Again, I will leave the specifics to the only other person who knows the secret of the piece.  

Just this morning it has come to my attention that darker forces are afoot. Forces that know exactly how important my collectible is. My life is in danger. You should have been hired by my son already to find my murderer. Don't worry you will complete both tasks in one stroke for I am convinced whoever stole the quadrant is also responsible for my murder.

Now there are two people who I suggest you seek out to help you on this case: 

The first is a man who will be expecting you in his office in the speakeasy you have been to twice already on my behalf. You will have an appointment with him exactly 24 hours after my murder. He will be receiving a letter as well telling him to expect you. You can trust him completely, he has been my confidant and partner in this venture and he will tell you all you need to know. 

He has working for him a young girl whose name I gave you. She is the second. I know you have already sought her out and found her to be of no help, but seek her out again. She is an invaluable ally, also someone my partner trusts. She has no knowledge of what is going on but you will need her skills to help you.

You came highly recommended by Lyle Linder. He said you were the best in your field and a dark horse of the industry. No doubt news of my death will inspire him to contact you. I trust his opinion and I'm sure he will tell you just how important my work was to this city. Now it has become your work. 

If somewhere on the other side of things, we meet again, I hope you can report back that you were successful.

All my best and all my hopes,

I closed the letter and lit a cigarette. The whole letter smacked of him and so I was slowly convinced it was the real deal. If only I know what the hell he was talking about.

Friday, July 30, 2010

King of the Empire State--Chapter 5

Chapter 5

I barely had time to finish my second cup of coffee and my thoughts on Fitz Roy Junior when the door swung open. Eva came charging in on a tear: "There's an uptight broad outside by the name of Francis Dillwood. Said she needs to see you. Won't say anything else.Real pleasant." She belted that at the top of her lungs then rolled her eyes.

"You got an Irish whisper, you know that?" I said.

"And a German fist. What's it to ya? Should I send her in?"

I lit a cigarette. "Yeah and try it nice this time."

"Ha!" She turned around and went back to her desk."You can go in, Sister Francis. Mr. Finch will see you."

In less than a heartbeat a middle aged woman in a simple gray dress came in clutching her over-sized purse. If I didn't know any better, I would've thought she was afraid Eva might rough her up for it. She was scowling even as she walked in. Her hair was a fiery red, and to make matters worse it was pulled up into a tight schoolmarm bun. Everything about her read Christian missionary.

"Honestly, that woman is a brute, Mr. Finch." 

I stood up and shook her hand. "Please, Miss. Dillwood, take a seat and don't mind Eva, she just had her little heart torn to pieces by my last client."  

She sat. "How anyone could even think of loving that girl is beyond me."

"She has a couple of fine qualities."

"Such as?" She was still clutching her purse.

"She's good in a fight." I smiled hoping she might return the gesture. She didn't. "What can I do for you today?"

"Mr. Finch, I'll be plain with you." She didn't have to work hard at that. "I'm Franny. The one who sent you that key early this morning."

"Well so you are." She looked as far from a Franny as a Randy did to a Randolph.

"You've never met me, but I am," she cleared her throat correcting herself, "I was Mr. Fitz Roy's secretary. He told me just last week that if anything were to happen to him, I would have to deliver that key safely to you in the utmost of secrecy."

"It's a shame you delivered it to the one woman who would broadcast it all over the damn town."

"I assume you're referring to that brute of a land lady who intercepted my brother."

"What can I say, I associate with rough women." I smiled again hoping to get to her. No dice. I pulled out my pack of cigarettes, "I've been rude. Cigarette? Coffee?"
She winced at the thought of either. "No. Thank you."

"So you mind telling me what the key is to?"

She frowned. "I figured you would know."

I smiled. "Well damn, I figured you would know." I actually didn't figure she would know, but I thought it was worth a shot. "And why the secret delivery?"

"Mr. Fitz Roy was under the impression that whoever would attempt to take his life would do so for the key which, was always on his person. I had to disguise its delivery. I asked my brother to bring it to your boarding house so I wouldn't be associated with the contents, and in case it was intercepted, which it was, I wanted it to look like a love trifle."

"A love trifle?" This whole thing was starting to stink like moldy chestnuts to me. 

"The key to my heart, or some ridiculous school girl babble," she said clearly not speaking from experience. 

