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Authors: Amy Patricia Meade

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BOOK: Don't Die Under the Apple Tree
Katie's face flushed bright scarlet.
“Oh no.” Rosie bolted upright. “Katie? What did you do?”
“Hmm?” The blond sister feigned innocence.
“You already called Ma, didn't you?”
“Nooo,” she sang. “Ma called me. Delaney flapped his gums to his mother about you being fired and Mrs. Delaney called Ma, who, in turn, called me.”
“So this was all Ma's idea?”
“Nooo,” Katie sang again. “Well, maybe some of it. The rest was mine, though. But no matter who thought of it, I still think it's a good idea.”
“And maybe it is,” Rosie admitted. “But you know how Ma gets when she's excited. And nothing could be more exciting to her than the thought of both of us and her only grandchild moving back home.”
There was a loud knock on the apartment door. “Good grief! That's probably her now.”
“It's too late for Ma.” Katie dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand.
“Are you kidding? She'd come here in the middle of the night, strap the furniture to her back, and walk it to Brooklyn, if she thought it would get us there faster.” Rosie got up and opened the door just wide enough to poke her head through and just narrow enough to obscure Katie's view. She gave a wink to the tall man on the other side of the door and put a finger to her lips in order to ensure he didn't give the game away. “Oh, hi, Ma. We were just talking about you.”
“Stop it! I know it's not Ma,” Katie shouted from the sofa.
Meanwhile the tall man in the gray tweed overcoat and gray fedora narrowed his blue eyes. “I beg your pardon?”
“I'm sorry,” Rosie quickly apologized. “I was playing a joke on my sister.”
It was a bit late in the evening for vacuum salesmen, but then again, this man, with medium brown hair that was slightly gray at the temples, finely chiseled features, and a five-o'clock shadow that was four hours past due, didn't look like the type who sold household appliances. “May I help you?” she asked.
“Rose Keefe?”
The man extracted a badge from the top pocket of his overcoat. “Lieutenant Jack Riordan, NYPD. You're wanted for questioning in the murder of Robert Finch.”
Chapter Three
Lieutenant Jack Riordan sat in the austere, gray interrogation room and stared across the white enamel tabletop at his suspect. The practice of silently studying individuals prior to questioning them was a process Riordan had learned as a young cadet, and it had served him well in his twenty-five years with the police department.
The purpose behind the exercise was twofold. First, the period of extended silence tended to catch wary suspects off guard, thus setting them off balance and making them far likelier to trip up during questioning. Second, by quietly watching a subject, Riordan often observed body language that might suggest that a person was guilty: lack of eye contact, a lowered head, or fidgeting. If these signals occurred more frequently during the questioning process, it was a clear indication that Riordan was on the right track.
Rose Doyle Keefe, however, demonstrated none of Riordan's “tells.” Having changed from her chenille bathrobe and pajamas into a long-sleeved printed gray rayon dress that hugged her narrow waist perfectly, she sat, legs uncrossed, feet together, hands resting openly on the table in front of her. Her peaches-and-cream complexion remained constant and her wide hazel eyes boldly met his unflinching gaze.
Riordan endeavored to continue the exercise a few moments longer, but it was he, not Rosie, who was struck by the overwhelming urge to look away. As a clean-shaven young man came into the room, Riordan cleared his throat awkwardly. “Mrs. Keefe, this is Detective Lynch. He'll be taking notes on our conversation.”
Rosie murmured a quiet “hello” to the detective, then returned her eyes to Riordan's.
“Please be advised, Mrs. Keefe,” the lieutenant continued, “that if, at any time, you wish to stop the questioning and contact an attorney, you have the right to do so.”
Rosie nodded.
“Do you know why you're here, Mrs. Keefe?” Riordan asked.
“Yes. Mr. Finch is dead.”
“Not just dead—murdered. At approximately five o'clock this evening, his body was discovered beneath an abandoned pier a short distance from the Pushey Shipyard. His skull was bashed in.”
The color drained from Rose's face—an indication of surprise, not guilt. “I didn't do it,” she averred.
“No one is suggesting you did, Mrs. Keefe, but excuse me if it doesn't seem to be outside the realm of possibility. We know what happened at the shipyard this morning. After he caught you assaulting a coworker with hot rivets, Finch called you into his office and fired you. Witnesses say he was bleeding after you left.”
