Authors: Joanne Pence
ONE O’CLOCK HUSTLE
A Rebecca Mayfield Mystery
Quail Hill Publishing
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, public or private institutions, corporations, towns, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. This book may not be resold or uploaded for distribution to others.
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First Quail Hill Publishing Paperback Printing: May 2014
First Quail Hill Publishing E-book: May 2014
Excerpts copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007
Copyright © 2014 Joanne Pence
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At 1:05 A.M. on Sunday morning, after working twenty-four hours straight on the capture of an armed suspect in the murder of a liquor store clerk, Inspector Rebecca Mayfield sat alone at her desk in Homicide.
She was exhausted. But just as she finished writing up her notes on the tension-filled arrest, ready to head home for some much-needed sleep, the police dispatcher called: a shooting, one fatality, reported at Big Caesar's Nightclub.
Rebecca had heard of the club, located in San Francisco's touristy North Beach area. She was the first investigator to arrive at the scene, and flashed her badge at the uniformed police officer at the door. “Mayfield. Homicide.”
“Good news,” Officer Danzig said, all but beaming. “We're holding the killer. The bouncers caught him. He clammed up right away, but you'll find him in the manager's office.”
Rebecca's eyebrows rose. She had never had witnesses capture the suspect before. “Interesting. And good; very good.” Maybe she would get some sleep tonight after all.
“His name is …” the officer pulled out his notepad and read from it, “Richard Amalfi.”
Rebecca was suddenly jolted wide awake. “What did you say?”
“Richard Amalfi. He's well known at the club, apparently comes here frequently. Everyone calls him Richie.”
It can't be. Her mouth went dry. “I see.” There are a lot of Amalfis in this city, she told herself. “Did you see him?”
“I did. Not quite six feet, medium build, black hair, late thirties or early forties.”
Damn. That sounded like the Richie Amalfi she knew. He was quite a character to be sure, but a murderer? The thought jarred her. She shook her head, needing to focus on the crime, on doing her job. “What do we know about the victim?”
“No name yet. Female, in her thirties, I'd say. We only know she was a customer. Apparently she came in with the man who killed her.”
“Allegedly killed her,” Rebecca automatically added.
“Allegedly,” Danzig repeated. “Although they said he was caught in the act. The body's in the bookkeeper's office.”
Caught in the act … The words reverberated round and round in her head as she tried to listen to a run-down of the club's layout—the ballroom straight ahead, the coat closet and restrooms to the left, and beyond them, cordoned off with yellow tape, the corridor with the manager's office where Richie was being held, and the bookkeeper's office where the murder took place.
“Was the victim connected to the bookkeeper in some way?” she asked.
“No one has said. The bookkeeper isn't here this time of night.”
Rebecca would have been shocked if he was. Nine-to-fivers liked their beauty sleep.
Danzig went on to assure her that he and his partner had immediately shut down the club and no one had been allowed to enter or leave.
She thanked the officer and stepped away from him, drawing a deep breath as she thought of all that was to come.
If Homicide were a family, Richie Amalfi would be a close relative. Rebecca's favorite co-worker, Inspector Paavo Smith, was engaged to Richie's cousin, Angelina Amalfi.
From Paavo, she knew Richie could come up with just about anything that anyone might want. Need something big, small, expensive, cheap, common, or rare? It didn't matter. Cousin Richie could provide. Many people seemed to “know a guy who knows a guy.” Well, Richie was that guy—the one people went to when they needed something. She didn't want to get into what that “something” might be, or the legality of how he got it. But that didn't make him a killer ... she hoped.
She entered the elegant ballroom with white cloth-covered tables forming a semi-circle around an empty dance floor. She had never been there before—beer and pizza were her speed; jeans, turtleneck sweaters, black leather jackets, and boots her style.