"Let me get this straight, William Fitz Roy is shot in cold blood last night and I have, in less than 12 hours, been visited by his son and secretary with very precise orders on how to carry out his wishes should he make the midnight bus to the Great Beyond. And it just so happens, he did. Do you want me to believe this suit was just waiting to die because of a key and some stolen collectible?"

She turned three shades paler which I wouldn't have thought possible, "Will has been here?"

"Yeah, about a half hour ago."

"On orders of that whore of course," she spat through her pursed lips.

"Which one?"

She raised her one eyebrow, "I'm not at liberty to say. There are so many." 

I heard a deep snorting laugh come from Eva outside who had the biggest ears in town. 

"When the item of great value was stolen from Mr. Fitz Roy he called on all who were close to him and informed us that he was in grave danger."

"Funny, he hired me to find this item of great value and never once said he was going to be taken out like the garbage." 

She started scowling at me, "I am only telling you what I know, Mr. Finch. And now that I have come to see you in person, I am delivering this letter to you from Mr. Fitz Roy."

"The elder?"

"Yes, not the impostor who will take over his business."

"Don't like the kid?"

She clutched her bag tighter, "I tendered my resignation this morning. Delivering this letter was my last act as Mr. Fitz Roy's secretary." She didn't seem all that broken up over it.

"Why not deliver this with the key?" 

"The key had to go to you immediately according to Mr. Fitz Roy, the letter was to follow separately and be hand delivered by me to you. It is for your eyes only."

"Do we do the hokey pokey and turn ourselves around?" I thought the comment was cute. She didn't agree. She stood up and gathered herself ready to leave. Francis Dillwood was done with me for now.

"Mr. Finch, Mr. Fitz Roy held you and your services in high regard. Please don't let him down. Good day." She turned to leave.

"One more thing, Miss Dillwood."


"If the key was always on his person, how did you get it from him after he was murdered?"

She looked blankly off into space as if she was looking at the ghost of Fitz Roy himself. "He gave me the key every night when I left the office. It was a diversion." I could tell that was a bold-faced lie. 

"You guys had this planned out nicely."

"We were very thorough."

"So thorough you could couldn't prevent his murder?"

The expression on her face didn't change. "I wasn't a bodyguard, Mr. Finch! Good day and good luck." 

As she walked out of the office, I heard Eva snarl at her, "God bless, Sister Francis." Less then 10 seconds later my gal Friday was standing in front of me.

"I don't like her. She's a nasty prude and she's hiding something."

"I agree with you on both counts. Did you shake her down for a telephone number or address?"

She smiled wide, "I got you both. Told her she had to fill out this card to get in to speak with you." 

"Good work my little bulldog. If that dame thinks she's through with me, she's got another thing coming. She just made herself a prime suspect."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

King of the Empire State-Chapter 4

Chapter 4

I had a morning routine and it went like this: wake from whatever stupor I got myself into the night before, eat my breakfast at Tony's, then up to the office to check in with my gal Friday, Eva. That's right, I had an office and a nice young lady to take my calls and make my appointments. The office was a real tight fit. It had a waiting area with three chairs and a desk for Eva. My room was big enough for a desk, a chair, two guest chairs, a coat rack, an overworked bookshelf and a rusty filing cabinetIt was bare bones. How I liked things. Eva brought in a plant once to cheer the place up. A fern she named Burn. Short for Washburn. She had a slight wit to her. A real tough talker in a real sweet way. This was Eva I'm talking about, not the fern. 

The address was the basement of 148 Rivington Street. Right around the corner from the hubbub of Essex Street. I usually walked from Tony's which took about 11 minutes give or take. I liked the walk. It helped me to digest my breakfast. This morning I walked in with Eva rapidly taking a diction over the phone. Oh by the way, Eva was a blond. A warm blond and not one of those dangerous bottle blonds. She was a snappy dresser who was partial to polka dots and light blues. Younger than me by a good 10 years and lived with a slew of Hunter girls on the Upper East Side.

"Yes. I heard you the first time. Yes." She looked up from her pad and pointed toward my office. The door was open and that meant I had a visitor. I wasn't surprised. The morning after the murder of my high profile client would no doubt bring a lawyer or family member cutting me loose from my job and settling the big shot's tab. "Well, of course. I'll let Mr. Finch know as soon as he walks through the door." I rolled my eyes. She pursed her lips. That meant it was someone from the press or my nasty sister-in-law, Millie. "And you too. Have a lovely day. Good bye now." She slammed the phone down. "Old coot." She spat.