“That was just so I could get out of there! I never—!”
“No one's saying you do this sort of thing all the time, Mrs. Keefe. Finch assaulted you and you snapped. It's a very natural reaction. So, here's how I imagined it happened: you became angry and lashed out. You hit him on the side of the head with the heaviest object you could find ... a telephone, for instance. But then you quickly realized that you couldn't kill him then and there—too many people around. So you came back at the end of the shift, lured Finch beneath the pier, and finished the job.”
Rosie felt her face grow hot. “Why do you need me here, then? It's obvious you have the whole thing figured out.”
“Because we need to hear it from you.”
“You want me to tell you what happened? Fine. I'll tell you what happened. First, I didn't assault anyone—Hansen threw the hot rivets at me first. I simply retaliated. If you don't believe me, take a look at the holes burned into my coat sleeves.” She lifted her coat from the back of her chair and held the sleeves aloft. As promised, the cuffs were singed with holes.
“Second”—she resumed as she replaced the coat—“I didn't lose my temper when Finch fired me. On the contrary, I begged for a second chance. Finch used my desperation as an opportunity to force his attentions on me. I hit him on the head—with a stapler, not a telephone—as a means to escape.”
“Why didn't you scream?” Riordan countered.
“I don't know,” Rosie stated blankly. “I honestly don't know. Perhaps I didn't think I'd be heard or, given the welcome I had received, I didn't think anyone would care.”
“Where did you go after that?”
“I ran from Finch's office and bumped into a friend of mine, Michael Delaney, on my way out of the shipyard.”
“Did you tell this friend what had happened?”
“No, but he knew something was wrong.”
“And after leaving the shipyard, what did you do?”
“I sat by the water. Wandered around town. Rode the train for hours.”
“What time did you get home?”
“Thirty, maybe forty minutes before you showed up.”
“Did you speak to anyone or run into anyone you knew during this time?”
Rosie shook her head. “No one other than my sister. She was waiting for me when I got back home.”
Riordan sat back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head.
“It looks awfully black against me,” she acknowledged.
“You have to admit you had the means, and Finch's advances give you an even stronger motive than we previously thought.”
Rosie's eyes grew steely. “A stronger motive? Lieutenant Riordan, if I lured every man who's yelled at me, made a pass at me, or otherwise treated me badly, down to the docks and murdered them, you'd be able to walk across Gowanus Bay on the bodies.”
Riordan leaned forward and propped his elbows on the table. “Has life been as bad as that?”
“It's had its moments—most of them today,” she replied with a sardonic grin. “I suppose you're going to keep me here, being the main suspect and all.”
“I don't think that will be necessary. The detective here will give you a ride home. Just promise me you'll stay put. No wandering to Jersey, huh?”
With an earnest nod of the head, Rosie stood up and donned her coat.
“Oh, and another thing.” Riordan's face softened. “Next time you need to hit someone with a piece of office equipment, use a telephone. It will knock him out instead of just making him angry.”
Rosie cast Riordan a puzzled glance before leaving with Detective Lynch.
Riordan sank back in his chair and, once again, placed his hands behind his head. To the casual passerby, it was a stance of confidence, perhaps even arrogance, but for Jack Riordan, it was a means of dealing with frustration.
The door of the interrogation room swung open.
“Good evening, Captain,” Riordan greeted without looking up.
Short, stocky, and with a ruddy complexion, Captain Richard Kinney always appeared to be one step away from an apoplectic fit. Tonight, however, he seemed to be in its very throes. “Was that the Keefe woman I just saw leaving?”
“It was,” Riordan confirmed.
Kinney ran a hand through his thinning hair and inhaled deeply. “Why? Why did you let her go?”
“Because she didn't do it.”
“Oh?” Kinney broke into laughter. “So she swivels her hips and lets a tear run down that pretty white face of hers and suddenly she's a saint.”
“She's not a saint.” Riordan smiled, all the while staring at the chair Rosie had occupied. “But she's far from being a murderer.”
“Says who? Need I remind you that this precinct is still facing public ridicule for your public crusade against Frank Costello?”
