“Monopoly: Go Directly to Death”

In accordance with the release of his debut novel, Lance Hawvermale has written a short story exclusively for Criminal Element! Read “Monopoly: Go Straight to Death” and make sure to grab your copy of Face Blind—out today!

“Monopoly: Go Straight to Death”

I found him dead at St. James Place, just east of the rails of the old Pennsylvania line. He lay in a pool of orange light.

Standing on the pale green ground, I stared at the body and reached for my lighter. Too bad I’d quit smoking, because now thumbing the lighter’s striker wheel was as close as I could get to the real thing.

“You ever going to give that up?” Ramsey asked.

I turned the wheel with another satisfying scrape, bringing a flame to life. “Old habits.”

“Yeah, so my wife was an old habit, and she wasn’t so hard to give up.”

This time I didn’t take the bait. Usually Ramsey and I go on for hours trading what he calls old wives’ tales. My particular old wife lives around two hard right turns on ritzy Pacific in a patch of sweet emerald real estate. She married a lawyer. Most folks think that’s a step up from living with a cop. Most folks are right.

The forensic tech looked up from the body. “Think I got something, Inspector.”

I carefully stepped over the cigarette butts and other possible minutiae of evidence and knelt beside the victim. He was a young guy in faded denim jeans and had been good-looking before the earthquake happened to his head. “Give me something to go on, Lou.”

With a pair of tweezers, Lou showed me a small piece of paper he’d unfolded. “Found this in his back pocket.”

I squinted until I could see the two numbers printed there: 3 3.

“Any ideas?” Lou asked.

“Thirty-three? As a matter of fact, that’s how old I was when my wife decided till death was too long to wait.”

“Well, maybe this will be more helpful.” Lou used a telescoping rod to indicate the concavity just above the man’s ear. “See that? What’s that look like to you?”

I leaned down and thumbed the lighter: light flared, giving me a good look.

Part of the gory wound was lined with silver flakes.

“Metal shavings,” I realized.

“Looks like it.”

“Damn. I was hoping we could avoid this.”

Lou sighed. “No such luck. The perp definitely had access to the Iron.”

My spine popped not uncomfortably as I stood up. “Ram?”

Ramsey broke off his confab with the blond uniform. “Yeah, Inspector?”

“Call it in. Tell ‘em the perp’s got the Iron. And the way our luck’s going, he’s probably got the goddamn Car as well, and then we’ll never catch him.”

Ramsey fished out his phone and turned away, but I saw the glass-is-half-empty look in his eyes and couldn’t help but sympathize. It was going to be a hell of a night.

***
 

The two of us headed east of St. James and hoofed it across the dirty tracks of the Penn line. Then again, now that I looked around, the railyard seemed to be less cluttered than before, like somebody had been making an effort to put on a good face. Rumor had it that a rail baron had bought two of the four lines through the city, and ticket prices had doubled. It didn’t seem right that a guy on a cop’s salary could barely afford to ride public transportation.

I saw the tell-tale magenta lights of Virginia Avenue long before we arrived.

“Tomorrow’s election day,” Ramsey said, probably because he never found a silence that was companionable. “How are you voting on the lotto?”

I hunkered deeper into my blazer and shrugged. “Not much of an opinion, really. Seriously doubt I’ll ever win.”

“Sure, but what’s your opinion? I mean, everybody’s got something to say about it, even an apolitical Cro-Magnon like you.”

I smiled in the dark. Ramsey had me pegged. “I guess I side with the old school, which shouldn’t surprise you. In this world, there ain’t no Free Parking. You shouldn’t walk away with a fortune just for being in the right place at the right time.”

“You realize that most folks disagree with you?”

“Call me a purist.”

Ramsey laughed, but not with much mirth. “Yeah, a purist.”

“Among other things.”

We crossed Virginia without any trouble. Sometimes, if the developers had been through, the squatters would move in and take to mugging passers-by. I’d lost twelve bucks here one night. But that was before I had a badge and gun.

We left V-Ave behind, but the next street brought nothing but the mojo of bad memories. I had owned property here, back in a past life. Even collected a bit of rent and thought I’d be able to make a living. But that was another old wives’ tale; the old wife had gotten that, too. At least I’d gotten the new Cat.

The Electric Company was closed at this hour, its windows as black as the night sky above us. Ramsey pulled out a flashlight and beamed the place, because that’s what policemen did, though I wondered seriously if any burglars inside would be frightened off by a wagging cone of light; these days the bad guys were made of sterner stuff. By the time we reached St. Chuck’s, my knee was doing its thing again, so I found a sleeve of aspirin in my pocket and dry-swallowed some relief.

