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Authors: Terrence McCauley

Tags: #Thriller

Slow Burn

BOOK: Slow Burn
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Prohibition

Slow Burn

Sympathy For The Devil

 

All available from
Polis Books

NEW YORK CITY
4:00 AM – Late August, 1932
WEST END BLUES

I
HATED
it when they were that young.

The girl was too young to be that dead, but she was dead all the same. On a hot, humid August night on the floor of a fleabag hotel on Twenty-Eighth Street and Ninth Avenue called The Chauncey Arms. Room 909.

The girl was naked. Legs together. Arms at her sides. Throat cut. Blood had pooled on the floor around her head in a neat circle, like some kind of goddamned halo. Her dead eyes were half-closed, staring out at nothing. The cracked plaster ceiling was the last thing the poor kid had seen before she bled out.

She looked about twenty or so, but all the war paint she was wearing made it tough to be sure. Besides, figuring those kinds of details was the coroner’s job, not mine. Chief Carmichael’s office had been clear about what my new duties were when they’d stuck me here.

Work the graveyard shift. Tag ‘em and bag ‘em. Start the file. Let the daytime boys worry about solving murders. They said: You’re not on special detail anymore. You’re lucky you’re still a cop at all.

They said: Now you’re a glorified note-taker with a badge, courtesy of Chief Andrew Carmichael and Roosevelt’s new Good Government crusade against cops they deemed crooked.

Those rotten, phony bastards called
me
crooked, even though they’d taken just as much as Archie Doyle’s payouts as I had. The chief wanted to fire me, but he couldn’t because I knew too much. If he’d even tried, I’d…

No. I stopped before I started having the same old argument I always had. All the old resentments stirred within in me again and all that would get me was nowhere. Fast. Instead, I thumbed away the sweat that formed between my hat and my brow and took another look at the poor dead girl on the floor. Suddenly my own troubles didn’t matter so much.

At least I was alive.

That girl had been alive not too long ago, too, with a life of her own and troubles of her own. Troubles that had brought her to The Chauncey Arms. Troubles that had gotten her killed. I found myself wondering what her troubles had been. I heard myself vowing to find out who had killed her and why. Maybe it was because her dark hair and fair skin reminded me of my ex-wife, Theresa.

Legally, we were still married, but I’d stopped thinking of her as my wife long ago.

When Doyle and his boys left New York, the graft he paid me went along with it. My connections at Tammany Hall forgot all about me and started taking orders from men named Lucania and Lansky. I was forced to live on my salary as a detective, so when the money ran out, so did Theresa. I’d known the kind of woman she was when I’d married her, so I wasn’t surprised when she left. But she’d taken the girls with her and that’s the part that stung the most.

The sight of this dead girl reminded me that it didn’t matter when I got home, because no one would be waiting for me when I got there. Just an empty apartment. It’s funny how you look at things different when the frills were gone. Now that I’d lost damned near everything, I remembered why I’d become a cop in the first place. Not because of Doyle’s graft or even Tammany Hall but because, once upon a time, I’d actually wanted to help people. People like this poor girl lying dead in a fleabag hotel on the wrong side of town.

Maybe I wasn’t in Chief Carmichael’s inner circle anymore, but I still had a cop’s instinct. And that instinct told me this girl did not belong in a place like this. Not alive, and certainly not dead. Something about the whole setup just didn’t feel right.

I got angry when Frank English started making with the crime scene pictures. The poor bastard was doing his job, just like me, but the stark light of the flash always made a death scene colder. And standing over a corpse made the badge feel a bit heavier in my pocket. It felt heavy enough already.

I realized I’d been too busy getting a handle on the crime scene to question the only witness I had: the night manager of the hotel. But with English taking his pictures, now was as good a time as any.

The air in the hallway was somehow thicker and even more humid than in Room 909. A few weak yellow bulbs gave off just enough light to show the rat turds that lined the hallway. Lucky me. I always worked the swankiest places.

From all the years I’d spent in Vice, I knew that night managers of dives like this were usually a special breed of skel. The night manager of The Chauncey Arms was no exception. He was the small, swarthy type, with sweat-stained clothes and yellowed, pockmarked skin. Perched all by himself on the stairs, he looked out at me from beneath heavy-lidded eyes. A crooked, hand-rolled cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth.

He took a deep drag on his cigarette as I walked over to him, letting a long plume of smoke escape from his nose. I was just one more pain in the ass he’d have to deal with on a hot August night.

The feeling was mutual.

“I’m Detective Charlie Doherty,” I told him as I pulled out my notebook and started with the basics. “Name?”

“Miller.” He slapped at a fly that had buzzed past his eyes, but missed. “Augie Miller.” I wrote it down. “See anyone around here today who might’ve done this, Mr. Miller? Anyone suspicious?”

“You kiddin’ me? Take a look around, mister. Most of the people who come in and out of this dump look like they just got outta prison. Hell, I’d bet most of ‘em have.”

He had a point. Just about the only thing the Chauncey Arms had going for it was its location. Twenty eighth Street and Ninth Avenue was just far enough off the beaten path to draw a middle-class clientele looking to do low-class things: hookers and their johns; junkies getting their fix; married guys and their boyfriends; drunks and their bottles. You get the idea.

“Who’s the room registered to?”

“I figured you boys’d be askin’ that.” Miller fished out a soggy scrap of paper from his shirt pocket and held it out to me. “I wrote it down for you. You can check the book personally if you don’t believe me.” He squeezed out something closer to a wince than a smile. “I’m here to help, mister. I kinda like cops.”

“Yeah, I can tell.” I took the damp paper from him with two fingers and read the name for myself. Miller’s chicken scrawl was tough to read in the dim light of the hall, but I made out the name: Silas Van Dorn. Fancy name for a dump like The Chauncey Arms. Familiar, too. So familiar that I couldn’t quite place it, but I knew I’d heard it somewhere recently. I wrote Van Dorn’s name in my notebook. “I was expecting something more original, like John Smith.”

BOOK: Slow Burn
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