"And a good morning to you." I said. "Let me guess, Millie?"

"Worse. Although that maybe hard to imagine." 

"The Post wanting a statement?"


"The King of England?"

"Lyle Linder," She barked. "That obnoxious Swede."

"I'm glad I hired you to be the sweet talker of this office."

She stood up and threw the pad at me. "Save it, Finch. That went out the door my second day on the job when I was forced to pull a pistol on your cousin Jonny." 

"I told you you'd need it." 

"If only mother could see me now." She went over to the small percolator on the office hotplate and poured me a cup of black coffee. "Anyway, Prince Linder wants to meet you for dinner. 8 PM. Oak Room. Says it's important." 

"I hate the Oak Room."

"Oh and Mr. Finch," She raised her voice up high to sound nice and professional. "A Mr. Fitz Roy is in your office waiting to see you." 

I turned as white as a ghost who saw another ghost he wasn't very fond of. "Ahhh, Eva. You read the paper this morning?" I thought the poor girl might have lost her marbles over a bad date last night. 

"The younger, Mr. Finch."

"Oh," I clutched my coffee tightly. "I didn't realize there was one."

"He's very handsome," She said with a devious smile as she sat back down at her desk.

I walked into my office to discover how right she was. He was a little too handsome. Black hair slick completely over to the left, a real rich suit, pin stripes. A stately nose like his father had and blue eyes. He was around Eva's age, early twenties, which explained the puddle I left her in. When he stood up to shake my hand, all seven feet of him nearly hit the ceiling. "Detective Finch, I presume." 

I gave him a firm handshake. His was firmer. "Yes it is. Tobias Finch."

"William Fitz Roy, II."

I took off my coat and hung it on the rack. My hat followed. "My apologies sorry about your father, Mr. Fitz Roy. A real shame." 

"Please call me, Will. And thank you." 

I was amazed how collected he was considering the back of his father's head was splattered on a window only 8 hours ago. "What can I do for you?" I sat down. "Do you need coffee or a drink?"

He sat in the chair I found him in across from my desk. "No thank you. Your charming secretary already offered." I smirked and considered making a remark about the charming thing, but let it go for Eva's girlish pride. "I understand your were under my father's employ."

"Yeah. Something of his was stolen. He cared a lot about it and he hired me to find it." 

"And you still have not?" 

"No. He hired me a week ago."

"Do you think you were getting close to the culprit?"

I was starting to scratch at my neck, which meant I was getting a little annoyed. I wanted this dandy to cut me loose and go back to Snobsville. I could take a lot of baloney from a lot of butchers, but whenever someone started questioning me on my job, I just wanted to blow my stack.  "Look Will, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not Sherlock Holmes or whoever you're reading in your prep schools these days. I can't just sniff my way through these things in a day. Your father knew a lot of people most of which he enemies out of--"

"Including his family."

I stopped my rant. "Say again?"

"My father and I had not spoken in 10 years." I took out a cigarette from my pocket and offered it to the kid. "Thank you, I don't smoke."  I lit mine and let him talk. He needed to. "He left us for a showgirl when I was 13. Mother, Marion , and I. He continued to support us in the lifestyle we were accustomed. But made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with us. We remained on the estate in Connecticut and he kept a number of apartments in the city."

"Marion your sister?"

"Yes, younger."

"Your mother remarry?"

"No, she chose not to."

She'd lose the money if she did and she'd be hard pressed to find someone as rich as Fitz Roy. Now I was going to take out the big guns. "Can I ask the obvious question?"


"How did you find your way to me so quick? And what can I do for you?"

He cleared his throat. The last thing he thought he'd be doing this morning was sitting in a PI's basement office on the Lower East Side telling some schmoe that his daddy left him for a dancer and now he needed answers. "Theodora, his wife, telephoned me two days ago and asked me down to lunch with the two of them today. They had some affairs that they were settling and wanted me involved. I am the first born and father always intended to have me manage his businesses when the time came. I should clarify, he had no use for me as a child, but now that I'm a man, he wanted a Fitz Roy to continue his legacy."