The popular nightspot had been designed to look like a glamorous nightclub from the forties, the sort of place where Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Dean Martin might have sung, where women dressed in glittery gowns, men wore black or white jackets with bow ties, and “dancing cheek-to-cheek” referred to the couple's faces, not other parts of the anatomy. No hip-hop, rap or, God-forbid, country-western would ever be performed at Big Caesar's.
She could absolutely see Richie in a place like this—as absolutely as she couldn't see him killing anyone. Yet he was “caught in the act,” the police officer had said.
As much as she didn't want to believe it, she needed to put aside her personal feelings. She had no more reason to believe he was innocent than she did anyone else accused of a crime. And yet …
And yet, she couldn't help but remember the day, last Christmas Eve, when she worked alone in Homicide and he came in looking for Paavo for help with a problem. Paavo was off duty, so she ended up helping, and had spent the day and well into the night with him, finally heading home in the early hours of Christmas morning. Their time together hadn't been long, but it had been intense, including chases and shootouts, and the kind of life and death struggles—crazy though they were—that left emotions raw and defenses down. To her amazement, she had enjoyed being with him.
She then used the next several days wondering if she'd been stupid to have spent so much time with him.
Not that anything had “happened” between them. Heaven forbid! After all, from the moment she first met him, she knew he wasn't her type, and he clearly realized the same about her. Still, from time to time, she couldn't help but wonder …
In any case, he never contacted her again—which told her that the only thing stupid was to have wasted any time whatsoever thinking about him. Of course, if he had called and asked her out, she would have refused to go. She wondered if he hadn't realized that. He was, she had discovered, curiously perceptive.
The band now jauntily played “The Best is Yet to Come,” but a sullen, wary mood blanketed the room.
When she left the ballroom, she found that her partner, Bill Sutter, had arrived. He was taking statements from the bouncers. Rebecca walked around to get a quick feel for the nightclub's layout and exits, both doors and windows.
Despite wanting to see and question Richie, she would save him for last.
From her several years of experience in Homicide, she knew that the more she learned about a situation the better her first questions would be, and the better she could judge the veracity of a suspect's answers. Since she knew the alleged “perp,” she was going to have to be even more by-the-book in this case than she normally was.
She ducked under the yellow crime scene tape. A cop stood at the door of one of the offices.
“Homicide,” Rebecca said as she put on latex gloves and entered the office. The victim lay face up in the center of the room.
She appeared to be in her early thirties and to Rebecca's eye the sort of beautiful, slim, and expensively dressed woman that fit easily in a classy place like Big Caesar's; the sort of woman she could imagine Richie going out with.
A gunshot had struck her heart. Death was most likely instantaneous or close to it. Blood soaked the carpet beneath her.
Rebecca surveyed the rest of the room. The window was open wide, bringing in blustery, cold air. Piles of papers lay in a wind-tossed jumble across the desk where a brass nameplate read “Daniel Pasternak.” Behind it hung a sappy Thomas Kincaid painting of little sparkling pastel-colored cottages ready-made for Disney's seven dwarfs. On the floor near the body lay a small satin handbag.
Rebecca picked it up and opened it. The bag was empty except for two twenties and a lipstick. No cell phone; no credit cards. That was surprising, and odd.
Just then, the medical examiner, Evelyn Ramirez, arrived. She wore a red sequined blouse, black silk slacks, and diamonds. Her black hair was pulled back tight and pinned up in a sleek chignon. She had obviously been called away from some big shindig and intended to return to it soon.
The ME quickly took in the body and its surroundings. “Well, this'll be fast.”
Rebecca watched Ramirez do the preliminary examination to make sure no big surprises turned up—such as the corpse had actually been dead for twelve hours before someone found her, not twenty seconds like everyone said. The entry wound indicated the shot had been fired at close range, a few feet away, which was consistent with the killer and victim being together in the room.
With the exam concluded and no surprises found, the time had come for Rebecca to face Richie.
She took a deep breath and opened the door to the office of the nightclub manager.
Richie stood at the window, his back to her, looking into the night. His wrists were handcuffed behind him.