We reached HQ and walked through the visitor’s door.

Our Jail isn’t as overcrowded as similar facilities in other burgs, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up nicely in quality. Other towns have crooks. We have full-on outlaws.

“How’s Betartis?” I asked the desk sergeant.

The sarge grimaced. “Still alive, unfortunately.”

“I need to see him.”

“At this hour?”

I just stared at the sergeant and said nothing.

Finally he sighed. “Fine. He’s all yours.” Across the desk he slid a huge ring of keys. “But don’t expect to draw any comp pay if he bites you. You know the captain said—”

“I know what he said. I’m just not in the mood to oblige.” 

Ramsey and I worked our way back through the maze of cells, hooted and whistled at by every freak in the show. We headed to the very rear of the building, blithely ignoring the captain’s order to stay away from Kersey Betartis. He was the feds’ prisoner, and they were carting him away in the morning. But I had needed a tête-à-tête with him first.

Betartis jumped up from his cot and grabbed the bars. “Hey, if it ain’t my favorite inspector and his partner in police corruption.” He grinned, as giddy as a guy with a bank error in his favor. “Evening, gentlemen.”

Ramsey screwed on a hard look. “What the hell are you so happy about?”

“Flying the coop in the few hours, or haven’t you heard?”

I shot a hand through the bars and grabbed him by the hair. Betartis squealed, and I jerked his head forward and rang his skull against the steel. I leaned close enough that he could feel my breath on his ear. “Listen up, friend, because you can accompany the feds with stitches in your skin just as easily as you can otherwise. Do I have your attention?”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re the boss, just let me go!”

I dropped my voice to a whisper. “I need to know who fenced the Iron.”

Betartis tried to pull away, but I kept a savage lock on his hair. “I don’t know anything about that, dammit!”

“Wrong answer, pal.” I gave him just enough slack that I could jerk his head against the bars again.

He coughed in pain and waved his arms. “Okay, damn, it was some guy at the ‘Chest.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know, man, honest. Just please, let me go, I only know it was one of the bartenders, the fat one who works the weekends.”

“Where did you say?”

“That bar next to Tennessee Avenue, I don’t know what it’s called, Chest-something. The City Chest, I think.”

“Community Chest,” Ramsey said. “I know the place. A real hellhole.”

Feeling macho enough to be embarrassed by it, I let Betartis go, and as he shrieked about police brutality, Ramsey and I left the building. We hit the sidewalk just as the paramedics were wheeling in the dead man’s gurney.

“Wonder who he was,” Ramsey said, glancing at the sheet-covered body.

“Somebody who got mixed up with the wrong people.”

“Yeah, or maybe he was the wrong people.”

“Could be. But whoever hit him with that Iron is worse people.”

Neither of us comforted by this thought, we set out again across St. Chucks, heading for the bar and hoping to get lucky.

***
 

I walked into the Community Chest and fell in love.

The woman leaning on the piano wasn’t one of those in-your-face stunners that seemed to be a white dollar a dozen, but she could’ve won second prize in a beauty contest and I wouldn’t have been surprised. Dark curls hung around her face in a way that was just out of fashion enough to be sexy. She wore a black dress, which made the pearls at her throat look as white as little moons. 

“Bar’s over there,” Ramsey said.

I let him lead me through the tables, my eyes on the woman and—for a second—hers on mine. As the piano man worked behind her, she sang about sending in the clowns. I wondered if she’d timed that for my arrival.

“What you havin’ tonight, dudes?”

I turned to see the bartender, all 300 pounds of him. He wore a felt cowboy hat, the kind with the elaborate feathers on the crown. 

“Two beers,” Ramsey said.

“Bottle?”

“Sure.”

I forced myself to look away from the woman at the microphone and concentrate on the hefty-sized human on the other side of the bar. 

“That’ll be six bucks,” he said

As I groped for my wallet, I felt Ramsey’s eyes on me; he was wondering how I wanted to play this, because getting people to give up information was always tricky business. But I couldn’t help thinking about the woman making love to the mike and how girls like that never ended up with guys like me. Instead they got jerks who broke their hearts. 

I opened my wallet and saw an epiphany staring back at me. 