"And you agreed with no hard feelings?"

"One doesn't pass up the opportunity to manage such a successful enterprise as the one my father ran." 

I puffed away. Probably a little too much as Mr. Fitz Roy seemed to be waving the smoke away from his face. "So why me?"

"She telephoned again early this morning and told me about my father's murder and that I needed to come down to see you. Said you were working for him and I was to rehire you."

"For what?"

"To find his murderer."

That was not what I wanted to hear. I took my coffee cup and gulped it down. "EVA! MORE COFFEE. You sure I can't get you anything?"

"No I'm fine. Thank you." 

Eva broke through the door with the pot smiling the whole way at Fitz Roy. "Mr. Fitz Roy, are you sure I can't get you anything?" She was so sweet I could vomit. She poured the coffee into my cup without even looking at it. 

"No thank you." She couldn't take her eyes off of him.

The coffee was about to spill over the brim of the cup. "Eva, you can stop pouring now." 

"Oh of course, Mr. Finch. Is there anything else I can get you, Mr. Finch."

"Yeah the gal who used to sit out front. The one with the rough mouth and the fast hand."

She gritted her teeth at me to let me know she wasn't amused. "I'll see if I can find her." She stomped out. 

I pulled out a bottle of scotch from the bottom drawer of my desk and introduced it to my coffee. I hoped they'd be fast friends. "This is tricky business, Will."

"Why is that?"

"Because your father's murder is big time in this city. He's been dead for about nine hours now and I've already been warned by the cops to stay away. They want this thing all for themselves."

"It's our right to hire you. You are licensed, correct?"

"I am, but this isn't Country Day down here. We don't hold hands on the green grass and play pocket full of posies. One bad move and I'm out with last night's mackerel. In the slammer or my license cut up into pieces. Everyone wants credit for finding the guy who knocked off your father and the boys in blue don't want a private dick doing the work and stealing all their glory."

"According to Theodora, he trusted you. He said so many times. She was quite insistent. We are willing to pay you handsomely for your work." I perked up. Money was tight and my pockets had holes in them so deep sometimes an Australian popped through to say hello from the other side. "5,000 retainer, expenses, and an additional 10,000 when the suspect is identified."

I nearly choked on coffee. "15,000 and expenses?" I'd like to think I was good, but that fee brought me into a whole new class of detective. His daddy only paid me two grand for the theft case. The coppers would be on my tail at every turn trying to trip me up, all of Fitz Roy's enemies would be going open season on one another. This would be my most dangerous case. No more small time petty thefts or wife cheaters.

"Is that enough?" This kid, obviously knew nothing about the value of money these days but I wasn't about to give him a lesson in economics.

"All I ask is that I do it my way, no involvement from family or friends unless I say so."

"Yes, of course." 

I smiled. The thought settled with me that I would go head-to-head with Claire again. And for that price, I'd finish both cases, the theft and the murder. He lifted the brown leather attache case that was sitting on the floor next to him. "I brought cash, I hope you don't mind." 


Eva plowed through the door, all smiles at one last chance to see Will. "Yes, Mr. Finch."

"You're finally getting that Christmas bonus I promised you."

She smiled, "Just this year's?"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

King of the Empire State-Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Tony's was a hole in the wall lunch counter run by another Spinelli. Mario's brother. It was cheap and right across the street from the roach trap we all lived in, Tony included. He fed me daily and what Tony didn't do, Mario took care of at his grocery. It was just like one big happy family. Truth was, I liked Tony, and I even liked Mario. Who cares if he was henpecked? At the end of the day I even had a soft spot in my cold empty heart for the mother hen herself.

Tony's place was narrow. A real tight squeeze with clean white walls and an even cleaner silver counter. It was the kind with the rotating stools, they were silver too. I knew for a fact that Tony scrubbed the whole place twice a day and if an egg landed on the floor, rest assured you could take a fork and eat it right off the white tile. He always had my paper waiting for me and my coffee black and hot. It was because of him, I lived on Cherry Street. I met Tony on a job once. I got him out of a nasty jam involving two thugs and a .32 in a warehouse on South Street. When my old place went up like an unattended roast goose on Christmas day, he found me a spot with his brother and sister-in-law.  

