Cold Case, Hot Bodies(4)

By: Jule McBride


“Then I’m out of suspects. But don’t worry. I’ve got the arson case covered, and I’ll call if anything happens. Meantime, do what the boss ordered, and rustle up some cold-case files to keep yourself company.”

“Will do.” Dario splayed a hand on the courtroom door and prepared to push. “See you around, partner. And watch out for Karen. The glint in that girl’s eyes says she’s got diamonds and wedding cake on the brain.”

There was a long pause. Then Pat said, “Uh…I have something to tell you. I proposed last week.”

Dario’s jaw slackened. “To Karen?”

“Yeah.”

“Congratulations,” Dario managed, but he felt hurt. Pat had been his partner for two years. They’d double-dated, played ball. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was going to…”

But he didn’t think Dario would understand. Not Dario, who was still chasing women like Sheila Carella. “That’s okay, partner,” he said quickly. “I forgive you.”

“Good. Because you’re going to be my best man.”

Even so, Dario was still reeling from the news as he entered the courtroom. Everyone was getting married. Even his sister, Eliana. She’d fallen for the nephew of a man reputed to have mob connections, but who was legitimate, according to Dario’s sources at the precinct. Not that the information had calmed their mother’s fraying nerves. For months, his parents’ Mulberry Street apartment had been “wedding central,” and in three weeks, Dario and Eliana’s other six siblings—all sisters—would arrive from around the country for the wedding.

Now, Eliana’s diamond engagement ring flashed as she waved from the front of the courtroom. With bright red lipsticked lips she mouthed, “Where have you been? Ma’s freaking out!” Before Dario could respond, his sister turned to face the judge again, her black hair swirling around her shoulders like a cape.

Great. They’d drawn Judge Zhang, one of the most ponderous deliberators in the history of New York courts, which meant this informal hearing might drag on. Judge Zhang was so small that his robes seemed to swallow him, and his hair and eyes were as shiny and black as the cloth itself.

As his family scooted to make room for him, Dario noticed Brice Jurgenson on the other side of the courtroom, flanked by Beppe’s furious tenants. Skinny and bespeckled, Brice had only a few wisps of white blond hair left. An attorney, as well as a tenant, he’d convinced the others to put their rent into escrow until Beppe finished repairs to the building.

Luther Matthews, a museum curator, was present, as Dario had anticipated, and he was delivering a speech about preserving the property for historical reasons. But why was Chuckie Haswell here? Because he was a prime suspect in Dario’s arson case, Dario did a double take. Chuckie was short, with sandy hair and assessing brown eyes, and his suit probably retailed for Dario’s annual salary. Was the realty mogul present because Beppe’s property was on the waterfront? Did he know Beppe was desperate to sell, and that Luther Matthews was determined to declare the property a historical landmark, which would sour their chances of selling?

“Mr. Matthews,” Judge Zhang said. “Would you mind starting from the top? We’ve had a disruption.”

“Sorry,” Dario murmured.

“No problem,” returned Judge Zhang. You’ve come before my court many times, so I know you’re a busy man, Officer Donato.”

“Busy giving Sheila Carella parking tickets,” Eliana muttered.

“At least I’m not marrying the mob,” Dario shot back, before turning his attention to Luther.

“I’m from the Centuries of Sex Museum,” Luther began again, using a forefinger to push horn-rimmed glasses upward on his nose. “As we all know, the geographical area in question, not just Mr. Donato’s building, is of significance.”

“Go on,” urged Judge Zhang.

“The intersection where Orange, Cross and Anthony Streets once met, and where Mr. Donato’s building stands today, used to be called Five Points. It was synonymous with vice. Tap dancing originated there, as well as our city’s most notorious gangs. Famous travelers such as Abraham Lincoln were given tours of the neighborhood’s crowning jewel, Mr. Donato’s property, which was a brothel called Angel’s Cloud.”

“After Angelo Donato,” Beppe put in, losing his patience. “My ancestor. We all know this. It’s why I own the property. And since it’s mine, I don’t see why other people are allowed to turn it into a historical landmark so I can’t sell it.”