Sliding out one pink and one white bill, I practiced a little cop sleight-of-hand and slipped Angie’s picture from its sleeve. She’d turn fifteen in a month, and I never really felt old until I realized my kid was halfway to thirty. Now that her mom was remarried, I didn’t have to pay child support, but I still tried like hell to do my part. Which reminded me that I was behind about a hundred and fifty bucks for her school tax. If she knew that, Angie would just grin and say, “Don’t sweat it, Dad. Just keep bringing in the bad guys.”

Or the worse people, as Ramsey and I had recently named them.

“You recognize this girl?” I asked the bartender, flashing him Angie’s picture.

He shook his head. “Never seen her.”

“Actually, my friend, word has it that she was not only in your bar, maybe even sitting in this very seat, but you were so kind as to serve her a drink.”

“So what if I did? That’s what we do here.”

“Not to minors, you don’t.”

That got his attention. He looked grim.

“I can get a sworn statement from her by tomorrow morning that says you served her drinks without bothering to ask her age.”

“We ID everybody,” the big man said.

I returned the photo to my coat pocket. “Like I said, I can have a statement on a judge’s desk by sunrise.”

Behind us a the piano, the woman’s song asked me if I was losing my timing so late in my career.

The bartender, eyes smoldering, looked from me to Ramsey and back again. “What the hell do you want?”

Not missing a beat, I leaned closer and said, “Who bought the Iron?”

Immediately his face changed, but subtly, like a man about to walk into a dark room. A few weeks ago someone had stolen all the city artifacts, every single damn one of them. So far the guys in Robbery had managed to locate the Top Hat, and two nights back they’d dredged the Battleship up from the river. But everything else was still MIA, and according to Betartis, this mountain of a barkeep had gotten more than just a passing whiff when the goods went missing.

“So what about it?” Ramsey pressed. “We don’t have all night.”

“I didn’t steal anything.”

I shook my head. “We’re not the jury, pal. You don’t need to plead your innocence to us. We’re just the guys who can get your little speakeasy here shut down faster than you can take a ride on the Reading.”

“All right, okay, damn, enough of the bad-cop, bad-cop routine. Guy you want goes by the name of Paulisto.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Not surprising. Paulisto don’t normally fraternize with those of us on this side of the B&O, if you catch my drift. He’s more upscale.”

“And he bought the Iron?”

“He was here the night it traded hands, yeah.”

“And how do we find this upscale gentleman?”

“I’d try the opera house, if I was you.”

I cocked my head to the side. “I’m sorry?”

“I heard him talking about the opera. Guess he’s a big fan. There’s a big grand opening tonight over at Marvin Gardens, though I doubt they’ll let a couple flatfoots like you in the door.”

“You’d be surprised,” I said, and flashed him a dangerous smile as Ramsey and I made for the door.

Of course, I couldn’t help but look back one more time. With a woman like that on your arm, you paid the luxury tax every time you walked down the street.

Damn if she wasn’t watching me leave.

***
 

The walk to the Gardens was a long one, and Ramsey and I turned up our collars against the cold. We passed New York Avenue and then, at the corner, all the signs about the lotto. Supposedly there was a pile of cash sitting in the city coffers. Some folks said it should go to street repairs; others wanted it given away to a lucky winner. The corner was crowded with signs for both, though at this hour the various demonstrators had all gone home.

Luck. I thought about it as we passed the red street sign marked KENTUCKY. I’d never considered myself overly blessed, having lived a pretty ordinary existence, and if you really ran your hands over the topography of my life, you’d find more valleys than peaks, more downs than ups. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a tingle as we reached the end of the Kentucky. Maybe there was something in the air tonight. Maybe if I ran the killer to ground, I’d go back to the ‘Chest and ask that brunette how she liked her coffee. Maybe.

I stepped off the curb and took a Chance.

The motored rickshaw slammed to a stop a few feet in front of us. A kid with acne and long hair grinned at us. “Hey, you two wanna ride? Walking’s for suckers.”

“Where you headed?” Ramsey asked.

“The nearest utility.”

“Sure,” I said. A ride to the Water Works would cut five blocks off our trip. “Glad you came along.” Ramsey and I climbed into the back of the wheeled buggy.

“Just tryin’ to make a living. Hold on.” He gunned the engine, and the three-seat rickshaw jolted into motion.

The city flashed by. I tried to enjoy the cold wind on my face. And then and there I realized everything that was wrong in the world. There were too many worse people and not enough brunettes behind microphones.

The kid braked to an easy stop, and we got out.

Ramsey dug out his battered vinyl wallet. “How much?”

“Two dollars.”

“Serious? It’s that cheap?”

