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  • Susan Russo Anderson

A Pork Chop Between His Teeth

Updated: Sep 1

A missing teen ... A Rent-Gouging Brooklyn Landlord ...

Death of a Brooklyn Landlord is Lorraine McDuffy’s first murder mystery.

Up to now, Lorraine has been a main character in the Fina Fitzgibbons mystery series. but in this book, she’s the star.

Here’s the blurb. When newly widowed Lorraine McDuffy gets a call in the middle of the night, it’s not the ghost of her dead husband on the line, but the trembling voice of an old flame, Frank Rizzo, a local butcher. He’s found the battered body of rent-gouging Brooklyn landlord Viktor Charnov. Felled by blunt trauma to the back of his head, the victim lies in the fetal position in the back of Frank’s shop, a pork chop clenched between his teeth. Frank, distraught, asks Lorraine to investigate.

As the story moves through the entangled web left behind by the landlord’s evil dealings, Lorraine searches for Viktor’s estranged wife as well as a missing teen believed to have jumped in despair from the Brooklyn Bridge two months earlier. Along the way, Lorraine spars with Detective First Grade Jane Templeton and cares for the victim’s ten-year-old son, baseball-loving Joey Charnov, while she searches for his mother. Meanwhile, Lorraine and Frank deepen their relationship in fits and starts.

If you’re a fan of Fina Fitzgibbons and her crew, you’ll recognize the main characters in this new series: Lorraine McDuffy, Fina’s mother-in-law and protagonist is in charge of the Fina Fitzgibbons Detective Agency while Fina and Denny are on their honeymoon; detectives Jane Templeton and Willoughby, her partner; Minnie, office manager at Lucy’s Cleaning Agency; Cookie and her husband, Clancy; and a newcomer, Fina’s estranged father, Paddy Fitzgibbons, who creates his own boozy havoc as he tangles with Lorraine and Cookie.

In this scene, Lorraine gets her first glimpse of the body:

Located on the ground floor of a nineteenth-century carriage house in Cobble Hill, Frank Rizzo’s shop, Amity Meats, represented something special for Lorraine. It hadn’t changed since she was a little girl, when she and her mother would go there to buy a plump roasting chicken for the family’s Sunday meal, and she’d listen for the sound of the silver bell as the door opened. Frank’s grandfather was still alive then. He’d sit in the corner, leaning on the handle of his wooden cane, staring into space while Frank’s father bantered with the customers, and Frank swept the floor or delivered orders or gave her a quick smile.

This morning she parked a few blocks away and walked the rest of the distance. New leaves rustled in the trees, and the shop had a back-soon sign in the window. She peeked inside. The tiles on the floor and walls gleamed, not a cobweb on the tin ceiling, and the plate glass window was spotless, although she noticed the wooden trim needed a good coat of paint. She didn’t wait for Frank to open the door, but turned the knob, noticing her reflection in the glass and how much she’d aged since her last visit almost fifteen years ago.

That last visit, what had she been thinking of? Even now the shame of it burned her cheeks. At the time, her son was still in middle school and Robbie was a sergeant assigned to NYPD’s seventy-sixth precinct. She’d gone in for ground veal and come out with a load of guilt and a pounding heart. She could still see Frank’s eyes boring into hers. No, it wasn’t his fault—it was hers. She’d allowed a mutual attraction to overwhelm her, and before she realized what had happened, she found herself deep into passionate lovemaking with Frank inside one of the meat lockers, flanked by chilling slabs of beef. After she’d regained her moral compass, she’d been horrified at what she’d done. Worse, at what she was about to do—his wife had sat next to her at the last Altar and Rosary Society meeting, for pity’s sake. She’d wrested herself away from him, buttoned her blouse, and went to confession. Since then, she’d taken the priest’s advice and shopped at KeyFood.

Now the memory seemed grotesque, almost farcical. The sound of the door scraping against the jamb brought her back to the present.

Frank met her inside, his arms crossed and his legs laddered. His shoes were covered in sawdust. He wore a butcher’s apron and that same stupid pin attached to the bib, a pink daisy that he claimed his daughter had given him “to make him shine with all the lady customers.” Well, he hadn’t needed help in that department, had he? In fact, he’d weathered quite well. A lined face, to be sure, but no paunch, and his eyes had that same deep mahogany glow. Vestigial flames of desire licked at her insides, and she bit her tongue, wondering what had gotten into her—she was a grieving widow; let’s face facts, she was an old lady, for all that was merciful. Robbie’d been dead, what, only a little over a year? To stop her heart from pounding, she tried to remember her husband’s face, but couldn’t.

“Have you called the police?” she asked.

He shrugged. “The body’s in the back.”

Putting on nitrile gloves, she walked around the glass-enclosed counter, too early to hold rows of prime cuts, but still giving off that faint background smell of cold meat. Frank led her to the back room. It was as if she’d been here only yesterday. Shivering, she passed the meat locker and the 1908 calendar above the desk filled with neat stacks of paper and followed him into a hallway.

A few feet from the back door, the crumpled body of a man lay in the fetal position, a briefcase by his side and a pork chop sticking out of his mouth.

A chill ran up her spine.

The victim, probably in his thirties, had a shaved head and stubbled beard. He was wearing striped pants and a white shirt underneath a light jacket, the stripes too wide and distinct to be fashionable. Those trousers startled Lorraine more than the fact of him lying dead on the floor with a pork chop in his mouth, although she had to admit, the pose was bizarre enough. She was jolted, she realized, not because the man seemed to stare out at the world with defiance, but because his clothes reminded her of a painting she’d seen recently, a small oil, late nineteenth century. It hung in a remote wing of the Brooklyn Museum. The subject had surprised and arrested her at the time, a harlequin posing in pointed shoes and hat and wearing striped pants almost identical to those worn by the dead man.

Lorraine leaned against the wall, closed her eyes, and put a hand on her chest. She hoped she’d never get used to the sight of a corpse. She crossed herself and said a prayer for the speedy flight of his soul.

When she recovered, she asked Frank if the lock had been forced.

He went over to the back door and examined it. In a minute, he shook his head.

“Except for a dead man on the floor, is there anything else strange? Out of place? What about the pork chop?”

He held her gaze. “My chop. Fixed a tray of them last night so they’d be ready first thing this morning. Tray’s in here.” He gestured to the meat locker.

She walked over and opened the door. Inside, the cold smell of fat and blood accosted her, and she remembered that day long ago when she’d come close to betraying her marriage vows. Frank pointed to a metal tray sitting on one of the shelves. Like the dead man on the floor outside, the wax paper once covering the tray was crumpled and lay on the floor, and a chop was missing from its middle row, almost certainly the one now wedged between the victim’s teeth.

“Who is he?” she asked, walking out into the warmth of his office.

Frank Rizzo didn’t answer, and Lorraine saw he was trembling. He was trying not to cry. Probably he was in shock. But he was also withholding.

“Do you know him?”

Again, he didn’t answer.

“Frank?”

Silence.

She touched his arm and desire coursed through her. Silently she cursed herself for such a huge surge of emotion. What in the world was she doing, for the love of all things holy? “The body was brought here. Why?”

Again he took his time answering. “Beats me.”

Photo: Cover, Death of a Brooklyn Landlord Design, Avalon Graphics


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