As the leaves begin to change colors and the weather starts turning cooler in the historic city in the heart of Western Maryland, Parker City Police Detectives Ben Winters and Tommy Mason are called to Saint Paul’s where the recently installed Father Roland Taylor, who has become very popular in the community, has been found dead in his office at the church. By all appearances it seems to be a tragic case of a break-in gone wrong.
Only twenty-four hours later, the detectives find themselves at the home of the city’s well-known morning radio show DJ, Morning Mike Moran, who also seems to have been the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Coincidence?
Neither Ben nor Tommy believe in coincidences. But at first glance, it seems to be just that. Until they find that the victims shared a common interest and begin an investigation that leads them to uncover a secret Parker City has been hiding for over one hundred and twenty years.
The best laid plans, Ben thought to himself as he parked in front of Saint Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on Braddock Street. His hope of getting a few extra hours of sleep after spending the last several nights out late on a stakeout was shattered just a little after eight in the morning. The ringing of the telephone entwined seamlessly with his dream of being a concert violinist making his debut at Carnegie Hall. Something he could not in any way understand because he couldn’t play any instrument, let alone the violin. It wasn’t until the conductor in his dream started to tell him to leave his name and number after the beep that he realized he was hearing his own voice on the message answering machine.
With bleary eyes, he crossed out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, grabbing the telephone just as Shirley, one of the PCPD’s dispatchers, was about to hang up.
“Hello. Hello?” he answered, trying to shake away the mental cobwebs.
“Hey, sweetie,” Shirley said with her slight southern drawl. “Sorry to wake you.”
“I wasn’t…I mean, I…”
“It’s okay, sugar. I heard you and Tommy were out late. But you got ‘em, so it’s all good.”
“Yeah. We did. What’s going on?”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to catch up on your sleep some other time, dumplin’. You need to get over to Saint Paul’s. Patrol is reporting a break-in and Father Taylor was found D.O.A.”
That was all Ben needed to hear. The words were like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. He showered, skipped shaving–not that anyone would be able to tell with his baby face–and headed out the door. Just as he was stepping out of the car in front of the church, Tommy’s Bronco pulled up next to him.
Rolling down the window, from behind a pair of what looked like extra dark sunglasses, Tommy asked, “Please tell me I didn’t hear Shirley right?”
“A break-in and possible homicide?”
“You heard her right.”
Tommy did a quick U-turn and parked across the street. Getting out of the truck, he fumbled around in the back seat, finally pulling out a rumpled corduroy sport coat. Pulling it on over his wrinkled shirt, he noticed his partner giving him the once over as he crossed the road to meet him on the sidewalk.
“This is the best you’re gonna’ get today,” Tommy said pulling his badge out of his pocket and clipping it to the lapel of his jacket. “Hell, you’re lucky I put pants on. But I know how much you like me to dress up for crime scenes.”
It was true, Ben was always wearing a suit. He thought it helped to project a certain amount of authority while working a case. Considering he only looked like he was barely in his twenties when he was now thirty, it also helped him to look a little older. Truth be told, Ben could be wearing ripped up jeans and a leather biker’s jacket and he would still look like the boy next door. He was the poster child for what a stand-up Boy Scout should look like.
Tommy, on the other hand, would love to wear a leather jacket and jeans every day. He preferred comfort when it came to his attire. The reverse of Ben was true for Tommy. Even if he would show up wearing an expensive three-piece suit from a fancy story on New York’s Fifth Avenue, he’d still come off as a bad boy. The kind of guy all the girls fell for but would never take home to meet their mother. Mostly out of fear that their mothers would also fall for him.
“Any other details?” Tommy asked as he checked his Tom Selleck-style mustache in the side mirror of Ben’s car.
“I just got here myself.”
“I thought we were going to be able to take it easy after we picked up that dipshit last night. I mean, come on. We can’t even get a few hours of sleep!”
“Our burden is heavy,” Ben said, wondering if his sarcasm got through.