“Hey, that’s me,” the boy said, snapping the bills from Ramsey’s hand. “As affordable as a Baltic Avenue hooker.”

Then he was gone.

I turned to face the bright yellow lights. Everything was clean here, sparkling, reminding me that my shoes were scuffed. The assistant DA lived on this street. He probably paid 850 a month in rent. Damn.

“Feeling underdressed?” Ramsey asked, reading my mind.

“Let’s just get this over with.” I led him to the opera house and whatever waited inside.

***
 

Though the guy at the window told us tickets were fifty bucks apiece, I persuaded him otherwise with my remarkable charisma, which happened to take the form of my badge. The building’s interior was just what I had imagined, pearl-colored carpet, polished brass fixtures, and a chandelier every thirty feet. This was opening night, and everything looked perfect.

Never one to trust perfection, I badged my way past the ushers and up into one of the balconies that provided a sweeping view of the audience hall. The opera itself was already in full-swing. The music was dramatic, as were the costumes, though I couldn’t understand a word of what was said. My daughter, Angie, was taking Latin classes in that private school she attended. I didn’t think the performers down on the stage were singing in Latin, but I would’ve liked to have had Angie here, anyway. I missed out on too many things with her.

Ramsey was apparently keeping his wits about him better than I was, because he pulled an usher over and asked, “Do you know anyone named Paulisto?”

“You mean Frank Paulisto?”

“Sure, is he here?”

“Yes, of course. Right there.” He pointed. “In Mr. Vanderkran’s box.”

I followed his pointing hand. Across the audience hall, in one of the prominent balcony seats reserved for the gods when they descended from Olympus, sat three tuxedoed men. I recognized two of them at once—anybody would have, as one was Daniel Dashon, president of the city’s bank, and the other was the man himself, Rupert Vanderkran, real estate mogul and chairman of the board of Vanderkran Development. In this world, there was true power, there was true influence, and then there was the man who owned the hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk.

“Paulisto sure can pick ‘em,” Ramsey observed.

“Come on,” I said, feeling surly. “Let’s go rub elbows with the other half.”

We left the balcony and took the long way around to Vanderkran’s box, then instructed the usher to go fetch our man. 

It took less than a minute, and when I saw him I asked myself if I was facing a murderer.

“You wanted to see me?” Paulisto had a heavy voice and big hands, but the tux he wore probably wasn’t rented and didn’t match his otherwise blue-collar appearance. He had one of those sloping brows that I always associated with tough guys; in my experience, accountants and ballet dancers didn’t have foreheads like that. 

I showed him my shield. “Care to answer a few questions for us?”

Ramsey also displayed his credentials. “Actually, just one question will be sufficient.”

“Yeah,” I agreed—or maybe I concurred; I’ve never really known the difference. “Riddle us one thing, and you can get back to your aria or whatever it’s called.”

He narrowed his eyes a bit. Something about that look set off a bell in my brain. This guy had something to hide. For starters, he didn’t look all that surprised to find two cops in ill-fitting jackets confronting him in an opera house lobby.

“What’s the question?” he asked.

“A few hours ago we found someone dead of blunt-force trauma to the head, and we know you brokered a deal for the Iron. So my obvious question is—”

“Why’d you kill him?” Ramsey interjected, right on cue.

I never saw the punch.

Not only was Paulisto big, he was as fast as a prizefighter. He hit me perfectly above the left eye, and even as I was reeling, he kicked Ramsey right where a man just can’t be kicked. I staggered into the elevator door, blood pouring into my eye and Paulisto running across the lobby. I’d been cut before and knew it was bad; the last scrape I was in had cost me a doctor’s fee of fifty dollars, and this one would probably require more stitches than that. 

“You okay?” I yelled at Ramsey.

He just coughed and motioned for me to go after the guy.

So I did. 

***
 

“Suspect headed west from Marvin Gardens!” I shouted into my phone, bursting through the dual exit doors and kicking my undeserving legs into gear.

The night air was calm and would have been serene had I not had my heart in my throat and my arms beating like wings at my side. I ran from the opera house and headed due west, catching a periodic glimpse of Paulisto as he led me through the dark. His attack and subsequent flight was as good as an admission of guilt, at least in my opinion, but it wouldn’t matter if I let him get away. He had to talk and tell me why that kid at St. James had died.

Blood stung my left eye. I could barely see through it.