“You needn't remind me. The people you need to remind are the citizens and politicians of this city. Just because Costello has more manners than his predecessor, Lucky Luciano, it doesn't mean he's any less dangerous. If anything, his nice-guy image makes him even more powerful. But of course, that's exactly why my crusade is so unpopular, isn't it? Because it ruffles the feathers of those he has in his pocket.”
“Quit it, Jack. This has nothing to do with the Mafia, and you know it. The Pushey family—as in the owners of Pushey Shipyard—contacted me as soon as they heard about Finch's murder. They want this thing wrapped up, quickly and quietly, before their name gets dragged through the papers.”
Riordan withdrew a cigarette from the inside pocket of his jacket, lit it, and took a long drag. “Five days. Considering the press has, or should have, lots of other news to report, it's not unreasonable.”
Kinney was nonplussed. “Five days? For what?”
Riordan snuffed his cigarette and rose from his seat. “Five days to follow Keefe and to investigate the case,” he stated as he stared down at his captain. “At the end of five days, if I don't have an arrest that will survive a jury, you can have my badge.”
“I don't want your badge, Riordan. You're the best I have.”
“Then don't hold the Costello case over my head. Had you given me the time I requested, we could have gotten Costello
his henchmen, but you and your friends couldn't wait and the charges bounced.” Riordan shook his head. “I won't be rushed on this one. I won't send an innocent woman to the gallows just because you and your friends are ‘antsy.'”
“No, five days sounds ... fair, Riordan” Kinney said. “Unless ...”
Riordan raised an eyebrow in warning. “No stipulations.” With that, he strode out of the interrogation room.
Chapter Four
Rosie shut the door of the squad car and watched as it drove away before ascending the wooden brownstone stairs to the second floor. As she had done earlier that night, Katie stood on the other side of the apartment door, awaiting her sister's arrival. Only this time, Rosie didn't feel like chatting.
“There you are!” Katie exclaimed. “What happened? Why did they need to speak to you?”
“Finch was murdered,” she replied as she hung her coat on the row of hooks attached to the back of the apartment door.
“I know. I heard Lieutenant what's-his-name. But how? When?”
“Sometime this afternoon. They found him under the docks.” Rosie, not wanting to worry her sister, lied about the means of death. “He was stabbed.”
“Oh! And you argued with him today—oh! They don't think you did it, do they?”
“No,” she lied. “They know I wouldn't have used a knife. They had to question me because I had a motive, but it's okay. Lieutenant Riordan assured me that it would be fine.” Rosie pulled the lieutenant's business card from the pocket of her dress and glanced at it. Even in the most serene of moments, she was terrible at remembering names, but for some reason the lieutenant's rolled off her tongue with ease.
“Are you sure? I mean, having a cop come to your door—”
“I'm positive.” She embraced Katie tightly. Rosie's need to protect her younger sister had only gotten stronger since Jimmy's death. “It's almost midnight. You should get some sleep. Charlie will be awake before you know it.”
Katie relinquished her hold on Rosie's waist and emitted a loud yawn. “It has been a heck of a day, hasn't it?”
“It has,” Rosie agreed with a vague smile. “And tomorrow's going to be just as difficult once you tell Ma that we're moving back home.”
Katie's lovely face stretched into a wide grin. “You've decided, then?”
Rosie nodded slowly. If she was going to go to jail, she wanted to make sure that Katie and Charlie were settled in and cared for. “Yes. I'll give the landlord notice and try to sell off some of this stuff before I leave, but you and Charlie should go as soon as you can.”
“Oh no. We should move together. I can stay and help you pack and—”
“Don't be silly, Katie. We can barely move in this place as it is. It will be a lot easier for me to pack with your stuff over at Ma's. Besides, the weather's getting nicer. Charlie should be out in the fresh air instead of breathing in the city dust and dirt.”
“I guess ... but what about you? Will you be okay here on your own? I feel like I should be helping.”
“You will be helping. Once Ma knows for sure we're all moving in, she'll be breathing down our necks nonstop until every stick of furniture is back in Greenpoint. But if you and Charlie move first, you can keep her occupied while I tie up loose ends here.”
“How long will that be?”
“Not long at all. I have a monthly lease. So two more weeks maybe?”
Katie nodded. “I'm glad you decided to move, Rosie. Things'll work out fine. You'll see.”
“And if not, at least I'll be with you and Charlie.” She smiled wanly. “Now hurry off to bed. You have a busy next few days in store and we can talk more in the morning.”