As soon as I walked in, he threw my eggs on the sizzling griddle: two of them fried, sunny side up with rye toast and bacon. Tony could fry one helluva an egg and he could make a damn good sandwich for lunch. He closed his place down at 4 to eat dinner with the Spinelli clan. I had a standing invitation, but I usually declined.

Tony came over from the old country with Mario when he was 5. Mario was older and they had to fend for themselves seeing as momma and poppa Spinelli saved only enough money to send their sons off to New York. Tony said the beginning was tough. They sold eggplants and cabbages out of a pushcart and had to live in boarding rooms with 5 or 6 other young kids trying to make their own way. He had a grit his brother didn't. Mario was still old world. Tony was a street kid from the Lower East Side. He taught himself how to read by pushing newspapers while he was selling eggplants. You couldn't help but admire his way. He also knew everyone in the neighborhood, cause they all came to him for a cup of joe and grub.

"Ya late, Finchie," he shouted over the frying of eggs and the murmurer of the morning regulars clanging forks against their plates.

"Don't I know it. Miss Naples, 1932 held me up in the stairwell."

"Oh da key?" He said deviously. "I heard about dat."

I sat on my stool in front of my paper. I never paid for the paper by the way. He laid it out for me to read. I did. And then I left it there and he sold it to the next bub who walked in for his breakfast. "I'm glad I have privacy over at the Ritz Spinelli."

"What was dat all about?" He slid my eggs on the plate, threw the bacon over them and passed the goods over to me.

"Got me. I have a fan called Frannie who left me a key to something to unlock. Trouble is, I don't know who Franny is or what that thing is I'm supposed to be unlocking."  

"Lucky for you, you're a detective." He buttered my rye toast and placed it next to eggs I had dug into. 

"Ain't it though?"

"Speaking of which, look at da paper."

I turned it over. The headline read: "KING OF THE EMPIRE STATE SHOT DEAD IN HIS 75TH FLOOR OFFICE. FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED." His name was William Fitz Roy. He was a developer and the backer of every new building project going on in the city. Even in these hard times he had more money than anyone I ever met. It was said that he palled up with Al Smith to pay for that new skyscraper himself.

"Roger called to tell me."

"Wasn't you working for him?"

"I was. Won't be now."  

He leaned over the counter and took a swig of his own joe. "Know who did it?"

"Probably Franny. Or about 17 other people."

"I thought you said you didn't know Franny?"

"I don't, but she's the only thing I got. Besides, it's not my beat now. The cops got this one."

He started laughing, "Yeah dey got it alright."

With that the door to the joint swung open and in sauntered the fattest piece of pork shoulder walking the streets in a uniform, Officer Eddie Claire. He was about the height of a 12 year old who got the short end of the tall stick from his father. There was a mess of curly red hair but only from his ears to the base of his skull. The rest was waxy bald. Oh and he was fat, messy fat, like he swallowed a twelve year old leaving him just as tall as he was wide. He hated me right good and for good reason. On many occasion I made him look bad and bad was his true colors. "Finch! You lose something?" He threw down the morning paper with my client's murder plastered on it.

"Yeah my appetite." I patted his stomach. "Looks like you found it though." Claire and I also had a bit of a rivalry going on with my now dead client. It was his beat to recover the stolen goods for Fitz Roy and when Claire wasn't doing his job too well, the man hired me to speed things up.

"You did a fine job protecting your client, gumshoe." All of Tony's patrons didn't so much as look up from their breakfasts.

"Funny I was about to congratulate you for letting a hoodlum with a .22 waltz on up to that ivory tower of yours and shoot my guy square in the skull." That whole neighborhood was Claire's territory. He was very possessive of it, like a child with a bright shiny tinker toy. But this toy he frequently let go to hell, especially around feeding times.  

He grabbed my shoulder and spun me around on the stool. I could feel Tony get hotand bothered behind me, "Cool it, Tony," I said. Claire wanted nothing more than for me to pop him in the jaw so he could book me and keep my heels spinning in the can for a while.

"You listen to me good, Finch. Your show is over. Your man is singing Hallelujah with the angels now and you have no damn business on my turf. So don't go showing your face where it ain't welcome." 

"And here I thought we were friends, Claire."

"I don't socialize with scum, Finch." He was turning out to leave.

I mumbled under my breath, "No but you'd eat it if you could." Tony giggled like a bored kid in church as did the old schmo sitting next to me trying to pretend like he was wasn't paying attention. 