Picking up speed, I sailed after the suspect, though by the looks of things he wasn’t giving up any ground. He was young and moved like an athlete, and as we left Marvin Gardens behind, I cursed myself for being non-young and non-athletic. Still, I couldn’t help but try, because I may have been rotten as a husband and mediocre as a dad, but when it comes to nailing the worse people, I’m goddamn relentless.

Paulisto started to hang a hard right when a flying nightstick struck him in the head.

I let out a little noise of surprise when Paulisto suddenly crumpled to the street about thirty feet in front of me. He landed badly, cried out, and tumbled to a stop on the pavement. 

Yanking the gun from under my shoulder, I ran to where he lay and looked around, panting, ready for anything.

The owner of the nightstick stepped out of the shadows.

“Stop right there!” I ordered, pointing the gun at the stranger. I wiped the blood from my eye and tried to catch my breath.

“Police!” the man said, stepping into the light. “Don’t shoot, I’m one of yours.”

I stared at him as best I could. “Mallory?”

“Yeah. Heard your call on the radio, Inspector. Thought I’d lay an ambush.”

I sighed in relief and holstered my gun. Paulisto was doing nothing but lying there and moaning, so I bent over with my hands on my knees and let my lungs return to normal. “Thanks, Mall,” I said without looking up, adrenaline beating a drum in my temples. “I owe you one.”

Mallory had been a uniformed cop for as long as anyone could remember; this corner was his beat. “Don’t mention it. If I had a dollar for every scumbag I’d sent away . . .” He shrugged. “Just doing my job.”

Paulisto groaned, holding his face. Judging by the blood between his fingers, I wagered that his nose was broken.

I knelt beside him as Mallory kept watch, scanning the shadows of this netherworld between populated streets. I jabbed Paulisto with my finger. “Way I see it, my fleeing friend, you’ve got two options. One, you take the wrap for the whole mess and the judge throws the library at you, or two, you give me a name, and I’ll talk to the prosecutor about cutting you a break.”

Paulisto said something I couldn’t understand. Flat on his back with a nose full of blood, he wasn’t exactly speaking fluent English. I helped him as best I could by slapping him across the face.

He howled.

“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear.”

“Ogay, ogay, doo win.” He sat up and looked at me, hatred in his eyes.

Mallory retrieved his truncheon and twirled it menacingly.

Paulisto knew when to play the game. A connected fellow like him probably had enough contacts in high places that he’d be out on bail like a canary from an open cage; no matter how many times you put them away, some guys just seemed to get out for free.

“Well?”

He spit a glob of blood into the street.

“Haven’t got all night,” I told him. “And I won’t offer the same deal twice.”

He held up a bloody hand in surrender and then said something through his busted nose.

“Afraid you’re going to have to try harder than that.”

Clearly frustrated, Paulisto put his finger to the street and used his own blood to write six block-style letters. Mallory pointed his flashlight at them.

V HOTEL

Ramsey appeared over my shoulder and read what Paulisto had written. “Vanderkran’s hotel.”

I looked up at my partner. “You okay?”

“No.” He glared at Paulisto.

Paulisto turned away.

“So it’s Vanderkran?” I asked him. “He’s the one behind all of this? Why?”

Paulisto just shook his head and pointed at the word hotel.

“There’s evidence there?”

He nodded.

“Fine, I’ve heard enough.” I dragged Paulisto to his feet, just as a horn honked and lights parted the darkness behind us.

We jumped out of the way as the rickshaw raced by.

“Opera must be over,” Mallory guessed. “That’s probably a couple of the rich folk advancing to Boardwalk.”

I watched the vehicle’s taillights disappear in the gloom, then returned my attention to Paulisto. “Officer Mallory, I remand this fine specimen of the human race to your quite capable custody. I trust you have fitting accommodations for him?”

Mallory smiled. “Oh, they’re fitting, all right. Come on, you.” He gave Paulisto a shove. “Time to go to Jail.”

After they’d gone, Ramsey offered me a handkerchief for my wound. “Just got a call from HQ. They have a positive ID on the victim.”

“Yeah?”

“Lived in a dive over on Oriental. Name was Charlie Darrow. Supposedly was an environmentalist. Took it upon himself to keep track of all the city’s green houses.”

“Sounds innocent enough. How did that get him killed?”

Ramsey spread his hands as if to say he hadn’t a clue.

Of course, that wasn’t entirely true. We had our clues. The latest of which was painted in blood at our feet: V HOTEL.

“Let’s go. Maybe it turns out the worse people are living in the best neighborhoods.”

Nursing our injuries, we headed toward the richest street in town.

