An Insistent Buzzing
Death and Disappearance is the fifth book in the Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn mystery series. Like all Fina’s novels, it is a standalone.
While Denny battles demons of his own and Cookie and Clancy disappear, a pregnant Fina Fitzgibbons investigates the death of her friend’s husband and in doing so lands in the middle of a group of art and drug traffickers.
Here’s an excerpt:
An insistent buzzing woke me. Slowly I lifted my head from the pillow and stared at the vibrating piece of metal on my nightstand. My cell. Jane Templeton’s name flashed across the screen. Hadn’t she heard of sleeping in? I sat up too quickly and felt sick, then pressed the speaker.
“Just a friendly wake-up call.” Her voice was so grating in the morning—come to that, anytime. Jane Templeton, NYPD Detective First Grade, my nemesis.
“Are you still in bed at this hour?”
“We’ve found a body in Brooklyn Bridge Park near the dog run. Not much blood. The killer knew how to handle a knife.”
She needed help. Even I knew that, despite the time, or why would she be calling me? I glanced at the clock. After nine? I looked at the rumpled bed. Denny’s day off, so why wasn’t he still sleeping? I sniffed to see if food was in the air because my guy, when he wakes up, heads straight for the kitchen and works his magic with eggs, toast, bacon, the works. But I could smell nothing.
I asked her why she was calling.
“If you want the real truth, I’m doing your husband a favor. Denny said you hadn’t had a case in a while, and he thought it might be good for you to get out of the house, you know, sink your teeth into work for a change.”
She continued. “I thought you might like to know about the homicide, seeing as how the victim was the husband of one of your friends.”
I tried not to sound too excited. “And who would that be?”
“Her name’s Lake Cojok.”
It took me a while to register, so there was silence for a few beats. Jane gave me an address and an apartment number in Cobble Hill. Then I remembered. I blamed my sluggishness on distance—I hadn’t seen Lake in years, don’t ask me why. And Cojok must be her married name. What was her husband’s name? I’d think of it in a minute.
“Right,” I said, swallowing. Slowly I rose from the bed, but pregnancy was not all it was cracked up to be, and I sat down again. “We went to school together, but I haven’t seen her in an age.”
As a matter of fact, I hadn’t seen her since her wedding two weeks after graduation. In school, she was part of our inner circle before she started dating that awkward jerk. Slowly the ceremony came back to me, how Cookie was bummed not to have been chosen as a bridesmaid, the meager church attendance, the stale hors d’oeuvres served up in a small restaurant in Cobble Hill. Lake had thought they had to get married, Cookie told me later, but she’d lost the baby a few weeks after the wedding or it was a false alarm, something like that. Whatever, I’d taken an instant dislike to him. But Lake was in love. Now she was a widow. Widow? The word made her seem so other.
Jane started in again. “Lake is the deceased’s next of kin.”
As if I didn’t know. “His name?”
Of course. I ranged back over the years. When we were introduced, I’d called him Steve and he’d corrected me. Said he wanted to be called Stephen, never Steve—only his father called him Steve and for that reason, he’d hated the diminutive. Tall with unruly black hair, a sneer for a smile, caked jeans, dirt underneath his fingernails. That was how I pictured him, an outsider. But Cookie insisted he treated Lake like a princess. Last time I’d seen them, the two passed me by on Court Street, laughing, talking to one another, in their own world.
Jane brought me back to the present. “We’ve done most of your work for you, like giving his wife the news.”
Poor Lake. “Let me get this straight. You’re hiring the Fina Fitzgibbons Detective Agency to take over the case?”
“Not hiring exactly. You owe me.”
“And Stephen’s father?”
An embarrassed silence from the other end. I had my work cut out for me. It was early and my mind riffled through recent events. I didn’t remember owing her anything. The reverse, actually, but according to Jane, I was forever in her debt, especially when it came to her catching me cutting legal corners. I wouldn’t argue with that one.
“I’d like you to clear up a few odds and ends.”
As in, find out who had done it, corner him, and call for an assist. “Seeing as how you know the victim’s name, you must have some form of identification. I’ll need to see it.”
“I don’t under any circumstances permit an outsider to trample through evidence. Besides, the wallet’s locked up.”
Perfect. “You want me to help?” In the end, she saw my point and confessed to having the goods in her office.
“Keep me informed; call when you need me, that sort of thing. Getting back to your friend. At least that’s what she called you when we told her about her husband. Said she heard you ran a detective agency and she asked for you. Didn’t say much more; I don’t blame her.”
Nor did I, but I held my tongue, wondering who would want to tell Jane Templeton anything.
“We woke her up. She seemed not really with it, and the apartment was a mess.”
“After you searched it, I suppose.”
“You’re wrong there: we didn’t have a warrant, so we didn’t touch a thing.”
“I think she’s withholding.”
Who wouldn’t be? But Lake would want to talk to me, a regular human being. I felt a surge of energy.
“Say, what’s with you? Usually you’re halfway to the scene by now. I would have called Lorraine, but rumor has it these nights she’s not alone.”
She was referring to Denny’s mom and my indispensable assistant, especially when it came to legal matters or anything else where half a brain was needed. “None of your business, and more power to the old girl.”
“That’s not what Denny says.”
“Denny’s deranged on the subject of his mother and her relationships. Still grieving for his father, I guess, but if you ask me …” I let my last sentence dangle, realizing I was getting too deep into family business. There was a long pause. I opened the window and sniffed the faint smell of ocean fish and seaweed. Ah, sweet Brooklyn. The branches of a nearby tree blew against the panes, their buds full of promise in soft morning light. “You called Lorraine, but she wasn’t home, so you decided to call me?”
Jane Templeton, the detective I loved to hate, sighed, and for a second I listened to the ether’s white noise.
“Is the body still in situ?” I asked.
“It was when we left. I told the crime scene super to slow it down, knowing your condition and that it might take me some time to rouse you.”
“As far as I know, the MLIs are on hold until we finish our site investigation.”
MLIs, short for medicolegal investigators, was a fancy term for morgue workers. In New York City, they were dispatched by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and were among the first responders to the scene, investigating along with CSI detectives, after which they hauled the body to the morgue for autopsy before the forensic pathologist assigned cause of death.
Jane continued. “This isn’t like you. Don’t you want to know more of the particulars?”
I mumbled a let’s hear it.
“Like I said, the victim was stabbed. We haven’t found the murder weapon.”
While I was talking to my favorite blonde detective, I was grunting and pulling on my tights over my now huge belly, reminding myself never ever to roll in the hay again. I imagined Jane Templeton’s full lips in the form of a chuckle, the svelte lines of her profile, her eighteen-inch waist, the press of her Armani suit against humungous boobs, an immaculate blouse with the lace trim, mile-long lashes, perfect skin, painted talons. To be sure, a Brooklyn babe, like a picture torn out of an old-time catalogue, but still. I looked down at my frontal bulge, got a little dizzy, and had to sit again.