Claire stopped dead in the door. "What was that?"

"I said, of course you don't officer. Point taken."

"I thought so." Then he turned sideways and jiggled his way out the door and into his squad car. I swore I heard it scream out in agony when he got in.

"Well Tony, it's good to know you have friends in this town."

Tony was slopping eggs onto plates, "That, is one fat bastard."

"I've seen bigger, and I've seen nastier. Your sister-in-law for starters."

"Yeah, Josephine could take him with outta doubt."

"Your little old granny in Sicily could take him. But he's not my problem."

"Then what's your problem, Finchie? You always seem to got one."

"Now I'm out of work." 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

King of the Empire State--Chapter 2

 Chapter 2 

After some unexpected shuteye, I dragged my bag of bricks out of that ugly green armchair and back into the kitchenette to start up another round of coffee. As far as I could tell, it was sometime after 9 in the morning.  When the pot hit the flame, I stepped into the bathroom to shave. After three or four minutes of scraping the blade across my face, I came back out with shaving cream all under my jawline and I poured myself a cup, black. 

I sat at the little wooden table outside the kitchenette. The puny thing was made for half a person. Barely a nightstand in any normal home and low. My knees never cleared the underside, so I sat sideways, like a giant in a dollhouse drinking tea all by himself. But I was tall to begin with. A little too tall I'd been told. And when I was younger man, a little too thin. In my forty-third year all that changed. Now a small tire hung where a washboard used to be and I moved a little slower than I used to. But I still had a full head of thick dark hair. So, I couldn't complain.

I took a cold shower and dressed. Swigging one last sip of coffee, I opened my front door to a surprise. It was Italy's greatest secret weapon, Josephine Spinelli, my landlady. She stood stout at 4'8"  with a sour face like a lemon-sucking fascist. At least a deuce and a half. And always in a pale blue house dress with pink roses splattered across it. It was hard to tell the difference between the roses and the stains of her daily gravy. 

She came over from Naples at the age of 14 and was considered the property of her husband, Giuseppe. The only problem was Giuseppe, a real son of a bitch according to his widow, took a walk into the East River three years after her arrival. It didn't take her long to find her real Prince Charming, Mario Spinelli. Equally short and about 100 pounds thinner, Mario only lived to make his wife happy. Together they bought a flea-trap tenement on Cherry Street where Mario ran a grocery and Josephine rented rooms to the dregs of the city. I was one of them. And I was yet to find anyone in this town tougher than her. 

"Mistera Finch," her accent was subtle, like a cool breeze on a hot June afternoon. Her hand whipped out a small envelope from the pocket of her house dress. It was as crumpled and tired as I was.

I snatched it up. "What are you torturing garlic downstairs?" The smell kicked me harder than a drunk speakeasy bouncer after a few wise words. 

She didn't even blink. "This a come for you very early this a morning."

"Thanks." I put it in my pocket. There was something in it. She didn't move. She wanted to know what it was. "Excuse me Mrs. Spinelli. I have an appointment."

"Bullashit!" She also cursed like a Red Hook dockworker. "You a going to Tony's to sit on your a ass and eat your a breakfast."

"And it's an appointment I like to keep." She still wouldn't budge and I certainly couldn't move that truck of a body out of my way without brute force.

"Whatsa so special it needs to wake up a my Mario at 4 AM? You know me I a never sleep. But my a Mario needs a his rest."   
I smiled in a way I'd hope would work her over, "Now that's for me to find out in private."

"Nota in my house it isn't."

I kept smiling just on the hope it would make her crack. She just wanted me to mouth off so she could sock me. "Do you read all my mail?"

"You a don't get any. This is a the first piece and it comes to wake up a my Mario at 4 in the morning."

"You mentioned that. Look, my deepest apologies for waking up, Mr. Spinelli. I know he's a busy guy running his shop and all." I reached into my pocket and slipped out what felt like a small key. I took the the envelope out and opened it. A note nestled on a crumpled piece of blank stationary read, "Love, Franny." I held it out to Mrs. Spinelli. She snatched it out of my hand like a frog tongue to a fly. After inspection, she grunted and threw it back at me. "What about the key in your a pocket?"