***
 

On Pacific I couldn’t help but think about my little girl. Since her mother had remarried, Angie had been enjoying a kind of life I never could’ve given her. She owned all the latest gizmos and had friends with straight white teeth. Unlike me, her step-father worked normal hours; he’d served as chief attorney on the deal that promoted our city layout to other venues. You could find different editions of our urban blueprint all across the country, thanks in part to the man who was putting a roof over my daughter’s head.

Maybe I hated him a little. And that was okay. What I hated were usually those things I wished I had.

Ramsey said nothing, probably guessing the angle of my thoughts. We hit North Carolina Avenue and then quickened our pace, perhaps sensing that the dawn was fast approaching. The streets slipped away beneath our feet, and soon we stood outside the gated community that was Park Place, about to take a Chance and see if we could bluff our way inside.

The sentry who emerged from the booth was your typical torpedo. He carried a giant aluminum flashlight and wore a stun-gun on his belt. “May I help you, gentlemen?”

Almost as a reflex, Ramsey and I showed him our IDs and stated our names.

“Did someone phone the police?” the guard asked.

“We need to speak to a party inside.”

“I assume you have a warrant?”

I knew that was coming, and I knew that getting around it was going to cost me. “How about you let us in, and we’ll bring you a warrant after the judge wakes up in a few hours?”

The guard grunted. “Fifteen bucks gets you through. Each.”

“Fifteen bucks? Since when did a bribe turn into highway robbery?”

“Everybody on the other side of this gate is loaded,” the guard said. “You’re not. You want to mingle with them, it’ll cost you.” He shrugged. “Consider it a poor tax.”

We didn’t have time to haggle. Ramsey and I handed over our palm-greasing money, and then the gate parted and we went through, blinking at the pure blue lights of Park Place.

“What do you think it takes to get a suite here?” I wondered.

“Fifteen-hundred bucks a night.”

I looked at him, unable to keep the outrage from my face. “The hell you say.”

Ramsey just shrugged. 

“Damn. Think I’m in the wrong line of work.”

“You just now figuring that out?”

At the far end of the street stood a vast jewelry store. Unlike those over on Vermont Avenue, this one didn’t have bars on the windows or the word PAWN printed on the glass.

And then we were there.

Boardwalk gleamed. Feeling a little starstruck, I turned a complete circle. I felt like Jack at the top of the beanstalk, gawking at all the golden eggs. 

“There it is,” Ramsey said.

I beheld the hotel. 

It was incredible. One night’s stay in a place like that was worth more than my entire apartment. It was huge and lavish and as red as the center of the sun.

We went inside, ready for anything.

***
 

The concierge was dapper even at this hour, and I didn’t bother trying to bribe him: my wallet had its limits. Ramsey and I put on our friendliest expressions and then startled him by saying there’d been a murder.

The word did to him what it does to most people. He blinked and looked scared and said he’d do anything to help. There’s something about the word murder that turns a key in the human brain, throwing open all kinds of spooky doors.

“We’d like to speak with Mr. Vanderkran,” I told him. “Can you make that happen?”

Apparently he could. He scampered away, leaving us in a lobby that looked like Ali Baba’s cave.

A few minutes later we were riding an elevator to the penthouse. Ramsey actually bothered to try and smooth the wrinkles from his coat.

A subtle bing sounded from above, and the doors parted.

The penthouse windows were tinted red, matching the carpet that crashed in lush waves against the full-length bar. In this town, red was the color of real money. I tried not to ogle my surroundings—the baby grand piano, the billiards table, the marble everywhere—and focused instead on the two men who greeted us.

“Rather late for an evening’s call,” Vanderkran said. He was pushing sixty, with silver hair and a permanent tan. He still wore his opera tux, though his tie was undone in a casual yet elegant way. “I’m Rupert Vanderkran.” He extended a hand.

We shook, and I gave him my name.

After Ramsey introduced himself, Vanderkran turned to his associate. “And this is Daniel Dashon.”

“Pleased to meet you both,” Dashon said, giving us a little salute with his brandy snifter.

“Can I offer you gentlemen a seat?” Vanderkran motioned to what must have been the sitting room.

“No, thanks. We won’t be long.” I wondered which of these men had ordered or paid Paulisto to murder the kid over at St. James. And why. “We just arrested Frank Paulisto.”

I watched them for a reaction. Sometimes it’s best just to fire it out there like that and see what happens.

What happened was this: not much. Vanderkran raised both eyebrows and Dashon put a hand over his mouth. Either they were both surprised by my announcement or damn fine actors.