“Okay. Do you need anything before I go?”
“No, my pajamas and robe are there on the couch where I left them.”
“Okay. Good night, Rosie.”
“Good night, sweetie.”
Rosie waited until Katie had shut the bedroom door before changing out of her gray dress and last pair of good stockings and back into her cotton pajamas. Forgoing her robe, she crept to the narrow coat closet and extracted a men's navy blue sports coat from a wire hanger. Burying her face in the soft wool fabric, she was overcome by the familiar scent of Courtlay Cologne.
Oh, Billy, if only you were here, none of this would be happening.
Silent tears streamed down her pink cheeks and plopped softly onto the collar of her floral printed pajamas.
If only you'd come home,
she wished. But it didn't take long before she realized the futility of such yearning. The truth was that in their thirteen years of marriage, Billy Keefe had never been there when she needed him. When they couldn't make rent, it was Rosie who spoke to the landlord and then worked to make up the difference. On the few occasions when Billy drank the grocery money, it was Rosie's good name that obtained them a small line of credit. And when Rosie's father died suddenly, of a massive heart attack, Billy was unavailable—until a uniformed policeman found him passed out in an alley and brought him home.
Still, Rosie might overlook all those moments if Billy was here now. She knew that he would be of little help in getting her out of the present situation, but at least he might hold her and try to assuage her sense of fear and loneliness.
Rosie folded the jacket tenderly and, wiping away her tears, placed it on the top shelf of the closet beside her meager collection of hats and gloves. There was no point in waiting for Billy to return, no time to waste waiting for someone to rescue her. She had to rely upon herself to find a way out of this mess and, after having considered her options during the ride from the police station, she decided there was only one way in which she could both pay the bills and clear her name.
She had to get back her job at Pushey Shipyard.
Lieutenant Jack Riordan made the lonely, late-night drive back to the Brooklyn row house owned by Mrs. Anne Marie Accurso. Accurso, a sixty-two-year-old widow and mother of two sons, put the third floor of her house up for rent shortly after her husband, Genarro, passed away three years earlier. Featuring a small hot plate, an icebox, and a full, private bathroom, the space also included use of the house's driveway, all for the price of fifteen dollars a month—a steal for such a safe, quiet, well-established neighborhood.
Riordan, ever mindful that scores of other tenants would be willing to pay twenty dollars and more to live in the Carroll Gardens area, made a point to occasionally slip his landlady a few extra dollars or, when he was in the Little Italy neighborhood, purchase a box of her favorite pignoli cookies. Since the marriage of Mrs. Accurso's elder son, Vincent, and the deployment of her younger son, Bruno, into the army, Riordan had even taken to helping with the traditionally male chores of mowing the lawn, changing lightbulbs, taking out the trash, and, as he had done the past weekend, tilling the soil of Mrs. Accurso's prized rose garden.
Such deeds did not go unnoticed by the widow. And therefore, when Mrs. Accurso saw that her tenant was working late, she would sneak upstairs and leave a foil-covered plate of meatballs, lasagna, braciole, or some other Italian delicacy in his icebox and then, mindful of his privacy, hasten back downstairs again.
And so the pair coexisted peacefully, each performing a certain function in the other's life, but never quite fulfilling the void created by absent family and loved ones. With her scant knowledge of English, Mrs. Accurso didn't provide much in the way of company or conversation, but, after spending his days chasing down mobsters, murderers, and thugs, Riordan found that he seldom felt like talking anyway. Mrs. Accurso, for her part, knew only that her tenant was a policeman who had been in the newspapers, a fact that served to make her feel safe but failed to impress her old world sensibilities. Her focus was on home, hearth, and family; she had no desire to hear, read, or involve herself in the ugliness of the masculine universe.
Likewise, Anne Marie Accurso found Riordan's bachelor status quite confusing. Although no match for her Genarro, God rest his soul, the lieutenant was certainly handsome enough and possessed a strong build that many young women would find appealing. Yet she had never seen him with a lady friend. If the man had no interest in women, then why did he not pursue a career in the priesthood?
Tiptoeing up the red-carpeted stairs to the third floor, Riordan arrived in the space that served as living room, bedroom, and kitchenette. After switching on the light, he flung his hat onto the trundle bed and, with his coat still on, reached into the icebox for a beer. Finding Mrs. Accurso's food parcel instead, he lifted out the plate and peeked under the aluminum foil to find a pair of stuffed green peppers smothered in tomato sauce.