Two cops sat near the desk—a desk overflowing with paperwork. When Rebecca entered, they walked over to the door and stood beside it.
Richie slowly turned and faced her. Even in handcuffs he seemed calm, cool, and suave in a black jacket, white shirt, and black bow tie, almost like something out of a James Bond movie. Or, more in keeping with him and his friends, The Godfather.
“Richie Amalfi,” she whispered.
He took a step towards her, then stopped, his deep-set, heavy-lidded brown eyes troubled and questioning. As he gazed at her, she saw something else in them, but she wasn't sure what.
She steeled herself and raised her head high, giving him a cold, icy stare.
His shoulders seemed to sag at that. “Rebecca Rulebook,” he murmured, then pushed a noisy breath past his lips, and wryly shook his head. “Guess I should kiss my ass good-bye.”
His saying that, his thinking that way about her, momentarily stung, but she pushed the feelings aside and concentrated on the job before her. She pulled out a chair for Richie, and then another for herself facing it. Truth be told, she moved the furniture around to give herself time to think, and to give her breathing a chance to return to normal.
“Have a seat, Richie.” She prided herself on being a cop. Raised in Idaho, she had always followed the straight and narrow, and believed that all God's children were created equally. But if one of them got out of line, the full power of the law should stomp down until they saw the light. And Richie Amalfi was no exception.
“Inspector Mayfield,” she said harshly, too harshly. She sat in the chair she had provided for herself and waited. She knew the rumors that he was “connected.” She hadn't wanted to believe there was anything bad about him, but if he did kill someone in her city, on her watch, she didn't give a damn about those connections or family ties—current or future.
He sat facing her. “I didn't kill Meaghan Blakely.” He leaned towards her as he spoke, his gaze intense, his voice earnest. “I found her body, that's all.”
Thank you, she thought. He had just identified the victim. She ignored his protestation of innocence. All suspects did that.
“Tell me about Meaghan Blakely. Where does she live?”
“I don't know. I just met her.” He started to stand, then changed his mind and remained seated. She could sense his tension, his need to fidget—he constantly fidgeted that one day they spent together. It drove her crazy.
Just then, Bill Sutter walked into the room.
Rebecca’s partner was a burden to her. She knew from watching the other homicide inspectors that loyalty to one's partner was important, so she never complained no matter how furious he made her.
“Never-Take-A-Chance” Sutter was in his late fifties, about six feet tall, slim, with short steel gray hair, a long face, multiple bags under watery gray eyes, and thin, constantly down-turned colorless lips. He had been in Homicide so long he could have doubled as a walking, talking history book. Unfortunately, he had lost interest in the job and focused more on his retirement than his day-to-day duties. He talked about it all the time, and obsessed with worry that, like a character in a movie he once saw, he might be killed in the line of duty before his retirement day arrived. As a result, he did all he could to avoid putting himself in any danger—a difficult task when confronting killers.
Richie and Sutter eyed each other warily. Richie stiffened.
“Please continue,” Rebecca said.
Squaring his shoulders as best he could with his hands cuffed, Richie stated, “I'm not saying another word until I talk to my lawyer!”
Sutter folded his arms and with a scowl faced Rebecca. “As far as I'm concerned, that does it for him. He wants to lawyer up, fine. I’ve got two witnesses’ statements that he held the murder weapon and was trying to escape out the window when they caught him. I say we take him down to the station. If we can't question him, we book him.”
A part of her wanted to believe Richie was innocent, but the evidence told her otherwise and she was too tired to try to argue against it, especially since Richie had no interest in cooperating. “You're right,” she said finally.
Sutter nodded. “Good. Look, I'll handle everything. Go home, get some sleep. We've been at work non-stop since yesterday afternoon. We'll have clearer heads tomorrow.”
At Sutter's mention of sleep, all the fatigue she had tried to ignore struck and the quiet throbbing of her head became an insistent drumbeat. She nodded. Without allowing herself to look back at Richie one last time, sick at heart, she left the room.