“May I ask the charge?” Vanderkran inquired.

In my head I whispered, Murder most foul, because I’ve always wanted to say that but’ve never had the guts. “He killed a man.”

“Allegedly,” Ramsey added, always the diplomat.

Dashon took a long pull from his glass. “That’s disturbing news, considering I was seated beside him less than an hour ago.”

In the small space of silence that followed, I tossed everything I knew about the case into the rock tumbler of my mind, smoothing out the rough edges. The victim was a twentysomething named Darrow, environmental advocate who’d died with the number 33 in his pocket. Frank Paulisto might have done the deed with the Iron, and he indicated that the source of that brutal act was here in Vanderkran’s hotel. Of course, if Vanderkran owned the one on Boardwalk, then by city ordinance he also had to own the one on Park Place . . . but why would he care about a liberal greenie from the wrong side of the Short Line tracks?

“Is there something you’d like to ask, Inspector?” Vanderkran said. “I assume you’re here because you believe Mr. Dashon or I can assist you in some way.”

“Uh, yeah. We hope so.”

Everyone looked at me. Including Ramsey.

I kept tumbling those rocks: Murdered people end up that way because of money or revenge or love. On instinct I scratched the last off the list, and because I couldn’t believe that either of these aristocrats would have reason to seek vengeance on a nobody like Darrow, I nixed the second as well. So money, then. Did Darrow steal from them?

No. What had Ramsey said about the kid? Supposedly was an environmentalist. Took it upon himself to keep track of all the city’s green houses.

Except there were no green houses on Park Place and Boardwalk.

“Inspector?”

“Sorry.” Feeling a warmth spread up my spine, I looked Vanderkran in the eye. “Mind if I see the deeds?”

“Deeds?”

“For your two properties, the one here and the one over on Park Place. May I? I don’t have a warrant or anything, so don’t feel obligated.”

“No, not at all. I’d be glad to help. I’m sure you’ll find everything in order.” He excused himself and disappeared deeper into the suite. For a moment I thought I heard him speaking to someone back there, but then Dashon started talking about the stock market and I had no hope of eavesdropping.

“. . . and just this morning I made a sale for a quick forty-five dollars,” Dashon was saying, proud of his portfolio. Personally I don’t play the stocks. I’ve never been able to bring myself to make money off of money; it should be made only from sweat.

Vanderkran returned. He handed one deed to me, one to Ramsey.

I scanned the text, not knowing what to expect. I looked for the number 33 but didn’t see anything close.

“Is everything satisfactory?” Vanderkran asked.

Ramsey nodded and handed back the Park Place deed. “All perfectly kosher, as far as I can tell.”

I was just about to agree when I saw the fine print. Apparently, municipal building codes required the property owner to improve a street’s environmental standing with at least four green houses before earning the right to construct a hotel. Was that somehow significant?

Suddenly into my imagination walked Charlie Darrow, do-gooder and tree-hugger. He was strolling Park Place and Boardwalk, counting green domiciles. And what was the final number? Thirty-three?

No. I’d read his note incorrectly. It wasn’t 33, but 3, 3.

Three houses on each street, and then—voilá—hotels.

Damn.

“I think we may need to examine your records,” I said.

“What on earth for?”

“I think you were cutting environmental corners, Mr. Vanderkran. I think you were sticking it to good old mother earth just to get these dual red palaces up as soon as possible. And I think Charlie Darrow was on to you, and you had him killed for it.”

“That’s preposterous!”

“Is it?”

“Completely impossible!” Vanderkran said, his voice bordering on a shout.

“And why is it impossible?” I pressed, taking a step toward him. I was feeling self-righteous and my feet just sort of went that way. “Why is it that you would never in a million years hire a killer to take out a man who could ruin you? Huh? Why is it?”

Dashon looked back and forth between the two of us, horrified.

“It wasn’t me!” Vanderkran insisted. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“How many houses were in place before the upgrade?” I demanded.

Vanderkran threw up his hands. “I don’t know. I was out of the city.”

“You weren’t here when the deal went down? When they bulldozed the green houses and erected this hotel?”

“That’s right.”

“Then who the hell was in charge in your absence?”

A new voice entered the room: “Daddy?”

The voice broke my heart because I recognized it.

Vanderkran turned. “It’s okay, darling. Sorry for shouting.”

I looked at Vanderkran’s daughter and couldn’t believe it. 

Neither could Ramsey. “That’s her. That’s the—”

“Woman at the piano,” I said.