“The only thing that could make this morning any worse…”
“You mean other than finding the dead body of a popular priest?”
“You know what I mean…” Tommy said putting his hands up in his defense, “…is if the responding officer is…dammit.”
Ben turned to see Officer Buck LuCoco lumber out of the door to the church offices. A very large man, neither Ben nor Tommy understood how LuCoco was still on patrol. The fact he’d been with the department since the ‘50s and never been promoted beyond a patrol officer didn’t surprise either of them. He was one of the PCPD’s old guard that did absolutely as little as possible, while doing just enough to not be fired for complete dereliction of duty. Tommy thought he was a lazy slob. Ben couldn’t argue. The only thing LuCoco had going for him was his institutional knowledge of the city. He’d been around long enough to know a little about everyone and everything.
“Be nice,” Ben said to his partner through gritted teeth as LuCoco waddled his way to them. “Good morning, Buck.”
The officer grunted a response as he wiped his face with a handkerchief, finally saying, “It’s not a good morning for Father Taylor.”
“There was a break-in?” Ben asked.
“Yeah. One of the secretaries got here about seven-forty-five. She found the front door unlocked and thought Taylor already opened up for the day. Then she found the door to the priest’s office smashed and him dead. Now, I’m no expert, but I’ve been around long enough to know what a robbery-gone-wrong looks like. Whoever broke in here musta gotten caught by Taylor then they offed him.”
“Not being an expert, what makes you think that?” Tommy asked, barely containing the mockery.
“Well, there’s a pretty good hole in the priest’s head that looks like it coulda been caused by the heavy candlestick with blood on it lying next to him, smartass.”
“Alright,” Ben said in a tone that let both men know they needed to cool it. “Where’s the secretary now?”
“She’s in with Thompson.”
Ben knew Tommy was thinking the same thing he was. If Thompson had also responded, he’d have secured the scene using the protocols they’d been trying to get all of the patrol officers to use. He was one of the officers in the department who understood the importance of the new techniques being employed at a crime scene, and therefore the need to preserve a scene’s integrity. Unlike LuCoco and the guys who’d complained when Ben and Tommy had been promoted who thought if you couldn’t see a clue with your bare eyes, it wasn’t there.
“We’re going to head in and take a look around. Buck, will you radio in and have them roll the Crime Scene Unit and let the coroner know they have a pick-up?”
“Your wish is my command, Detective.”
“Hey. That’s Detective-Sergeant, remember,” Tommy corrected. “Remember, he outranks you in this department.”
Watching LuCoco head for his squad car, Ben said, “You really don’t need to do that.”
“What?” Tommy asked innocently.
“Throw my rank around. Sometimes I think you care more about it than I do.”
“Well, he needs to respect your stripes,” Tommy said in his defense. “And…I just don’t like him. I’m always afraid he’s going to have a heart attack and drop dead right in front of us. Then we’ll have so much paperwork to fill out. Seriously? Do you think he even knows what a salad is?”
Sometimes Ben needed to play the role of a stern father. “Okay. I get it. You have very strong feelings about him. But that’s enough now. If someone really did kill Roland Taylor, we’ve already got a big problem on our hands. I don’t need you starting another one with LuCoco.”
“Fine,” Tommy said, doing his best impression of a petulant child. “I’ll behave myself. Your wish is my command, Detective-Sergeant.”
Excerpt from Fact & Fiction by Justin M. Kiska. Copyright 2023 by Justin M. Kiska. Reproduced with permission from Justin M. Kiska. All rights reserved.
When not sitting in his library devising new and clever ways to kill people (for his mysteries), Justin can usually be found at The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, outside of Washington, DC, where he is one of the owners and producers. In addition to writing the Parker City Mysteries Series – which includes, NOW & THEN, VICE & VIRTUE, and FACT & FICTION – he is also the mastermind behind Marquee Mysteries, a series of interactive mystery events he has been writing and producing for over fifteen years. Justin and his wife, Jessica, live along Lake Linganore outside of Frederick, Maryland.
You must be logged in to post a comment.