The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva is the 5th Liam Mulligan novel from this award winning author (Available September 6, 2016).
Since he got fired in spectacular fashion from his newspaper job last year, former investigative reporter Liam Mulligan has been piecing together a new life—one that straddles both sides of the law. He's getting some part-time work with his friend McCracken's detective agency. He's picking up beer money by freelancing for a local news website. And he's looking after his semi-retired mobster-friend's bookmaking business.
But Mulligan still manages to find trouble. He's feuding with a cat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He's obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he's enraged that someone in town is torturing animals. All this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his full attention. The New England Patriots, shaken by a series of murder charges against a star player, have hired Mulligan and McCracken to investigate the background of a college athlete they're thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they begin asking questions, they get push-back. The player, it seems, has something to hide—and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.
He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.
The first corpse appeared on a cool, damp September morning. I’d just carried my second cup of coffee out the back door and settled into my Adirondack chair with the daily newspaper. As I read, I was vaguely aware of the cries of the gulls and the slap of the waves against my dock. Then something red fluttered in my peripheral vision.
Even without a head, the victim was easy to identify. A northern cardinal. Either that or a scarlet tanager, but I hadn’t spotted one of those in Rhode Island in years. This killer, I thought, preferred to slaughter things that were beautiful. But his next two victims were moles. Then a wren, a starling, and a field mouse.
Like most predators, he clung to the shadows, but today I finally caught a glimpse of him as he fled down my porch steps. A big tabby with a torn left ear and a matted coat. People on the island take care of their pets, so this one had to be a stray. Or maybe it was feral. He’d left me his latest victim, a full-grown rabbit.
Cat the Ripper was escalating.
I didn’t figure I’d be able catch him, and reforming him was out of the question, but perhaps I could nudge him into choosing another disposal site. It was time to get a dog.
* * *
I was on my laptop, checking out the offerings from the Animal Rescue League of Southern Rhode Island, when Johnny Rivers belted out “Secret Agent Man,” my ringtone for Bruce McCracken, the boss man at McCracken & Associates Confidential Investigative Services. “Associates” was an exaggeration because I was the only one—and I was part-time.
“You busy?” he asked.
“Shopping for a dog.”
“Yeah? I got an ex-con pal who needs a new home for his two-year-old Rottweiler.”
“Says he’s getting too aggressive.”
“No thanks,” I said.
“Don’t tell me you want a damned punt dog.”
“What’s a punt dog?”
“A little shit you can dropkick fifty yards.”
“Oh, hell no,” I said. “I want a pooch big enough to knock me down when I come home. But I’d prefer one without a record.”
“I don’t think Bandit’s bitten anybody yet.”
“Maybe so, but with a name like that, he’s destined for a life of crime.”
“Speaking of crime,” McCracken said, “we’ve been retained to look into a major one.”
“Seems somebody knocked over the Pell Savings and Trust branch on the island.”
“When was this?”
“Three weeks ago.”
“What? How come I haven’t heard about it?”
“Because armed robbery is bad for business,” he said. “The bank’s trying to keep it under wraps.”
“They did call the police, right?”
“And they’re not happy with the lack of progress from the, quote, hick Jamestown PD.”
“Bank robbery is a federal crime,” I said. “Isn’t the FBI involved?”
“An agent from the Providence office took a report, but you know how it is these days. If it’s not terrorism, the feds aren’t much interested.”
“How much did the bank lose?”
“I don’t have any details,” he said. “Mildred Carson, the branch manager, wants a face-to-face.”
“Did you say Mildred?”
“There are still people named Mildred?”
“At least one, anyway. So can you handle this or not?”
“Gonna reimburse me for mileage?”
“Mulligan, you live in Jamestown.”
“So the whole damn island is only one mile wide.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but it’s nine miles long.”
Jamestown, population 5,405 in winter and about twice that in summer, is the lone municipality on the island of Conanicut, which basks like a harbor seal at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. I was keeping house this year in a five-room cottage situated on two acres of meadow along the island’s north shore, just a ten-minute drive from Newport’s mansions and forty-five minutes south of McCracken’s office in downtown Providence. I’d bought the place last spring, about nine months after I lost my job as a reporter for the dying Providence Dispatch. The little house needed work, but it was a step up from my old digs in a squalid Providence triple-decker.
My new job with McCracken seldom paid enough to meet the mortgage, and the loose change I picked up freelancing for The Ocean State Rag, a local news Web site, barely covered my cigar and Irish whiskey habits. But for the first time in my forty-five years of life, I had a little money left at the end of the month. Before he retired to Florida last year, my old friend Dominic “Whoosh” Zerilli had taken pity on me and made me a silent partner in his bookmaking racket.
After two decades as an investigative reporter for Rhode Island’s biggest newspaper, it felt odd to be living above the poverty line. It felt even odder to be a lawbreaker. But the way I saw it, I wasn’t breaking any important ones.
Copyright © 2016 Bruce DeSilva.
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Bruce DeSilva spent forty-one years as a journalist before writing Rogue Island, his first novel, which won the 2011 Edgar and Macavity Awards for Best First Novel.