With a sigh, Riordan turned on the hot plate and put the peppers on the burner. As much as he enjoyed Mrs. Accurso's cooking and appreciated her meal deliveries, every now and then he hoped to look beneath the wrapper and find a T-bone steak and a baked potato.
With dinner heating, Riordan removed his overcoat, threw it onto the bed with his hat, and returned to the icebox to retrieve his beer. Using the edge of the counter, he popped the cap from the brown bottle and took a long swig before moving to the set of double windows that looked out onto the front garden and, a few feet beyond it, the street.
The clouds that had cast a pall over the day had finally released their burden, covering the earth below in a fine mist. Riordan, however, had other things on his mind besides the weather. Ever since their interview, he could not stop thinking of Rose Doyle Keefe. There was her beauty, of course—dark red hair set against alabaster skin and a set of pink lips that hypnotized as they moved—but there was something else to that face, a sense of defiance, determination, and quiet strength that he had never before witnessed in a woman.
Riordan took another swig from the bottle and undid his tie. Colleagues had always accused him of being a sucker for damsels in distress and, for the most part, they were right. Abandoned by her husband shortly after their son was born, Riordan's mother had taken any odd job she could find in order to support herself and her child. As soon as Jack was old enough, he contributed to household expenses by selling newspapers and working as a clerk at the corner market. His efforts, however, came too late. Weakened by years of hard labor and poor nutrition, Riordan's mother became ill with pulmonary tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium. She died there, two years later, at the age of forty-eight. Her son, Jack, was just seventeen.
Be it due to guilt over his mother's life of struggle and sacrifice or frustration over his inability to save her, Riordan grew to become a man who revered women. Their ability to endure the physical pain of childbirth and to consistently put their children's needs ahead of their own made them, in Riordan's opinion, not just the fairer but the psychologically stronger of the sexes.
And yet, despite their strength, they were socially vulnerable. From birth to marriage to childrearing, it seemed that woman's fate lay perpetually in the hands of men. The good fortune of having a kind father and a loving husband made the difference between a happy life and one of constant toil and heartache.
Riordan's job with the police department had put him in contact with many women who had entrusted their physical and financial well-being to rogues, rapists, and abusers. As always, he followed the letter of the law to ensure that justice was done, but if he appeared to devote a bit more time to their cases, go a bit softer on their interviews and interrogations, or even act as an advocate to ensure their voices were heard, it was because he felt that these women were truly deserving of the extra time and care.
Occasionally, a nefarious female would take advantage of Riordan's kindness, leaving him to doubt the wisdom of his ways. At other times, his desire to protect compromised the other relationships in his life, such as ten years ago when his then-fiancée, citing that Riordan was putting too much time into finding a woman's lost child, cancelled their trip to the altar. Sometimes, as was the case now, defending a female suspect had even put him on the wrong side of the captain's good graces.
Defending Rose Keefe, however, felt different to Riordan. It felt, for lack of a better word, “right.” Her reaction in the interrogation room was not the usual display of tears and hysterics. She made no ploy for sympathy nor did she beg for clemency. Other policemen might have taken this as an indication that she was coldly detached from the situation or perhaps even the world around her. Riordan, however, understood it to mean that, whatever hardships she had endured, Rose Keefe was the type of woman who was determined to stand on her own feet.
Riordan polished off the remainder of his beer and wandered back to the hot plate. Lifting off the aluminum-foil cover, he shifted the contents of the plate with the help of a kitchen fork and then re-covered them to continue the reheating process. Depositing the dirty fork on top of the icebox with a frown, he ambled to the trundle bed and perched beside his coat and hat.
Rose Keefe might not have asked, nor even have wanted, Riordan's assistance, but that was probably because she wasn't aware of just how much she needed it. Although, so far, all the evidence in the Finch case was circumstantial, Rose's outburst paired with the assault with the stapler painted a very dark picture for the redhead.
Riordan's men would be at the shipyard and nearby docks until the wee hours, collecting evidence. The problem was, with the shipyard closed until morning, evidence was all they would find. In order to clear Keefe's name, one had to identify other possible suspects.
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