I was thinking I should really hire this woman to shadow me. And as a bonus, she'd be good in a fight. "Not a clue what you're talking about, Mrs. Spinelli."

Her eyes filed themselves down to dark and powerful slits. "You a think you a so smart. Alla I know is, no woman delivered that. It was a a man. A weak looking man. No woman."

"Well how do you know Franny isn't a man?"

She finally moved from her perch outside my door. The hallway was barely letting in any of the morning sun. The walls were so brown and there was so many layers of thick dark paint that sunlight couldn't make a dent. 

Her body labored down the stairs, each one screaming in pain with all that weight on them. "That's a woman's writing. And besides you have a no idea who a Franny is or why she give a you that key."

She was right about every single point and I loved and hated her for it. 

"Some a detective you are, huh?" She burst out into a roaring laughter that made her bosoms shake as she pounded down the stairs.   

Saturday, July 24, 2010

King of the Empire State--Chapter 1

The Case Files of Tobias Finch: The King of the Empire State


I turned my banging head over to the left to catch a glimpse of the clock. The one eye not smothered in a pillow could only make out the little hand on the 3. The long hand was no where to be found and just as well since my attention was snatched up by the telephone ringing.  I sloppily picked it up drooling a bit onto the receiver, "Finch."

"Toby. You drunk?" Only one man called me Toby, my brother. Everyone else called me Tobias. My mother called me Toby once upon a time, but we put her in the ground ten years ago. Pops never came home from the war so who the hell knows what he would've called me.

"Jesus Roger, I was sleeping. I was lit a couple hours ago. What's doin' to ring me at this hour? Millie throw you out again?"

"My brother, the clown. No we got a call you might be interested in. A rich suit. Shot twice in the head with a 22. In his office. Head down on his shiny black desk. Most of the rest of him was on the window. Found your card in his pocket."

I hoisted myself up and over the side of the bed. I took a cigarette out of the pack stuck between my sweaty hip and my light blue shorts. I sucked it in between my lips as natural as a breath and lit it with one quick strike of a match against my nightstand. It's none of your business where the matches came from. "Let me guess. 75th floor of the Tower of Babel?"

"If that's what you're calling it. You workin' for him?"

"Not anymore."

"What was it for?"

"A robbery he was trying to keep quiet."

"Gettin' anywhere?"

I stood up and went searching for a glass I hoped was holding on to a sip of scotch for me. I flipped on the light. It just so happens it was turned over on the floor near the bed. By the taste in my mouth I'm guessing I got to it somewhere between 1:30 and 2:15. "Not really. What are you the board of review?"

"Do me a favor and stop by the pen tomorrow afternoon when you shake that night of yours off. We might need to ask you a few."

"I got a whole lotta nothing to tell you."

"I'm sure you do. Sleep tight, princess." There was a click.

I hung the horn back on the hook and shuffled my feet into the kitchenette off the side of the room that doubled as a bedroom, living room, and dining room. I was living light these days on account of a fire that took out my place three months ago. It was a nice nest. Bad wiring. It had a couple of rooms and a hallway. Some hardwood floors to walk on and a nice big tub in the bathroom. A place you could take a lady back to and let her imagine herself playing house and painting the walls a bright yellow. I considered this one-room dump to be a temporary situation. But for me temporary could see me through to the next flood.

I lit the stove and put on some coffee. There was no use in going back to sleep. I was up and my client was dead. Shot in the head and I could think of about 15 people off the top of my scotch-soaked noggin who would want him cold and quiet. He was loaded. He was powerful and he stepped on a couple big toes to get to the 75th floor of the tallest building in the world. But it wasn't my case now and probably never would be. It would be a high profile murder splattered all over every rag in the city. Coppers, my brother included, would be all over it and the commissioner himself would be standing in front of every two-bit news man reassuring the citizens of this fair city that he and his finest wouldn't rest until this man's murderer was brought to justice. Except they'd never find their guy? I had my theories as to why.

Eventually I found myself sitting in my pathetic excuse for a green armchair listening to the coffee percolate and thinking what a crime my kitchenette was because I fancied myself quite the cook. Next thing I knew I was pouring a cup of the joe and mixing it with cream and a finger of scotch. That and two eggs scrambled on rye would've been breakfast, but it was a little too early for all that and I was out of eggs and rye bread.

It was already shaping up to be one hell of a day.