“But how you’d get ahead of us?” Ramsey asked her; he was just as vexed as I was. “You were several blocks behind us, back at the ‘Chest. And those rickshaws hold only the driver and two passengers.” He indicated Vanderkran and Dashon. “Were you sitting on your father’s lap?”

She came fully into the room, and I hated her as much as desired her. Hated her because she was tangled up in this. Desired her because of everything else.

“This is Gina,” Vanderkran said, taking her hand.

“You’re police?” Gina asked. Her dark eyes held no love for cops. She didn’t wait for us to confirm that. “I suppose your presence here means that I’m in trouble.”

I put my hands in my blazer pockets, sensing the end but still in need of some answers. “You were in charge of your father’s business while he was away?”

“Yes.”

“How much money did you save by developing the land with one building too few on each property?”

Vanderkran’s face reddened even more. “What are you insinuating, Inspector?”

“I never insinuate,” I assured him. “So how much?” I swung my gaze at the banker. “What’re two houses worth on these streets?”

“Uh . . . probably four hundred dollars,” Dashon said. “Give or take.”

“Pretty lucrative business deal,” I said, looking in Gina’s eyes.

The stare she returned was as hard and dangerous as the Cannon. 

“We likely won’t find the murder weapon,” I speculated. “Things like that have a tendency to disappear, and I’m sure the Iron won’t ever be seen again. But I’m sure we can sweat your name out of Frank Paulisto.”

She bristled at this. “I’m certain my word will be valued more than his.”

“True enough. But there will be other clues out there, somewhere. There always are. For starters, if Charlie Darrow was counting houses over here, he would’ve had to get past that gatekeeper, and I doubt a poor neo-hippy like him had enough for a bribe. Which means he was invited. Maybe he was dating someone over here, someone on the glitzy side of town, and while he was here, the idealist in him noticed something was wrong. That’s when he made his fabled count. So a guy like me has to wonder if I’ll maybe find some evidence linking old Charlie to someone here on Boardwalk. You didn’t happen to be seeing him socially, eh?”

“Get out,” she said, and in between the syllables I knew I’d hit the truth. There were indeed more clues to be found. I had only to keep looking.

“We’ll be in touch,” I said, turning for the door. “Probably sooner than you’d like.”

Ramsey matched my strides, and we made the most of our dramatic exit.

I stopped in the doorway. Wait a second.

Turning back, eyebrow raised, I looked at Gina. “The only thing I don’t know is how you got here. Like my partner said, there’s no way you could’ve beaten us here from the bar across town. Is there?”

She shook her head in disgust and left the room.

I deferred the question to her father, who was visibly shaken. “So how she’d do it?”

“She wasn’t at that bar tonight,” he said, his voice devoid of spirit. “If you check the records, you’ll see that on the day she was born, I paid twice the usual hospital fee.”

I couldn’t help but grin when I realized what he was saying. “Twins.”

He nodded, looking defeated. “Her sister Ganelle chooses not to be part of the family business. She’s a lounge singer. I hardly ever see her.”

I forced my smile down as I bid him goodnight.

Ganelle.

Ramsey and I rode the elevator in silence, and when we hit the street again, dawn was just beginning to break. We walked to the corner and hit the crosswalk as the sign lit up: GO.

“Today’s payday,” Ramsey said.

I thought about spending my two-hundred-dollar salary at a little gin joint just this side of Tennessee Avenue.

“You’re right about those clues,” Ramsey went on. “We’re bound to find a solid connection between Gina and Darrow. We’ll put her away. I’m sure of it.”

“Me too. But not right now.” The grin returned, this time in force.

“Pleased with yourself?”

“Nope. Just feeling lucky for the first time in my life. And I think I’ll try that luck out at the Community Chest.”

We quickened our step, cruising through the city we knew so well. For the first time in years, I felt that something great was about to happen. 

The dice were rolling.

 

Copyright © 2016 Lance Hawvermale.

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Lance Hawvermale, author of Face Blind, holds a master's degree in English and has worked as a college professor, an editor, and a youth counselor. His fiction and poetry have garnered numerous awards. An alumnus of the AmeriCorps program, Lance performed his service on the Otoe-Missouria tribal lands in Red Rock, Oklahoma. He lives in Texas with his wife and daughter and their cats.

Comments

  1. MLee Stanley

    This is such a fun story! It’s been years since I’ve played Monopoly and now I want to get online and challenge someone immediately! Brilliant! Thanks for a great read tonight while I’m waiting on Face Blind.

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